Your Holiday Party Deployment Guide from LSF by Paula Bonebrake, LPC, NCC, LSF Retreat Program Director
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and Chronic Pain do not take off for the holidays. The “new normal” of living with the impact of the symptoms of these diagnoses can change the way one participates in holiday activities. The training service members receive can be helpful strategies for the holidays. Holiday deployment missions requires pre-mission planning, intel gathering, logistic planning, pre-mission checks, identifying allies, engagement, tactical assessment and end of mission.
Pre-Mission Planning – Communicate with your team what holiday engagements you or your team is aware of and determine which missions you will be participating in. Key leader engagement – talk to the host or the organizer about the size of crowd expected, lighting, loudness and agenda for the evening. You can plan an exit strategy based upon the agenda. Drive separately so you can leave when you need to or plan to take an Uber home if you ride with someone. Map the route to the event. When under stress it tends to be easier to get confused or take a wrong turn. Wrong turns bring about a lot of anxiety and emotional reactions. During a deployment an unexpected or altered route can lead to unsafe situations which creates an adrenaline dump, concern and anger. Leaving early for the event or having a flexible time of arrival will also decrease unwanted stress. If you are staying at the place where the event is happening communicate with the host and team ahead of time about a quiet place you can go to reset and reengage on your time. Set realistic expectations for yourself and for others. Do not expect to attend holiday gatherings with the same outcome as before PTSD or TBI or Chronic Pain. Plan for the potential symptoms you most likely will experience and brief your team so they are aware of ways they can support you and do not expect them to know what you need without communicating.
Gathering Intel – Know yourself and know your enemy. Your fire team is not your enemy. Symptoms that prevent you from engaging in activities you want to participate in are attempting to protect you from a perceived threat. These symptoms are not the enemy they are merely poor intel being given to you to determine their validity. Unfortunately, they trigger physiological responses that make them seem valid but with a thorough threat assessment it is determined to be anxiety or stress. Taking at least 5 deep breaths and reducing the sensory input around you will start the calming side of your physiology and lower your heart rate and blood pressure. Stepping outside or in a quiet place for a few minutes helps to reset your sensory input. Set a goal for the event, it may be to support a child at a function, support a spouse or friend at a company Christmas party, or to visit with family at a family event.
Logistic Planning – Take everything with you that you will need to survive. Have your fire team (spouse, family, friends) identify things they will need as well. You may want to take ear plugs or noise canceling ear buds to reduce noise level, sunglasses to reduce the impact of bright lighting, cell phone with a charger, gum and items you may need for pain such as medications, assistive devices or things you have identified that calm or help you. Complete a pre-mission check to ensure you and your team have everything you need for the deployment.
Identifying Allies – Talk with your fire team about people who may be at the event and who you would feel most comfortable sitting or visiting with if your team member needs to be social or play an active role in the event. Communicate expectations to your team. If you do not want to be left alone at an event identify how you want to handle that since your team member may be unavailable. Identify a hand signal, not the middle finger, or a code word not offensive to the general population, such as “Happy Festivus” which allows your team to employ a diversionary tactic with ground cover so you can move to a better location.
Engagement – Secure the perimeter and identify egress points along with the safest area of the room to engage in the event. Identify a rally point to meet with your team if you become separated or are needing a break from the festivities. Some explosive situations to avoid: drinking too much alcohol is a great way to have unfiltered conversations that lead to relationship destruction so proceed with caution. Avoid the enemy trap of luring you into political, religious or war stories if these are people who hold opposing views. It is a tactical success to actually have an unexpressed thought. Remember to utilize your training and resources for this holiday deployment. If your team has never practiced or prepared for the mission you may want to run through a few practices before engaging in the mission. Identify potential triggers to symptoms that may derail the mission.
Tactical Assessment – Find a space to have a tactical pause or to take a knee and assess how the engagement is progressing and identify if changes need to be made to ensure a successful mission. Am I accomplishing my goals, how are my supplies and support, what do I need to do differently? You may want to use this time to take a few deep breaths and communicate any necessary changes with your team. As part of the assessment, you may need to eliminate annoying people from your vicinity. Communicating without intense anger will allow those on your team to support the mission without becoming a casualty of verbal assault, remember Nana and Pop Pop aren’t used to that type of language.
End of Mission – The ride home from the mission is not the best time to execute an After Action Review (AAR). There are emotions and adrenaline often at high levels and to have an accurate assessment you may need about 12 hours to decompress. The delayed AAR also helps to preserve team morale.
If you are ready for a post-traumatic growth challenge try putting together an “easy to assemble” child’s toy before Christmas.
May your days be Merry and Bright! 😊
LONE SURVIVOR FOUNDATION provides a high-impact path to mental wellness for veterans, active duty service members, and their families. Our participants experience an accelerated growth program guided by licensed trauma experts during a series of no-cost therapeutic retreats which are designed to provide the tools and guidance to take them from surviving to thriving. Learn more about our program here.
Paula Bonebrake, LPC, NCC
LSF Retreat Program Director