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Mindful : February 2015
For Jose Ara na, who joined the army at 17, fleeing an alcoholic stepfather who beat him, starting at age six, with “TV antennas, belts, boots, and baseball bats,” the hardest part about being in the military was coming back home. “While I wasn’t addicted to alcohol or drugs, I was addicted to control, a nd to a nger,” says Ara na, who spent 28 years in the armed forces, including four years of active service and a stint as a military advisor in Iraq. “I’d bark and yell and argue with my wife. I couldn’t stand to be calm, because that was when I felt worthless.” Last year, Arana abruptly took a leave from his US Postal Service job after arg uing with his boss. His VA counselor recommended that he join an HPW river trip leaving two weeks later. “That was the start of my recovery,” Arana says. In Soul Repair: Recovery from Moral Injury After Wa r, the author, Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, describes the variety of psychic injuries lying behind the PTSD label, from having witnessed shocking suffering and death to feeling betrayed by colleag ues and commanders to regret over having violated one’s own moral beliefs. Such wounds have been hard enough to bear in the wake of popular wars. But sol- diers who’ve ser ved in Iraq and Afghanistan—among the most controversial US conflicts in history—often come home to find themselves isolated from family and former friends who may neither understand nor care what they’ve endured. For them, the standard VA treatments—clinic visits and prescription drugs—may feel like flimsy Band-Aids. Many of them shun the VA altogether, for reasons some reveal on the river trip. Dawn Marie, the navy veteran, says at one point she was taking four different antidepressa nts every day, despite feeling “numb” and gaining 30 pounds. Given the alternative, who wouldn’t rather raft down a river? The physical exercise is invigorating, as is the companionship, while the stigma of need- ing help is at a minimum. The whitewater adventure also bridges what might otherwise be an insurmountable cultural divide between the gentle, politically libera l Sa n Francisco Bay Area mindfulness teachers and the macho, mostly politically conser vative men and women they’re trying to help. → Danny Martinez (left) came home from his second enlistment in the army after a nervous breakdown. He has since found himself withdrawn and, like many of the rafters, struggling with depression and alcohol abuse. Aaron Tozier (right) and Sam Von Cleff (bottom) join Martinez on the trip. February 2015 mindful 45