I was traveling across the country with my family. We were not seated together, so I sat behind them and next to a complete stranger.
Ok, if you know me, you KNOW that being seated next to a stranger means that I'm about to make a new friend...
And there he was; a seemingly nice guy. He had a kind face, a soft tone in his voice, and history of violence that you wouldn't be able to detect from a first, or even a second glance.
He had served 3 tours in Afghanistan. As an explosives expert, and a member of the military police, he had been witness to countless explosions, insurgences, killings and passive deaths. He had been home for 2 years when we met.
I had asked him about his travels: where are you headed?
"Home. But just for a few days until I have to go and do a training at Quantico."
"Quantico? Are you FBI?"
"Nah. I'm just doing a training on explosives. That was my last job. Entering buildings with no doors." He laughed a little, but his head drooped in a way that was most uncomfortable looking.
"Are you looking forward to it? Sounds like a really important job, teaching people how to safely enter buildings with no doors."
"Yeah, it is a good job. It really is fine. But I feel like I need a new shirt to present myself right."
"There are lots of good shops in Virginia and DC to get a nice shirt. But don't go to "The Mall", it's not what you think!"
He laughed for a second and then I swear I saw fear flash across his face. "Shopping isn't my strong suit."
"Have you ever had your vision change? Like you're looking through a telescope? That's kind of what happens to me when I go to a mall or a store. It's like everything blows up real big and I just don't move."
"I've heard that that can happen sometimes. I bet that does make buying a shirt a pretty big problem."
"Yeah. But it's ok. I'm managing it."
At that point in the conversation he hit on one of my buzz words. "Managing it? How is that working for you?"
"Well, I'm grateful for Amazon and shopping online. But it would be nice to feel normal shopping for clothes."
Buzz word number 2! "Feeling 'normal' is kind of a spectrum, I've heard. Actually, that is kind of my wheelhouse."
"Normal is your wheelhouse? What? Are you some kind of therapist?
"No, I'm not a therapist. I'm actually a behaviorist. So I help people, like a therapist does, but my methods are different. I don't talk to folks about the past. We focus on now and the future. So if one of your objectives is to be able to confidently walk into a store and purchase a shirt, we would start there - not with why it is difficult now. You probably already fully understand why, right?"
"How is that not therapy?"
"Well, on the legal side, it just isn't my title, so I wouldn't want to misrepresent myself. From the practical side, I do very different things than a therapist does. Would you like an example?
"Sure, we got 4.5 more hours to go, so sure, why not?"
We talked for the next 4.5 hours. I shared with him some of the basic foundations of the process and took him through a few of the steps that are integral to being in control of those automatic processes that made his brain interpret the crowds at the stores as "potential threats". He also shared with me the challenges that he has with driving over 10 miles an hour. So we turned our attention there, too. By the end of 2 hours, he was smiling a genuine smile, making direct eye contact with me, and sitting up straighter. By the end of the flight, he had a list of questions, a few strong images to draw upon, and as we deplaned and headed to the luggage bays, he stopped in an airport shop and literally stood there, shoulders up, looking around at the people fluttering by him. He smiled and waved as we walked by.
I know for a fact that the magic is in the coaching. That 4.5 hours on a plane was not enough to last for him for long. That it is only through guided, graduated practice that any skill can fully develop.
So that is what I offer. Guided, graduated practice. As a behaviorist, I have the tools to make your habits change with ease, and the supports to ensure that you are using your tools at the right time, in the right place, and for the right objective.
Veterans hold a special place in my heart. For all that you do for us, I want to be accessible to military families, because I know that in such a short time, this process makes the transition easier to accomplish by alleviating the stress associated with shifting gears away from combat.
Move towards feeling centered, feeling grounded, and feeling prepared to tackle the tasks of home life knowing that you are fully in command of those inner impulses with UBeWell's Warriors Program.
And when you are ready to learn some active skills to feeling and being better on purpose, I'll be here for you at LizKahn.com or 919-756-4548