A Vietnam Veteran’s complex healing story

Most Veterans cases that I work with with EFT coaching are very complex, spanning over childhood trauma, often abuse, neglect, abandonment, through trauma with peers, boot camp, war experience, returning home and all the relationship and every day issues that result from this.

It never fails to surprise me to see how thoroughly and lastingly we can help with EFT. I hope that the following case also makes a strong argument that working with Veterans requires extensive experience in EFT and knowledge and understanding about war trauma, in addition to having done one’s own “homework”, so that the stories we work with don’t trigger us as practitioners.

As EFT coaches, we have to know and work within our professional and ethical boundaries and know when to refer.

I’d like to share the story of one of my Vietnam Veterans. “Joe” came to me with a huge load of trauma, from earliest childhood, neglect and abuse, a spiritual upbringing of undeservingness and fearing a punishing god, to a very traumatic deployment (even though he stated for a long time that Vietnam was the easiest time in his life…). Joe became an alcoholic and lived on the streets, went through two marriages and from one trauma into the next. When I met him, he had taken a very spiritual approach to healing and was determined to get well. He had used the VA system for 20 years. He actively participated in AA meetings and PTSD groups and treatment. And on top of all this, he suffered from a broken heart through a relationship with a lady who had survived unimaginable abuse in her life and was not able to return his feelings at the time.

Joe was far from being well. Even though we had agreed to work over the phone, as he lives quite a ways away from me, he insisted on having to see me first eye to eye, to check me out. This is very important for many of my Veterans, and I usually take at least two hours to sit down and let them ask all their questions and talk. If they don’t trust me, they don’t care how effective EFT can be. Trust and rapport are of the essence.

Joe had remarkable successes with our EFT sessions. However, no matter how much we got released, the broken heart haunted him. He simply could not get over that unfulfilled relationship.

Since Joe had so much on his plate, we addressed some Vietnam memories, with the intensity going to zero, shifting from rage and fear to compassion, but also did quite a bit of work on his abusive and neglectful childhood and his fear and rage of God’s punishment, as he found them to be more dramatic than his Vietnam memories.

In our last session, he told me that he realized that in 20 years at the VA, he had not once addressed a memory from Vietnam with his therapist. So I told him that it might be time to begin healing some of his Vietnam trauma that he was not ready to share until then.

I asked him if it felt safe to think about a traumatic memory early on in his deployment. He and I have excellent rapport and experience in working together, so this was a safe question. If he had been a “new Vet”, I would have been even more careful in not having him tune in.

He immediately brought up a memory of when he was just two weeks in Vietnam: He remembered sitting with in the back of a military truck, watching a petite, Vietnamese woman with a blue dress on a bicycle on the side of the road. He was stunned and full of admiration at her ability to gracefully balance a large basket with pottery on her head while steering herself through traffic.

He was shocked when he saw one of his buddies pull out his gun and “just for fun” tried to shoot the basket of her head. He missed the basket, and shot her instead. She fell against the truck, and “Joe” grabbed her hand, trying to pull her into the truck. She slipped away, disappeared under the truck and got rolled over.

His “buddies” were very angry at him for trying to help the lady. They immediately turned against him with a sharp warning: “If this ever happens again, you are a dead man!”

We tapped on every aspect of the trauma: His rage and anger about the soldiers, all aspects of the young woman, his helplessness, the feeling of her hand in his, the sound of her head hitting the truck, the shock of seeing her disappear under the truck, the helplessness. We also worked on his fear of his fellow soldiers killing him in his sleep, as violence was a frequent occurrence where he was stationed and more than once he tried to save Vietnamese women from violence and rape. He always saw himself as the protector, and more than once was threatened for that. He was surrounded by rage and numbness in overwhelming and scary ways.

One of the last aspects we tapped on was the vision of blue dress the woman wore. At that moment, he had a very powerful revelation: ”You won’t believe this! It is the dress! Guess who else wears a blue dress!” Through the tapping, he realized that the woman he is so passionately, almost obsessively (in his own words) in love with, also wears a blue dress frequently, as it is her favorite piece of clothing.

He immediately made the connection between the two women, and everything became very clear in his mind: He couldn’t protect the Vietnamese woman from the abuse through the men, he wanted protect his lady friend now. He tried to rescue her for what he was not able to do in Vietnam. This understanding was completely overwhelming for him. He shook his head in disbelief, stunned at what he had lived with all these years. He knew that it was now OK to let go of his obsession for his lady friend. He now felt safe to let it go, and the overwhelming “thing” that this love had become, released.

We could now work on finding peace with the Vietnamese woman and what happened, in a way that felt appropriate and right for him:

“Even though I might have made a vow back then that I would honor her memory with never ending grief and rage, I allow myself to find an even better way to honor her and what happened.” “Even though I am so sorry for what happened to her, what these SOB did, I tell her now that I am sorry and ask for forgiveness that I couldn’t save her – I wished all these years that there would have been something I could have done.”

“Even though I was shocked and scared when I realized what kind of guys I was surrounded with, I choose to see that I have been safe for many years now, whether I realized and felt that or not.”

TH: I am sorry for what happened – IE: I wish I could have done something – anything to stop it

OE: I still hurt and I never forgave myself UE: And I never forgave them

UN: These SOBs!!! UL: F…n SOBs

CB: I am so sorry! UA: I wish there was anything I could have done for you that would have changed what happened

TH: I would have sacrificed my life for you – but even that wouldn’t have made a difference!

TH: I honor that I did the best I could

IE: I ask for your forgiveness

OE: I honor that I never forgot you

UE: And I know that if I could have, I would have saved you

UN: I realize that You might have known that

UL: I realize that You knew I was trying to help

CB: And even though I never forgave me or them

UA: I see that you never held this against me

TH: You knew I was trying to make this undone, otherwise you wouldn’t have reached out and grabbed my hand.

And then came another healing:

“Even though I will never forgive these SOB for killing the little Vietnamese woman, I realize that I will never know what made him this way.”

“Even though I was just two weeks in country, and I was many years older than them, they were only 17 while I was already in my mid twenties, I know that they must have been through a lot of unspeakable things, or else they wouldn’t’ have turned out this way.”

“Even though I will never know what they were trying to overcome, what they had seen and endured to be so completely numb and brutal (according to my vets, this complete numbness to other people’s pain is very common with PTSD), I honor that it must have been more than they were able to take – it broke them.

When we tapped along those statements, he cleared up. He could now see that his buddies were severely traumatized, too, so much so that they had cut out everything human, they were raging.

He didn’t have to find excuses for them, or ways to condone what happened. Instead he could now see the other soldiers and himself, and the Vietnamese lady, as victims of a raging, brutal war that cost more that humanly imaginable. Even though there is no way to excuse what happened, he found a way to forgiveness that allowed him to see things in a broader light. The acknowledgement “Yes, they were very, very messed up, and I never asked myself why that was, what they had seen!” was huge for him.

He is still honoring the little lady and her death, and will always do so, but now not with all the rage that he was carrying all these years. And when he thinks about the soldiers on the truck, he continues to hold them responsible, but can see them in the context of their own trauma, which, just like himself, might have started many years before they joined the military.

It was beautiful to see the lightness around him, after he released this burden, and he felt that he wanted to go on now, and, after taking a good nap, tackle some other memories that have haunted him for more than 40 years.


1 Comment

  1. Linda Grant DePauw on December 21, 2009 at 9:33 pm

    Mother Mary wears a blue dress.

Leave a Comment