Tina came home for good after two years of service in the US armed forces in Iraq. Tina’s tour of duty had been frightening and stressful in many ways. As a result, she had lost her ability to sleep through the night without sleeping pills. She could not bear to travel in areas of the United States that reminded her of Iraq, even though her fears precluded visits to some of her family. She was too fearful to drive under overpasses, because in Iraq, explosives were often planted in those areas. This fear made her commute to work long and tedious.
Worst of all was the night after her time in Iraq was over when she was surprised by the sound of firecrackers. Even though she was sitting in a restaurant, safe and surrounded by friends, when she heard the firecrackers, her nervous system took over. She shouted at everyone in the restaurant to take cover, and then dove under the table. As she sat huddled in that small space, the realization dawned on her that she was no longer in Iraq and that she had mistaken the sound of firecrackers for gunfire. She was deeply humiliated.
When Tina and I began our work together, we focused on her most frightening memory – when the tank that she was travelling in had been ambushed and then stranded out in the open with the machine gun jammed. It had taken her several terrifying minutes to lock her door. Once the skirmish was over, she and the others who had survived had had to wait through the night, vulnerable and exposed, until help arrived in the morning.
After one session, in which we carefully went over each detail of the story that remained stuck in her mind, Tina went through a remarkable transformation. She reported to me that she had spoken to her doctor about discontinuing her sleeping medication. She began taking the shortest route to work, which included driving under overpasses. Over the next few weeks, she completely weaned herself off of her sleeping pills. We continued to work on other life issues that she felt needed attention, but she no longer lived in fear of being hijacked by her nervous system.