Invisible Wounds

What stress does to the soul

The Long Road Back

An alternative therapy helps one vet recover from PTSD.

Dan Hoaglin may be the poster-child for PTSD in upstate New York.

Last spring, Hoaglin talked with News8 television in Rochester, N.Y., about how difficult it was to return to civilian life after being conditioned by years of survival under battlefield conditions. A retired staff sergeant with the 89th Military Police Brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas, Hoaglin has served tours of duty in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and two stints in Iraq during 11 years in the Army.

“Most people don’t have the ability to say yes, I saw a mortar round blow up five car lengths away, but I have. So now when a car backfires, that same response, the same initial surge that kept me alive years ago causes problems for me,” he said. “It can be devastating. My heart will begin to race. I start to look for spotters on the tops of buildings. I’m looking for who guided this in. If I see something, that will pose a threat to me. And all threats to me, I deal with with a great deal of hostility.”

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His wife Angie told the news channel that her husband’s behavior changed drastically after his second tour in Iraq. “He was not happy,” she said. “It was like five hours after he got home we got into a huge fight.”

Hoaglin said he tried just about everything – diet and nutrition, hypnotherapy, exposure therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, medications, and Reiki energy therapy – but he was still thinking about committing suicide on a daily basis.

It all came to a head on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, when Hoaglin told the news channel that he began to experience an “empty rage.” He began drinking heavily and passed out in the driveway of his upper New York state farm with a sword in his hand. “When I woke up, there was a person in a black uniform pointing a pistol at me,” he said. “It was a cop that was coming to pick me up to take me to the hospital. But I didn’t recognize him because I had slipped back into being down range.”

After that, Hoaglin quit drinking, and he turned to an alternative energy therapy called EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques).  That involved remembering the events that stressed him, then telling himself that he was not to blame for those events. As he did so, he began tapping on his acupressure points on his face, his torso and his hands.

Some energy therapists believe this allows the body’s energy to flow freely after being blocked by bad memories, but Tempe, Ariz., psychologist James R. Lane, writing in “Energy Psychology” magazine, had a more detailed medical explanation:

“Recent research indicates that manual stimulation of acupressure points produces opoids, serotonin, and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and regulates cortisol. These neurochemical changes reduce pain, slow the heart rate, decrease anxiety, shut off the fight/flight/freeze response, regulate the autonomic nervous system, and create a sense of calm. This relaxation response reciprocally inhibits anxiety and creates a rapid desensitization to traumatic stimuli.”

Hoaglin learned the technique from Tom Porpiglia, a Vietnam vet who runs Life Script Counseling Services in Rochester and who is working with the Veterans’ Stress Project to test the effectiveness of EFT on combat vets with PTSD.

Porpiglia said Hoaglin tested in the 70s on his initial PTSD evaluations (the max is 85, and anything above 50 is considered clinical PTSD), but that he dropped to a 24 after six sessions. That was last April, and News8 said only time would tell whether the improvements would hold up over time.

Last week, Porpiglia told me that Hoaglin’s scores had risen from 24 to 38, adding “this is a bit unusual so early in the cycle, but given all that he has been through, understandable.”

Tapping the acupressure points to remove anxiety is something that Hoaglin can do himself, but Porpiglia said he would offer more services if Hoaglin’s condition worsens. 

Vets suffering from PTSD can learn more about EFT and the Veterans’ Stress Project from Marilyn McWilliams. Her email is Marilyn@EFTCatalyst.com

Next up, we’ll talk with an Army Reserve psychologist who successfully used EFT on soldiers in Afghanistan.

 

Eric Newhouse is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of Alcohol: Cradle to Grave and Faces of Combat: PTSD and TBI.

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