Is life a circle? Or is it a line? Does it matter? Why even think about it? Just recently I ran across some memes that had me wondering about the mindset they presuppose and the overall tone, be it positive, negative or somewhat neutral. They started me thinking about Body’s Cycle – the humane decision making cycle taught to many (if not all) combatants. The cycle is a four step repeating process wherein your observe your surroundings, orient yourself to the situation, make a decision and then act upon that decision. Your action causes a change so you have to start over with observing the change and so on. These cycles are often referred to as “OODA Loops” (said “u-dah loop”). They are circular and repeating. They are also usually applied only to compressed time frames such as competitions and conflict where your actions have to happen fast… fast enough to get ahead of your opponent’s OODA Loops and emerge victories. Can the same thing be said on a grander scale about life?
One meme I saw this morning referred to children who are abused or experience severe trauma early in life and how those experiences can “put them in survival mode.” As a survivor of child abuse I can assure you that there are certainly some emotional barriers that get put up to protect from the emotional impact of such abuse. There is some measure of “survival mode” that goes into effect if one can understand the long term benefit of not allowing the childhood trauma to impact your entire life. My question is, and I’ll come back to it, does going into that survival mode mean you never come back out of it?
Another meme I saw focused on combat veterans, police officers and firefighters and the rate of Post Traumatic Stress syndrome (PTSD) in those communities. The implication again was that once a person reaches the point of being diagnosable with PTSD, that there is no escaping it; that it’s a permanent “condition” and can’t be minimized, reversed, etc. I have had a number of conversations with a psychologist who is also a prior service Marine and has roughly two decades (or more) “treating” members of the law enforcement community. He is convinced that “syndrome” is the wrong word because it presumes a permanence that isn’t always accurate. Some people grow as a result of experiencing trauma while others experience negative impacts in their life.
Let me make one more observation and then I’ll tie this thought all together. Life is often graphically expressed as a line with a starting point – birth – and an ending point – death. Usually that line is pretty straight, and I mean “pretty straight” like it was drawn using a ruler’s edge. Sometimes the artist / writer / philosopher will get creative and draw the line with ups and downs in it, so it has “teeth” or hills and valleys instead of just being straight. Still, it has a beginning and an ending. Keep that in mind as you consider the following…
Think back about your own life. Birth and infancy are things most of us can’t remember. My earliest memory involves a strawberry patch when I was about two years old. I have other memories from a Christmas when I was about the same age and then my next earliest memory is from when I was three. Because of documentation and research I can tag that last memory to within a week of my third birthday (unique circumstance). But… birth and infancy… being a toddler… elementary school…. middle school… high school… college or military service… marriage… sometimes divorce… children… These are all things we experience as we travel through this thing we call life. Each of those periods of time can be described or viewed as being parts of that line drawn to represent life. Still, they’d be reasonably straight lines with a beginning point and an ending point: when we started kindergarten as the example and when we finished fifth grade, ending our elementary school experience.
My question / thought is: in each of those parts, were there not times when we were cycling through Boyd’s Cycle? (OODA loops). Did we learn from those cycles, adapt our orientation, make different decisions based on what we’d learned and then perform new actions based on that? Does the application of that thought apply to life as a whole?
What if, instead of life being a line with some ups and downs in it, it’s a line with constant overlapping circles of learning experiences and even those compound on each other to create larger circles (loops) of changed decision making and behavior (actions). What if the line of one’s life would be more accurately drawn as a wave of ups and downs but with each cycle in the wave encompassing an untold number of OODA Loops, some smaller within others and some larger, encompassing many others?
Hold on to that thought and apply it to the opening paragraphs about a child going into survival mode or a veteran experiencing PTSD. The child doesn’t HAVE to stay stuck in survival mode. That is effectively the same as freezing at the action, observation or orientation point in an OODA Loop. That child, if they remain “stuck” in survival mode has made a final decision and makes no forward progress in the loop as things change around him. He never adapts. He never grows beyond that point.
The same can be said of a veteran who embraces the diagnosis of PTSD. This should not be considered a terminal diagnosis. It shouldn’t be considered final and irreversible. Yes, some veterans face bigger challenges than others with the impact of PTSD in their lives. Yet other veterans (and police officers and fire fighters et al) identify it, acknowledge they’re experiencing some symptoms of it, modify their lifestyle to mitigate it, learn, observe, orient, decide and act to remove themselves from a reality wherein PTSD dominates their life day to day. If that person can complete a sufficient number of learning cycles, for our purposes – enough healing OODA Loops – then they can reduce the impact or experience of symptoms caused by PTSD to zero. If that happens, would they still be diagnosed with PTSD?
I am not a clinical psychologist and I won’t offer an answer to that question. The reality is that the answer can be different for every person who has experienced going into that survival mode; it’s different for every person diagnosed with PTSD. The important thing is to NOT accept that the abnormality of the condition is now normal. It may take some number of years to mitigate the impact of trauma experienced, but if the abnormal behaviors attached to the trauma are accepted as “normal” then there will never be any motivation to correct or mitigate either the behaviors or the trauma-attached-emotions that cause them.
It is VITAL that no matter what trauma you have experienced you maintain a commitment to returning to normalcy rather than accepting a “new normal” that leaves you in a permanent state of victimology.