When I applied to leave 22 SAS Regiment in September 1981 the Commanding Officer sent me to see the doctor for a week to get a better picture of my reason for leaving. I had been working in the intelligence field in Northern Ireland and I suppose he wanted to get a better view of my mental state. On the final day I broke down in tears and the doctor said “I’ll give you a year before you try to kill yourself”. That was how my 17 years military career ended, but how the problems began, because I was released into the community without help or advice.

 

PTSD: An unspeakable situation. Story 6 – Steve Pratt from Florence Royer on Vimeo.

 

That statement hung over me like a death sentence – so that I became entranced by the prospect of murder suicide. Murder suicide because I misguidedly (and conveniently) wanted to take out those who I felt responsible for my condition – it’s so easy to give reasons when you invent the cause and live your lie for secondary gain.

When former SAS soldier Bob Paxman made the claim on TV, in August 2009, that PTSD can be neutralised in just 4 days, I felt I had to respond to him directly, because I was living proof of 19 years of failed treatments.

A few weeks ago, I sent Bob email advising him to be cautious with his claims but I got an immediate rebuff with the challenge to come and try a Talking2Minds course and that’s why I’m here.
This is the story of what happened next.

A “War of Perceptions”
General Stanley McChrystal, Afghanistan (2010)

Talking2Minds Training Course, Cardiff, Saturday 6th February -12th February 2010 by Steve Pratt

I’m sitting in my former SAS incognito self, in the classroom of a fancy country spa on the edge of Cardiff courtesy of the charity Talking2Minds.
When former SAS soldier Bob Paxman made the claim on TV, in August 2009, that PTSD can be neutralised in just 4 days, I felt I had to respond to him directly, because I was living proof of 19 years of failed treatments leading to the entrancement of murder suicide. Murder suicide because I misguidedly (and conveniently) wanted to take out those who I felt responsible for my condition – it’s so easy to give reasons when you invent the cause and live your lie for secondary gain – a great motivator for sympathy.

A few weeks ago, I sent Bob email advising him to be cautious with his claims but I got an immediate rebuff with the challenge to come and try a Talking2Minds course and that’s why I’m here.

The curtains are drawn to give the impression that this is a ‘safe place’ to be. A thin shaft of light from the morning sun strikes across the seating plan. There are some angry looking guys in here, or is that my paranoia kicking in again? A tight knot of what I assume to be former squaddies erupt like a football crowd to share a joke – something to do with a mobile phone, arse and fart, and a member of the opposite sex at the extreme lower end of attractiveness. That’s squaddie humour.

There’s one guy who has clearly recovered from a massive IED strike. He tells me later he refused to go into a wheelchair and found someone in Germany to make him a pair of useable legs with feet that work. He turns out to be one of the strongest minds on the course, in fact the strongest you could ever meet – the role model for us all. Its cost 17,000 to get hand controls for his car. They said he would never be able to drive, let alone walk. He has defeated the bureaucrats and non believers to get this far.

There’s a guy sitting in the middle row who keeps interrupting the speaker by raising his stick aggressively to make yet another question, and another who told me on arrival that he has done some ‘bad things’ and wants to ‘dump some shit’, and another who looks so angry, it’s difficult to meet him in the eyes. I get the immediate impression that these people are from the broken elements of our society, the part that gave their life to ‘Queen and Country’ and then found themselves on the scrap heap, wrestling with mind problems.

The guy doing the talking is a former PT Corps buster, his name is Mick. He has the high pitched voice of the PT instructor “right everyone onto the wall bars GO” – but there’s none of that – for the last 30 years this guy has been studying the developments of NLP and mending the vulnerable side of being human. He’s unpacked all the negatives and thrown them out, and now he’s inviting us to alter our negative perceptions of the world. I get the impression that he is initiating a revolution – not a political or economic uprising, but one that deals with ‘perceptions’ and its coming from the broken elements of our society because that is where the fragments are collected – to make a new world of love and peace to everyone. Did I say that General McChrystal?

Well tell me please, who needs war? Tell me; because I would really like to know, because I have been there too, and as you know in your heart of hearts, war does not achieve anything, therefore with a little interaction we could safely alter perceptions to eradicate the need for military conflict. It’s so easy to find reasons but the basic fact is that peace is better than war.

And all this begs the question; are we really making the streets of Britain safer by fighting in Afghanistan? Because the payback to society is enormous, if you consider the death of all those young people, and the loss to their families. And we haven’t even begun here to consider the damage we have inflicted on the innocent others in those theatres of war.

We already have 20,000 former service people in the criminal justice system, many of them with mental health issues. And according to Veterans Aid there are over 1000 homeless ex service personnel on the streets of Britain every night.

Back in the classroom, it’s time to introduce ourselves. I announce my scepticism and manage to hold on to my old self – that familiar ‘inner voice’ anticipating failure and avoiding situations that might cause panic so that I might stay in my comfort zone.

It’s a lovely day outside and it would be great to go for a walk and ‘get my mind in order’ – I’m used to walking miles to keep sane. Keep on walking until you’re too exhausted to think and with every step breathe hate – that was the Steve Pratt method of existence.
I’m listening to Mick’s explanations about the comfort zone and how, In order to learn, adjust and develop you have to step out from the comfort zone into the area they call ‘stretch’ where you have the opportunity to change negative emotions. This part of the course is called re-processing, and enables you to access better energy.

I’m thinking what’s all this energy stuff? When here comes the answer.
By reprocessing those unwanted emotions such as anger, sadness, fear and hate comes a new source of energy. That’s the theory, and once you see it is possible to change, it brings a new vital energy.

I’m trying to concentrate on the information being imparted, but two burly scousers with highly polished heads sitting together at the back are having a mini rant. One of them finds it easy to speak out against anything that catches his overly sensitive radar “So what’s your problem mate?” I hear him say at nothing or no one in particular. I’m not sure which way I should be looking to keep all this at bay.

During Exercise 1, I’m paired off with the larger of the two scousers. I make the mistake of drawing attention to a miniature gold hand gun hanging from a chunky gold necklace. So what’s the problem he asks, whilst keeping me fixed with those squint eyes they use for target shooting? The explanation that I have a fear of guns, does nothing to help diffuse the situation, because this guy is a crack shot and it’s his sport, his passion. And by continually challenging my perception about guns by asking how that is a problem for me? This simple, although uncomfortable meeting of minds has a massive effect to the extent that this man has in a few sentences blown away one of my strongest assumptions. That people with guns are dangerous. It’s my perception of the gun that challenges the situation, not the fact that this guy has full control of his gun hobby. As it turned out it couldn’t have been a better introduction. My old prejudices neutralised by a guy who has probably had a lot more problems than I. I grow to respect this man; him teaching me, and me teaching him.

At the close of day one I’m a little confused. There are glimpses of the beginning of the end of all this past nonsense, that it makes me want to cling on for a change. Another part of me wants to walk away because that’s the way I have learned to deal with negatives. To walk out into the street and breathe hate with every step, and keep on walking until you’re too exhausted to think.

At the close of day two, Mick offers me an intervention in order for me to make better use of the course. The next therapy we used is the big one, we don’t get this far until Day 5, but Mick has spotted that I might need to ‘shift some stuff’ and I accept wholeheartedly. When the course has retired for the day, I remain in the classroom. We sit in a safe place close to the corner. I relax with my hands gently resting on my thighs, learning to breathe deeply. Strange thing this breathing mullarkey because to breathe deeply, initiates a fear deep inside that my heart will stop beating. It’s the feeling of getting too close to the central mechanism. Mick sits to one side, and guides me through a series of questions. My life appears on a line passing directly behind my head, it passes through my brain to a point for away in the distance. At times I have the opportunity to rise up above my time line and view all the events as if on a single strip of film.

Surprisingly the time line stretches 3 generations back, when an illegitimate child is secretly removed from a wealthy family to a far off location so as to avoid the shame of Victorian England. That child was my grandmother, and then when she had a child she sent it away because she did not know how to care for the child. And then when I came along, I was sent away to a Special School, because my mother didn’t know how to give love. And when I married I just wanted a mother, and when I had children I abandoned them. Now my kids are fearful of having kids. The point about this is that rejection and the fear of rejection breeds insecurity which feeds the extreme emotions of hate, fear, anger and sadness.

As the therapy continues I am invited to replace each negative perception of an event in history,and replace it with a colour of my choice. And then I place that colour in a specific place in my head. And when we revisit the time line to check how those negative events look they seem to have lost their emotional significance because I have replaced each of them with vivid colours. The result of all this is that the pain and fear of being rejected has been neutralised. So that I now feel a warm sense of security, and I can relax, and feel confident, and positive, and I feel happy for the first time. Happy? Did I say that?

When I arrive on Day 3 I’m greeted by a succession of ‘Blimey Steve what’s happened to you’? The fraught expression in my face has relaxed and I have colour in my cheeks. The feedback itself is provides another boost. This is the day when I make a huge step forward. It’s something Micks says about finding access to a place where all the answers would be, and that whenever I was feeling unsure or troubled I could simply go to that space and find calm. By simply closing my eyes and breathing – that safe place appears like a keyhole in the inner part of my head, and with a little more relaxation, I find I can access that place and within it is everything I will ever need to know. It’s such a powerful idea that I really did not want to let it go, and it’s here now as I sit and write.

Well yes, there are moments in the following days where I have doubts or confusion but every time I experience those negative thoughts, I sit quietly, close my eyes and access ‘my place’, and it works every time.

On day 4 the guy with the wavy stick volunteers to be the model for the start of the next interventions. He stands up and limps heavily on his stick to the chair facing the class. He is a former Black belt judo and was a prolific sportsman before his trauma occurred. After being led by Mick into a state of deep relaxation, he appears to be going through one hell of an internal battle – he’s sitting upright, eyes closed, breathing deeply whilst his body convulses. It’s as if the energy circulating his body is meeting obstacles before powering on to create new useable pathways. He’s the guy who seems to have been carrying the most enormous burden on his back. Mick guides him through the process and each time they meet a negative emotion they correct it with a colour and replace it somewhere in his body. It takes a long time for the man to return to a more conscious state. He stands up and walks back to his seat without the stick. It’s the sort of thing you see in an unconvincing film, but this is real and is happening in front of our eyes. It becomes apparent that the stick had become a metaphor for his life, and now he has discarded it, he can start a new life. The emotions running through us all at this stage are unprecedented. When I ask Chris, a retired GP, about what we had just witnessed he confirmed to me that it was ‘like a miracle’. The miracle of the self to transform has amazing powers.

By Day 5 the big guy who experienced learning difficulties as a child, and who told me he had ‘done bad things’ is beaming with smiles, his hunched shoulders are relaxed his shallow breathing has become even and deep, and his bellowing laugh can be heard for miles. He’s lightened up and no longer feels under threat from those around him.
When I left Bradbury Lines, Hereford in 1981, I was told by the ‘doctor’ on my final medical “I’ll give you a year before you try to kill yourself” it’s fair to say that that statement hung over me like a death sentence – it shaped my response to the world. But the worst thing about it was that I started to live that part for secondary gain. For 19 years, I built a whole life around my ‘disability’. I wrote 87,000 words misery memoir. I lived my lie. I made paintings of it. I recorded it on a DVD. I was obsessed with giving reason for my cause and effect. But now, I have a new life where the past is only there to remind me that change is possible, so that without those past experiences I would not have found what I have now.

There were 18 of us on the course, and every one of us changed our perceptions and our model of the world. By the 7th and final day of the course we had become respectful of each other’s progress, having witnessed and lived those changes. We had travelled a journey together, and it was a remarkable transition. From Day 1 sitting on the edge with fear and suspicion I moved to the centre and found peace love and harmony. I would never have guessed that was possible but it happened and I just had to tell you.

Steve Pratt is a former SAS soldier. He gained a First Class honours degree in Fine Art from the University of Leeds in 1992. He is currently gathering material from former sufferers of PTSD to raise the profile of the charity Talking2Minds, for an exhibition of artwork in London. The process of making images about trauma helps to reprocess negative emotions into a positive experience – that’s how art therapy works.

Steve Pratt can be contacted at www.steveprattfineart.com