David Bothe is a friend of mine who does healing work with a wide range of people. He has recently started a nonprofit organization called Hope and Haven that, as part of its mission, provides healing services for veterans, trauma survivors, their families and caregivers. He has developed a set of basic healing practices that can be used by anyone to calm their nervous system. They are summarized here.
Here’s an excerpt from an interview I did with him in April, 2013 on his work with veterans:
LINDA: I know you have a special concern for working with veterans. What are the kinds of challenges you see those folks facing that call on their resilience?
DAVID: There’s a couple. Probably first and foremost is it’s a very sticky kind of trauma that pops up anywhere, any time, and the triggers that hit them. And it’s very personal. There’s kind of this class of dysfunction that’s associated. You have flashbacks. You have hypersensitivity or hyper-vigilance. Sometimes you have emotional distancing where you just kind of go away. And then you’ve got bigger versions like the “thousand yard stare” or soul wounds where someone just completely shuts down. The veterans are going through their own personal unique version of that and they’ve been trained that they’re not supposed to show that kind of hurt. And so their training and/or their choices block them from finding really easy healing for some of it. If they would start with ‘Okay, I’m hurting. What can I do about it?’ Rather than ‘I’m so strong. I’m not supposed to hurt.’ So that’s one unique circumstance: the belief that they don’t need resilience is they’re so resilient that they don’t need resilience.
The second part is they’re dealing with AWFUL things. And I’d capitalize the word ‘awful’. I usually use “THE AWFUL” in talking with them. And in a way that helps because instead of having to go into their specific story ‘My buddy died right beside me’; ‘I killed a kid by mistake’; ‘I was a sniper and I’ve got too many kills on my conscience’…
LINDA: Can you tell me a little bit about how you work with them?
DAVID: Healing isn’t about returning to the status quo ante. Healing is about managing your nervous system as it is now. You’re going to bring back experiences with you and you can heal them in a way to where they don’t bother you. My goal is is to have people non-reactive; meaning if something that would cause them to either go into a flashback or go into a hyper-vigilant state, they are able to manage those reactions and to be able to return to the present moment when they wanted to. The stories that their nervous systems are stuck in or their minds are stuck in can be very powerful and they can draw them away.
I’ve been working through a practice I call ‘calming breath’ and I’ve done dozens of different versions of it because the beauty about my formulas are there are no formulas. The idea is that you breathe in slowly through the nose and you see it bathing the brain, the spinal cord, the heart and the gut with some form of soothing, and then when you exhale, you exhale calm. The formula is to breathe in for 3-5 seconds, breathe out for 5-7 seconds and you choose what needs to be calmed the most; the brain/your mind, the spine/your nervous system, your heart/your emotional body and your gut/fear [whatever] and you get the double whammy when you exhale calm. I’m very fond of it because it’s a holistic practice where you engage your mind, you engage your nervous system, you engage the breath. If there is such a thing as energy, you’re circulating it and you’re focusing on soothing and calming, and it does wonderful things for the parasympathetic nervous system when you try. It’s not for every situation. It’s not for every person. But for the people it works for, it probably works really well.