Reclaiming Joy and Pleasure

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By Past Commander Mulzim R. Fidai

MAVA National

“Watch your thoughts; they become your words.
Watch your words; they become your actions.
Watch your actions; they become your habits.
Watch your habits; they become your character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
~ Frank Outlaw (20th Century American writer)
“O Thinker! Think for thinking will benefit you.”
Have a Blessed Ramadan!
Too often suffering of veterans is increased by their avoidance of pleasure. Here are some ideas on how to get some of those good (and important) feeling back into your life.
At one of the VA support-group meetings, health became the topic of discussion. Most of the conversation centered on the various medical conditions the men were experiencing: Numbness from exposure to Agent Orange; high cholesterol and heart disease; a myriad of physical problems, all of which had a negative impact on their quality of life.
It was easy to be empathetic about the various diseases and the medical conditions that many of the men and their families coped with on a daily basis, but underlying the medical issues was a much deeper one – one that was more difficult to articulate, but manifested itself as the absence of joy and pleasure in many of the veteran’s lives.
The concept of joy and pleasure is so alien to many veterans. Because of this, their wives and family members often admit to feeling guilty about indulging in such simple pleasures as a facial, manicure, haircut or massage.
Why are the men so reluctant to treat themselves well? Are they punishing themselves for what was done or not done to them during the war? Are they incapable of joyous and passionate feelings? Are they destined to remain at the opposite end of the feeling spectrum, where experiences are cloaked in fear, grief, depression, despair, and guilt?
But most important, is there a way to gently persuade them into activities that they might enjoy?
There are many reasons why veterans deny themselves pleasurable experiences. Some do feel that joy – given their past experiences of loss – is undeserved, but most are simply caught up in the pain and emotional numbness that occurred as a direct result of their wartime experience.
Although the past will never – and should never – be forgotten, veterans need to know that the ideal way to reclaim balance in their nervous system, and to become more fully oriented to the present, is through healthy, pleasurable experiences.
In other words, what veterans need most is a prescription to bring feelings of joy, love appreciation, enthusiasm and pleasure into their lives. While participation in pleasurable and relaxing activities is generally a natural occurrence for the average person, the veteran, on the other hand, needs to make a conscious decision to choose activities that result in positive feelings.
At first, to break old habits, it might be necessary for veterans to make an appointment with themselves or to ask family members to remind them to keep a plan that involves having a joyful moment. This may sound like a simple task, but to a war veteran, planning for pleasure is far from simple.
For the war veteran, there is often resistance to a new experience, especially if it involves socializing or a crowded, enclosed space. Because adding pleasure and joy to life will undoubtedly involve new activities, it is important to understand how old combat conditioning can trigger the “fight, flight or freeze” response and undermine the best plans and intentions.
The first step toward the plunge into positive feelings is to identify what is enjoyable and doing more of it. Most veterans have regular, positive interactions with animals and children. Other activities that may be pleasurable include fishing, driving in a beautiful remote RV and going to boat shows.
If you are married, plan a specific, mutually enjoyable activity once or twice a week and set a specific time and day to do it. Make an effort to agree on an activity that is realistic and feels good to imagine.
Another example: Another veteran had never been to an outdoor concert in the park. But he had walked the dog near the site and he did know the music. It was easy for him to imagine himself in familiar surroundings with enjoyable familiar sounds.
When the impulse to cancel manifests – remember, this is only the old combat conditioning going on the defensive – expect it as a normal reaction of the past and go ahead with your plans. When the event is over, evaluate how you felt while experiencing it and make any necessary changes for the next time.
Creating new habits of pleasure will offer unlimited benefits and help to improve the quality of each day.


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