PTSD, Horses, and Antenarrative – blog entry by David M. Boje, Ph.D. Aug 18 2015

PTSD, Horses, and Antenarrative

I believe my life after Vietnam Army service (1969-1970) would have changed for the better more quickly if horse-assisted care was available in 1970. For 45 years I have tried to understand my own PTSD that began even Before Vietnam (1969-1970).  Now with the horses, these past 20 years, I find that I am coming to understand the meaning of PTSD, how I once escaped into alcohol, still escape into TV movies, and my incessant workaholism. I once went to a counselor, for a single session, and took the notorious Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), the most widely used and researched standardized psychometric test of adult personality and psychopathology.  I called the counselor, and he told me, “I can treat you, but it will mean your work ethic will suffer, and you won’t be productive as a professor for quite a long time, if ever!”  That scared me, so I did not go back to have my PTSD fixed, and toughed it out, like most Vietnam veterans do.

With horses, I came to discover, horse help because while they look fearsome, they are more fearful of everything than I am. I have ridden horses that take flight at the sight or sound of a garbage truck, and one horse, at the sight of a butterfly. I stopped riding that mare. My horse Lucky Boy cares less about garbage trucks, but is quite anxious to return from a ride to his alfalfa.


Boje on Lucky Boy

PTSD, for me, is not a survey of characteristics, not a scale in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but rather, the meaning and meaninglessness of Being-in-the-world in which PTSD operates in spacetimemattering. PTSD is how I am attuned, moodwise to spatiality, not in the measure by yardstick, but in the sense of how close fear comes, from where it come, and how it can pass me by one time and strike out like a rattlesnake another time. Even before the Vietnam war mortars, the incessant tracer rounds at night, the ground glass in a casually offered bottle of Coca Cola, watching the helicopters land bodies on the runway in Saigon, there was PTSD close by my life.

PTSD operates in the antenarrative fore-structure between ground and the abyss. In Antenarrative theory, there are five B-concepts, each associated with one of the ‘fore’ concepts of (Heidegger, 1962: 151-152).

This is a depiction of the 5 B's of Antenarrative assignment process, with Heidegger (1962) fore- concepts.

This is a depiction of the 5 B’s of Antenarrative assignment process, with Heidegger (1962) fore- concepts.

Lets talk about fear. Fear has its deterimentality, spatially, in kinds of involvement, in a context of life involvements. Spatially, fear’s detrimentality is from a definite region, and it “threatens” me (Heidegger, 1962: #140).  When I startle when my very gentle wife approaches from behind, all of a sudden fear is “within striking distance” “coming close” and “drawing close” its “threatening character” can come constantly closer or just pass me by ((Heidegger, 1962: #140-141). 45 years and I still jump at the sound of something coming up behind me, and is threatening to strike.  As PTSD draws close, I become aggravated, and if PTSD is fearsome, then so am I, in the “patent possibility that it may stay away and pass us by’ but instead of lessing or extinguishing our fearing, then enhances it” (Heidegger, 1962: #141).

In fearing PTSD, many veterans just don’t go to counseling or even talk about it. PTSD is freed up and “allowed to matter to us” in that way (IBID.).  PTSD continues to matter in our lives when keep drawing it close, and what we draw close in antenarrative terms is beforehand in its fearsomeness ((Heidegger, 1962: #141).

What horse-assisted care works for veterans and families post-deployment

It works because the horse, this 1,000 pound animal, is afraid of its own shadow, will go into flight at the sound of a backfire, or the flutter of a butterfly.  For the first 18 years of my riding a horse, fear was my state-of-mind. I did not trust the horses I rode not to take flight. But in the last two years, I have come to trust Lucky Boy, that even if startled, he will care for me, not buck me off, and take off. PTSD is already disclosed in a veterans’ world “in that out of it something fearsome may come close” (IBID.).

PTSD, for me, is an “existential spatiality of Being-in-the-world” (IBID.). PTSD is antenarrative, it is attunement, a mood, that overcomes me and is close but, ‘there’ and ‘here.’

Before Vietnam

I had been on welfare, in poverty, eating pop corn for breakfast, since age 14, until done with high school. In junior high school in Spokane, Washington, the bullies were everywhere, ready to attack me for long hear in a world of crewcuts-the-norm. A skinny lad, I was often pushed into lockers, half drowned when there was pool time in Shaddle Park High School. Finally, I had enough, and started to fist fight at every provocation. I lost these fits, but bullies cannot stand it when you act all crazy and just wail away, knowing you will lose the fight, but never backing down.

I watched through junior high and high school, as my bothers turned to heroine and cocaine, my sister grew into alcoholism, and this pattern continued to the end of younger brother steve’s life, and my younger brother and my younger sister, last I heard, still homeless.

then came the first marriage, my own children, the continuing bouts of PTSD, the break up, the reunite, the second breakup, the divorce, bankruptcy, starting over, and finally I stopped drinking, and smoking. And that is another story for another time.

Finally, I discovered horses, or they discovered me.  PTSD was brought close in my life in the poverty of welfare, the single mother, abandoned by her husband, with four kids, two in diapers, me the oldest, being pushed about in school by students, teachers, and principals. I remember where I was when John Kennedy dies, being flogged in the principal’s office, with a board with holes in it, for extra pain, because, I acted the clown in English class. Many how times have changed.

My “timidity, shyness” in school, actually never talking, never answering a question, just pretending not to know, part of the “dread” and “terror” of schooled children on welfare, children startled by the clap of the mother, the fist of the bully, the paddle of the principle(Heidegger, 1962: #142). I hated school, all of it, until I got to college, to university, and began to teach.

To me, horse-assisted work with veterans is the “modification of fear” the possibility of a mood that understands the mood of PTSD (IBID.). Understanding that PTSD is a mood (attunement to Being-in-the-world of dread and terror). I understand PTSD, its “existential derivative” and “its ‘there'” in antenarrative constitution (Heidegger, 1962: #143). It is the the derivative of calculus I would pretend not to know in high schoo, when the Algebra teacher called on me, but rather it is the ontological understanding the disclosive potentiality-for-Being that I was thrown into welfare, thrown into a den of bullies, and thrown into war, as my life had “gone astray_ (#144-145). For 45 years since Vietnam, I have beens search for the path to my Authentic Self, and my “egocentric” self-decpetions (Heidegger, 1962: # 147) kept getting in the way.

Lucky Boy has disclosed by by his horse eyes but by a sight that sees my existential significance lets my PTSD be understood, on the ground, in understanding the potentiality-for-Being authentic Self.

Lucky Boy gets me, is grounded in “advance in a fore-conceptionI” (Heidegger, 1962: #150) of what it means to be fearless and fearsome, and in fore-having, fore-sight, all part of the fore-structure of his understanding, she conveys to me, as I learn to trust Being-in-the-world.

So this is why we want to do those Veterans Theater plays, to raise money for a ranch, where there are cabins, lots of horses and many other animals, and veterans and family can come to decompress. We call it Legacy Ranch, a project of the ANTENARRATIVE FOUNDATION. or go to make a donation here and now. Thank you for your support!