I caught up with my friend and colleague Lisa Ling today. It's already the second season of her new program on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), called "Our America with Lisa Ling." It's clearly the culmination of every journalistic skill she's honed in her 21 year career. Even in this era of instant and seemingly endless access to information she is managing to find new stories to tell and new aspects of stories we thought we knew all about. Case in point, I worked for almost a year on a documentary about military families and the high cost of multiple deployments, and we covered the issue of post traumatic stress and the ongoing chaos it can wreak in a returning veterans home life. Yet Lisa managed to find a hopeful and powerful story about not only how deep the damage goes (even coming up with her own vocabulary to describe the "broken-ness" she witnessed), but most importantly, how a little known program is making inroads to treating the vets and their spouses -- the truly unsung heroes of war.
High in the mountains of New Mexico in a town called Angel Fire, Lisa was able to attend a week-long session of an innovative program developed to help veterans and their spouses break free from the emotional distress that has taken over their lives. Many of these veterans have tried to cure their PTSD through traditional western medical practices, but during this time they and their loved ones experience a practice that is age-old to America, but revolutionary for these times.
Photo courtesy of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network
"Invisible Wounds of War" will premiere this Sunday evening. I caught up with Lisa as she was boarding a flight to promote her program on her old stomping grounds of network television.
CS: Sometimes I get annoyed when I see too much of a correspondent telling a story that I want to hear from the subjects, but in this case, some of what we see and hear is so emotional that I actually needed to see your reactions to make it complete.
LL: I'd like to think that people trust me and allow me to introduce to them characters and to take them to worlds they might not [ordinarily] see. I'm a vehicle through which people can experience these things. The fact that these vets-- these wounded warriors--allowed us into their world and to see their darkest demons, meant so much to me.
CS: For better or worse there's a lot of coverage about the problems of PTSD, so what is different about your show?
LL: I thought I knew all there was to know, I had read so much [in preparation] but I truly never saw what PTSD looks like and how it manifests itself. It's really because of courage the of vets to let us into the "wounded-ness" they are bearing. I hope that when people watch this, they will think differently about the struggles they and their families go through and be provoked to implement these treatments in their communities
CS: Or perhaps rethink sending their citizens to war in the first place?
LL: Exactly, I wish.
CS: What surprised you the most as you spent a week with these couples trying to rebuild what they had before the war?
LL: The level of broken-ess and the fact that they live with these horrors and demons inside them and don't even share them with their families. And the fact that I saw them literally get their spirits back. They took us to such a dark place and the fact they they were able to start the process and I saw it happen. there's no cure for PTSD but at least the vets have the tools and the community to get through their pain a little easier.
CS: For me it was the wives. How can they support these men who become abusive and angry and can't even express what they are feeling or share what they've seen? Andrea and Peter who you follow closely have been dealing with the fallout for nine years, and still Andrea has no idea what caused these changes in Peter. She learns at the same time we do what he saw and what it did to him.
LL: [The spouses] also had been holding this inside and the wives I met felt to so alone in their struggles. Once they had this opportunity to share and commiserate in each others stories and to hear collectively the pain that they were experiencing, it made a huge difference.
It was shocking to me that I was hearing at the same time Andrea was [what had been plaguing Pter for so long] and it just goes to show the level of "broken-ess" he was going through. And he was just one solder,. There are tens of thousands of returning vets wit this level of PTSD. At least Peter has acknowledged and is trying to deal with it but most don't. In fact most are so heavily medicated they can't feel anything.I recently heard about one solider who is on 47 different kinds of pills a day.
CS: This is really going to shock and touch so many people. What do you hope that viewers will do with what they see?
LL: I would love to see communities consider these approaches. This is one of very few that utilize this form of therapy and I, for one, would rather see that approach. And we are talking about an entire generation of young men and women--they are part of my generation and younger. To ignore these cries of help --it's just wrong. I was shocked,blown away, and inspired. This is truly one of the most important things I've ever done
"Invisible Wounds of War" premieres on Sunday, November 6 (10-11 p.m. ET/PT) and airs again on Veteran's Day , November 11/11, 5-6 p.m. ET/PT)
In connection with this special episode and in an effort to recognize America's veterans and military members, Oprah.com has launched "Our America. Our veterans. Our thanks." OWN is inviting viewers to take a moment and submit personal videos or special messages thanking a veteran or soldier to oprah.com/thankaveteran.
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