The following is written by Karen Basilotta, Dignity Alliance co-founder, from her personal perspective and experience and is not intended to be a full account of others experiences.
Nearly a decade ago, I was working in a restaurant that had karaoke on Wednesday nights when I heard the most intense, beautiful voice come across the speakers. I’m talking about the kind of voice that makes you stop, look around, and simply stare at the person creating the sound. The singer was with a group of co-workers in the Social Work field. That was the moment I met Jasmine Whitten, who quickly became one of my closest friends, and co-worker as she insisted I join their team. I had no idea that hearing "Killing me Softly" would be one of the most influential moments of my life.
Jasmine is a rare find in the world. The type of person that brings joy and peace to any situation. She is strong, fierce, positive, energetic, unconditionally accepting, brightens every room, and makes every person smile. Soon after meeting Jasmine, I was introduced to JS, the love of her life. JS was overseas at the time, a proud member of the United States Army.
In June of 2007, JS had joined the United States Army where he graduated from Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. He was a hard worker and incredibly smart, moving up the ranks with pride and passion. When the deployment ended, JS was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for his exceptional service. His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Army Service Ribbon and the Overseas Service Ribbon.
In September 2009, a very proud Sergeant S. pinned on his Sergeant stripes. JS proposed to his best friend in October of 2009 and they began their journey into military life together. Jasmine was immediately whisked away from Arizona after a beautiful mountainside wedding and settled into her new favorite role, a wife, at Fort Knox.
Soon after moving away, some of the light and joy faded from Jasmine’s voice. She described being exhausted from night after night of not sleeping. She described his flashbacks and night terrors, being afraid to wake him up or ask about them. She mentioned the bits and pieces of audible statements didn’t make sense to her but the distress was real. JS experienced most of the symptoms of moral injury once he was out of the battle field and trying to adjust to civilian life before they were to move to Germany. In the next few months, Jasmine learned more than she expected about what he’d been through by piecing together fragmented statements and holding him while he struggled.
See this was the time when service men and women didn’t talk about what happened for fear of having everything taken away. JS tried to carry it all, internalize it, and make sense of what he was experiencing. This was a time when asking for help was often followed by indirect punishment and shame. PTSD was joked about amongst comrades. JS couldn’t talk to his own wife about what he was going through. As many stories go, he started drinking more to avoid or dull the flashbacks, he became emotionally unstable perhaps trying to protect his best friend, his moods were unpredictable and Jasmine had no idea how to help.
We were only 24 years old. Nobody prepared JS for this internal turmoil. Nobody prepared Jasmine for the pain of watching the man she loved suffer at a level she couldn’t comprehend. Nobody prepared her friends and family for how to help or what to do. I’m choosing not to disclose more of the personal struggles that were experienced out of privacy and respect.
One day, only 2 short months into her marriage, Jasmine did what she never could have prepared for. She begged, bribed, and pleaded with her husband not to take his life. That day she fought him for his service weapon for hours. She cried out for help. Sadly, she lost that battle and was present for what no person, no wife, no human should have to endure. I will never forget the sound of her voice when she called to tell me. I will never forget the hug I was finally able to give her when she returned to Arizona to place JS at rest. She was brave and beautifully broken at his services. His family and friends, as well as hers, mourned together in disbelief.
While JS's battle ended there, Jasmine’s had just begun. My best friend, understandably, had changed. The light, the love, and the energy, dimmed to a flicker for many years. Her shine was diminished to darkness for a long time. Again, I choose to limit the personal details of Jasmine’s journey out of respect. Thankfully, after a long road of recovery, Jasmine Shiver was able to heal. She still talks of him often, misses him dearly, and loves him completely. She always will. It took a long time and a brave journey, but she has regained that light and love again.
This story is like so many others that we hear, that we see on the news, and that we read about online. I have been passionate about helping Veterans and First Responders, and their families, since this experience because I truly believed there had to be a better way. During all this time, I fell in love with the helping professions and forged ahead searching for a way to change the conversation about PTSD, trauma, Moral Injury, and especially how we treat Veterans and First Responders. Every day I watched waiting lists get longer and services fail. There had to be a better way. There is a better way.
After training in, studying, and trying many different therapy approaches, Accelerated Resolution Therapy has proven to be effective and preferred by Military and First Responders. ART allows for resolution of symptoms without talking about what happened. If JS was given this opportunity, I truly believe things would have been different. I am confident in ART because I’ve seen it work. Flashbacks and night terrors are the brains efforts to process images. Talk therapy or internal rationalization can only take it so far. ART allows the brain to reprocess that image and memory in a more pleasant way, storing it in the proper part of the brain rather than keeping it upfront and present.
If Jasmine had the opportunity to do ART along her journey, I truly believe her healing could have happened much more quickly. This is the reason Dignity Alliance offers services to the family members, not just the service person. We know the effects of trauma fall far beyond one person. Meeting Jasmine that night at karaoke led me to what I am passionate about and I hope to positively impact as many lives as we can at Dignity Alliance.
Deep thanks to Jasmine Shiver for allowing us to share her story, her journey, on Dignity Alliance.
Please share this information with anyone and everyone who is hurting and could benefit from ART.