Veterans receive free PTSD therapy in La Jolla

An artillery round rips through a concrete wall in the computer lab where Pablo Markesis is sending an e-mail to his parents. It lands 12 feet away from the U.S. Army specialist and fails to explode.

This occurred in December 2009. But for years afterward, Markesis woke up right back in that room in Kandahar, Afghanistan, staring at that Taliban shell and wondering what was about to happen. That was on the nights he was lucky enough to get to any sleep at all. “I mean, I saw Marines get blown up,” said Markesis, 45. “I saw brothers lose their arms. And you hear those cries, I mean the screams, dude, and it won’t go.”

Suffice it to say, Markesis’ current life, as a San Diego financial advisor, suffered as a result of these night terrrors and other symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). So he’s one of about 75 veterans who have attended Warriors Live On, a holistic healing program held three afternoons a week at Eight Elements West, 6830 La Jolla Blvd. Suite 201.

“We work with getting the body back to some sense of cohesion,” said Eva Belanger, the program’s founder. “Trauma is held in the body. It’s an unfinished cycle. It’s the mammal not being able to finish how it wanted to respond in a time of panic. As humans, we skip all the processing that needs to happen in the body when we have a job to do. It only comes out later. The anger comes up, the flashbacks come up and people get somatically ill.”

Warriors Live On includes acupuncture, yoga, nature excursions and Organic Intelligence, a counseling modality emphasizing self-empowerment as a means of resolving stress. The program is free of charge to all post-9/11 veterans, since it’s funded by grant money and private contributions. (It’s limited because of space and, Belanger said, because “the sooner we treat trauma, the more effective we can be.” However, she said she hopes to one day open the program to all veterans.)

“When we go to the V.A., we’ve got to report what happened to us over and over and over again,” Belanger said, “and all that is doing is re-exposing us to that trauma that’s unfinished, and the body responds accordingly. Here, we’re going, ‘Hey, let’s work with what is working well with you.’ Once that is established, then I can gradually step back into the trauma and the body’s responses, and the body will actually take care of them.”

Belanger suffers from PTSD herself. She served as an Air Force communications officer under constant mortar fire in Iraq in 2005 and 2006. The idea for Warriors Live On occurred to her while working for the V.A. in 2011.

“I didn’t have any problems, really, until I started working as a therapist and hearing all this client stuff,” Gonzalez said. “I had to stop working at the V.A. and start working on myself.” She did yoga and acupuncture and engaged socially with other veterans. Then she realized how much good she could do by integrating all these therapies into one, tailored specifically to veterans suffering from PTSD.

Belanger met Gloria Gonzalez, owner of Eight Elements West, in 2012, while taking a course Gonzalez taught in an alternative PTSD therapy called Somatic Experiencing.

“I just had the intuition that I needed to talk to (Eva) for some reason,” Gonzalez explained. “As we started chatting, I said, ‘Let’s meet up, come to my place, show me the business plan and let’s see how we can help each other out.’”

The main room at Eight Elements West is bright and bustling with the sounds of weights clanking and veterans chatting, the rear room dark and peaceful where other veterans relax after being treated with acupuncture needles. Markesis relaxes on the balcony outside as he explains why the medication the V.A. prescribed to him for his night terrors, Prazosin, didn’t help.

“I was taking it about six times a day and I couldn’t even function because I was like a lethargic blob,” he said. “But I’ll tell you what helps is these people right here.” Markesis gestures his tattooed arm toward the wellness center’s main room.

“I am so grateful for Warriors Live On,” he said. Markesis — who heard about the program through some Air Force and Marine friends — said it’s taught him how to listen and talk to his body. “It’s also helped me become more relaxed and better at letting things go, and the nightmares don’t come as much at all,” he shared. “Thank God there are organizations like this that are here to help and mend us.”

A fundraiser/open house for Warriors Live On will be held on Friday, Dec. 8 at Eight Elements West, 6830 La Jolla Blvd. #201.

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