I just wanted to share a little about my morning..my husband has been met with a lot of triggers this week and this morning he woke up in a horrible mood. He ended up taking his anger out on the dogs yelling and screaming at them and walked away from me slamming the bedroom door in my face…I had two choices to make at this point. I grew up with a father with explosive anger issues so I’ve always been pretty passive and calm when people get angry like that..I could either listen to my natural human emotions and get angry and snippy back (justifiably so) or I could take a step back for a moment and be patient. I began to prepare myself for a rough day mentally and decided to let my husband calm down for minute. When I entered the bedroom a little while later to grab my phone I asked calmly what he wanted for breakfast. He was laying on his back on the bed with his hands on his head obviously thinking. Instead of being angry his response was more loving and guilt ridden I took that as my invite to sit down on the bed next to him. I NEVER responded to his outburst in a scolding, angry, annoyed or any other tone other than loving and gentle. He was almost crying telling me he didn’t want to be like this today but he hasn’t slept in several days and everything was setting him off. Hell I can understand that. You should see how cranky I get when I’m Hungary. My point in all this (and I realize everyone’s situation is a little different especially in different stages of recovery) is that honey catches more flies than vinegar. My husband knew how he was acting was uncalled for and the dogs and I don’t deserve to have his anger taken out on us. He didn’t need me to tell him that. But if I had responded with matched anger it would’ve turned into a bigger problem than it needed to be. By responding in love and kindness he could see I understood and could trust me. He was more than sorry and I don’t need to make him feel guiltier..I started our breakfast and he came out of the bedroom a few minutes later and loved on the dogs..he’s still gonna be a little short fused probably today but hes been happy and pleasant ever since..so keep loving your husband’s ladies, be the sweet honey in his life, because we’ve come a long way and I can tell you it does get better..
As I stated in my post ‘How to Love Your Veteran – Intro’ I don’t want to focus only on the spouse without PTSD in the relationship because it quite frankly isn’t all on them. Like all relationships, effort is a two way street. To help me with this series I’ve recruited my husband, a Marine veteran with PTSD. I asked him to especially help me with the spouse with PTSD side of the table because, well, he’s the one sitting on it. So here are the unsparing words of wisdom from a combat veteran himself boys…
SAY YES TO COUNSELING…
First and foremost, get counseling. There is no shame in seeking out help from a professional. You yourself are a professional ass-kicker. A head shrink can’t do your job, so don’t try and do theirs. You know your head better than anyone else so be honest and wholly explain to them what’s going on in your hatrack and they will teach you how to get things under control. No one can promise it will be an easy process, but I promise it will be a worthwhile one.
EMBRACE THE FUNK…
You have to remember that civilians are ignorant. That’s not saying they are stupid, just simply that they did not go through the hell we did so they just flat out don’t stinking get it! They don’t understand why we have to sit facing the main entrance at a resturant, or why we’re constantly “looking around” instead of “listening” (which by the way..WE ARE LISTENING!). They don’t understand that we just need to make sure everyone and the situation are safe. We’re not checkin out other chicks or tuning our significant other out. We feel sorry for making them feel that way but if they had gone through what we did, they’d be doing the same thing. With that being said you cannot EXPECT civilians to understand, and getting frustrated about it will get you nowhere. The sooner you accept that fact the sooner you can move on with it. So Ass Kickers carry on. Do your thing. If it brings you even a little peace-of-mind while enjoying a dinner date with the wifey, then face the door.
Communicate, communicate, COMMUNICATE! Tell your spouse what’s going on in your brain housing group. Again, they wont fully understand, but it’s a start. They can’t be supportive and good for you if they don’t know what’s going on. They do understand that things are not right with you now, that you are somehow different, but YOU have to make the first step forward. Don’t wait for your civilian counterpart. It is truly on you to be the leader first. Take charge of your mind, body, and family. Don’t be an asshole, but be an understanding leader that realizes they (your family) cannot understand anything unless we tell them what’s going on with us.
You can find an ever growing list of communication tips HERE!
You can also find tips for spouses of PTSD on the sister post ‘How to Love Your Veteran – Part One’!
These first three are a few of the most important things to remember when loving your spouse with PTSD…
KNOW WHO THE BAD GUY IS…
A common problem between spouses in these situations is something so simple to fix, yet so many veteran marriages end in hate and divorce in large part for this reason. Blame. Blame is not a bad thing if you keep it focused on the right target, unfortunately so often couples begin to resent and blame each other for the struggles in their relationship. It can be difficult not to want to blame your spouse for what’s happened. Especially if your spouse says or does hurtful things out of anger or frustration, but you’ve got to remember they are struggling with something much more difficult than your average person. If you want to help and love your spouse you’ve got to remember who the bad guy is. It’s NOT your veteran. The good thing is it’s not hard to pick a better bad guy to blame…you can blame everything from the disorder itself, to the war, to the government who declared war. But don’t take it out on your husband, remember they didn’t ask for this, and they don’t want this any more than you do.
I’m no relationship expert but if I were asked what the most important thing in ANY relationship is I would yell COMMUNICATION COMMUNICATION COMMUNICATION. It’s no differen’t here. If you or your spouse are not good communicators by nature then I’d advise pouring all your heart and soul into learning to be. Bad/Lack of communication is one of the top causes of broken relationships. It’s even more vital in a relationship involving PTSD, it can also be a lot harder. One of the most common struggles is that your veteran is not very open to communicate with you (or anyone). Either about his struggles and emotions or even just about anything when he’s dealing with issues in his head. As a supportive spouse you need to always stay hopeful and patient about this. The more you learn to support him better the more he’s going to trust and feel comfortable opening up to you. It can take a lot of time and patience but if you’re not already you may end up being the one person he can trust and open up to the most; it’s not always an easy job but it’s an important and humbling one. Communication covers such a mass variety of things I decided to write a post focusing on it specifically, you can read it here.
Scientific studies have proven that if you force yourself to smile over and over when you’re sad or unhappy your brain will actually release the chemicals that make us happy, thus eventually turning that fake smile into a real one. It is amazing what kind of power our minds have over our bodies if we would just use it. No, no one can be 100% positive and bubbly all the time, but keep your mind set in the belief that the glass is always half full and you will be pleasantly surprised by the change in your life and those around you. It took me a long time to learn this lesson but I believe that happiness is a choice. A choice to stay positive and face life with our heads held high even through the worst of times. If you’ve ever heard the term ‘smiles are contagious’ then you also know happiness and positivity are contagious as well. By the same nature negative energy can bring everyone around you down. Your veteran is going to have a harder time sometimes being positive and happy, the negative energy from his struggle can in turn make it harder for you to stay positive and happy. But if you stay strong I promise your relentless positivety WILL carry over into his life and you will in turn BOTH be more relaxed, happier, and healthier.
You can now read the other end of the spectrum on my new post ‘How to Love Your Military Spouse – Part One’!
These go for both the spouse with PTSD and the spouse without…
DO always tell your spouse how you feel or your point of view
DO take a break to calm down or think about things if either of you need to
DO think before you speak
DO practice patience
DO use the term ‘WE’ more than ‘YOU’ or ‘I’
DO remember timing is everything
DO seek counseling, education, or other resources for learning to communicate better
DO overuse the term ‘I love you.’
DO trust your spouse
DO be aware of your tone of voice
DON’T ever raise your voice or say hurtful or condemning things
DON’T interrupt each other
DON’T give up on communication even if the other party is struggling to communicate effectively or at all
DON’T get frustrated
DON’T beat around the bush
DON’T keep secrets about your emotions or feelings (actually don’t keep secrets period.)
DON’T forget vocal expression is not the only form of communication
DON’T use PTSD or TBI as a label for your spouse
DON’T ever stop working on your communication
DON’T push your spouse to talk when they aren’t ready to
DON’T bring up subjects you know bother your spouse unless it is necessary (this is mostly for the spouse without PTSD)
DON’T assume you know what the other person was trying to express. If you aren’t positive..ask.
I will add more as I think of things =) and feel free to comment with more advice on communication if you think of anything!
Growing up I was always told that God works in mysterious ways. I realize not everyone believes this or believes in a higher power but I wanted to share a story about “coincidence” and second chances…
About every three months our church holds a giveaway to the community. We have a friend who runs a warehouse in Texas whose mission is to give back to the needs of the community and minister to them through love and compassion. He usually brings up a semi truck full of food, diapers, school supplies, toiletries, ext. We pass out flyers before hand and usually get about two hundred or better people from our small community to come out. They are always in such need and an act of kindness and compassion like this is just amazing to watch quite literally change their lives….
So the last giveaway we had a few months ago my husband and I really wanted to participate in (because of various schedule issues wed never been able to before). We signed up but come the morning of the giveaway my husband woke up after a night of relentless nightmares depressed, anxious, and in no state to be around a large crowd. He insisted I go so I reluctantly left him at home and headed that way. Of course I was running late, nearly ran out of gas, a “car won’t start I was fallin apart” kinda morning. I almost turned around and went home several times. Thank God I didn’t though because I would’ve missed out on an amazing experience.
I finally made it there in time and was assigned to the group helping carry stuff to the cars and praying with those who wanted us to. About halfway through the morning myself and a friend helped a middle-aged woman carry her bags to her truck. As we approached the truck I noticed a native american looking man approx in his mid 40’s (her husband) sitting in the driver’s seat. No big deal. I also noticed as we were loading the truck (he got out to help) a faded army sticker on the tailgate. Maybe it was just my crazy obsession and passion for anything military or maybe it was God but I just had an unexplainable urge to talk to this man.
He never said a word to us but he seemed kind. He was sort’ve distant and I easily noticed his slightly paranoid demeaner…he kept non challantly looking around watching his surroundings. His wife, a tiny woman with already greying straw like hair and skin that symbolized a lifetime if smoking, seemed nice but very private as well. One might not have noticed at first glance but her body language was not just closed off but almost protective..of him. I recognized this behavior not because I’d seen it before, but because I’d felt it. This woman was me in thirty years..
So I asked the standard “here’s your sign” question just to break the ice.. “Are you army?”
The man looked and acknowledged me for the first time and spoke with dignity and confidence, “Yes. My daughter too.”
We got to talking a little small talk. He told me he served in Desert Storm and now his daughter had served in operation Iraqi Freedom..
“Wow..my husband was over there too..he was an infantryman in he corp..Iraq 04-05. He fought in Fallujah.”
This got him talking a little more…he said he was infantry as well..a toe gunner if I’m not mistaking..
He mentioned that he needed to get down to the VFW but hadn’t gotten himself to do it yet….I was so close to getting him to trust me I thought..to open up just a little more about himself…his wife stood calmly beside him..no doubt dutifully and meticulously watching him…waiting for the moment he either opened that door or slammed it shut again and shed have to hopelessly watch him work through the haunting pain she had become so familiar with.
So I took a chance and chose to trust him first… “My husband was actually supposed to be here with me today…but he couldn’t. He had nightmares last night and just can’t be around people..he has PTSD.”
It seems like a small thing to share but if you have or are close to someone with PTSD you know it’s not so easy to tell people. The understanding in the mans eyes told me I had made the right choice though…Its hard to describe but his body and soul almost visibly relaxed and opened up to me…like walls falling down. A stranger finally finding a familiar friend..We continued to talk and both him and his wife shared with me how restricted their lives had been. He has nightmares too and his own kids knew not to come into his bedroom when he slept because he sometimes fought in his sleep and had accidently hit and choked people before. He can’t even go to Walmart with his wife and he’s been reluctant to get any help from the VA and even visit the VFW.
On top of his daily torment he was also tormented by the experiences of his daughter. She had suffered a TBI in Iraq and was now going through treatment for brain tumor caused by the incident. Imagine going through hell and then watching your baby girl walk right into the same hell just to come home still fighting for her life..
After talking for a while we decided to pray so I could get back to work. I got them to agree to stick around for the raffle. Later I actually saw him come out of the truck and join the crowd. Although he still looked stressed and anxious and left his back to no one it was a huge step few would recognize….
As we gathered to pray I felt overwhelmed with happiness that this man had shared with me and was planning on going to the VFW as soon as possible now. What happened next I never expected. His wife, who’d been mostly silent letting him speak, grabbed my hand and handed me a piece of paper with her number on it. “If you ever need someone to talk to about your husband..” She said.
I had never though before then about how lonely it was having no one to talk to about my husband and what we go through together. No one else who understood my position. She was the first person to encourage me to start talking and to start this blog. Before that event I was closed off and never thought I deserved help too. I had already written off the rest of he world as separate from me, that they could never understand our lives.
I’m sharing this story because I don’t believe God is a complacent God that doesn’t care. I believe he is an active loving God and he can use anyone for good if we let him. I believe everything happens for a reason and healing can be found through his love and compassion carried out through us. This Saterday we are having another giveaway. My husband will be there this time…and I can’t wait.
I open my eyes suddenly and its still dark outside, my breathing is short and my skin is damp in a cold sweat. It’s eerily silent except for the dull puring of crickets outside the window. The only light in our room is from the blinking red numbers on my alarm clock. The power must’ve gone out at some point.
My eyes quickly adjust to the dark and I can make out everything in the rest of the room. The tall dresser in the corner, the rocking chair, the chest at the end of our bed, and the scattered pictures on the wall. My mind acutely alert as if I hadn’t been deep in slumber just seconds earlier. I had a nightmare I’m sure, but like most of the others I can’t recall it. Maybe this was my minds way of protecting my sanity, or maybe my head really was crippled.
T-B-I … Traumatic-Brain-Injury… P-T-S-D … Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder. THERE. How’s that for memory exercises doc. As if on cue the anger and resentment fills me like a tidal wave. And then washes away leaving only the broken and scattered shell of a man, a dull aching depression and numbness. Anxiety still lingering in the shadows ever present and ready to jump out and strike at an moment. The rapidly clashing emotions within me leave me feeling broken and on edge.
“Baby are you ok?” Comes a sleep heavy voice from beneath the covers and I realize I’ve been sitting up on the edge of the bed.
I slide back and lay down beside my wife’s petite frame, wrapping one arm behind her head as she snuggles into my side, already on her way back to dreamland.
“Yeah baby, just a bad dream go back to sleep..I love you.” I try to keep my voice as even as possible, trying not to give away my anxiety and keep her awake in my suffering with me.
I must’ve fallen back asleep because the next thing I know I’m waking to light and I can hear a soft familiar voice speaking my name.
“Jake..Jake, wake up baby..I have breakfast for you.” My wife is standing at the door of our bedroom in her robe with a plate of what smells like eggs and bacon, my favorite.
When she notices me stir and wake she takes that as her cue to come to me. She’s a smart and sensitive woman, she knows how to wake me up without scaring me and potentially getting hurt. Something I wish she never had to think about.
I sit up as she crawls next to me and offers up the plate. I take it thankfully, but as I look down at it I realize I have no appetite. This was going to be a long day.
I know my wife must notice quickly when I’m having one of these days because she always does the exact right things. She doesn’t push me and she’s like an angel sent from heaven. The only person I care to have in my presence on days like today. Yet if she notices you couldn’t tell by the way she acts. She doesn’t act scared or timid around me like a lot of people, specifically significant others, might. She doesn’t push me like she might otherwise but she doesn’t act like anything’s wrong or abnormal either. She’s the only thing that makes me think I could be a “normal civilian” again sometimes. And when she acknowledges that I’m struggling with PTSD or having an episode its short simple and to the point. My wife is definitely not one to beat around the bush and I like that, especially in this situation. Other guys in my circumstance don’t always like acknowledgment of their faults or ailments but I appreciate it. Then she leaves it alone after that, she’s Incredibly caring and I know she worries, but she knows just when to keep it from me. She tells me I’m her knight in shining armor, her hero, and that I’m always there for her so it’s the least she can do when I’m going through this. But this woman is my Angel, and I know I’m lucky cause I’ve seen how other wives can react to their husband’s “symptoms”.
I set the breakfast on the nightstand and kiss her softly. Her eyes tell me she knows, and understands.
“I made you some coffee too baby it’s in the kitchen,” she smiles.
“Thank you baby. You’re amazing.” I smile appreciatively.
“Are you ok?” She asks just for clarity but already knowing the answer.
“Yeah..I just had nightmares last night,” I lean back against the headboard somehow still exhausted.
“Do you want to stay home today? We don’t have to go to church.” She genuinely offers. Always giving me the options I need on these days with no strings attached. She knows I’d be desperate and on the verge of a panic attack before Id ask for an out myself. The dull guilt still lingers but her assuring expression keeps me from feeling worse about it.
“Can we baby? I don’t think I can face the world today..but you should go, see your family,” I know ahead of time despite my wishes for her to go on with her life on these days she won’t leave me. Not unless she truly knew I needed to be alone, and today wasn’t one of those days. Today I could really use her comforting presence, but I wouldn’t tell her that. I never wanted to hold her back. The guilt crept in a little deeper.
“Of course baby. I need to run to town and get groceries later but we’ll stay home. I don’t wanna go without you.”
It was only a few minutes later I realized what day it was. November 10th, Marine Corp birthday. Great. This was really not shaping up to be a good day. The one day a year I could count for certain on being especially difficult to cope. The one day I missed the Corp and my brothers more than ever. The day I inevitably remembered everything without fail. I remembered what I couldn’t have back, my injury, my bad dreams, and the real nightmares that haunted me. The one day I cherished deep in my heart like all Marines yet my soul could no longer bear.
My wife knew what day it was too but she purposefully avoided mentioning it every year, instead shed wait to throw in a “Happy birthday Marine” expertely disguised amongst “Happy Veterans days” and “I’m so proud of yous” tomorrow.
Veterans day was no problem for me. And I knew my faithful wife loved to honor me and our other veteran friends and family on that day. She was probably more patriotic than all of us combined. And the first time I told her I really didn’t want any celebration on the 10th she was pretty disappointed. But she learned to understand as quickly as always.
She went back to the kitchen for the coffee, leaving me as requested for a moment to get myself together. I crawled out of bed and slumped into the living room. The depression almost too much to bear. I didn’t even want to speak, let alone eat or drink. She sat my cup of coffee next to my chair and came to comfort me. Her small frame falling into my chest perfectly. I hugged her tight, a familiar anxiety washing over me that I might lose her to death.
“I love you.” I choked out.
“I love you too Jake…You’re my hero. And I love you.”
I buried my head in her beautiful soft hair and let the single familiar tear slip out.
This isn’t a real event but a fictional example of life with a combat veteran the way it may be described from their point of view (just based on what I’ve heard my husband express). I hope I captured what I wanted with this, and didn’t describe it in a way that made the vet sound like a broken cry baby or something. My writing is fairly inexperienced and I may have failed miserably with this one. Writing never truly captures emotions as well as real life experience. I wanted to project a wounded warrior, one of the strongest persons we are surrounded by, struggling with the war inside their head. If you have any feedback on this please share!
Anyway. My husband has a hard time with the Marine Corp birthday just as described in the passage, although not every year does it look like this. This is, however, a description of some of the things he feels on mornings after nightmares. Obviously every veteran is different, and reactions and symptoms of PTSD and TBI are similar yet varying.
I wanted to share a little something that doesn’t necessarily have to do with my husband’s PTSD, but more to do with his feelings on losing his dream. Many veteran’s who were forced out due to injury or something else honorable may feel the same way. Before his knee injury in Iraq he planned on being a lifer in the Corp.
First a little background..Before I met my husband I fell for another man in the Marine Corp. I was a senior in high school and it was my first “true love”. He was a couple years older than me and also a grunt (infantryman) in the Corp. I’m not gonna get into the details of our relationship but we dated for about a year, and stayed pretty good friends afterward to this day. The biggest difference between him and my husband is that he hated the corp, and my husband loved it. He wasn’t a shitbird, he did his job, and he did it well. But his heart was never in it, he was a pretty negative person all around. My husband on the other hand loves the corp to this day, he never complained about it, was a great Marine, and misses it everyday.
So to the story..
Last night I received a text message from my ex, which isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Like I said we are friends, we still talk, and he just got out of the corp and has been dealing with the transition back into the civilian world. My husband and I have a pretty awesome line of communication in our relationship and he knows that I am still friends with him. He saw the message pop up on my phone and handed it to me..
“You got a text from Zach,” he said, an ever so slight look of disgust on his face. He always had a little bit of something in his expression when he said my ex’s name. Anger maybe, resentment? Whatever it was was very very discrete, I wasn’t even sure I was seeing it. But we had talked about my and my ex in the past and my husband has always said he was ok with me talking to him.
Don’t worry this story isn’t going where you think it is..
I was curious so I asked him..
“Babe..I know I’ve asked you this before but does it bug you at all that I talk to my ex?”
“No baby, it really doesn’t,” He seemed genuine enough.
“Well I just notice something in the way you say his name sometimes..I know you probably don’t like him..”
“No baby, I really don’t mind that you talk to him. That doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t like him because he’s a whiny bitch..he doesn’t know what I would do to have back what he hated so much,” he replied simply. He wasn’t angry, or even sad, just to the point.
“If I sound short or angry or something when I say his name it’s not because I don’t like you talking, trust me I would tell you that baby, I just don’t have any respect or time for guys like him.”
He went on to talk more about how it makes him feel when people complain or give up what he had. I’ve seen it tear him apart before, I see how losing his dream and having to build a new identity left a deep scar on his soul. It made him stronger in many ways but it’s also something he’ll have to think about for the rest of his life. To hear someone complain and throw away the opportunity to take advantage of the many experiences and bonds that the military can bring them is basically an insult to him.
He’s told me before and he told me again, “The military is what you make of it. Most of life is.” He told me about the differen’t veterans he’d seen who were just like my ex. They always regret it. Not right away, maybe not even the first 5 years they’re out, but eventually they will regret not trying to enjoy their military time. They will meet another vet who loved the Corp (or Army, Airforce, ext.) and when they ask them why? their answer will be, “Because I chose to make it a good experience.”
Something my husband has always taught me is that you can always find the positive in everything you go through in life. There’s a reason for everything, and you don’t want to look back and regret not experiencing all the things you could have been enjoying while you were complaining and/or wallowing in self pity.
Moral of the story is…for many of the situations you may find yourself hating, there’s always someone else who would give up everything to have what you have.
FYI: the names in this post have been changed for privacy.