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!
So recently I have started getting pretty active in searching the internet for more support and resources for myself as well as my husband. I came across some pretty decent stuff..a few more blogs, some various support groups (though none were close enough to join), and a facebook page for wives of PTSD. My search has proved more promising than the past, however I started to notice one pretty common and a bit frustrating trend. So many wives have fallen into this idea and mindset that they are suffering and becoming victims to their HUSBANDS, rather than seeing themselves AND their husbands for what they really are which is victims of PTSD …not eachother (I personally don’t even like to use the term victim simply because it seems to often breed that victim mentality rather than a warrior mentality which is what we should all strive for when facing hard struggles…but the term still holds a lot of truth). I see a lot of women and support groups leaning towards this idea that they are somehow the only ones struggling in the situation, that they are victims of some kind of abuse, and they often begin to resent and blame their husbands. I like to call the sort of mentality I’ve been reading about “Self Victimization”. It’s something that people from all walks of life often fall into but for the sake of staying on subject I wanna focus on couples struggling with PTSD.
Before you read further don’t think I’m about to just bash the women in the relationships. Husbands are not all innocent in these situations either. (Also, please keep in mind that I am only using the husband/wife labels to make this article easier to follow…Of course the same goes for husbands with wives suffering from PTSD, as well as unmarried couples, and same sex couples, ext…this applies to everyone). I’ve always felt pretty blessed that my husband and I have had very open and strong communication in our relationship. I think it has made living with PTSD that much easier for us and I want to share some tips and advice for couples who may be facing some unessesary struggles in their battle. Marriage and relationships are hard enough work without adding things like PTSD into the mix, but I believe in the strength of true love (I know cliche cliche) and I hope these tips may help some spouses overcome and move forward so that they can learn to better love, support and enjoy eachother again…
If you are a spouse of someone with PTSD click here to read ‘How to Love Your Veteran – Part One’ !
If you are a veteran with PTSD click here to read ‘How to Love Your Military Spouse – Part One’ !
As I sit back in my chair and let my phone drop to my lap my mind scrambles for more ideas, another way around this, something we can do to win. After a couple months of paperwork my husband just called from work to tell me his recruiter called to tell him he was disqualified for service. They wont let anyone with PTSD or higher than a 30% disability reenlist anymore. They can stay in, but once they’re out they can’t come back. Not even an interview or a chance to prove they are still capable dispite their “disability” just thrown into the pile of “unfits” and “head cases” with everyone else. All he wanted to do, all he’s ever wanted to do is serve his country. Now this label hasn’t just hung over his head like an ugly cloud, it’s cursed him. It’s held him back.
It started about three months ago while I was away, we’d been talking about him going back in for a while, but it really started when he finally called the recruiters and asked about joining the National Guard. They told him he could be cyber security. Not exactly on par with a bullet-catching Marine but he thought it would be great. Something differen’t, and something he could certainely do. This was the first time I have ever seen him so excited about something. He’s usually so lost and indecisive. No dream has ever been able to replace that of serving. I feel like we haven’t been waiting months for him to return to service but years. Ever since he got out in the first place. He’s never belonged in the civilian world.
Now I sit crying, waiting for him to get home. Thinking what on earth could I possibly say to him to make him feel better this time. How can I comfort and tell him things are going to be ok when they’re simply not. Nothing he does has worked out and every dream he’s had has practically been shot down by the big man upstairs himself. He just wanted to fight for his country but now they’ve used him, thrown him out, and labeled him only to tell him he can’t be of anymore use because they’ve “overused” him.
Meanwhile I sit at home. With no one to call because no one would understand. I can’t talk to the one person who would about how I feel because this isn’t about me it’s about him. So instead I wait. I cry by myself, try to pick up the house and muster up some cookies. As if that would help. I think and pray and beg for something, anything. God, what on earth will I ever say to mend this broken heart of his? Such a deep contagious wound that’s poured out and broken my own heart and spirit. My heart aches for him and everyone else in his place. But when he gets home I wont tell him this. I wont cry. I won’t let myself need him. Because he needs me…and I’m afraid it’s going to take all I have left to watch him live through this defeat.
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.