Brace yourself for another broken heart…

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. 

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Second Chances

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.

A Man’s Best Friend..

rhgh

I adopted my dog Ranger as a puppy about 3 years ago from the OKC shelter. He’s been absolutely AMAZING. I’ve never had to have him on a leash, he’s protective but not dangerous to be around people, loving, and incredibly smart. I can literally take him for a stroll through a busy mall off leash and never have to worry about him leaving my side. Anyways, sorry had to brag on my baby for a minute.

My husband and him have bonded really well since we met 2 years ago, they’re best buddies. One time in college I had him in my car when I forgot I had a test to take in one of my classes that afternoon. My husband was on campus too and it was too hot to leave him in the car so we asked my husband’s professor if he could hangout for just the one class period. So they snuck him in the back door and my husband took him to his history class. He did great of course, despite the girls cooing and loving all over him.

We’d already thought about trying to make Ranger a service/therapy dog but mostly just because we wanted to be able to take him everywhere with us (classes, shopping, ext) and since my husband has disability we thought hey why not? We might be able to get away with it. After my husband took Ranger with him to class though we learned that having Ranger around actually DID help. My husband has a problem with large crowds, sometimes it can be very debilitating and some days he literally just cant be around anyone. Classrooms have never really been a huge issue or anything but no matter where my husband is he’s gonna be hyper aware and at least a little anxious.

Having Ranger with him in class actually made him feel abnormally calm for that kind of situation. I know they use therapy and service dogs for veteran’s with physical disabilities as well as PTSD. They even have a few programs out there that link the dogs with the Veterans. So now we are really looking into trying to make him a therapy dog for my husband. We could of course just go ahead and get the vest off line but I’d feel more comfortable with an actual certification, just in case. My husband may have to go back to the VA and have them officially qualify him for one as well but that shouldn’t be a problem since he’s 60%. I can’t wait to see how having Ranger with him at all times might help prevent panic attacks in large crowds such as state fairs and Church, or maybe even help motivate him to go places he’d otherwise avoid.

For many men and women coming home with PTSD a dog can help not just calm them down but make them feel like they aren’t failing everyone around them. Sometimes even when we don’t try to make our spouses feel this way they feel like a burden on their families. They can feel like they are always messing up or failing them. A dog however is always happy to see you despite any kind of stress going on. A dog can also help motivate a veteran (or even a spouse or child) to keep-on-keepin-on. After all, a dog’s gotta be fed, walked, and played with. It could even help with physical therapy. Say a soldier needs to continue walking on his/her new prostetics or a healing injury, or exercise daily to keep blood flowing..a dog can help motivate that soldier to do so.

In the future I think it would be really cool to start a program where we rescue dogs from pounds/shelters/streets and make them therapy/service and/or just good pets for veterans, military personnel, and their family. I’m curious what all of you think? If you are a veteran, spouse, child or military yourself do you think it would be beneficial to your spouse to have a dog companion? Or for you and your kids to have a dog while your husband/wife is away? I’m thinking sometimes it may even just make the spouse more comfortable when they’re deployed knowing that there is a dog at home that can protect his/her family.

I may be dreaming a little for the stars here but I would love to be able to send or take dogs to miltary hospitals and veteran’s retirement homes myself just for a little animal therapy.

Please let me know what you think and spread the word to any other veterans or family members you know! I’d love as many opinions as possible.

180 Degrees

This is quite a bit out of order but it’s going to take me a little time to get the blog all set up and I have several posts to make. Regardless this is something that happened recently and seemed like a good start. This post is just to give a little insight..

I am a very lucky woman that my husband opens up to me and trusts me with his emotions stemming from PTSD as well as he does. Having been with my husband for two years now I tend to think I’ve got him all figured out. When you’re around someone long enough you pick up on a lot of things almost on a self conscious level. Their body language and tone of voice give off all sorts of cues that you learn to notice and read without much thought, thus knowing them so intimately you can (hopefully) learn to react to their cues in the best ways possible.

For example, when I get overly stressed (or am tired and hungry) I often tend to breakdown faster than a four year old without a nap on Christmas day. My husband, bless his heart, has to put up with me..but he does an amazing job. He can pick up on my body language and triggers pulling the pieces together before I fall apart at all. He’s the best kind of medicine as far as I’m concerned. Similarly, I can tell better than anyone when he’s off his game. I can often tell if he had nightmares the night prior before even HE notices his mood change in the morning. All by the cues I’ve learned to pick up without much hesitation or confusion.

This week however, was different. Like I said I’m lucky my husband is so open with me. He has shared many stories and feelings with me about his time in Iraq and the Corp, but even he isn’t always able to open up to me completely. I don’t think anyone ever could after going through even half of what our men and women have gone through over there. A couple days ago a man that deployed with my husband shared a story on his blog about an RPG that had hit their humvee in Iraq. I recognized the story as one my husband had told me about, only this was from another Marine’s perspective. It was a little indescribable how it felt to read it from someone else’s point of view. I had never heard anything about his time in the Corp from anyone but him. I guess I could call it humbling, and since I have always been very curious and interested in his past it felt good to learn even more about my husband.

Typically when my husband has a “bad day”, by this I am referring to PTSD, it starts in the morning when he wakes up and lasts most of the day. Sometimes it can happen later if he naps and has nightmares..those seem to be his biggest triggers. Usually. Other times it can stem from talking too much about the war. I can usually pick up quickly on his body language and verbal cues and redirect the conversation before it has any lasting effect on the day. That afternoon, however, I did not pick up on it fast enough. When he picked me up from work that day I told him about the blog post and how it was really interesting for me to hear it from another perspective. (Rather than hearing my husband tell me what happened in a humble no-big-deal kinda way, I got to read one of his fellow marines give thanks and credit to my husband and a few other ‘brothers’ for saving their lives that day). It made me proud to hear confirmation from others that he is the hero I look up to everyday.

Something in the seemingly harmless information I shared with him, mixed with what things he could have already been dealing with in his head that day, triggered a very quick 180 degree turn in his mood. He went from normal and happy to very quiet and dejected in a matter of a sentence. Let me stop and give a brief description of my husband. He’s a very strong man. Your typical broad shouldered, defined farmer’s muscles, strong square jawline, rough hands kinda guy. Along with a presence that demands obedience in a room. He is very much an alpha male. And he’s fought, front lines, in the bloodiest battle of BOTH the wars. He is a scout, infantryman, he is a Marine…..This strong man, my husband, went suddenly silent, and was on the verge of shaky tears by the time we got to the first stop light. Listen. This man does not cry.

I quickly went into my comforting wife mode, apologizing and asking what was wrong.

“It’s ok…I’m just remembering, and those are memories I just can’t handle today.” He’d responded evenly.

Normally, like I said, I’d have time to catch on and stop a change before it happens, but this time I did not. I learned another quick lesson that day. I do NOT in fact have it “all figured out”. Sometimes because I am so used to my husband and he has come so far with his PTSD and healing, I can forget that he still has to battle this every single day. Sure some days are easier than others, but it is not something that just comes and goes. It is always there in the back of his mind. He works daily to fit back into this thing we call ‘civilian life’. This is the invisible battle.

I believe that learning to cope and to be there for your spouse is something that grows and changes constantly even in your average everyday marriages. Learning how to be there for your spouse who may have PTSD or TBI is no different. It is important to learn from mistakes and experiences, but one must always remember we will never have it all figured out. But that is ok. I am a firm believer that as long as someone always genuinely tries their best to be better they can not fail. Learning to be the best for your loved one is an organic ever-growing process.