Monday, March 28, 2011
Divorce has caused a lot of emotion, as I am sure it always does. My parents have been married for 38 years, so I didn't come into my marriage with any real experience with a broken home. It took a lot of time and turmoil before my former husband and I came to a point where we felt separation and, later, divorce were the best option for us. Like many PTSD veterans from the Vietnam War, my former husband had turned to work as his "drug" of choice. I am thankful it wasn't alcohol or drugs, but workaholism often causes as many problems.
After his stoploss was lifted, my former husband was brought back from Iraq and was separated from the Army. There were no PTSD checks, no "welcome home" ceremonies, nothing. He was here and his guys were still in Iraq. He felt as if he never finished the job he was sent there to do. I remember him finally telling me one day that, on his last day in the Army, he sat in his truck outside the gates of Fort Riley and couldn't believe where he was. Ten years of his life given to the Army and now he was just tossed into the civilian world. He was lost and I didn't know it.
He began work with a communication tower company and was on the road. He was gone most of the time and soon found that he loved the work he was doing. Climbing to heights of up to 2000' was exciting and brought back the adrenaline rush of combat. Reading Col. Grossman's book, "On Killing", helped me understand the addiction that can occur with combat. Little did I know, his job building towers had provided him with a "high" that he craved.
Fast forward 7 years later, and he is now a project manager with a major Communication Tower company. I am incredibly proud of his work ethic and focus, although it was part of what cost us our marriage. Because of this, there is a big part of me that harbors some resentment toward him. Today, however, I thought about it. I don't drive the kids to see him often because it is a long way and because I want him to take the initiative. Then I think about my work with Family of a Vet, and I remind myself that my former husband IS a combat veteran and he IS sick. I decided to take my kids to see him this weekend because they are asking and I know he is missing them terribly. In order to be intellectually honest, I feel I must remember that my former husband has a disability and this is part of what I can do to support him and our kids. Listening to my heart when making these decisions may not always be easy (and very often isn't), but it is almost always worth it.
After all the ups and downs that this life has left us living, I have to say, I live for the moments of happiness and feelings of security. I am not one to take them for granted or to even think those ten minutes down the road it will all be the same. With this being said, since Sunday things have been AMAZING between me and Kevin. We have been able to joke around, laugh, spend time together, cuddle, act like crazy in love teenagers, smile, cook dinner, and so much more together. He has been calmer with the children. He has smiled a lot and found happiness in things. He has also not had anything to drink in almost two weeks. Right now we are one day shy of the two week mark. K and I have been able to sit down and actually talk about things that matter to us and are important to our futures, as well as our children’s. I tend to feel bad because there are moments that I just wait for it all to change and for an argument to blow up or for him to have a sudden, unexpected mood change that leaves me feeling more helpless than before.
After thirteen days of no drinking and four amazing days of pure happiness and more of a relaxing environment, I decided to look into PTSD and drinking. The effects it has on the ones that suffer from PTSD and TBI. I know that there are many people that try to use alcohol as an outlet, a self-medicator. I also know I have heard my husband refer to it as self medication. The other day, after he decided to quit drinking, I was moving things in the freezer around when a bottle of whiskey fell out. I picked it up and was placing it back in, when he simply stated for me just to throw it out. Ummm, not a chance am I going to be the one to trash it! I told him that if he was serious about throwing it away, then he could be the one to take that step. I am not going to be the “bad” guy nor am I going to be the one he lashes out on if/when later he decides he wants a drink. Plus, I figured the best way for me to see how serious he is and to see where his self control is now at was to leave it there. I don’t think I have gone into sufficient detail about his drinking before now. He was drinking daily, multiple drinks. He never got stupid drunk, but he would use it to numb himself. This is why him not drinking in almost two weeks is such a big deal to me. I am so proud of him, yet I have not made a big deal out of it all. I am just letting him work through things and remaining by his side, always making it known I am here and available. I know that things will not always be this smooth, just as I know there will always be setbacks. However, the one thing I will say is that for whatever time God is allowing these good days, I am going to enjoy them all and run with them. We don’t have them often enough.
Some people say that PTSD and alcohol or drug abuse go hand in hand. Being that my husband has come home from two deployments, mentally, physically, and emotionally injured, well, I can understand this. Before the deployments, he rarely drank. In fact, he would have maybe one or two beers whenever we would have get togethers, but that was his limit. He despised alcohol and drunks. After the deployments, alcohol turned out to be his outlet from it all. As I stated before, it was his self medication. The more they realize they can “forget” their problems the more they drink. They are fully aware that it is a temporary fix and that sooner or later the issue will resurface. The one thing that is not thought through is the families that this affects. Drinking when added to PTSD causes more issues in a marriage than the PTSD alone does. In return this leads to divorce in many cases. Not in this case, because I refuse to leave my husband and I refuse to let my marriage fall apart due to any of this. I can’t blame him for what he has had to witness. I want to help put the “pieces” back together. I know I can’t make it all better, but whatever I can I am willing to do. I’d go through just about anything to see my husband more like he has been the past few days. It honestly breaks me to see him struggle in the ways that he does.
Earlier my husband made the comment that he feels better when he is not always intoxicated, but life seems somewhat easier because he could just “forget” it all. A temporary fix isn’t going to get anyone far in life, just my opinion. He also told me that he quit drinking so much because all he was doing was trying to suppress bad memories. Now that he has quit he has to face them all on his own and it’s extremely hard to do. All I could do was express that I am here to help him through anything and everything. Being here is where I want to be. I just hope this no drinking thing continues and we can start to face these demons and memories that he battles. I know that only time will tell and it has to be one step at a time as well as one day at a time.
As always, we hold on tight during the bumpy rides and love the smooth sailing ones! Cherish the moments of happiness and learn that the ones of hardships will pass… they always do. So to all of you that have been or are in the same boat, we will hold on tight and continue to love the ones we are with. War changes them into individuals we are still trying to learn, know, and grow with. Keep calm and try communicating. Getting upset and letting arguments take place will do nothing but prolong the good days that lie ahead.
One day and one step at a time…. This is what we have to do in this life....
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Thank you for this post. As the wife of an OIF Veteran turned advocate (by necessity!
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of http://www
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost
Friday, March 18, 2011
My name is Brittney Biddle and I am a new person on the team of Family of a Vet, as the Community Blog Coordinator. My husband is currently going through the medical separation from the Army, primarily for severe PTSD but many other things as well. Through all of this he finally received the formal diagnosis of TBI... Needless to say, we were already aware of the TBI, but through this we have received more information regarding it. I wanted to share some of my story with everyone. Just know, even in our darkest hours, we are never alone.
Earlier this evening my husband called me after his appointment with what was supposed to be a consultation for his sleep study. This appointment also left us wondering about more and also having a better understanding to things. The sleep study that he has been scheduled for takes place next month. They are going to monitor him for so many things during this time… the main reason started off to see if he suffers from sleep apnea… which the doctors are pretty much sure he does. We just need the sleep study to verify it all.
See, my husband has deployed a couple of times to Iraq and the time there has left him struggling daily with the nightmares and hell that he experienced over there. He has severe PTSD and is currently in the process of being medically retired from the army. The PTSD is just one of the many reasons they are retiring him. He is very limited to what he can do in life from all the physical and emotional injuries he has endured. Physically, he has had multiple surgeries, has permanent nerve damage, problems with his knees, backs, arms, and more. As far as his arms go, at times his hands become stuck in a paralyzed form that even surgery could not fully “fix”. He still does not have full feeling in his hands. He has scars that take up most of each arm from the nerves having to be moved around and reconnected. My husband got so bad that he could no longer hold items in his hands nor could he open his water and Gatorade bottles. For the most part he has regained the ability to open bottles. His back tends to get worse as time goes on. He has to see the chiropractor and acupuncture doctor a few times during the week for his problems. He has degenerative disc disease, bone spurs, crushed vertebrae, and more that affects his daily life. He cannot turn his head all the way to the left. His back is misaligned. His head slumps forward as he is unable to hold his head all the way back. This and more is all combat related….
Two deployments, with constant missions, being a lead or tail gunner, being thrown from his vehicle, being caught in the middle of numerous IED’s, running and taking cover from mortars and FOB attacks has all left my husband scarred for life. There is so much more that I could write in this area, but I won’t. There is no need to fill everyone in on every detail that pertains to our lives. This is all anyone really needs to know. I am just trying to give you a better understanding of what he has been through and what we face on a daily basis.
He also suffers from TBI, which today we were able to find out more information on this matter. I know that we are all aware of the different sections of the brains and that each section has control of areas of the body. Well, the front part of your brain helps plan and control behavior. If this area is damaged, the person directly affected may have problems controlling his or her anger. In return, this may lead to fights, anger outbursts, emotional abuse, and much more. When my husband and I first met he was a pretty laid back kind of guy. He has always been “short” tempered, but never one to have mood swings that change on a moment’s notice. Maybe “short” tempered was the wrong term to use… Let’s say he has never had patience which in turn may have led to him running his mouth. Lol.
Shortly after returning from his 2006-2007 deployment, I noticed many changes in him. Of course, this was expected. They had just survived a living hell. The stories I have been told have left me speechless, which is hard to do. They have left me full of pain, heartache, love, and more respect that I ever imagined for my husband. As time went by, I noticed more anger outbursts and fights between us. Before I go on, no he has never been physical with me in a harmful way. I noticed us drifting apart which broke my heart. I was at a loss! He was home for about 17 months before deploying again. Everyone that understands and lives this life knows that just because he is home doesn’t mean he is actually home. Those seventeen months were taken over by training, FTX’s, NTC, and whatever else came along with it.
Early 2009 my husband was sent back overseas. During this deployment he became a man that I didn’t know. Our fights became worse and more frequent to the point we were on the verge of calling it quits… I won’t go into much detail on this. He was sent home from Iraq after about 7-8 months for corrective and emergency surgery. This is when his hands had just quit working and he was paralyzed. Following this, we did separate for a short time. Short as in not long enough to account for anything, yet long enough for us to open our eyes and get it together. 2010 was by far one of the best years, emotionally, for us. We were able to reconnect and become better as a couple.
However, I still saw the angry outbursts and it scared me. Not for my sake or even our kids, but because this was not my husband! At least not the one that I had met and fallen in love with years before. I remember one day, we went to the Wal-Mart Market, our local grocery store. He was in a fabulous mood when we left the house, which had me so excited. We were waiting for this extremely slow driver to remove themselves from the space that we were waiting for when another guy came flying around the corner. This jerk acted as though he was going to cut in front of us and take the spot. I thought nothing of this until I saw the vein in my husband’s nose pop out and his jaw starts flinching. I was amazed at how quickly his mood had changed. He had gone from one extreme to the next in a matter of seconds. In a serious warning tone, he made it clear that if that “f’ing jackass parked there it was going to get pretty damn ugly”. Thank God, we were able to still park in that spot. Again, I won’t go into an ugly detail of what went through his head at this time, but I had never seen him act like this. Had something happened and he acted out, my husband would have gone to jail, then probably to the mental hospital for a while. This is just one of many incidents.
Back to today with the doctor. She explained to him that she has no doubt he has TBI, or Traumatic Brain Injury. The front of his brain is permanently damaged from being hit so many times, this leading to his angry outburst. This is the reason we stay at home like we do and we never put him in crowded situations. Yes, I have had to give up things due to this, but there is no regret at all. I would rather see my husband enjoy life any day than to sit in a movie theater or at a concert. These guys with TBI are not taken seriously enough and it is sad. This goes for the PTSD as well. I could write for days on each topic and what my husband and family have been through, currently live through, and will face in the future. Stay tuned and I am sure you will hear more on it all! So, if you have a spouse that angers and shows it through situations like this, there may be more to it that either of you realized. We now know that on top of the PTSD he really is suffering through TBI. He also has moments of seeing black or close to when he gets this angry. It will last a few seconds.
No, I do not walk on egg shells with him. I have learned that plans change in a moment’s notice. We may have plans to go out with friends or eat dinner somewhere, and those plans are quickly stopped. That’s okay with me. I have adjusted to this life. As I said before, I wouldn't change it. Though my husband is far from the same, he still came home to me. And that my friends, I will NEVER take for granted. I never plan far in advance due to this. I just tell people that we will have to see as the time gets closer. I never expect anyone to understand, nor do I care to put our personal lives out in the open for everyone to take place in. This is something that directly affects five people every day and that is all that truly matters. All else falls into place as it happens. There are days when phone calls won’t be answered nor returned. Not because we are avoiding anyone, but more because we need a quiet house. We need that downtime.
I am going to now bring this to a close. The main purpose was that I wanted to explain that I found out more about my husband’s angry outbursts and weak moments in life. I now have a better understanding to what is behind the TBI and that it isn’t always a short term thing. It can be lifelong. Hold the ones you love close, because we never know what tomorrow will bring. If you are married to someone that is in the military that has been through this, you know not to take life for granted and to cherish the small things and moments in life. Once they deploy, there are things we will never get back, however, there are also things that we gain from it all. Don’t hold on to the past, let that time go. Look forward to the future and what it has in store. We may never know what one day to the next will bring, but we all have a lot to be thankful for. If you can sit down at night and look at your spouse, then that is all you could ask for. If you a parent or a child of someone who suffers from these things, be thankful that your parent or child made it back. In this condition, you are just lucky to have them. We all are. Hold that close and let that lead you through the moments of darkness and hard times. Quit letting the moments of plans changing or moments of forgetfulness be such an issue in life. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. Quit getting so mad or bent out of shape because they don’t feel up to being around people or going to dinner. Stay home with them and cherish the fact they are still here! Take a step back and realize what these men and women have had to endure and how the direct effect of it has taken a toll on them. Do you think they want this or want to feel this way? Each of us only knows what we are told and will NEVER know the whole story and all the images and stories. If you want to be so tough on them, then please take a walk in their shoes. Until then, each of us need to be the support and backbone I know we are all capable of being. There is no one and nothing (other than your children) that should matter more than your spouse. If they are having a rough day, don’t go out without them. Be by their side and show them that you will ALWAYS be there for them, rain or shine, good day or bad… I know it can sometimes be difficult, but you have the strength within you... We all do.
His MOS was that of Bradley gunner, but in Iraq he was a combat medic among other things. I remember him packing the drab green medic’s bag full of trauma supplies. It was done with careful precision but also with some degree of aloofness...as if this was just another job and another day. Lord knows what would lie ahead.
The day he left for Iraq we drove to Fort Riley and prepared to leave him with his unit. I was so proud of him but scared to death. I wondered how long he would be gone and what he would do. I wondered if he would come home the same man. Would he come home home at all?
A year earlier I had excitedly driven to the Kansas City International Airport to pick this man up, my husband I hadn’t seen in a year. Our 18 month old son would run up to him, the first time he likely remembered ever seeing him. After all, he was only 6 months old when his daddy left for Korea the year before.
I thought back to the day he left for ROK and recalled my intense sadness at the prospect of a year without him. We had only been married nine months and we had a little baby. I knew the only thing that would sustain me was the knowledge that in six months, when our son turned one year old, my husband would be home on mid-tour leave.
It was September 2001. A sunny morning and I was headed to work and completely thrilled because my husband would be home soon on leave. It had been almost six months and we were ready to see him!
Then I heard it. I was listening to a radio station out of Kansas City and the news came over the air. Something was terribly wrong in New York City. As it turned out, my husband would be spending his mid-tour leave sitting on the DMZ staring at the North Koreans instead of heading home. It was a sober reality and it was the first time I really felt the gut shattering fear of deployment. I knew then that a war was beginning.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
My name is Stephanie Workman and I am currently the Social Media Liaison for Family of a Vet. Just a few years ago I was the wife of a combat veteran desperately seeking someone--anyone--who could throw me a lifeline. I didn't understand what was going on with my husband and my marriage and I needed someone to validate the demons swimming in my head. By the grace of God above, I was brought to Brannan and Heather at FOV and the rest is not-so-ancient history. This website and these phenomenal people nursed me through one of the toughest times in my life and today I am back to be that lifeline for someone else who needs it like I did.
The story I'm here to tell, however, doesn't necessarily end the way you always want it to. Despite the trials and the desperation, my husband and I were legally divorced a month ago. Although we have three children and we are still very close, we had made the difficult decision to end our ten-year marriage. My subsequent blogs here will be stories of my journey with him through the Army, through deployments, combat in Iraq and especially through the difficulties after the war came home.
I write as if I'm talking to a friend...and I am. My experiences are ones which will inevitably create an "ah ah!" moment for someone out there. If that is you, please let me assure you that you are not alone. Although I am certainly never going to suggest divorce as the best option, it does happen. If writing is therapy for you as it is for myself and many others, please feel free to write to us. We are here with open arms!
Grab yourself a cup of coffee and let's talk.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
I've been living in this PTSD world for a while at this point, and truthfully those bad times can still sock me in the stomach. But, I have (thankfully) developed some tried & true emergency plans for those deep, dark times.
If you haven't already made contact with the OIF / OEF Program office at your local VA Medical Center, do it. This isn't a magic pill, but it helps. When you make contact, ask to be assigned a case worker or patient advocate. Keep in regular contact with them. Make sure they know your face. This is your first line of defense when you need an ally within the VA system to get help for your Veteran. They can cut A LOT of red tape.
SECOND (part A) -
If your Vet isn't being seen by Mental Health, you need to start nudging him/her in that direction. I know (from hard earned experience) that this is easier said than done. Most combat vets don't want to admit that they're experiencing a mental health problem. There's still a stigma there (even though there shouldn't be!). Your best bet is to think through and practice what you want to say and then wait to catch your Vet in one of those rare, calm times and talk about it. If that doesn't work, sometimes getting a friend, sibling, former military buddy, etc., can really help. Before you talk to him/her, get in touch with the Mental Health department at your local VA Medical Center or Clinic. Ask what needs to be done in order to make an appointment, how long it takes to get an appointment, etc. The more you are able to convey to your Vet, the more at ease they're going to be with the situation.
SECOND (part B) -
If you have a VA Vet Center (CLICK HERE for more info) anywhere close by, go ahead and get your Veteran involved there. It is typically a much lower stress environment then a VA Medical Center. And they deal only with combat-related mental health issues. If you're already in crisis mode, they'll definitely help you, but it also doesn't hurt to start using this resource to manage PTSD before a full blown crisis.
At the initial appointment with a psychologist / psychiatrist, it's probably a good idea (with your veteran's permission) to go with them. For a while (when things were at their worst) I went to every appointment and still go to 30 - 40% of my husband appointments. My husband and I normally make the deal that I go with him into the room for the first 10 or 15 minutes (of an hour session), then I head out into the lobby so he can talk one-on-one with the counselor. This way, I know what's going on and can express any concerns, etc., about things that have happened, but he's still got plenty of time to freely talk.
Get help for yourself. Getting help for your spouse without taking care of you is not going to improve what's going on inside your household. PTSD poisons everyone in the house. It changes how you think, feel, and see the world. You react to your spouse differently. You treat your children differently. You look at yourself differently. If you're going to get through this (and do it well), you've got to find a way to get yourself healthy.
One good option for this is Give An Hour (CLICK HERE to visit their website). They're a non-profit that offers free counseling to military, veterans, and family members around the US through a network of providers who have donated their time. They have a search function on their website so you can search for counselors near you. They also have counselors available by phone, if there isn't someone available near you. I've used this option and fully recommend it.
Another option is family counseling through the VA Vet Centers. This is NOT individual counseling, but if your Veteran is receiving counseling at a Vet Center, the two of you (and your children, if you like) can attend family counseling together.
There is also a new, VA National Caregiver Support Line (1-855-260-3274: M-F 8am-11pm, Sat 10:30am-6pm). It has licensed clinical social workers available to answer your questions, listen to your concerns and directly link you to the Caregiver Support Coordinator at your local VA Medical Center.
Know that you're not alone. That was the most powerful thing for me, and is for most people going through that deep, dark place. There are hundreds of thousand of other people facing the same challenges that you are. You can do this. You will get through it. AND we will help you!!!
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of FamilyOfaVet.com - a site dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat!
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
My heart goes out to this Veteran and his wife. Our family was once in a dark, desperate, PTSD hell. Our story was not the same... but I remember the pain of that feeling of being so alone and confused and unsure of what I could possibly do to save my marriage, my family, or my husband. Matter of fact, FamilyOfaVet.com, was started because of that dark, lonely place. It was started to (hopefully) be a beacon of hope and help to those in need. I'll be responding to this Veteran's wife with some ideas and aide tonight and then will post some on the blog tomorrow. If anyone else has some ideas, I'm sure she'd love the help.
Here's her story...“It's a fairytale!” was how my friend described our love story when I told her how we met. We met ten years ago and at the time I was in a relationship. Nothing ever happened between us then. We kept our feelings to ourselves. Then our paths crossed again and it was like conversation never stopped. But he was in a relationship. So, yet again feelings were kept silent - but your mind and your heart has a way of keeping it in the back, nicely tucked away. We kept in contact for a short time, but it was as if we just decided it could not be. Five years went by and one day he was back.
This time we both decided there was no way we could let this chance get away! We carried on as if we had never been apart – we never stopped talking… endless conversation, laughter. Finally, I’d found my soul mate and best friend. He popped the question and of course I answered, “Yes! Yes! Let’s do it now!”. So we drove to the nearest place where we didn’t have to wait and we got married.
It was the best day. I was on a high that I couldn’t begin to describe without smiling from ear to ear. I couldn’t believe how happy I could be.
Then PTSD began to creep in. It started with anger towards crying babies at the store and being unable to sleep, pain, drinking. Although he was getting help, it was just him saying what he thought they wanted to hear or just enough to get the attention that was needed (band-aid treatment). I encouraged him to really talk to someone, but he would tell me he didn’t want to talk about what he did in Iraq. Then his therapist started with his childhood and blamed his parents. He started working with a work program at the VA and it all started to really go south. He was harassed by two female employees to the point he was watched at all times and no one would help or be on his side. He ended up losing job because they said he had to take care of his PTSD and he had just started taking meds for his PTSD (for nightmares, depression, etc). He lost trust in his doctor because he felt everyone was judging him about what he had shared with his doctor by reading his files.
Then, the VA sent him a letter stating he needed to check in with the VA police every time he came to the VA because of his disruptive behavior. Yet they have NOTHING documented - no outbursts, no threats, no acting out. The patient advocates have yet to give him answers as to what they mean by disruptive behavior. Two police chiefs reviewed the reports and stated it was harassment by these two women, yet nothing was done. In the place that he was supposed to feel like he could get help, he has been made out to be the bad guy. It’s unreal.
So it’s been 6 months since we got married and I feel I don’t know the person I married anymore. He no longer talks. I might as well talk to the wall, because I will get a blank stare or “no,” “yes,” or “I don’t know” for answers. He is forgetful. Sleep is either induced or none at all. He’s up all night watching TV. He might not eat or just eat everything in sight, hiding his drinking then all he does is sleep .
I am so angry I could spit nails and ready for divorce as I feel I am doing it alone. Finances are to the bare minimum as I am the only one with a job. I am emotionally drained. I know it’s not me and all he can tell me is I didn’t mean to hurt you. I have reached out to the military ministry, church yet I can still see how hopeless, helpless he feels. So the blessing I felt when I came up on this site… just to read & vent. Thank you. I could go on and on, but just being able to write has helped me calm down and know I am not alone. Thank you again....