Sunday, October 2, 2011

An open letter to the man I love... a man who is never defined in my heart by PTSD and TBI...


 I'm sharing this with the world... and especially those who struggle beside us each day in "PTSD & TBI world" in the hopes that maybe you'll write the same sort of letter to the one you love.  It's hard sometimes in our lives to remember our love stories... to remember the thousands of little moments that add up to a lifetime of love.  But, it is especially important for us to do so as we fight and labor to keep that love alive in the face of hardship and challenges.  So, here is my love letter...

My love,

You often ask me now "why?" I still love you.  It's not a question often considered in "normal" marriages... marriages not challenged by the things we now face... a life lived together with PTSD, TBI, and other injuries in its midst.  Well, dear one, here is my answer... an answer I share openly because I want the world to hear and for others who face this struggle to maybe find comfort and strength in my answer and our story.

This time of year, as the weather starts to turn colder and the leaves get ready to change, always reminds me of that first night I met you.  I was sixteen, you were nineteen, and we found ourselves together at meeting for "young adults" who wanted to make a difference in their community.  I was new to the group, you were not... you stood up to speak and as your words poured out through the room, I thought "here is someone worthwhile... someone with integrity and presence... someone I would like to get to know."

You are still that young man to me.

And then, as we began to get to know each other, and I heard your laughter... a laughter that didn't just fill a room, but defined it... a laughter that was contagious and especially loud and full when playing with the children you helped and those you knew... I thought "here is someone who lives life and loves the people in it."

You are still that dear new friend to me.

As we began to date, you became my loudest and most active supporter.  School project?  You helped.  Hair brained idea to change the world (or at least our community)?  You were right there with me.  Crazy dreams that seemed impossible to reach?  You were there encouraging and reassuring and participating.  And, I thought, "my heart is his."

You are still that first love to me.

And then, at the ripe old ages of 19 and 22, we were married.  I still so vividly remember our wedding day... first having to rush through the church to find you and show you my dress... despite the fact that it was before the ceremony... because by that point my excitement could only be fully poured out to you.  As we stood at the alter, I remember the tears in your eyes... and the tears in mine... as we both could not imagine being any more blessed than to have the opportunity to marry so young.  To live a life where we got to grow up AND grow old together.

You are still that bridegroom to me.

And as our first two years of marriage began to pass, and we found out happily that we were pregnant... but then a little over four months later lost those first two sweet children... I remember the days and nights of your never leaving my side.  Of you holding me, and comforting me, and shielding me from the world that suddenly seemed too harsh and cruel to face.  I remember your gentle words and strong touch and your unbelievable strength.

You are still that rock to me.

And then, came September 11, 2001, and your resolute determination to protect your homeland and your family no matter the personal cost.  I remember the pride I felt at your decision... the awe I felt at your patriotism... the agony I felt as I drove away the day you left for basic.  You were mine, but we were also now part of something bigger than ourselves, something we each knew would be hard but chose to do together.

You are still that soldier to me.

And then, in a blink it seemed, you were headed to Iraq.  My days became a mix of "soldiering up" and learning to live my new life as a military wife and of waiting for any word from you.  The phone would ring... or I would find a letter in the mailbox... and my heart would beat as if it would storm out of my chest.  As the call ended... or the letter was done... my heart would break a little then.  You, though, despite firefights, RPG's, IED's, death and destruction, still responded to the need I tried my best to hide from you.  Just when I thought I couldn't possibly handle another day, I would get a hand drawn bouquet in a card from you (better than any fresh flowers I've ever received)... or a little trinket that you'd managed to pick up somewhere.  You met my needs when your own pressures were too much for most to bare.

You are still that lifeline to me.

And then, you were back... distant but trying so hard to return to me.  You patiently waited for me to readjust to our life together and reached in and drew out the worries and heartaches I'd tried to hide while you were gone.  And then, finally, we were pregnant again and the sweet little girl growing inside was too stubborn to be lost.  And you spent nights laying beside me, talking softly to her when you thought I was sleeping... patting my belly and telling her how much she meant to you... and how much you loved her "just in case" as you got ready to deploy again.

You are still that blossoming father to me.

Almost 5 months later you were back on leave.  You had flown for more than 24 hours to get to me... to our newborn... to see that sweet child in person.  You were exhausted, in pain, and physically drained... yet you walked in the door of the hospital room with a dozen roses and a look of wonderment for your dear baby girl.  You treated us like glass in the first hard week in the hospital... getting over all of the complications.  And one night, you wrapped her up with you in your field jacket liner and held her against you and fell asleep... like you were shielding her and protecting her from the world.  And I thought how thankful I was that YOU were HER daddy.

You are still that new daddy to me.

And then, you were gone... back to Iraq... back to a war zone that was heating up again.  Those last months in Iraq were so hard and so dangerous... I knew what was happening via others... but you, dear one, still were protecting me.  The calls we could manage were about our daughter and me and how you wanted me to take care of myself.  They were you talking about our little one... wanting to know every detail of what was happening with her... wanting to be a part of the little moments and milestones you were missing.  They were you reminding me how much you loved me and how thankful you were that I was the mother of your child.  They were tenderness and comfort in the midst of the hell you were facing.

You are still that kind comfort to me.

And then you were back... in pain... and struggling vehemently against what we would later discover was PTSD and TBI.  It was you trying to stuff down and push away the things that were torturing you so that you could be there for us.  It was a time of confusion and upheaval as we prepared to leave the military life we'd come to love.  But, there you were, fighting for us... for our new little family... and fighting against the things that were beginning to try to destroy us from within.

You are still that determined ally to me.

And then we were in "civilian" world.  You intent on providing for us.  You trying with everything in you to control the chaos inside of your head in order to keep pushing.  It was a time of hurt and heartache for all of us.  A time when we could have quit... a time when you could have let your injuries tear us apart... but you didn't.  You kept fighting... and pushing.  You sought treatment for PTSD even when you didn't want to, because you wanted to do right by us.  You put yourself through uncomfortable counseling sessions and too many medication changes to count, because you were determined to save us.  You thought you were weak... I was amazed by your strength.

You are still that hero to me.

And now, still, you are here with me... helping me forge on and change our world and the world of other heroes and families like ours.  You made the decision with me to open our lives... the good, the bad, and the really ugly... to the world in order to help others like us.  You've taken on PTSD... you've taken on TBI... you've taken on days of pain.  When days are hard, we may falter, but then you help me pick us up again.  You've kept going and fighting and pushing.  You haven't given up and neither will I.

You are everything to me.
 
So, my love, that is "why".  It's why I still love you, why I still fight for you, why I still (and will always) stand by you.  I'm here because you will never be defined in my heart or mind by your injuries.  But, you will always be defined by my steadfast knowledge of you... of who you are... of the boy you once were... and of the man, hero, husband, and father you now are.  You, husband, are mine... and I am yours.

Love,
Me

Brannan Vines
Proud wife of an OIF Veteran
Founder of FamilyOfaVet.com - an organization dedicated to helping heroes and their loved ones survive and thrive after combat with real world info about PTSD, TBI, and more!

14 comments:

  1. That is the most beautiful love letter I have ever read. I can't think of anything else to say other than Wow.

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  2. Brannan - you are amazing and have been since you were a little girl. I am so proud of you, your family and the love your family shares with others. You are such a wonderful women and I am proud to call you my friend. Please let m know how I can help,

    Susan

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  3. That is beautiful Brannan! I don't really know what else to say, I just LOVE it.

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  4. This is so beautiful. So many cannot understand how I can stand by my sons who have both been in combat and have had some serious issues since returning. I gave birth to these boys and I know the kind of people they were before all of this. I will stand by them and do everything I can to help them through this and I pray that someday things will get better for them and for all of the soldiers with the "physical" and "psychological" wounds of war. Thank you for sharing your beautiful love letter.

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  5. That is amazing. To stand by your husband and be there to support him. PTSD is a struggle of many ups and downs. The letter you wrote is truly amazing.

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  6. Well, that made me cry. :) Very touching.

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    1. Me too and oh how I can relate.

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  7. This was beautiful! It made me cry, it was just so touching.

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  8. I am a wife on this same journey and it helps me to see how i am not alone. Im gong to grite a love letter but i wanted to say thank u for sharing this wondeful idea. I am feeling a bit better knowing I am not alone in now I am feeling. Thank you.

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  9. What a beautiful love story.

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  10. I, too, am a wife like you Brannan, standing by my husband, the man I once knew, the man I fell in love with, the man who was an amazing person and father to my daughter (who was not even his biological daughter), the man who was my knight in shining armor...the man who went to war and never came back. My husband has been struggling with PTSD, and evennthough the VA refuses to acknowledge it, I know he has TBI and so does he. We have been through heart ache after heart ache. One year after my husband came home we got pregnant with our first child together, the baby boy he hoped for. The man I fell in love with wanted a baby boy so badly and yearned for him so much, but when he found out about our pregnancy, it was just another day to him. He was so numb and had not been dealing with his emotions properly thanks to the Army not taking care of him. Our son is now 3. We have fought to stay married and stay together for 5 yrs now. It has been 5 yrs of his infidelity while trying to maintain the adrenaline rush he once felt in Iraq, his disconnection, his lack of care and emotions, his lack of being a husband and a father, etc. I was the one who pushed for him to get help. As soon as he got out of the Army, I made sure the DAV and VA knew we were in town. When he didn't want to get help, I was the one who showed him he needed help. Now 5 yrs after returning home from Iraq, he is a member of the National Guard and just got activated and deployed to Afghanistan. I tried to fight this deployment tooth and nail. I notified his command of his PTSD and possible TBI, which he had not disclosed to his unit or command. I tried telling them about his being hospitalized. All they ever saw was an outstanding soldier and mentor. They never saw the depressed, anxious, angry, deceitful, hurting man my kids and I saw. No one listened to me. No one believed me. To them, I was just simply another wife trying to beg them not to take their husband. Reading your letter brought tears to my eyes. I'm a nurse, and before I ever got with my husband, I was trained in PTSD. My first nursing job was with the VA, ironically, then after that job I geared my profession towards mental health and psychiatric nursing. No matter how much knowledge I had, everyone ignored me...my husband, the Army, the VA, and even his own family! Now everyone knows I knew what I was talking about, including my own husband. My husband has been trying really hard to put our marriage back together. He has promised that when he gets home he wants to get into an actual PTSD clinic and possibly an in-patient program to get his PTSD situated. I, too, have been asked over and over again by my husband why I still love him and why I fight so hard to stay with him...and like I tell him, and everyone else, he's sick, plain and simple. I vowed back in 2007 to love and cherish him, in sickness and in health, in good and bad times, til death do us part. Those weren't just words to me. If he had come back missing body parts or if he had cancer, I'd be right there by his side...why should this be any different? I also want to do a love letter. I love this idea. :)

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  11. Thank you for sharing your Love Story. Your story is very inspirational and emotional for me.I happened to come across it while doing some research for a class project. I'm in a group dynamics class and my project topic is: Families members of Vet's who have "PTSD" or "Shell-shocked". My Dad, who is my "Hero", served in the Korean War. I was very young (maybe 7 years old) when my parents split up; ending in divorce. All I was told, is my Dad was shellshocked. Whatever that's supposed to mean to a 7 year old - left a lot of why's,what's and how comes in my mind. When I would ask (what's wrong with daddy or why do we have to move), all I was told is, "that's how he came back from the army. That was many years ago and all it left me was a vague memory of Dad, a forever love for Dad, and a little girl who still missed her Dad. So, this project is a way for me to learn more about familes and their loved vet's, do my project for class. I have come a long way with the help of counseling and therapy. I do share a relationship with my Dad. We talk nearly everyday and i get to tell him how much I love him and how proud I am Him. I know he loves me and my heart is healing very well.I am able to be a loving daughther to my dad.
    Bless you and your family. My prayers are with you and for all families and Vet's. Thank you for the work and support you do. I will continue to visit the Families for Vet's Website and take action to be involved.

    Love,
    Daddy's Girl

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  12. I just read a short article about the love letter campain. After searching for more info I came across your love letter to your husband. Such a beautiful letter (I am sitting here with my tissues) -what a special love you both share. I will be praying for your husband to recover and for all of you to receive the help you need to continue to adjust and live a beautiful long life together w/your daughter. Although I was not in the service I have struggled with PTSD due to a horrific car accident -I re-live it just like it is happening in my dreams and various times when driving. The strangest things trigger the vivid flashbacks. I also struggle with the physical pain from the trauma I sustained. The PTSD and memory loss has gotten better with time -but out of nowhere it will reappear -so I do understand a bit of your struggles. You need to know you are a wonderful wife -my husband did not understand my physical pain -even months after the accident let alone my PTSD so our marriage did not last. You have something far more special, I will keep your family in my prayers. You have also shown me that this is a very special campaign that could be helpful to other veterans who may not have someone in their life who understands their stuggles so I will be contribuiting to the love letter campaign by writing love letters to others in hopes that one day one of my love letters will help someone one day. God Bless you and your family.

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  13. Such an amazing letter could only be written by a truly amazing woman, who has a truly amazing love for her "love" and her family. I so much admire your patients and understanding for your husband, as well as I admire his perseverance and devotion to you and you'r daughter whilst battling PTSD. It is incredible to hear such a positive attitude and outlook on the current situation you and your family is faced with. I truly believe that perseverance and determination is the only way so many in this world will survive...and make sure their smiles survive with them as well ;) Peace and love to you and your family, you seem to be a beautiful model of what makes me so incredibly proud to be an American...whilst our country has its many faults and problems I will not ever give up my love for the United States of America and will continue the fight to better our home in every way possible until I have no more days left. Stories like your's help to restore my faith in love...life...liberty...and the pursuit of happiness. Thank you for your strength and for sharing such an inspiring letter.

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