Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday Momism: First Steps for Dealing With "Firsts"

Remember your child's first steps? As parents, they are imprinted in our hearts, our memories, in pictures and video if we are lucky. There are so many more “firsts” in the lives of our children: the first day of school, first sporting event, first dance, first date, first time behind the wheel of a car. Exciting times, right?

There are other firsts, too, that we don't look forward to. First peer pressure experience, first heartache, first day of combat. We watch the news, we keep a phone nearby, we pray, we go through family albums, we sit in their room, smell their sleeping bag, pet their favorite stuffed animal, feed their beloved pet.

If we're lucky, they come home. A lot of them don't come home alone. This brings on a whole new set of firsts. First noticed changes, first feelings that something's not “quite right” First nightmare, first argument that doesn't make sense to us but makes perfect sense to our veteran.

How do we deal with these firsts? Trying to find a way may be exactly what brought you to this page today. The “first” thing to do, the most important, is to understand that you are not alone and this is not as uncommon as others might lead you to believe. More and more of our combat veterans are coming home with brain injuries, PTSD, epilepsy, mood swings, headaches, memory loss. The very ones who say differently usually do not have a family member dealing with these issues. Some that did go over? Those bunkers protected them or they never saw the front lines and still don't get it. Personally, this mom doesn't get how that could be but it has been confessed to me by some of those same veterans.

It may be hard to get your veteran to seek help. In that case, perhaps bring help to the home. Perhaps you could invite a veteran that has been through a similar experience, whether in the same war or a different one, to the home. I have seen firsthand how these veterans have a bond and can open up to each other. Why? Because they “get it”, they understand what the other has been through.

This is the number one problem in my opinion. So many don't get it. The irony is, I remain hopeful and thankful that someone else's child hasn't gone through what mine has. I don't have vindictive feelings about not being understood. I've even seen a parent who thought I was overreacting change her way of thinking after she experienced the same thing with her combat veteran son. Then she came to me seeking understanding. Yes, I was there for her. Her apology was heartfelt and I accepted it. Still, wouldn't it be nice if our combat veterans, if us as family members, could get that understanding without everyone having to go through it before they decide they want to help?

Another first step is to seek a group for yourself as the family member. More and more are opening up to parents. If you don't have one in your community that does, then perhaps it is part of your journey to open one yourself. I was about to do that here in mine when an active one invited me in. I was a mom but I was being accepted.

Eleven years ago, I would not have seen myself on this journey. To be honest, and I believe you other parents can attest to this, if I could have my son as he was, I'd gladly be one of those people who don't get it. But I'm not. My son's defense of his country led to his brain injury. His injury led to my fight for his physical needs and my need to not feel alone.

You are not alone, either. If you are having problems finding a group in your area, feel free to leave a comment or email me at monica_newton_writer@yahoo.com. I will be happy and honored to help you to find the right resources in your community. If there aren't any, it could be a sign that you need to be the first to take it upon yourself to make a group.

We were there for their first steps. Now let's be there for each other's first steps into life as the family members of combat veterans dealing with PTSD and TBIs.

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