Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Point of Decision - The internal struggles of being a PTSD/TBI Veterans Wife

We all in life... no matter our path... face hard choices.  We face times where the right choices cost us, where we have to put ourselves (and our own needs or wants) to the side and push forward, where the weight of those choices can seem almost too much to bare.

I think that for those of us that live with and love a hero with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and TBI (traumatic brain injury), those choices often come more frequently... and too often, during difficult times, they come in seemingly endless waves.

Right now our family is in crisis mode.  This time of year (middle of August through the end of February) has "anniversary date" after anniversary date clustered together for my husband.  His PTSD goes off the charts with heart breaking regularity each and every year.  And, each year I struggle in a place somewhere just this side of hell to keep my head above water.

In this place, I want to lay down and give in.  I want to spend my days in bed.  I want to shut myself off from the world.  I want to run away.  I want to scream.  I want to sob.  I want to let my own hurt, anger, and "well, just &#!* it" feelings overrun me.

The problem with that is that I also know that here in this place, like it or not, I am the glue.  If I lay down now, we all come tumbling down.  If I give in to becoming angrier and angrier, more and more hurt, less and less kind, it just fuels the broken places that are trying to spiral out of control.

So, the point of decision becomes how I make my choices in this season.  Not that I am responsible for my husband... or that I can control his attitude or actions... but I can control mine.  I can control them.  I can control them.  Incredibly hard to do, but I can.  So, do I?

Do I respond to shouts with shouts of my own... or simply walk calmly away?

Do I answer grumpiness with my own sullen attitude?

Do I, in those rare times in this place that my husband chooses to reach out, reach back? Or let my own hurt and anger push him away?

Do I keep putting one foot in front of another and keep walking forward, or do I lay down and let this destroy us?

It's a point of decision.  It's my part in this fight.  It's the choice I have to consciously make, minute by minute, hour by hour, in the months to come.


Here I go...


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 Life After Combat!




Monday, August 27, 2012

Daddy, Get the Ball





The day was a warm summer day, a day right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The kind of day that years from now would be remembered as one of those great days growing up in the lives of two very special little girls.

“Daddy! Get the ball”. It was Caryn, a string-bean beauty of nine, who was impatiently beating the bat at the ground. “I wanna hit. I wanna hit” was her chant. Standing beside her was her younger sister, Melissa. A seven year old , who even then was just as beautiful as their mother but with a look that would melt ice in January. She was impatiently waiting her turn at bat. She had no chant, just THE LOOK.


As he was reaching for the ball he moved forward with his right leg and then stopped. He could feel the wire, or what he thought was the wire at that moment. The sweat was pouring down his face like Niagara Falls. He could hear his heart beating in his ears like a freight train out of control.

“Daddy! Get the ball” she said but he could not hear her for he was not of their time at that moment.

In a millisecond he was hurled back in time. Back to a place where he would feel the fears and pain see the body parts, blood and the faces frozen into a scream but without any sound. His innocence would be lost forever. He would smell the smells, hear and see all the horrors of Vietnam. He had felt the feeling of the wire against his leg before and knew what would happen to him or to his brother Marines if he moved. Just as he felt he would be in this moment in time forever or at the very least lose his mind, a voice from far off, very faintly, was saying. “Daddy, can you find it, can you find the ball?” and he was back from the nightmare and into their world again.

Ever so softly he spoke, afraid the words wouldn’t come out but they did and he heard himself saying “Yeah Hon, I found it, just give daddy a minute.”

It was over for him this time but he knew that he would never be able to let go of the war. It had stained his soul forever and would be with him until the day he died.

But for right now they were playing ball and making great summer memories for the two little girls he loved so very much.

Submitted by Ronald Bennington

Monday Momism: Coming Home


This morning I read the greatest news: a friend's son is returning soon from combat! He was going to surprise her but couldn't wait to tell her. Tears are filling my eyes even now as I remember the day my son surprised me on his two week R & R from Iraq. It was the day after New Year's and I heard a knock at the door. I looked out and saw a soldier's uniform. I was terrified. My son was in the middle of a war zone. What could it mean? Then I heard a voice tell me “Open the door and hug your son.”

I have never forgotten that day or that feeling. Even now when I watch Coming Home with my husband, I sometimes can't make it through all the episodes. I certainly never get through one without a lot of tears and memories.

I constantly touched my son's face that first hour. He said he was told the family would be clingy and this mom certainly didn't disappoint. His brother was out playing basketball at the school down the street with friends. We decided to drive down there. Our soldier had to drive. I was still too shook up and in shock to even try. When we pulled up, my son walked over. He was a bit puzzled as he could see me in the passenger seat. When he realized it was his big brother, he broke out in a run and they hugged. The picture you see here is from that day. I slept through an entire night that night for the first time in nearly a year.

It was during that two week leave that I began the journey that got me here today, to Family of a Vet. The nightmares, the paranoia, both were noticed and documented. How does a soldier choose between the Tigris River on one side, innocent Iraqis on the other, with the enemy coming right at him and his younger brother and sister inside the Humvee with him? I was chastised for letting my daughter walk over to a vending machine just a few feet away because “You never know what can happen even that close, Mom.”

If your veteran is actually still in service, document any and everything you see that doesn't make sense. It soon will for he or she is probably showing the early symptoms of PTSD. If your family is going through a war here at home, you are not alone. We are here for you. Contact us. Oh, and even though there are many rocky days, always keep the memory of him or her coming home close to your heart. It really does help. :)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Monday Momism: The Screams

The following is a poem I wrote.  Writing helped me get through my son's deployment and it helps me get through our days of TBIs and PTSD.  If you understand this poem, you are not alone.  If you don't, consider yourself lucky.  I remember those days, before his deployment, before his bravery took away so much.  Still, I'm proud of him and I know I am blessed every day to be his mom. 
  
The screams ripped through the early morn;
She rushed to check on her firstborn;
Sweat poured from his brow as he awoke;
Another night's peace, dreams of Iraq had broke.
Only this time he wasn't in Baghdad;
But safe at home in his own bed;
Looking around for his sister and brother;
Trying to save them and his mother.
For to him they were all in a war;
Realities merged he could have sworn;
  
Does he choose the Tigris River to his right?
Will they make it through another night?
He tries not to sleep till his body gives out;
Living's too hard and he starts to doubt;
He's scared to sleep for when he does;
He sees the war for what it was.
  
The eyes that used to smile so bright;
Now hold secrets in the night.
The scars on his body cannot compare;
To the ones in his mind that are buried there.
They fight daily for his peace of mind;
The government left his cares behind;
She doesn't take no from them anymore;
She's ready for battle when she walks in the door.
  
She'll never forget the screams that she heard;
Or the look in his eyes as he said those words:
"I couldn't save them!" she heard him cry;
Now she lives his memories in her own mind.
Now he's getting help one day at a time;
Slowly regaining his faith and his mind;
She owes so much to the Father above;
Who brought him home to a mother.s love.

If you are going through the pain and anxiety of living with a veteran who suffers from PTSD or a brain injury, you are not alone.  Contact us here at Family of a Vet.  We understand. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Veterans Wife


Being a Veteran’s wife isn’t an easy life.
 Being told I don’t understand just because I wasn’t in that far away land.
Living with scars that others don’t see, Being the strong person others think I should be.
My Veteran has returned, in broken body only; Having seen too many things that no one person should see.
He feels alone and scared, hopeless and rejected; Thinking he is the only one that has been affected.
Most of the time when he’s “lost in space”; He cannot see the love or care on my face.
When I am angry and sad, and feeling so bitter; I know for my Veteran and family, I cannot be a quitter.
I feel rejected and scared, and mostly alone, Especially when my Veteran and I are sitting at home.
I have God as my rock and love as my guide, But my soldier has been taken. And for that, I have cried.
So many tears have fallen, so many restless nights; Thinking of the endless battle my Veteran will fight.
With nowhere to go, but into my arms; I have to keep my Veteran safe from harm.
If you know a Veteran that still has a wife, know that she is there to be his for life. To protect him and love him, to live in his Hell, For she tries and she tries, but can never tell
Of the torture and trauma her Veteran lives, And every day, EVERY DAY, she tries to forgive
The fact that her husband will never be
As the man she once knew, the one she’ll never again see.
I scream and I yell and I am so lost inside, But there Is nothing I can do. There is no room for pride, For I know a part of my Veteran has died.
I curse and I rage, I resent, yet I forgive
Because through my heart and my love, I know my Veteran will live.

By Erin Boburchock

Found Patriotism: Remembering 9/11


We all remember September 11, 2001...being shocked beyond belief at what was unfolding in front of our eyes via television, radio...even in person for some of us. We all remember walking around in shock, trying to find our sea legs, waiting for what would come next.

What we don't often reflect on -- and what we're going to challenge you to do here -- is remember what it was like on September 12, 2001.

We woke to an uncertain world, for the first time afraid for what was ahead. Were we at war? Was it going to happen again? After all, no one had attacked the United States on this scale since December 7, 1942.

What we found, as we ventured out into a brave new world that day, was something almost whimsical. We stood in line at grocery stores, walked down the street, sat in traffic...whatever we were doing...we had a connection with everyone else. We were all compassionate, concerned, thoughtful citizens. The American Flag meant something more. Our men and women in uniform...military, law enforcement, fire fighters...took on a brilliance that wasn't immediately obvious just a few days prior.

Many of our friends and family members answered the call and enlisted to serve our country. Our military moved from peacetime to war, deploying and uncertain of what was to come. Here at home, we were supporting our troops and proudly flying our flag.

Time has a funny way of marching on, though. Eleven years later, combat operations in Iraq have ceased, but we still wage a war in Afghanistan. Many of our brave men and women have seen multiple deployments, some to both theatres of combat. In the past 11 years, nearly two million people have become veterans.

So, what does 9/11 look like now? 


  • Nearly 2,000 have lost a limb
  • Well over 200,000 have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Tens of thousands have at least one TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury)
  • Over 6,400 heroes have made the Ultimate Sacrifice
  • For every one battlefield death, there are 25 veteran suicides

While these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, they paint a very clear picture of the cost of war. Our heroes and their families are suffering and it's more than the VA can handle. In fact, it's estimated that nearly 60% of all VA claims are backlogged and it's only going to get worse.

So....what do we do? To be very honest, it's time for us to wake up and remember 9/12. We need to really think about what the day after September 11, 2001 meant to us and go find it again. Take care of one another and start finding ways to help. If you don't know much about the struggles our heroes face, take the time to educate yourself. Then pay it forward and help someone else. We simply cannot wait for our government to find the answers...we've got to take charge and do it now.

We’ve added a new section to our website outlining specific ways you can help right now. Titled the 9/11/01 Project, it offers a complete Community Action Packet which will help organizations develop ways to help veterans and families they interact with daily and educate others on challenges our heroes face. It also gives you ways to involve your children and even a custom “tweet” to share for those of you who use Twitter. You can visit the Project here.


This new section also challenges you to reach deep inside and remember the feelings of 9/12 and the days following...and turn those feelings into art. We’ll have a traditional blog project but we’ll also be featuring a “photo blog” titled Found Patriotism: Remembering 9/11 that aims to capture the feelings of not only 9/11, but the times since then and even the times before. Any photo that speaks to you in a patriotic manner is something we want to see and hope that you will share. So dust off the photo albums, go shoot pictures and start writing...even break out the sketchpad and draw! You can email your submissions to photos-at-familyofavet.com and we’ll begin posting them soon.

Are you up to the challenge?

Stephanie Workman
Social Media Coordinator
Family Of a Vet, Inc


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Caregiver Corner: In my World


In my World of Care-giving, life can be rather unpredictable.  It is true.  From the outsider perspective it may seem like I live the same mundane routine each day but that really isn’t true.  The reason behind that is because I am the caregiver of a combat veteran who suffers from PTSD, my husband in fact.

Yes, PTSD is correct and yes, I imagine your first thought is along the lines of poor me and perhaps I should run away.  Well, that is where I am going to have to disagree with you.  Despite what the media portrays, living in a World with PTSD isn’t some gruesome horror movie.

My husband went to war and with that saw and did things that the human brain is not programmed to handle completely alone.  So, now that he lives back home in the civilian World he is torn between what the Military trained him for, the residual effects of war, and living as a civilian.  Routine is what helps keep our brain functioning in a rational manner, but when you change that routine, chaos ensues.

Think of it in the way a toddler skips a nap and turns into this whining screaming beast by evening.  We have pulled my husband’s brain out of his routine and thus he is reacting very similar to the toddler only he also has the memories of war with him and thus you are left with quite the unpredictable situation.

It does make things rough.  See, you now have to completely adjust to this new person before you.  Yes, they do tell you that you shouldn’t change who you are for anyone else, but I think many people misunderstand this part.  You aren’t changing who you are, you are just readjusting the way some things are done.  As an example being in a crowded place is commonly a no go for a veteran with PTSD, thus I don’t go to the store any old time.  Instead I plan out the best times to go, like when the time of day or day of the week is a non peak time frame.  I have gone so far as to do more on-line shopping even to handle things I don’t necessarily need to see in person right away.  It helps a great deal with stress reduction.

The point is nothing I have done to make life easier for us in this Life After Combat World has changed who I am.  I am still the same person, with the same tastes and likes, nothing is going to change those.  I did have to learn to become more patient with things as well as not to take so many things as a personal insult, which isn’t always easy.

I mean how would you react if someone called you an idiot?  Normally you would become offended and either lash out in return or you will feel very hurt, sometimes even both.  This is where I had to learn the difference between my husband speaking and the PTSD talking.  It isn’t knowledge that comes to you overnight either, you have to observe for some time until you can decipher the difference, but trust me there is a difference.

Unfortunately for some the PTSD stays in control far longer than anyone would like.
See, this is what I call the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde scenario.  Dr. Jekyll being my husband in his normal mode and Mr. Hyde in PTSD mode.  There was a time when my husband was stuck in Mr. Hyde mode for what seemed like forever!  There wasn’t a day that would go by that he wasn’t angry, we weren’t arguing, and I didn’t cry.  It was the darkest of times for us and I was at the pinnacle of leaving this relationship for good.

However, when I told Mr. Hyde that I didn’t think I could do it anymore, he just stared off into space quietly.  It was the very next morning when Dr. Jekyll peaked through the surface and pleaded with me.  That was when I knew that leaving wasn’t the answer because my husband needed me, but he also needed me to help him.  Leaving wasn’t the answer for my case.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for all.

Living with PTSD is no picnic and it does mean that you will have to learn how to cope because PTSD doesn’t go away.  It doesn’t have to be what runs your life, but it will always be a part of it.  It is working through that point of control that is the toughest.

There are many veterans out there who haven’t reached that point of control on their PTSD and thus the whole family suffers right along with them.  The biggest issue there is that the veteran has to realize they can control things and that they can lead a life where they aren’t stuck in the backseat.  The role of support which falls to the rest of us is to do what we can to help them see that realization and thus they can get the help they need.

There is surviving and thriving with PTSD.  It is just a matter of discovering what works for your family dynamic.  That is something you will have to work out, but as with anything a great support system can help you achieve it.

So, despite the way the media likes to spin PTSD, it isn’t always that way.  There are many families that prove surviving and thriving with PTSD is possible and attainable, I am one such example.  It takes work and it takes patience, but anyone can do it if you just put your mind to it!

Submitted by Aimee T

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Only Thing We Have To Fear...

As FDR so eloquently stated in 1932, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself".

Yesterday yet another tragic and unfortunate mass shooting occurred, this time in Wisconsin. Just a few short weeks after the Aurora, CO tragedy, the American people are once again faced with a question many of us wish we weren't asking ourselves: "Was the shooter a veteran?" 

This time the answer is yes. 

As I'm writing this, it's not yet known if the shooter was involved in any combat situations, but we do know he served in the peacetime Army during the 1990's. The 24-hour media machine is busy scrambling for facts and background info on the suspected shooter and his veteran status isn't lost on them. Sensational news stories involving vets with Combat PTSD create an atmosphere of doubt and skepticism. As a result, our heroes are placed in an unnecessary (and undeserved!) situation...as people we should fear.

However, regardless of what we see and hear on the news, it's important to point out that Combat PTSD is not synonymous with hate. It does not cause people to discriminate against race, ethnicity, religion, ect. The vast majority of heroes suffering from the effects of PTSD are calm, productive, upstanding members of society. They are not people we should fear...they are, in fact, the exact opposite. We must continue to advocate for our nation's heroes and their families and educate communities on what PTSD is...as well as what it ISN'T.

To the Sikh Community in Milwaukee and around the world...our thoughts and prayers here at Family Of a Vet, Inc are with you today and in the days and weeks to come.


Stephanie Workman
Social Media Coordinator
Family Of a Vet, Inc

Monday Momism: Life is Like a Box of Chocolates, Just Like Forrest Said



Have you ever noticed how you look at things differently after having a loved one serve in a war zone? It's not unusual, in fact, it's quite common. Some people have secondary PTSD; some are just more aware of what it is that they could have (and sadly, some did) lose should their loved one not make it home. Others, while grateful theirs came home, miss the innocence and memories of who that person was before spending time in a war zone.

Yesterday, my husband and I watched one of my all-time favorite movies, Forrest Gump. It already had a sentimental quality about it because my younger son's middle name is Forest and my older one was referred to by a neighbor on a military base we lived on as Foreest Gump because he looked a lot like the young boy who played Tom Hanks' character when he met the love of his life, Jenny. I still remember it to this day, how we all laughed. He looked at us and said he really was referring to my son's looks and not insulting him because of the slowness of the young boy in the film. We explained about that actually being a family name and belonging to the younger son.

That happened in the 90s. Back then, the movie was another wonderful Tom Hanks film with great phrases repeated for years across the world, such as “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get.”

How ironically true that statement is. I had been a military spouse. I had three great kids who were the absolute loves of my own life and was told many times how awesome they were. I never would have dreamed one of them would go to war someday.

As we sat watching the movie, it went from football to a war zone in Vietnam. Suddenly the tears began streaming down my face and my husband held me tight. We honestly had to fast forward through the scenes of Bubba's passing and Lt. Dan's rescue. They brought back painful memories of finding out about my son's comrades passing and the rescue of his commander. My son didn't get a medal for that nor did his comrades but I have an email from that same commander that is more priceless than any medal on earth could ever be, telling me that my son is one of the reasons he is alive today.

Life is like a box of chocolates, even today. We don't know if it will be a good or bad day with his PTSD and brain injury. We don't know if a scene in a movie will bring us to tears. We don't know if seeing the American flag blowing as we pass a house will bring a sense of greater pride now that we have experienced what true sacrifice means.

The thing is, there are still many who don't understand until they go through it. Even today, while getting frustrated with the system and the misunderstandings, I still would not wish on them what my family and so many others are going through.

For those of you going through the box of chocolates on your own, know that there are others around who DO understand, who do get how you are feeling. Contact us here at Family of a Vet. If you are the mom of a soldier or veteran (and even if you aren't), feel free to email me at monica_newton_writer@yahoo.com and I will help you find a group or resource in your area.

By the way? That box of chocolates? Sometimes you find one that you never tasted or experienced before and it takes you on a new journey. I can't watch Forrest Gump with the same affection I once did, but now, because my own “Forrest Gump” has been to war, I can love and appreciate it even more. Let's help you find the positives in those adventures with your own box of chocolates, okay?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Caregiver Corner: No Control

There are a LOT of things in this world I can’t control.  You know, like the weather, my daughter’s hair, what people think, or worse, say.  And I’m okay with that.  What really irks me is when I can’t control my own life.  Caring for a wounded veteran whether his or her wounds are physical or mental can be VERY demanding.  Finding time for yourself is difficult.  Now, throw in an over active toddler who is super ambitious and has no fear, and personal time is pretty much non-existent.  I love my husband and daughter, don’t get me wrong, but some days I feel like I have no control over my own life. 

For example, sometimes I find myself thinking, “God, I can’t even poop on my own time!”  (And some days that’s the truth).  I’ve got to be ready at a moment’s notice to go out or do something, even if I’ve had other plans for the day such as homework or, you know, showering.  Showering is probably one of my most difficult challenges, either it doesn’t happen, can only be done while the toddler is napping, or if the hubs is feeling well enough I can take a shower while he watches our daughter and I have to stick to washing my hair and “the danger zones” as quickly as possible. 

Often, a lot of my plans fall to the wayside.  We usually only have a small window of time where my husband is A) conscious or B) feeling physically well enough to do something.  If “A” and “B” aren’t met, plans and even necessities get put off till another day…or sometime in the future (like bra shopping.  I’m still wearing last year’s model of nursing bras and the kiddo has been done with that for a while).  A day here or there, doesn’t really ruin my mood.  But when it happens consistently, is when I start getting really irritable (or if I REALLY need to pee and I can’t just yet).

From an outsider’s perspective, it probably looks like I hate what I do or that I’m my husband’s slave (it’s been said!).  I’m really just upset with the circumstances.  I take pride that I take care of my husband and daughter so well.  But it’s hard feeling like you always come last (even if it’s not true, bad days can make you feel that way).  The thing I try to remember is that it’s normal to feel this way.  It’s normal to get upset when your every move is dictated by an outside source (appointments, nap times, pain, etc.).  So, when I’m feeling like I’m in last place or have to forgo a shower because my husband wants to go grocery shopping for snacks, I try to find a positive.  Telling myself, “Well, at least we get to get out of the house” or “This really makes them happy” seems to kick the nasty negative feelings caused by a lack of control in the butt.

When things aren’t on run on your time, what positives can you find that chase away the feelings of coming last or having no control over your life?

Submitted by Honest H