Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Love Letter Campaign ~ From the Ashes of Our Lives We Are Building Our Dreams


Kenny,

As I write this it has been 1 year, 2 months, and 22 days since we started talking on Skype.

What a journey we have been on in this very short time.

When we met I had only been living on my own for four months. This was a big step for someone who had married at 16 and never lived alone. Almost 11 years of not having to depend solely on myself was a difficult habit to unlearn but I was determined that I’d never be so codependent again. And although it would be dreadful to live without you - loving you has taught me more independence than I could have ever learned on my own.

When we met it had only been a month since you drove out from North Dakota and were living in your 24 foot fifth wheel on a beachside campground so you could be closer to your kids.

When we talked on Skype on Halloween night 2011 - my first thought was that you had the nicest face. I trusted your face immediately.

It was a gamble for me to get on a train six days later to visit a stranger but I never make decisions where I don’t trust myself. I told one friend who lived nearby you, where I would be.

When I got off the train and hugged you for the first time, you felt so soft and cuddly. You felt comfortable and safe and although I was nervous that you wouldn’t like me - I never felt unsafe as I climbed into your truck.

When you pulled over at the Beaver Boat Ramp to turn on my air bag and you kissed me - I wanted so badly to keep kissing you. The dark hour long drive back to your oceanside retreat was fantastic. We talked as if we were old friends and electricity jumped between us as our hands brushed and eventually embraced. It was exciting and exhilarating in the way that only falling in love is.

When we finally made it back to your place we couldn’t stop kissing. The evening was amazing and mind blowing. I questioned myself only once briefly but decided this was all too good to think too hard about. It was beautiful and passionate.

You showed me your scars. You let me touch them. I heard the shame you felt in your voice. I kissed each of them softly and told you I didn’t find them ugly at all.

The next day we walked hand in hand along a cliff overlooking the ocean and although we barely knew one another; without noticing the almost absurdity of it - made plans to return there in the summer.

It wasn’t too much later that you told me you had PTSD. As you explained the severity to me over the phone, I cried as silently as I could as I listened to the heartbreak in your voice. I didn’t have a good understanding of PTSD but since you had already taken it upon yourself to read and learn about polyamory which is important to me - that gave me the idea that I should learn about PTSD. So that is what I did. I started reading and learning and I still haven’t stopped.

For the next month we saw each other almost every weekend and then some. You surprised me, I surprised you. You brought candles, you sang to me, you danced in my living room with me, and your presence stole all of the oxygen in the room. The line between reality and dreamland got very fuzzy. Every time we parted ways it was more difficult than the last. Never knowing when we would be able to see each other again.

The longest we were apart was nine grueling days before Thanksgiving. Both our first Thanksgiving without our kids but at least we were together.

Not too long afterwards you tried to run away. You told me that you were too messed up and I should walk away. I told you that was stupidest thing you had ever said to me.

Exactly a month from when we met in person your world fell into disrepair and you had no one else to turn to. Panic was in your voice as you told me you had nothing left to live on after your card had been stolen.

Without thinking twice I told you to come stay with me. You had met my children the previous weekend and they were absolutely smitten with you. I told you I would help you and that we could figure this out.

So you came to stay with me and Madison. You changed our world. Suddenly we had a man in our lives who wanted to spend time with us. Who cared what we did and that we all sat down to dinner together. By the end of the first week I knew I never wanted you to leave.

But you were broken. Not even one year prior you had woken up in a hospital following one of your many surgeries to a balloon with a note tied to it from your now second ex-wife; telling you she was leaving and taking your kids. Well over a thousand miles away she took them.

Your kids, your reason for living... your inspiration, your heart and soul were ripped out of your life with absolutely no notice.

Moving in with me meant being hundreds of miles away from them when just two months prior you had sold as much of your belongings as you could and driven over a thousand miles so you could be less than fifty from them. But she wouldn’t let you see them when you were that close, what difference did it make that you were a few hundred miles away when the risk to staying was ending up homeless; you reasoned.

Hell followed close behind though as the anxiety and stress accumulated from her never ending lies; complicating the simplest tasks.

In the end she got her wish of never having to feel like the mother of a wounded soldier again. No longer will she be burdened with caring for you.

Perhaps she could never accept that the man who went to war was not the man that came home. This is not uncommon but either way she punishes you and your poor children to this day for her own pain that she cannot handle. The pain she causes radiates to everyone who loves you and them.

I guess I’m lucky. I have known you are broken from almost the beginning. I have known that one day you will be wheelchair bound. I have known that your wounds will never completely heal. As Plato said - “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

It is my honor though to walk alongside you, learn from you, and grow as individual because of the insight I am given in this position as your partner, caregiver, and advocate.

We spent a bittersweet first Christmas with my children. You sobbed big crocodile tears for your little ones that you missed so much and weren’t even allowed to speak to on the phone. I thought you might die of a broken heart.

Somehow we made it through to the new year though but spent January battling the lies and bullshit. Still we had moments of extreme pleasure and extreme hell.

Our first Valentines Day together was amazing. My doctor had just told us that my blood pressure was out of control so you took it upon yourself to make the madness stop. You surprised me with the best Valentines Day I had ever had. I will never forget it.

A few days later in the wee hours of the morning I brought you a little cake with a lit candle for your daughter’s 7th birthday. I held you in my arms as you sobbed.

It took a few months but as time went on it became easier and easier to let go of the anxiety.

We enjoyed each other’s company and spent a lot of quality time together. I felt so loved and fulfilled.
My children were able to feel loved and supported in the still difficult time because of you. They both continually express gratefulness for your presence in their lives even though we all had to come through a divorce to get here.

I had told you at some point that one day when I was in a better place I was going to have a baby, probably on my own but it was on my to do list. You surprised the shit out of me by telling me that you wanted to have a baby with me. That changed all of my dreams around.

It wasn’t too much later that without even thinking or talking about it - we started trying. The first time we knew it didn’t work we both realized how bummed we were and talked about it for real. Sure that it would take us a year or longer - we had a lot of fun in the making. Although it felt like an eternity it was only three or four months later that we got our wish. Right around the 4th of July - we conceived a baby of our own.

By that time - I was already deep into my roll as your caregiver. I lived and breathed PTSD land. I used all of my skills to manage your many health issues, doctors, and medications. As many of your stresses and issues compiled the year seemed to carry on even longer.

Your demons we battled brought us to the edge more than once.

Just this past Christmas I wasn’t sure if you were going to make it but you have surprised me by seizing the opportunity to utilize the help that is in front of you.

The extreme anxiety I felt just a few a weeks ago is almost a distant memory. I have hope because you are determined not let PTSD win. I have hope because you are determined to take your life back. I have hope because you have in this short time, shared more truths with me. I have hope because each time we reunite - you rebuild the trust bit by bit. I know that one day I’ll be able to stop worrying that you will leave or die.

You live with demons that the average person could not handle. You live with never ending physical pain. You live with the knowledge that your children’s lives will never be the same because of a few lies that a court room judge never even bothered to have investigated.

None of the people who have fucked you over and nor those who have believed the lies and bullshit could survive for one day in your shoes. They will get theirs. Just wait baby.

I have struggled with my insecurities. I have struggled with yours. I have struggled to make sense of the craziness that is our life as a blended and broken family.

I have struggled with my demons and with yours. I have struggled with my pain and with yours.

I struggle with a system that feigns its concern for you and every other Veteran in this nation.

I struggle with an invisible wall between me and the rest of the world who doesn’t live in PTSD land. So few willing to poke their heads just around the glass to see what it is their self elected politicians have allowed to happen to the souls that they send off to war in the name of “Freedom” and “Security”.

When I weigh these struggles this is what I find.

You make it all worth it. I can’t imagine my life any other way.
You are strong.
You are brave.

You continue to be loving, kind, and caring.
You continue to love with your whole heart.
You continue to sweep me off my feet.
You continue to fill up my love tank.

You helped me to find my passion.
You helped me to find purpose and meaning.

Although this is nowhere near where I thought I would be now - I can’t imagine my life any other way.

I will continue to care for you. I will continue to advocate for you. I will continue to fight for you. Not because you are perfect or blameless but because you are a good man down to your core. I see it in your eyes. I see it in the eyes of every little child that wanders up and starts talking to you. I see it in the eyes of every animal that trusts you. I hear it in my daughter’s voice when she tells me how much she loves you and how grateful she is to have you.

No one is perfect and few people could go through what you have been through and become the kind of man that you are. Whenever you talk to a stranger I wonder if they realize what an amazing person they just had the good fortune of interacting with. I often wonder if your friends know how lucky to have you as a friend.

*Late edit: Yesterday you were kind, patient, loving, attentive, and protective as I gave birth to our baby girl. You held me as I sobbed and touched me continuously as I needed. You were amazing in every way. I couldn't have gone through the most difficult birth I have ever had - without you by my side. Thank you for this wonderful Valentines Day gift.

Submitted By: Maria E.

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

The Love Letter Campaign ~ Letter To My Beloved


Honey,
It is hard to believe it has only been 16.5 years together. We have been through hell and back together, never gave up. Don’t get me wrong there are times I think we both wanted to but we refused. We are stronger together then apart.

We have a good life, not a perfect one but a good one. We have learned to adapt to the changes we have had to make in our lives to keep on loving each other. The lessons have been hard and many times repeated but we have both learned a great deal from them.

Sometimes it hurts to not have a ‘normal life’, what is normal anyway?

When I look at you I see the man that was over joyed when Joey was born and how you would not leave our sides. I can still see you sleeping on the little chair/bed with Joey on your chest and the nurse coming in to check on us and wondering where our baby was.

I still see the look on your face when Veronica actually was a girl and not the boy the doctor thought. You were so delighted to have a little girl. You were also terrified to have a little girl. It was hard to imagine my husband who was a commercial fisherman and a soldier afraid of this tiny little bundle.

There are times I wish our life was different but I would not give up these memories for the world. I remember clearly the day I thought I lost you forever. So many emotions went through my mind all at the same time. I was so frustrated that no one could tell me anything so I waited and waited. I remember the sound of your voice when you told me you were alive. 8,000 miles apart and it felt like you were in the next room. I was happier on that day then I was when I married you or when we had our babies.

You were my rock in June when Debbie was killed and so many other times in our life together. I am not sure I would want this adventure of life with anyone but you. We have held each other up at different times, under different circumstances. Thank you for putting up with all my craziness on top of all your own. I know you will always have my back as I will have yours.

I Love You!
Pam

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Love Letter Campaign ~ To Sean and Melissa Johnson


To My Amazing Daughter and Her Amazing Veteran Husband

I do not have words to tell you both how much I honor, love and respect you. You have been through hell and back, and keep getting up every day and putting one foot in front of the other. I admire your strength, your love, your faith in God, and your refusal to give up. You are my daughter and my son, and you are my heroes. It is my honor and privilege to love you and to lift you up in prayer every day.

Love,
Mom

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Love Letter Campaign ~ You Are Home to Me


My dearest Kyle,

I still remember that May day in Raleigh. I got off the plane and ran to the ladies’ room to touch up my makeup and spritz some perfume before you showed up. I was so excited. I was waiting at baggage claim when I saw you walk around the corner in your “No, I will not fix your computer” shirt that is adorably too-small for you (it is okay to get rid of it, y’know), with a huge grin on your face. You picked me up and wrapped your arms around me, and stole a little piece of my heart in that moment.

I remember that August day in Portland, where you were waiting for me as close as security would let you. I ran down that tunnel toward you, dropped my bag, and you crushed your mouth to mine as you swung me around. When we finally got to the car, you stopped kissing me barely long enough to tell me you’d brought me a little gift - one of your favorite desserts - an East-coast novelty I’d never had. Your thoughtful nature has always been one of the things I love most about you.

It’s been six years, and I still remember those snippets like they were yesterday. Life with you has been filled with those magical, heart-stopping moments - pulling into the parking lot for a sunset walk on the beach, singing along with “When You Say Nothing At All” on the radio; driving down the road on a weekend getaway, feeding you spaghetti from a take-out box, stealing kisses at all the stoplights; our three-year anniversary at a resort out here, where our waitress paid for our breakfast because she overheard us talking and deduced you’d just gotten home from Afghanistan. Our old apartment manager still talks about us. The day we came in to sign our first lease together, we looked so in love that she still remembers that day as well as I do.

When I got your recall orders that day in December, my heart sank. We had only been living together four months, and they were stealing you back! You packed up to drive out to Lejeune, dropped me off at school one last morning and kissed me good-bye, and headed out on your year-long trek that would change things for us permanently.

In a lot of ways, I appreciated that deployment. I think we learned to love each other more than we thought possible. Every day was precious, and every word was sacred. You started every conversation with “My love!” or “Hi, sweetie,” and I ended them with “I love you, schnookums.” My heart swelled with pride when others would ask about you. I remember the tears in my eyes when you had flowers delivered to work on Valentine’s Day, and how everyone else in the office was jealous when you told me you were sending me to a day spa for Christmas. You were half a world away, and still did your best to make me feel special. Deployment was far from easy for both of us, but we made sure the other was taken care of.

Then you came home. We celebrated our three-year anniversary, and you got a new job here. And we struggled with reintegration. You were so willing to fight for us. We went to counseling for months, trying to find that sweet spot where we fit together so well again. It was too elusive, though, and we went our separate ways.

That year apart made me value you even more. I called you on what would have been our wedding day, because I missed my best friend. I wanted to spend what was going to be one of the happiest days of my life with you.

The last six months have been wonderful. We both learned from our mistakes in that time we spent apart. I know, without a doubt, that my heart was meant for you to hold. We both acknowledged that six years ago, but now I know that we were right. That “soul mate” I bragged about is still in there - sometimes hiding, but there nonetheless.

Things haven’t been easy. You deal with pain daily, and aren’t that touchy-feely emotional guy I fell so in love with. My heart has hardened a lot with all that anger you had when you came home, and I’m slowly learning to communicate in a healthier way.

But I’m not giving up again. I missed my sexy man. My thoughtful, sweet, hard-working man. I missed the best steak-griller I’ve ever met. The one who makes me feel safe and respected. I missed you, and I realize that every time we kiss. You are home to me, schnookums, and I will be by your side to support you, love you, and be patient on those days when your feelings are elusive. You were so strong when I needed you, and now I’m ready to be strong when you need me. We can face those scary feelings and emotions and the rest of the world together, because while we may not have always had faith in “us,” we’ve always had faith in each other.

I love you.


Always yours,

- Brianna

This blog post is part of The Love Letter Campaign... a project started by FamilyOfaVet.com to encourage those who love a hero to write a letter sharing their story (where they started, what they've faced together, and why their love endures). It's not just for spouses, but also for parents, siblings, caregivers, and friends. It's about telling the "rest" of our stories... stories that continue despite PTSD, TBI, and the challenges of life after combat. To share your love letter or find out more about the campaign, visit http://www.familyofavet.com/love_letters.html.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Momism: Valentine's Day and Tough Noodles

Thursday is Valentine's Day and for all of you parents who are wondering how to deal with the PTSD and/or the TBI your veteran adult child came home with, let me give you a heart-warming gift in this short blog post right now: You have found a family/home that understands.  Family of a Vet welcomes all family members.  I've been with the group a little over a year now and I can tell you: they accept me, they welcome me, they are here for me. 

Many are wives and I have to tell you, not only have they helped me express myself, they have allowed me to help them if one of them needs to talk or vent.  We all respect the fact that we can see things from different angles and we can be here to listen, to help with finding resources, to just be around someone who understands how different life is these days with the realization that they didn't come home alone: they came home with PTSD and a TBI. 

As you celebrate this Valentine's Day, take a look at our Love Letters campaign.  We can all identify on different levels with how this day is different now.  As for me?  I am continuing to try to help and educate others as well as be supported myself by these wonderful members, because I am the mom of a wounded veteran who told me at the age of four that he loved me "tough noodles" and that's the most you can love anyone.  Tough noodles?  Let's just say I didn't always get the macaroni cooked through and my mom would get onto me about those tough noodles.  My son immediately defended me and said that creative phrase which lives on in our family still today. 

Happy Valentine's Day and know that you are loved and supported here, tough noodles and all. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Being an "Involved" School Parent... Even When Things Are Crazy!


So, I've been working *reallllllly* hard this year at being an "involved" parent at our sweet daughter's school (despite our crazy life).  Let's face it - multiple trips to the VA every week, little sleep, endless ups and downs, etc, etc, can make it sort of difficult to even get her to school on time - much less do EXTRA stuff :)

A lot of "us" - veterans and spouses raising kiddos while also dealing with PTSD and TBI - have a hard time with that.  BUT statistics say our kids do better when we're involved (and, it is actually fun! LOL).

Here are some things I've done this year (and then I'm going to give you instructions for helping your child and his or her classmates make the card above!).

This year, I have:

  • Asked for the teacher's e-mail address (and if it was okay to stay in touch that way since it's the easiest / most efficient for me since a lot of my catch-up is done in the midnight to 2am range)
  • Checked as often as possible (as time and budget allow) if there are extra supplies or items the teacher needs for the classroom that I can send.
  • I've also watched clearance racks and super-sales for items that are useful to the teacher and/or school.  For example, our local dollar store had tons of kids crafts on clearance for $0.10 - $0.25 recently.  I spent $5.00 and sent tons of "stuff".
  • Her teacher frequently uses her own iPad in the classroom.  So, when I run across permanently or temporarily free apps that may be helpful, I send a quick e-mail with the link.
  • About once a month I send a "thank you" - a short, hand-written note in our daughter's take home folder - and mention something our daughter has been particularly excited about lately.  For example: "Thanks so much for putting together the story book activity for the class.  Our daughter LOVED it!".
  • And, as pictured above, I try to watch magazines (or my latest addiction - PINTEREST!) for cute, classroom friendly crafts.  When I find something fast and easy, I'll send a photo to the teacher via e-mail and ask if it would be helpful for me to send the supplies and instructions.

Anyway, this strategy has kept me a lot more involved this year - and, as a result, has really helped keep the communication between our daughter's teacher and I going at a lot better level this year.  When issues do arise (much more common in our PTSD / TBI households), there's now a "rapport" already built... I'm comfortable, she's comfortable, everybody (most importantly our daughter!) wins :)

As promised, here are the instructions for the card above.  It was originally printed in the last edition of Family Fun magazine, but didn't have many detailed instructions.  See it on their website here: http://www.parents.com/holiday/valentines-day/crafts/eight-sweet-valentines-day-crafts/?rb=Y#page=7

For each card you'll need:

  • 1 - Full Sheet (8-1/2 x 11) of Red Cardstock (for the base of the card)
  • 1 - Half Sheet (8-1/2 x 5.5) of White, Purple or Pink Cardstock (for the hands)
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • A Red Marker, Pen, or Crayon

To get the "craft kits" ready to send for our daughter's classroom, I purchased enough for each child to make a few (so they could give one to parents and also grandparents, siblings, etc.)

I pre-folded all of the red cardstock (simply fold in half - easier to do in a large quantity if you have a hard surface to press on) and then used a "Handmade for you by..." stamp I already had on the back (so each child could write their name!).  I also pre-dated the backs neatly with a black permanent marker (I always hate it when I look at a craft our kiddo has done and can't remember exactly when!).  I put all of the pre-folded card bases in one, gallon-sized ziploc and labeled it.

Then, I cut enough half sheets of the "accent" colors (white, pink, purple) for each child to choose 3, and placed those in labeled bags.

I also included 3 "samples" for the teacher to be able to show the kids and instructions for her.

Now, if your child is part of an "older" classroom, you can stop here.  You're done :)  Good job!

If your child is younger, like mine who is a first grader, you may want to go a step further.  When my daughter and I practiced at home, the hands took the longest (and where the most irritating for her!).  So, I sent with the "craft kits" an extra white sheet labeled with each child's name and a quart-size bag with each child's name.  Then, I asked the teacher to have the children pick their three "hand pieces" (white, pink, or purple) and trace their hand on the labeled white sheet and put everything in their labeled bag and send them home to me.  Then, I cut out all the cute little hands and sent them back.  It didn't take too horribly long AND made things MUCH simpler in the classroom.

This is something you could replicate (I plan to) for other holidays, too!  Maybe even as a way to help the teacher announce to parents the "end of year" activities.

So, there you go... go get involved ;)

Hugs,


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!




Friday, February 1, 2013

Sex and PTSD.

Follow the link to my blog, I'm super sorry folks, I hate to redirect traffic, and usually I post these things here first... But, tonight it didn't happen that way. 

My take on Sex, PTSD, Intimacy, and how Iraq continues to rob me of those things that I so desperately need.

http://damespaz.blogspot.com/2013/02/sleeping-and-dormant-love.html