I was in the Army for almost seven years. I was a Staff Sergeant with two deployments to Iraq, an overseas assignment in Germany, time as an Instructor, and a Purple Heart when I got out. I chose to get out of the Army for my family. I’m glad my children saw the sacrifices I’ve made over the years for them even though I now see I shouldn’t have believed the lies I was told by my chosen partner. Something my children have also witnessed is that I have lots of friends who I consider family. These friends and family members are always considered close to me, even if we haven’t seen each other in years.
I’ve learned that the holiday season is a horrible time for many veterans with PTSD. There are many conflicting statistics for divorce rates among those with PTSD but approximately 38% of military couples where just one partner has PTSD makes it through the trials of marriage. These couples who make it do so because they go to individual therapy and only do marriage counseling together when their individual therapists think they’re ready for it. They give space if they feel they’re going to go off the deep end (our cure for this was to actually purchase a travel trailer…which ended up never being used for this purpose out of pride.). These couples realize that they’re not going to be perfect all of the time, but when the one partner is suffering the other can be there for them and not take their partner’s outburst personally. I knew my ex had problems, and I knew I had problems. There was a period where he worked on his triggers and the change was amazing…only for him to hear from “friends” and “family” that he was fine and he didn’t need the therapy. I decided back when I was first diagnosed with PTSD that medication just wasn’t the way I wanted to go. I have seen therapists, church leaders, and gone to small groups for years to help me process the emotions I get with various events.
I have lost numerous members of the military that I deployed with to suicide because of their PTSD. Here’s the stories of two who were very close to me.
JH was an amazing man. We met in Germany. He was always upbeat, sarcastic as hell, and just had a way of proving his point without sounding like too much of a jerk. We hit it off and a year or so after meeting we started dating. We moved to Kansas together and didn’t really argue. Well, we argued like a normal couple. He had a good heart, loved to hunt, and loved his daughter. He loved my son and would take him places with him. He got me hooked on Jeeps and we would go off-roading and mudding together. He started showing signs that he wasn’t handling his PTSD well and I was getting ready to deploy, so I decided to end it. He was devastated but went about his life. He ended up moving back home after getting out of the Army and he got married and had a son. Thanksgiving week, the same week my marriage crumbled for the final time, in 2016 he committed suicide. It’s believed that he committed suicide because his second wife wouldn’t let him see his son for Thanksgiving. His children were his life. He couldn’t handle the stress and pain. The hardest thing was talking to him right before it happened, within weeks, because I was getting ready to move to within a few hours of him. We had talked about getting together and boating with kids or something. He seemed happy. He seemed like he had things together. It’s been two years and I still can’t believe he’s gone. He was so driven, such an amazing worker and father. Now he’s gone.
JG was someone I knew had a crush on me while in Germany. He was always taking photos around our Battalion and I found out years later he took a lot of me because he had a crush on me. We would talk at work about life and whatnot, and he had so many dreams about his own video production company and was using his time in the Army to make these videos. He reached out to me a few months ago to see how things were. He had so many photos from our time in Germany that he shared with me and I made sure that anyone I was still in touch with had these photos, which included JH’s family. Everyone was so appreciative of him. But, we all started to realize that this was a cry for help. He wanted to be seen and for others to care about him. He had gotten himself into a rough place and while he had a goal he was just not handling any challenges properly. He committed suicide this past week. The hardest thing I had to do was to tell him a few weeks ago that I didn’t think it was wise for him to visit my house and my children while he was doing this ruck march to Alaska to visit a friend. I felt he was unraveling by the messages he would send and I have worked so hard to keep my children in a stable place. He understood but once I told him that he disappeared and would only reappear to convince me everything was fine. Our last contact was on 11/29/2018 and he died 12/1/2018.
Please, if you know someone with PTSD don’t take what they say for face value. Truly spend time with them. Ask them the difficult questions. I’ve learned that my friends who have PTSD who are farthest from their children have the hardest time. That’s why I make sure my babies can contact their father whenever possible. I make sure that if he were to ever try to come to a school event or activity he can. I make sure to not keep them from him, and I never would unless I felt their lives were in danger. Hiding the fact that someone is fighting a battle won’t help them. I remember over the years when my ex became abusive I would contact his best friend for help. This man would always come and help, or at least call him and calm him down. Then, he and some other friends would make sure I gave him chance after chance after chance. I had no clue that lies were being said behind my back and a false story was being shared. I was devastated when I learned about the years of lies and infidelity. Don’t be an enabler. The best sign of love for someone is to let them see the truth, even if you know it’ll hurt them. Help them realize there’s more than this darkness they’re living their life in. Help them realize that making amends is amazing. I made sure anyone I felt I thought I did wrong or I felt they thought I did them wrong got an apology from me. I didn’t care what they did after the fact. I even apologized to the individual who vouched for my abusive ex to get a job. I know why they did it, not that I would do such a thing too, and I respected their bond. I just wish others cared so that children didn’t suffer. I wished I cared more years ago.
Those of you who are married to someone who is struggling. I know it’s hard. You want your family to work out. You want to prove to the world you did it! But, you need to put your own needs first. If you don’t recognize the person in the mirror looking back at you then you need to plan to leave. You need to set a hard line to get out. You need to have that safety net that you can talk to or reach out to. I had no idea many of the things that were done to me were classified as abuse until my abuser told me (while going through a Domestic Violence course for his job) or Victim Advocates that I finally opened up to.
To my friends who are currently battling PTSD and their families — We are here for you. Please be honest about your struggles. Don’t get defensive. We love you and want nothing more than to spend another day with you. There are so many programs out there that will introduce you to others who have fought this battle and won! Here are some that I’ve either personally used or I have friends who have used them:
- Wounded Warrior Project – They have Project Odyssey Retreats, Counseling Services, Employment Assistance, etc.
- Free Apps To Use – Studies have shown that meditation and truly facing each issue in a way that’s best for the Soldier or individual suffering from PTSD can help individuals get to the point of not needing medication. These apps include, Headspace, Calm, SAM, and Happify. There are many others out there, so take a look and find one that works for you!
- Many local gyms, CrossFit or otherwise, will allow Veterans to come in for free or discounted. You just have to ask and explain your situation. Sometimes others will even sponsor your membership.
- Psychology Today has a Finder Tool. You can find local counseling, groups, yoga programs, etc.
- TeamRWB is a wonderful group where they get together for physical activities together. There are civilians mixed in with veterans and it’s a great way to help others understand your struggles.
- Churches – Many churches have small groups and many of these small groups have PTSD or veteran groups. You just have to ask.
- Emory Healthcare – Emory has a few different resources and programs and one includes a two week program to help fully figure out your PTSD. It’s definitely worth looking into!
Also, I know many of you reading this may not deal with PTSD yourselves but you may have a friend or family member who needs help. Check the following link and do some research on your own. Many times all they need is a non-judgmental ear. Just remember…if their actions are harming others you need to NOT enable them. They don’t need enablers, they need people who genuinely care for them.