For the first year upon his return, we argued on a regular basis, to the point of almost ending our marriage with each fight. Looking back now it makes so much since, but at the time, we were both confused, angry, hurt, basically lost in the fog that was now our lives. I tried to get him to talk about it with me, because I knew he needed to work through his issues in order for us to heal as a couple, but if you’ve never been in their shoes, you can’t possibly understand, and on top of that most of them don’t want to come back and spread the pain to their loved ones whom they want to protect. He started counseling, but again, trying to open up to a complete stranger about the most horrific things that have happened in your life is not an easy thing to do. We started marriage counseling, but everything was still very raw, and it would sometimes just make things worse, pushing us further apart. I began going to individual counseling to help me understand how to deal with the situation, and to address the stress of now having to be mother, father, and basic keeper of all things related to our lives, due to my husband’s now distant presence in his life and ours. He would be manic about things one minute, depressed the next, angry over little things, but didn’t care about the big things, he truly had a glazed over “I don’t care” attitude. It wasn’t until he thought he was about to lose it all that he would have brief moments of clarity, and only then would he cry out for help.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we are able to get some kind of help through the VA, but let’s face it they are overwhelmed with cases that they are not equipped to handle the way they really need to. There would be numerous stays in the VA, issues with alcohol, and problems in our home life before my husband finally reached his lowest; he was struggling with the PTSD and substance abuse, two things that go hand and hand with veterans and service members. His therapists and doctors changed frequently, he had to go through his life history at every visit due to these changes, and them not really getting to know his case. He was receiving treatment, but he felt like he was getting nowhere and stopped going. I couldn’t make him go, and I soon learned I couldn’t make him want to go either; he had to want to get better, but he couldn’t see through the fog long enough to come to that conclusion.
The breaking point came on a visit back to his hometown at Christmas, and we were all affected; seeing him in such a state of turmoil was devastating to us all. His PTSD and alcohol landed him in an inpatient care program at the local VA, where he spent a week picking himself back up again and trying to put the pieces together. Knowing this was not going to be easy, myself and his mother tried our best to get him into some intense therapy, weekly therapy, anything that would address what we knew to be more than just some bad memories. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a resource like that in the VA system, there are support organizations that take on the overflow of what the VA can’t handle, but he would have to want to go, and he just didn’t want to face it, like most that have seen the horrors of war. He knew he had to do something, and we did our best to get a good plan set up for him to return home. We soon realized that more importantly than our plans, it would take time, diligence and understanding from himself and everyone in our family, even his friends; we would all need to make a transformation for healing to be carried out successfully long term.
Looking back, I see God’s hand all over our circumstances, but I also know that he now lived and breathed this project, and still does. All the hard work he was putting into it, was in turn allowing him to reconnect with those like himself, fight for better care for veterans and service members, showcase the artwork and lives of these soldiers, and without even realizing it the healing process was already in motion. In the past 2 years, my husband has went from not wanting to be present in life, living like a recluse, depressed, angry, and hurt, to now running a business and a non-profit organization that’s sole purpose is to help others like him heal, and in turn heal himself .
Understand that there will be days when their best is just to get out of bed, understand that just speaking with someone is difficult for them, that to them going out with the family means having crowds of people around that they want to protect you from, even thought there is no real threat. Understand that when something makes them frustrated or angry they will overreact and need time to cool down and make sense of things, understand that from this point on everyone involved, especially them, will have to learn to live life in a new way, and this will be a lifetime effort, because as you soon will understand- it never completely goes away. However, you should also understand that as healing begins your relationship will become stronger; knowing they can trust you to be there at their worst builds a bond that cannot be broken.
As they rediscover themselves and find their new paths, they become more in tune with their own lives and those around them; they learn how to adapt to their new lifestyles and ways of thinking. Understand that they have survived circumstances that none of us can really imagine without being there, therefore they gain a perspective that few people ever achieve. Once the fog lifts, and it will with time, they can reach a place where they can see clearly the most important things in their lives.
My husband and I are closer than we have ever been, and we have a strong foundation to build on knowing that we have made it through this ordeal together. He is a better father, and friend, and not a minute passes that he isn’t thinking about how he can help his former brothers and sisters in arms reach a healing point in their own lives. He is my“battle buddy”, and I told him before he left that I would be here waiting for him, no matter how he returned, and in doing that I did my part in helping my battle buddy save his own life. To all the spouses, loved ones, friends, and supporters of our service members and veterans- remember that things will get easier if you remain present, understanding, patient, and kind, and NEVER, EVER leave your battle buddy behind!
Melissa "Mel" Parsons
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