by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
In the past few years, I’ve written countless blogs on the strength and endurance of our veterans. However, the other side of that coin is the strength and endurance of their spouses. Several days ago we received an e-mail from a spouse who had heard about us and our book through an article that appeared as a Wyoming magazine article. She wrote about the challenges of married life with her veteran husband. A situation that became even more desperate after he suffered a traumatic brain injury (not from combat) that she wrote, “took him totally out of commission”. The e-mail went on to describe how other people did not see the depth of his many wounds, but she was faced with them daily enduring aggressive behaviors and foul language.
The injury occurred in 1998, but it was not until 2001 that the situation became too difficult to bear. I was his sole caregiver & therapist. When things got bad, I was the human standing in front of him as his anger came out.
… There were many days of not sleeping and warding off his craziness. In the first two years after his head injury, we almost lost the house twice. We literally lived in a wooden tent – the house was emptied out of furniture and appliances as the sheriff’s department kept impounding our possessions because we couldn’t pay our bills – possessions which ended up on the court house steps selling for $1. My daughter and I sought safe shelter six times in those two years to get away from him and his outbursts – the first time was on her 10th birthday.
One may think, wow, this sounds pretty darn extreme, yet, due to the lack of available resources in her area, obtaining services was nearly impossible. Her state of affairs is not unlike many of our returning military people and their families. Many spouses are drained of energy trying to keep their loved one out of jails and mental health institutions. What makes her story even more thought-provoking is her educational credentials, during all the turmoil she went back to school and obtained a Master’s degree in mental health. Yet, she has had to fight her own demons brought on by the many years of being exposed to an unpredictable and toxic home environment.
With her educational background she states, I have dissected trauma and I understand the roots of it more than most people.
And perhaps, her most profound statement,
Unfortunately, the war doesn’t stop when they come home. They never leave the ambush; it can haunt them for the rest of their lives. They are eventually removed from the war situation and are not confronted with that type of environment every day (other than their memories). Their spouses and children aren’t so lucky. They too have to live with the aftermath of war.
Thank you, Carol, for your introspective thoughts, your daily courage, and your persistence to keep going even when it would be easier to give up. You are certainly one of our country’s many amazing military spouse.
by Janet J. Seahorn, Ph.D
Last week I was honored by being the keynote speaker for the Women’s Luncheon at the annual Nebraska Vietnam Veteran Reunion. It is an interesting phenomenon, keynotes after eating. Most sane societies have a meal then nap for a bit. Yet, in the western world we seem to think people really want and are capable of listening to anything after ingesting a yummy luncheon. Therefore, the challenge of any meal speaker is to entertain while keeping his/her audience awake; a rather formidable task. Added to this test was the seriousness of my topic… talking about the effects of living with a spouse who is suffering with Post Traumatic Stress. Yikes!
Truthfully, this was a wonderful and unique opportunity to be with a large group of women who have endured decades of family and personal events colored by their loved one’s emotional combat trauma. The last thing I wanted was to have people leave the luncheon with more stress and upset stomachs. All of us have had way too much of these frailties. Consequently, I thought the best speech needed to be short, informative, and delivered with humor and solemnity. So here are just a few of the items I believe may be useful to strengthen the next years of these amazing women’s lives.
When I talk about the “X” Factor, it refers to what makes women, women. It is not a coincidence that women have two legs on their chromosomes to stand on versus a man’s one – “Y”. God knew we would need both legs on the “X” to stabilize us on our unforeseeable, earthly journey. Being wives, mothers, sisters… makes us caregivers and caretakers. Trauma from combat both physical and emotional makes this even more evident. “Whether it is our own mothers who stood by us in long-distance torment as we fought on foreign soil, or the mothers of the dead and wounded here as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan, we recognize that most often, it is the women—- mothers/wives… who are left to care for the broken bodies, souls, and societies left in the wake of war.”
Understanding and identifying our own actions may help protect our sanity and bodily health. Here were a few of the behaviors I asked the women to recognize and acknowledge as they interact with their loved one. Think about which of these four DOINGs you use the most:
Doing To: Blaming and Fault Finding
Doing For: Rescuing, Pampering, Becoming like the Bad Behavior
Doing NIL (nothing): Ignoring, Avoiding, Excluding, Rejecting — fuels emotions of shame in the brain
Doing With: Connecting, Clarifying, Restoring
So which category do you fall in most often? Believe me, the first three are quite easy to live in… The Doing With is much trickier to accomplish especially when you are tired, angry, and dealing with your own pain. For this reason I have adopted a powerful quote from St. Francis de Sales. I carry it in my purse. I have it on my kitchen counter, and I pasted it on my bedroom mirror.
“I made a pact with my tongue to never speak when my heart is in distress.”
Some days I am almost mute trying to practice this suggestion.