Our Lives With Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury

Archive for August, 2013

Our Family Toolbox…

lightingBOOM!

A flash of lightening and an instantaneous clap of thunder sent me into a dissociative flashback. My 18 year old daughter was sitting just feet from me on our screened in patio. We had been enjoying listening to the rain when the lightening sent me back to Iraq.

Vaguely, I could hear her asking if I was alright, but I was unable to process the question, let alone answer her. She knows I have PTSD. She has had to deal with my symptoms as she grew into the wonderful young woman who sits beside me now.

My service dog, Chauncey, had gone inside…following one of my younger children into the house. When my episode hit, I could see him staring at me through the door, but I couldn’t move. My daughter stood, went to the door and opened it, telling Chauncey to come to me. After Chauncey brought me out of my terror, I was able to thank my daughter.

In our battles with PTSD, we tend to alienate our biggest allies. Our family members can be the best tools in our arsenal, but we have to allow them to be so. Too often, whether consciously or not, we push them away…perhaps to protect them from our inner demons, but we push them away nonetheless.

As Warriors, we must learn to use the weapons and tools we have before us. Just as we relied on our training and weapons, we must learn to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to our family members so that we can rely on them in our times of need. This is not an easy thing to do. We often see ourselves in the ‘protector’ role when it comes to our spouses and children. Many have children who we see as too young to burden with our cares. It has been my experience that even my three year old can tell when I’m having a rough time and will start to be silly, or climb up and give me a big hug. She is just starting to get big enough that her weight can provide some level of deep pressure just by snuggling. My older girls are beginning to know when I just need some quiet time…now that doesn’t always mean they give it to me because they also seem to mimic my stress levels (and every kid knows where their parents buttons are located); but I have come to realize this and have put it in my tool box…recognizing more clearly when *I* need a time-out.

Our spouses, parents, siblings and other family members can also be extremely useful in our battle. I can’t count the times that family members have made themselves a buffer for me when I needed it most, or stood up to uneducated business owners who would try to exclude me because of my service dog.

helpinghandLong story short…we need to embrace those who love us and ALLOW them to help us. We didn’t face battle alone in uniform, we don’t have to face it alone now. We have our fellow warriors that will always stand up for us, but they are not always available face to face…our family is with us every day. We must learn how to embrace them and not push them away. Yes, there will be some who will walk away and we must learn how to let them go. In the absence of abuse, we must realize that they choose to leave because THEY are weak…and we will lose those we love, it’s a fact of life. Its learning to trust those who choose to remain, who choose to walk beside us in our darkest hours…it is our choice to allow ourselves to utilize the tools that they willingly present. We must realize that their gift just might tip the battle in our favor.


Nancy and Service Dogs

Nancy and Service Dogs, by Guy Gilcrest

I am beyond flattered. There are no words to express to Guy what this gesture means to me. Beyond that, I want to thank him, from the bottom of my heart, for helping to bring awareness to how much our four-pawed, furry friends help in the fight against PTSD. THANK YOU!!!


Trust

a little trustHow does a veteran learn to trust again? When we are in a combat situation, we have to trust those to our left and right. Eventually, we learn to trust (at least on some level) all of those who wear our nations uniform. We may not like them as a person, but we learn to have some amount of trust that they will have our backs if the SHTF. While there will always be some numbskull that we would rather avoid at all costs, we know that we would still have their backs. So what do we do when someone we trust betrays us? Stolen Valor aside, what do we do when those we identify as a ‘battle buddy’ betray our trust in a fundamental way?

In the last year, I have lost several friends. No, they were not killed in combat. They lied to me. I’m not talking about the little white lies that we have all been guilty of from time to time. I am talking about the big lies. The kind of lies that either get the folks from Stolen Valor involved or were intended to manipulate and/or garner your sympathy…repeatedly.

We all have friends who have endured some horrendous shit in a short period of time, and those who seem to have a crappy hand dealt to them through their entire life yet somehow manage to keep their head above water. We know them, we support them the best we can, picking them up when necessary. It is part of the bond we share as brothers (and sisters) at arms. We have each other’s backs because we know no one else will fully understand the measure of what we have experienced through military service. We do this hoping and trusting that one day, if we were in need, they would unquestioningly return this honor. We are a family, for better and worse, we have each other’s backs.

When we return home, many veterans find it difficult to form that level of trust with civilians. Perhaps this is because we can’t know with the same level of certainty that they would support us the same way as our military counterparts would have done. We almost expect them to drop the ball, so it doesn’t hurt as much when they let us down. So what do we do when it’s our fellow service members who betray our trust?

Too often, I’ve seen my fellow veterans become hardened. They have lost all trust in their fellow human (military and civilian) and feel they are destined to go it alone. I have fought this battle several times in my life. Each time it gets a little harder to trust again. We, as a family, MUST make a concerted effort to reach out to our brothers and sisters. We have to know that even though we no longer wear our nation’s uniform, that we are still a part of the most prestigious fraternity in our nation. We must continue to have each other’s back. We also need to make it quite plain…there is no room for manipulation of facts or emotions. If we are to truly care for each other, we must be able to expect honesty and integrity from those we have learned to trust. Integrity is the cornerstone of what makes us honorable and trustworthy to others. It is also the one thing that cannot be taken from you; you are the one that destroys it. You are the only one who can repair it. It is something you must own, cultivate and maintain. Sometimes it can be personally painful to keep your integrity intact, but it is a cost that you must choose every time. Unlike respect, integrity is not something that you earn, it is something you must possess and exhibit in your daily activities and decisions. We all know this, it is drilled into us from the day we enlist to the day we hang up that uniform for the last time.

We should be able to trust those who are veterans just as readily as we trusted our squad, our platoon, and our fellow service members.

When we come across a veteran who has lost his integrity, we have the responsibility to each other to appropriately call them out. As a family member, they deserve nothing less from us. They need that opportunity to make things right. If, however, they choose not to fix the situation, then it falls upon us to take appropriate action. Whether that’s simply cutting slingload, or reporting them to Stolen Valor, etc. We have a responsibility to protect the rest of our family from the possible fall out.

As far as trusting again… all we can do is choose to try. Each time we are deceived or manipulated, it becomes more difficult to form that trust with another person, but we are the ones who must put forth the effort. Other members of our family do not deserve to be punished for the deception of another. Those who follow after us must be able to know that they are part of this brotherhood. We must take that step, no matter how many times we get burned. We are a family…for better and worse. We are the only ones who know the full measure of what we have endured. No civilian, no matter how well intentioned, could ever have our backs the way that we do. They are a great resource but they have not experienced the bond of being someone’s “battle buddy” and know the weight and the honor that title carries.

We need to continue to be each other’s battle buddy, we must continue to trust each other even if we trust no one else.