PTSD: Helping a Vet Recover
My name is (Name Withheld) from (state withheld) and I am a Christian but I have been diagnosed with anxiety post-Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a lot of anger issues, isolated periods where I just shut down and don’t talk, just hold everything in and the majority of the time, all of this frustration, anger and isolation is centered around my wife. Our marriage is seriously in jeopardy. Our communication is terrible. We go days and sometimes weeks without really even talking to each other and it’s making both of us miserable. Do you have any advice for me?
Thank you in advance
Dear Name Withheld,
I would be remiss not to begin my letter without thanking you in advance for your service to our country. I don’t know how you feel about the battles and the casualties and even the validity of the missions. But, I do know that you did heroic things, saw some awful things, and struggled with a lot of pain and hurt – as did so many of your brothers and sisters who fought beside you.
I also want you to know how my heart grieves for you and so many others who are in constant danger the Middle East as well as around the world. I can’t imagine the pain and your suffering and the struggles that are now occurring in your personal and family lives. All I can say is that it really hurts to see and hear that you’re hurting.
There’s no doubt that this is a tense and debilitating time for you and for your wife as well. Let me share some thoughts that may be of helpful to you as you seek to get your life and family back together. I have no illusions that you will ever completely recover from the mental and emotional scars you’ve endured. Nevertheless, there is no doubt in my mind that you can put the pieces back together again and live a long, loving and profitable life.
My first thought has to do with PTSD. You are exhibiting signs that make it obvious to me that you need good counseling help to handle well your experiences of the recent past. I encourage you to find a counselor who specializes in PTSD and began to get some accountability and professional help for how to live with and successfully navigate this disorder.
One of my daughters was raped when she was in high school. She never said a word to me or my wife but we did notice the commencement of some unusual behaviors. Now we realize that she was acting out. For example, she joined the fencing club in college and one evening was relating how at times she would faint high and quickly lower her sword into her male opponent’ s private parts. Over the next several months her horror was revealed to us and together we found a 65-year-old-Christian woman counselor who specialized in helping women who had been sexually abused.
It took about a year. She is now in her mid-30s, healed and well and happily married. She has a great job in a fabulous husband.
I have a hunch that your experience was much more devastating than hers. Nevertheless, I believe that if she can get well then you can, too.
Regarding the anger and communication issues between you and your wife I have several thoughts:
First, I think that following the guidance of the right PTSD counselor will give you the help you need. Most, but perhaps not all, of the things you’ve experienced may need to surface for you to confront them and bring healing to them. Some things may well simply be left inside. That’s for you and your counselor to sort out. I would imagine that some of the things with which you are struggling are overflowing into your marriage and half directed your anger and rage at your wife because she’s a convenient target. You need to find some other targets before your inner hurts destroy your marriage deeply hurt you both. Hopefully, you have some other friends, or can find some others, who experienced many of the same things as you to whom you can unburden your heart instead of dumping them upon your wife.
Second, let me suggest that in one of your peaceful, rational moments, you both sit down and make an agreement to calm down. My wife and I have done this for years. We call this “stepping on landmines”.
All of a sudden, one of us says or does something that really angers the other. When we find that happening we know that often we stepped on a very sensitive area that may or may not have anything to do with our anger. So, when the land mine gets stepped on, we allow one of us or both of us to say, “Timeout, we (or you) just stepped on a land mine, let’s sit down and talk about what’s really going on.” This helps to deescalate the fight and helps us not to hurt each other with the words and anger.
Third, you both are obviously hurting. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Five) that the way to heal hurts is to mourn and grieve hurt and to receive comfort.
Jesus said: “Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted.” This is the only plan given in the Bible for healing our hurts. Julie and I also do this a lot. When one of us is hurt we allow the other one to talk through and mourn what is hurting them. After a time of mourning. we comfort them with words like, “I’m so sorry you went through that.” “It grieves me that you experience such pain.” “Let me just hold you close for a moment. I know this is really rough, and if you’d like to, you don’t have to, but if you’d like to, you can tell me how much you’re hurting. I’d like to share what you’re going through. I’d like to hold you and comfort you.”
Mourning can take many forms. Don’t miss it for what it is. It can look like anger. It can look like criticism. It can look like depression. When you see someone hurting the proper response is to comfort them. When someone is yelling at you the proper response is not to yell back; but instead, to say something like this, “I can see how angry you are. That tells you hurting deeply. Why don’t you let me take a few moments to tell you how much it hurts me to see you in pain? I’m so sorry for what you have been through.”
Please remember that your wife is hurting – perhaps as much as you. Staying home while you were deployed was a miserable, fear-filled time. It will be good for you to listen as she tells you her hurts, and then you comfort her. Mourning and comforting is God’s plan for healing your hurts.
Fourth, I believe that you should consider some medical help in getting you through this time of crisis. There are many wonderful brain chemistry meds available today to deal with issues like anxiety, depression, anger, fear, and various mood issues which you may well be experiencing. Most physicians understand these drugs and how to apply them for your benefit. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for you to get some medical help.
Fifth, as a Christian, God has given to you many tools for getting through very difficult times. Let me suggest that you read through Second Corinthians Chapters 11-12. Paul went through some agonizing experiences that certainly must left him scarred deeply – both literally and figuratively. He attributes his ability to handle his traumas victoriously because Jesus Christ poured in the power to meet his needs in every situation.
Also read Philippians 4:10 – 14 where Paul tells how he was able to access the power of Christ to help handle the difficulties that he experienced.
Finally, Name Withheld, I once more want to buy express my sorrow and grief for the hurt being experienced by both you and your wife. I believe that you can get well. My wife and I will keep you in our prayers.
Please let me know how things are coming along.
Helpful links: maketheconnection.net (support groups and counseling in your area)