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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Women Veterans

Two things have happened recently that got me started on thinking about women veterans. One, I saw Lioness the film, which totally blew me away. Second, I got an email from a VA therapist working with OIF/OEF veterans asking me to rewrite Why Is Mommy Like She Is? for the new women veterans, which I have done. You can order it at my website.
Today Anonymous posted on one of my posts, Do you have anything for women veterans? My reply to her is let me know what you need and I will try to write it.
Some thoughts:
War changes people.
We, as women, are supposed to take care of other people's emotional and physical needs. Even today, in a household where both people work, the wife still does most of the housework and child care after work, while the guy watches TV. Is this fair? No. Is it right? NO. Is it common? Yes.
I'm not sure how quickly this expectation is laid on our women veterans when they get home: the housework and the parenting. From my own experience when Bob got home from Vietnam, I suspect it is hard to get back into giving a sh*t about laundry and dishwashing... and even the kids... your husband...
No matter how much you may want to be the same, war has changed you, and it will take time, and sometimes therapy, to let go of some of the pain and altered priorities and become who you prefer to be. One of the things war will do for you is to get you thinking about how you were and if you want to be that person...
When Bob went to Vietnam, he smoked. When he got home, he'd been living in a tent and sometimes sleeping in the helicopter for a year, so he'd just flick his butts on the floor. I laughed. He was raised by a much better housekeeper than me, so he would apologize and say he'd been living in this tent, and they all did it. He got so he didn't do it after he'd been back about a month.
At that time, I don't think I was even aware enough to realize he had been living in a separate reality in which all the priorities were different, but I hated housework so I thought it was really funny... I think that was good for our marriage, because if I had taken it personally and felt insulted or any of a million other common thoughtless reactions ("Don't you have any manners," to a WWII combat vet who hadn't eaten at a table for YEARS.), I think our problems would have been greater.
Things happen in war that change a person's priorities.
Another thing that was pretty evident, looking back, was that Bob's physiology and emotional life were changed by the experience. These were the normal results of his brain trying to keep him alive: hyperalertness demonstrated by an utter inablilty to sleep and leaping up over and over in the night, emotional numbing which caused me to feel unloved because I had no idea that in war you have to put away your emotions to rapidly adapt to what is going on around you so you can do your job, despite bullets, rockets, IED's or whatever. He began to drink to get to sleep, another common way of dealing with the changes war creates in the brain.
At the time, most psychiatrists were telling veterans who said war had changed them, that they were wrong, but now we know it does change you, your brain chemistry, your reaction times, etc.
I think this would be harder to accept for a woman because we are supposed to be feeling, emoting, caring people, so If you feel like you don't give a sh*t, be aware that it is a normal protective device of your brain, not some kind of moral defect. It is evidence that you lived through something that killed others, so it is a good thing. It can become a bad thing over time, but right after you come home, give yourself a break and don't expect yourself to be the same.
War changes people. If you understand the changes, it makes them easier to accept. If you don't like them, you can work on unlearning what you have learned under the hammer of war. My "Veterans Day and I'm mad" post has a very detailed explanation of the changes, if you would like to read that.
Meanwhile, whatever happened to you, whatever you did or didn't do, you deserve to recover.
My email is on my profile, so please email me with any questions you have or topics you would like covered.


  1. I am a female Vet of a foreign conflict. (21 years ago) I was diagnosed with PTSD last year. Looking back over my life, I can see the signs/symptoms of PTSD but I ignored them and I coped with them the best way I knew how by pushing back my feelings and kind of being numb for a very long time. Last year, it was different, I was feeling too much and it was very intense. My husband just returned from Iraq, my son deployed to Afghanistan and many other life changing events took place in my life. I could go on but I don't want to take up your time. The bottom line is I am dealing with emotions and anger I pushed back for many years. I don't take prescription drugs. (a personal choice) What I found that works for me is bio feedback, yoga and meditation. I wish I could say I have been consistent but I haven’t. I will be getting back on track. Have you or your husband tried bio feedback or yoga? Thx for your time.

  2. Bob uses meditation and so do I.
    I have three articles on dealing with feelings that have been stuffed. I don't want to put them here because they are long, but anyone who is interested can email me and I will send you a .pdf.

  3. Patience, thank you for all of your comments, and what you do to help others. Some is a shame that the WWII veterans who experienced serious combat had to endure great pain when they returned home. In many cases, their experiences were as bad as it gets. But, those who overcame relied on their families and friends, and in turn did overcome great trials and problems. Point matter when it happened or what happened, there will always be pain and suffering, war related or not, but it is most important to know that we have to turn to God to find the answers. As President Lincoln described during his 2nd Inaugural Address, he talked of the Civil War in terms of a great struggle between right and wrong. God is always right, controls everything beyond our comprehension, and can mean real peace (from War or from whatever) for people when they follow His word, the Bible. It is my hope that all people will truly turn to God, and really get healed.

    PS-I am a retired Colonel who was in two different war zones. I have helped save a life in war. I have seen lives lost in war.