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.
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.