Post-Traumatic Gazette # 2
Gazette Number 2 was a lot of fun to write because it was a chance to share what I had learned about myself as I worked on my own recovery. I really enjoy laughing at myself because I was soooo uptight before I got into recovery for myself.
A favorite quote:
"trying to fix Bob. I didn’t know he had PTSD, but I knew he had problems (not me) so I kept coming up with solutions: read this book, see a shrink, move, new job, read this book. None of them ever worked, partly because I did not know what the problem was (PTSD) but mainly because I didn’t know whose problem it was. I thought it was my problem. I thought he was my problem."
I discuss some of the ways I reacted including:
"•Personalizing: The families of trauma survivors may personalize everything due to our very natural frustration. I feel hurt, therefore he or she meant to hurt me. Feeling Good, by Dr. David Burns talks about this kind of cognitive distortion. The book was very helpful to me and Bob. Family members feel the survivor is doing this to me. Angry at me! Depressed because of me! Jumpy because of me! Numb because he doesn’t love me anymore! It may have nothing to do with you, but if you are wrapped up in someone else’s life the way I was it is almost impossible to conceive of the idea that something not related to the relationship is at the root of the survivor’s reactions. And of course being human, survivors will tell you it is your fault, especially if they don’t know about PTSD. Yeah, if you kept the kids quiet, I wouldn’t be so jumpy. It’s not true, but it seems reasonable so we try harder and harder so the survivor won’t be upset. It doesn’t work. There is also a seductive egotism in personalizing everything—we are so important. This can also lead to the idea that after all I’ve tried, if I can’t fix it, nothing can. Don’t believe it."
Probably my favorite part is in the article "PTSD and Me"
"We lived with PTSD for 14 years without knowing its name, because it didn’t have one until 1980. I felt tremendous guilt, became very controlling, and started an other-centered quest for the thing that would fix my life: when I got Bob straightened out. I had no idea what was wrong, but I was sure it was my fault.
I thought he didn’t love me because of his emotional numbing, his attempts to isolate himself, and his lack of interest in things we had done together. I concluded I was unlovable. I saw his substance abuse not as self-medication to maintain numbness in the face of unbearable thoughts, feelings, and memories, but as deliberate naughtiness. Wild rides on his Honda 750 looked to me like stupid immaturity (except when I joined in) instead of a sense of a foreshortened future. The fact that he couldn’t sleep became a joke. Rage attacks meant he was a jerk. When he couldn’t remember something I’d told him, I got mad because I had never heard of the inability to concentrate, another symptom of PTSD.
My whole life became centered on fixing Bob. My upbringing told me that I could make other people happy. He wasn’t happy. I wasn’t happy. I figured I just wasn’t trying hard enough. I knew you can do whatever you put your mind to. It never occurred to me to try another way. Even after I found out what PTSD was, my quest was still what we should do to fix Bob. I had no idea that I had problems and that my actions and reactions were making it impossible for Bob to get better. We were stuck in a series of ineffective patterns....
I can only change one day at a time, (much more slowly than I’d like), but that gives me compassion when I see how hard it is for others to change. This has let Bob recover in his own way: His symptoms are much less distressing to him and to me than they were. Five years ago, I wrote in Recovering that Bob absolutely could not say when he was having a bad day. Today he can. That is a miracle."
The last article in this issue, "How Families Can Recover" suggests a lot of things families can do to recover, like taking the focus off the vet and working on ourselves.
I hope this issue will inspire people to stay together and work on recovery together, so the family becomes a sanctuary instead of a battleground.
If it is a battleground today, change yourself and see what happens. It is a slow process, recovery, but slow growth is good growth.