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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It is not your fault

When I was a young wife struggling with a husband who had problems, like emotional numbing, angry outbursts, and inability to sleep, I thought it was all my fault. Everyone knew that if you were a good wife, your husband and family would have no problems. This is a myth, but I believed it.
At that time, there was no diagnosis of PTSD and we had no idea for years that any of it was related to flying into a hail of bullets over and over again as a slick pilot in Vietnam in the 1st Cav, 1965-66.
Bob thought most of his problems were my fault, too. What did he know about the effects of combat?
So I thought if I could just lose a little weight, keep the house cleaner, keep our son Jack a little quieter, and be more responsive to his needs, Bob would be nicer to me and not get mad or cold or whatever.
In fact, coldness (emotional numbing) is often a response to an anniversary, and the veteran may not know that. Bob seemed to turn into an iceman several times a year and when he wrote Chickenhawk, I realized why: Ia Drang, Happy Valley, Bong Son, and the last month flying heavy lifts when they had promised ass and trash (mail and passengers). One vet friend of mine tried to kill himself three times at the same time of year, a few years apart. His counselor suggested looking up the reports on his unit, and they found that a bunch of guys had been killed in a big firefight. He did not even remember. So there can be anniversaries that even the veteran does not know about.
Unfortunately most of us do not know anything about the symptoms of PTSD or we think they are defects instead of survival skills. We misunderstand. We take it personally, when often these behaviors have nothing to do with us.
I used to think that the things I did depressed Bob instead of understanding that the deaths he saw and the things he endured combined with the lack of care when he got home depressed him. He was called a murderer. When he was training new helicopter pilots and saw the standards lowered because they needed bodies. He had combat fatigue and was grounded when all he had ever wanted to do was to fly. And I thought I was the cause and could control and correct all his feelings.
If you are going through a rough time with a veteran, please read the rest of my posts and the free articles at Patience Press.
It is not your fault.
You didn't cause it although you may be thinking that, and he/she may too...
You can't control it by being the best little woman, or the best husband, in the world, although she or he may be telling you that if you only did this, that, or the other, he/she would have no problems.
You can't cure them either.
The hard and painful work of recovering is something they have to do, even though it is not fair.
This will be extremely hard for you, because tolerating someone else's pain is very hard. We want to help. We want to fix, but we can't and if we try to cheer them up and tell them to put it behind them and forget, we will perpetuate it.
If we tell them they are screwed up and to go get help, that can perpetuate it too.
They need to regain a sense of being in charge of what happens to them, so not following our directions is a healthy choice for them. They don't need directions, but suggestions can be helpful if done with a light touch. That's why I tell people to leave my articles in the bathroom instead of giving them to someone with PTSD. People don't like being told they are screwed up.
Get some support for yourself. One place is Living with PTSD. Another can be Alanon, where you can learn to detach with love.
Just remember: It is not your fault!