Friday, March 18, 2011

Taming the Adrenaline Beast

So as many of you know, I have gone through about four years of my husband longing and seeking the "outside the wire" rush of adrenaline, which is like searching for the Holy Grail. As my buddy, Beau, said in his blog...."PTSD is an Adrenaline Addiction" in which in my experience, he is totally correct. I walked away from reading his blog and thought, "Yes, that's it!".  I think that is a good way to put PTSD for Combat Vets into one single category of explanation if you ever needed to do that. With this acute PTSD program my husband has been in, they have been teaching the Veterans how to find a good rush without seeking the troubles and issues that come with the bad stuff, with such activities as kayaking. I have worried about this because we seemed to have the "addiction" under control somewhat, although his impulse buying and such does from time to time, get out of hand. Now I wonder with him coming home, what kind of issues will arise when we can't reproduce this secondary high he found in treatment. In preparation of the program coming to an end next month, I have been searching for anything my husband can do to hold his interest, keep him busy and give him a rush of sorts so he isn't looking for the wrong ones like he did in infidelity, alcohol and lying. 

For those of you who don't really understand what I am talking about, I will explain. When our Vets return home from war, they not only have changed so dramatically, but they come home with an addiction to adrenaline. My husband once explained to me that every single day he would go outside the wire in security convoys and stayed pumped up. The thoughts of "This is it. I am going to die today", "am I going to get shot?" and "Thank God I made it back inside the wire" incessantly ran through his mind the whole time he was outside. Even while on the post he was assigned to, there were constant incoming rounds and mortars going off so he never really had that chance to come down off that rush. 

After enduring a year long deployment with nothing but adrenaline, it's often very very hard for these guys to feel normal or find that rush once they come home. They are automatically expected to fit back into society, fit back into their families and be expected to be "old" so and so. Couple this with the yanking of the constant adrenaline rushes they are used to, it's a recipe for disaster. Therefore, much of their issues such as screwing around like in our case, wasn't about sex or that they had feelings for that person...merely, the thought of getting caught by their spouse arouses that adrenaline. I was surprised to hear this very comment from several other OIF/OEF Veterans as well. I had to stop and think about this for a while, and well...I can relate. I recently, after saving change and tightening the belt on our budget, went to see my sister in AZ for a couple of days. Now my life, has been nothing but a ride on the old stress carousel. Once I arrived, I found that I couldn't relax no matter what I did. I couldn't find a way to really just lighten up and chill out. Having a couple of days with no children, no husband, no PTSD or problems with that, you would have thought that I would have been in heaven but I felt weird and out of sorts. I tried, I really did and I had fun...but inside? I felt empty without that stress and holy cow, I hated to say this...but almost missed the constant kick in the ass I get every day here! My sister looked at me one afternoon and said "It's official, you are addicted to stress and drama so badly you can't even relax anymore". She's right...I can't. Life without stress doesn't live on the Eastern side of the United States, and even traveling West, four thousand miles to leave it all behind me...I felt the familiar tug of withdrawal. 

After my husband explained the"rush" at first, I didn't get it. After talking with so many veterans and other spouses...I find that this really is common amongst our PTSD families.  After being so long in that type of environment, they really do just get used to living that way the same as I have adapted our stressful lives. After my trip, I spent the plane ride home thinking about my rush of stress, and how I felt abnormal without it. It dawned on me that I am probably experiencing what my husband was talking about. You think of our returning Vets and the issues they come home with, but this part isn't really talked about much. Everyone talks about drugs, alcohol, nightmares, mood swings etc etc...but never the adrenaline seeking issues that they battle constantly. 

I can't spend my time wasting on worrying about what's going to happen when he gets out of this program, but simply expect the worst and hope for the best. I think that should become Living with PTSD's mantra. Rather than focusing on how I can't find things to meet his adrenaline needs once home, I am focusing on how to give him something to soothe that addiction and needs. Similar to that of methadone for drug addicts, I am trying to find things that will give him just a little but not a lot of what he needs. I find that when he feels normal, we have an easier time combatting the rest of the symptoms of PTSD. So online I go, with my fingers flying across the keyboard searching for those "anythings" I could find that could fit into my husband's needs. As always, I really can't say enough "educate, educate and educate" yourself as the spouse/caregiver, because that education? It will be your safety net when all hell breaks loose and you can think of what you learned. You will be more prepared to handle and facilitate if you know what the hell to do or in our case...expect.

While speaking to our OIF/OEF Caseworker, I explained to her my concerns about this "fulfillment" of adrenaline they were teaching my husband. She understood where I was coming from and told me of a couple of non-VA related programs that I didn't know existed. One of these is a kayaking program for wounded Veterans called Team River Runner. This is at no cost and is something nearby for us. The other one is Project Healing Waters, which is also free and equipment is provided. I am so thrilled with these because my husband loves the rivers, the kayaking meets his needs, and the fly fishing used to be one of his favorite hobbies prior to war. It's also therapeutic so it's meeting and fulfilling our needs. The kayaking hurts his back still pretty badly, but he says its worth it because for that time he is doing it, he feels that rush and normalcy like he did in Iraq.

Another one I found out about was Horses for Heroes, which is an equine therapy program for the Veterans themselves. Again, non-VA related. I loved the equine retreat I went on with the Wounded Warrior Wives at Quantum Leap farms. When my husband said he was asked about it and was unsure, I told him to jump on it. He is so glad he did! He absolutely loves it! So much so, it gives him something to look forward to as he told me. I thought to myself "I can give this same experience when he comes home!".He hasn't had much to look forward to in a very very long time.  It looks like there are programs like this all over the United States, so ladies or Veterans, let your fingers do the flying online and see what you can find. Trust me, it's not just going to come to you so easily. 

I am hoping this tames the Adrenaline beast somewhat, at least so it's not eating away at my husband or kicking my butt every time I turn around. I am looking for other programs such as these. There is a service dog organization in our area as well as a Horse Rescue farm which are always in need of volunteers. Such things are low impact, which is what I am needing because of his lower back and knees. Anyone else know of other programs out there such as these that are available? I shared feel free to share yours! If I come across anything else, will place them in the tabs above my blog. My husband has his weekend pass and will be home this evening, so hoping all goes well. It's been a rough two weeks for him, so somewhat leary of this visit but again, expect the worst and hope for the best right? 

Still Fighting Back,


  1. My husband claims that anything requiring a lot of concentration and fine motor skill really helps him ignore that adrenaline-addiction pang. (He makes arrowheads, native american tools, etc.)

    His neuropsych said that this also helps some of the damage from his TBIs not get any worse.

    I am also totally addicted to stress and I can barely function if everything is rainbows and puppies around here. Thank goodness it is rarely like that.

    (New to your blog btw, as I finally decided that I needed some form of communication with people who actually got what I live with daily!)

  2. Honey,
    You're gonna end up at the local Harley Dealership. It's inevitable. And the FATBOY rules.
    So it's adrenaline and not testosterone? I'm addicted to the former and over dosed on the latter.

  3. There is also a Horses for Heroes program in San Martin, California (just south of San Jose) and they also have a couples program. A few weeks ago I was talking about your blog with the program founder and she was very glad to hear that your hubby is in treatment. Hoping for the best for you!


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