Thursday, October 27, 2011

Shunned and Shamed

 When I stop to read many articles that come out about Caregivers/Spouses of Veterans, and or things that are stated like "what is the cost of the war" one really mentions much about the social aspect we lose like the dynamics of friendship, work relationships, and external family members. I think this is an important topic that is often overlooked and one that is vital to most of us. We live our lives normally, have our regular jobs where we earn our own money, doing things with friends and family pre-war and it feels like as if we belong in society. Post war changes everything. I have always been sociable, holding a fantastic position in a job and we just lived life the best that we were able to. When my husband came home, it seemed like the roller coaster of life became a fast moving freight train on the slow track. It never did go in one particular direction, so we never were able to get our bearings or an even ground to stand on. We live day by day, and although it seemed like things just stopped...these past four years went by in a blur.
This past weekend was one of those beautiful days that all of us look forward to and ones that are few and far between for us. When it happens, you want to wallow in it and bask yourself in the moment. You want to find yourself rolling around in the laughter, feeling yourself smile because your Veteran smiles; you want to literally bathe in the "good days". When they are gone, you smile at the memory but the heartache starts to creep back in as the reminder sets in that we aren't as normal as we used to be. The word normal really doesn't even belong in our vocabulary anymore. During those good days, you don't want anything at all to go wrong or someone to ruin it. We have become so starved for those small glimpses of life mostly because that's what keeps us going on the bad days and is literally the glue that keeps us from falling to pieces. 
My husband wanted to get out for a little while, so with Gunny, our service animal in tow, and the kids taken care of, I got to spend a whole day out with my husband. I was so excited because "getting out" doesn't happen very often, let alone with my husband in an overly fantastic mood. He was looking for a particular magazine, so it was decided that we would hit a few book stores and a few others to pick up costumes for our younger children. I wasn't feeling too great, but I bit back the pain and thought to myself "come hell or high water, you are going to go and enjoy it" because I didn't want to miss out on this precious gift. We had a great day that was filled with conversation, laughter and smiles. There were some people we encountered that obviously have never been around a working service dog, and some people who made a point to stare and loudly discuss what could be wrong with my husband (I gathered they thought he was deaf) but we ignored it and kept right on going. 
We enjoyed getting out of the house and just feeling semi-normal again. Due to extremely crowded situations on Sundays in most restaurants, we both decided that we would wait til later and have a late lunch, early supper. So after a few rounds of rock, paper and scissors....our favorite Mexican restaurant was where we ended up. Halfway through our lunch, a rather large group of my husband's past co-workers came in. He looked over and saw them, and I looked and said "hey there is so and so and the rest of the gang". He immediately withdrew. Almost like we were standing outside and the sunshine disappeared because a large cloud covered it. He was a beautiful flower that I literally saw shrivel up and die. I watched "him", the small and rare glimpse of my old husband, simply vanish in front of me. I became so angry that I thought I could feel my blood boiling. I tried to start conversations, but I never could get him to look up from his plate. I was so disappointed, hurt and infuriated that these people made my husband withdraw. I was angry because no one should ever make a soldier or Veteran hang his head in shame.
As we quickly finished up, we got our check and headed out. I stopped to say hello because I felt like we spent a lot of time with these people and well, it was the polite thing to do since we were forced to pass by them. Ten years of employment, ten years of being "family" and helping each other out. Many times my husband took holiday time, or swapped shifts to help another family out or to give a new daddy time with his child. We gave money to those who are in need when we didn't have it, we attended funerals, and even helped some of them move entire homes out of good will. Even through the hell we were enduring on our own, I bravely volunteered to walk miles searching through debris of devastation from tornadoes, seeking anything we could salvage for our "friends". When we walked their direction, you could have heard a pin drop at the large table they were sitting out. Everyone sitting, looked other directions or picked up their glasses and drank while keeping their eyes on the others...anywhere but looking at us. When I said hello, no one answered. No one could even look at us at all in the face. No one said anything......
 My husband simply just walked towards the door with his head down, and while I was paying our check...I bit back the tears all while choking on rage. I bit back four years of sadness, disgust, fears and lost friendships. It was like being in high school cafeteria and everyone suddenly not speaking to you because of some rumor. Although the past four years we have been alone and slowly losing touch with the outside world, it didn't hit me like it did that day how many have shut their doors on us. It was as if we had suddenly become the bad guys. They acted as if we had some contagious disease like leprosy, and then the sadness hit me with full force. How much we lost and how alone we were. You could see some of them were just waiting until we left, to say something about us. When we walked out, I grabbed my husband's hand and said "Don't worry about it". I held my head high although I really wanted to hang as low as he did. However, I am not going to let my husband go through this alone and he knows that. So he gripped my hand back in mutual understanding and we left. I turned around to see them all laughing and talking. I tried my best not to let it bother me, but God it did. I don't know who it hurt worse, my husband or me.  I think I felt hurt for both of us because he said "I am used to it". 
I  know much of this is happening to many of us and that being shunned from others happens on many levels and it happens to many of our Veteran's families and to Veterans themselves. We are already struggling through misconceptions, bad medical treatment or none at all, then coupling that with stigmas, labels and the media making a field day of those who use their disorders to excuse serious crimes. It becomes very tiresome to fight all of that on top of the already piling issues within the family and our Veterans. It can be from co-workers, close friends, acquaintances, and yes....even family members. I think the family issues hit harder than co-workers or friends. I know how it feels to have family not understand, not willing to educate themselves, and reinforce you with negativity and then judgment. I try to do the Christian thing and forgive, try to not judge myself, be willing to still stand when I felt my knees buckling. I often wondered if its just from ignorance, fear or just not having the experience. I know my husband has changed, they know he has changed...but I damn sure didn't need a reminder. It doesn't matter anyway because I thought friendship was for good and the bad times. I didn't realize it came with a clause or a closed door policy written for "just in case" times. 
Negativity is not what I need to focus on right now, and I don't want to waste my time or effort to keep friends that were probably never friends to begin with. However, it tears you apart and leaves a mark on you. No matter how much you say you shouldn't be ashamed, you still can't help but feel that way. We have been turned away from friends, our unit, co-workers, some family but it never ceases to amaze me when they need everyone wants to be friends once more. I feel those who want to talk about us behind our backs when we leave the room, for those who want to call my husband a lunatic, crazy, looney or sick in the head, just don't know. I know there is a huge difference in ignorance and stupidity, but with many we just won't ever be able to change any of their thinking. 

My oldest son asked me later that Sunday evening, what was wrong with dad. I explained what had happened at the restaurant and he said "We are reading the Scarlet Letter in English, and now I know how she must have felt. Maybe instead of wearing a scarlet A, we should have PTSD and TBI embroidered on our shirts. Not much difference". I chewed on what he said all evening for a long time. I wondered looking back, whether standing up and forcing those in our areas to recognize issues such as these in returning Veterans, was a positive thing or negative. Did I make the right decisions by starting this blog? Did I make the right decision for my family to say "We are not ashamed. We are here. We bleed like you do and yes, we hurt the same way". Either way, the road was set...and it's a long hard road to walk alone. In all though, I don't think I made the wrong choices and maybe I am supposed to be here. I CAN hold my head up high because you know what? I did it on my own without anyone's help. I didn't depend on anyone else or asked anything more that I couldn't and haven't given to others. I made it the past four years and I am still standing. My spirit aches, my mind is in pieces, but I am still standing dammit. I am learning to find my own way, on my own conditions and am a better person for it. 

I wonder if those people that shunned and shamed us will ever be able to really say that to themselves and it be the truth?



  1. This brought me to tears. I am so sorry for the hurt those people caused and the way it instantly put a dark cloud over your sunny day. We have to find some way to understand that people act that way out of ignorance, not malice. Easier said than done, but that's the only thing that can convince us that people aren't straight up hurful and hateful on purpose. One thing we can all gain from these hurts and imisunderstandings is a huge amount of empathy for wounds seen and unseen. I do not envy ANYONE, because who knows what kinds of private hurts they are going through that can't be seen with the human eye. You seem like a great lady, and I pray God will help your husband and you get past this and continue to hold your heads up! He is blessed to have you as his partner.

  2. I wrote out my comment once but it didn't post...oh well I'll just do so again. :)

    I didn't have to deal with the shunning so much as I just avoided people. This was partly due to the fact that when my husband was discharged from the Army we moved to a different place than from where we grew up. I do have a bit of family here but despite what bit of understanding they have I can't always rely on them for help because of their own age/health issues/busy schedules and so I am left to handle things alone. I avoided making new friends because we have been pretty reclusive since returning to the States six years ago because of everything we've been dealing with. I did work for a couple of years and though I chatted with the co workers I never really made any friendships. I avoided it because one I just don't feel I have the time to commit to another person, two because aside from the bit of time working I hardly venture out of the house into social situations to meet others, and three because I worry about being shunned or judged.

    I have had many people in my past use me for whatever reason and just cause me more grief and stress and I worry that is all I'll find yet again in friendship. Right now I just cannot take on yet another person's grief because I have plenty with my own family. I worry about finding more stress from a new friendship than benefit. I also worry about them seeing just how life is within the walls of my house and judging me or dropping me and I just don't need that. I mean thanks to all I have to handle housekeeping is the least of my concerns and so I hate having people come over because I always worry about what they think since I currently don't have any kind of outside employment as I am my husband's caregiver. An outsider might figure that I am home all day and thus should have a pristine house and yet my day is usually filled with husband care giving and children caregiving.

    I also worry about the future with my children. I know they will make friends through school and I worry about when they are older and might possibly wish to invite them over. I have been brainstorming having a place set up in the house for them to use as a hang out zone. It has been helpful now that even though they are young my oldest who is five seems to be adapting pretty well to life with a disabled parent. I just hope that as they get older I can continue to help educate them (along with the rest of the World) on these things.

    Anyway, very interesting article and thanks for sharing!

    ~Aimee Taylor

  3. This is a GREAT post! I am so sorry those people robbed you. I felt angry myself reading this! I really like though you held your head high and you should. You both have been through hell and its amazin to see how you handle it all. I can only hope that I am half as strong as you are. God Bless you USM. Your friend, L

  4. Mistress, I believe this is the thing that bothers me the most. I have spoken to you before about coming home and my fears. I feel that we are already outkasts as it is. I know I have problems, and what am I coming home too? More people who dont get it. I fought. I am still fighting. I have to hide the fact I have medicines, Command says I need to keep quiet. What have I done that was so bad? Because I have PTSD I am suddenly no good for them? I was good enough the first three deployments and now this one. I am glad you brought this to life because my mom doesn't understand and my dad says quit being a pussy and suck it up. I can handle the loss of friends, the people you trust the most leave you but it hurts worse when family just kicks you to the curb. I wish every day and god knows that I wish I could just suck it up. It doesn't happen that way. Thanks for brining this to light and for always standing up for us. I am proud to have served for people like you ma'am. Your A'Stan friend.

  5. I feel like you are hearing my words. Thank you for saying this. You are right, I think often when people ask what is the cost of freedom and all that we did for our country; they never add in the family or what we all have lost in the process. I am proud for what I did and had to do, but most people just look at us and really don't know what we do or go through. When we come home, its even worse. I like you bring us Reservists up and don't let us down Mistress. You know how hard it is to get back into the life. I feel like I am coming home to only crowded rooms and me being the only person standing. I have been there. Keep writing. You got a way with words that speak to us soldiers. I don't want you to think your blog was ever a mistake. I found you last year and man, its been wonderful to have a friend that knows what I have and will be going through. Maybe God has given you this so you can write us faith, hope and love. My girlfriend reads you faithfully and it has helped us open up and talk about some issues I am facing. We hope that God will continue working through you and you will remain our spokesperson. Thank you for all you do. SGT H

  6. Dear USM thank you for bringing this up. I lost my wife because this very thing. Her father thought she could do better and she cut the strings. My parents think I am nuts. I tried to explain but I don't understand myself. I am having to hide much from the unit, my battalion, co-workers and pretty much everyone else. For the same reasons, its because I fear them turning me away. I like reading you. I thought this was just for wives, but you stand up for all of us and thats what keeps me reading. I wish nothing but the best for you and do not ever think you did badly. Think of how many like us you have helped. When I feel low I like to come on here or your facebook and just read. You always know what I feel and I am understand a lot about my ex. She had the right and maybe she didn't love me like I thought but doesn't mean I am a lost cause. dont stop writing, you are a hero to many of us. You quit, we won't have no one to stick a boot up our ass when we write in. You are my only friend. You dont care how many demons I have or what I have done, you encouraged me to keep going. I think the lord works in mysterias ways and you standing up to share your life was his way to speak to all of us. Your husband is luckey to have you and thank you. Thank you for it all. You helped me believe in myself and for that, I am in debt to you.

  7. I'm so proud of you. You dont seem to back down to anything or anyone. You give us reasons to keep fighting. A true friend is one that stays through thick and thin so you didn't lose anything. You gained a lot of people who love and respect you. God does work in ways we will never understand and it his faith that we must trust in the way he believes and leads us. Keep going down the path and watch for those messages from him. I believe God put you here for a reason.

  8. My Dear, you seem to know every thought or feeling we are having. I wish it never happened but its nice to know we can come here and to see a post that says thats us right there. I agree with someone else who commented, you are like Dear Abby for us Vets. You have courage, a gift and we arent asking for a professional. We just want someone to recognize our pain and what we are going through. Thank you for this post. I am copying this to my wife and family. I woke up to her crying the other day because another friend canceled a lunch with her. Lot of cancels in two years. I feel I am to blame for it all and I cant help her. I know you understand. I am so glad I found u and dont think you ever did badly or made wrong choice. You heard me when no one else listened. You were kind enough to email me back at my lowest point and gave me a reason to fight for my family. Now let our comments give you a reason to keep fighting. God Bless You Ma'am. You make it worth all the hell we went through and I have no regrets giving all for people like u. SSGT Browning US ARMY

  9. I came home in 2009 was my third deployment. My buddies wouldnt have anything at all to do with me. I know I was probably acting weird, even isolated myself. Anyway I heard one time at drill my Command say to some others "he came back crazy and I cant have that in my unit". I can understand where you are coming from. I still am able to serve. I still do my job and dont feel I am getting into trouble or anything. I think it was just the stigma and getting a profile for mental health for PTSD. This CO has never been deployed except for a desk job in a non hostile area and didnt even have to carry his weapon let alone use it. I find that he has no right to say I am crazy. I heard a while back they were going to be talking bout issues from deployment and how the command should have an open door policey. All I found was a closed door and someone calling me nuts. Ive been reading for a while and you seem like you just get it. I know you are a wife, but maybe thats what we all need. A wife who is gonna stand up, say what needs to be said and isnt ashamed of us. Im sorry this happened to you and I feel those people dont deserve your attention Mistress or deserve to be called friend or family. Keep fighting for your husband, he is lucky. If you dont mind, fight for all of us too. I am single so its just me and me alone out here. I wonder know if I will be too crazy at 22 that I wont ever get married or have that special person holding my hand. I am trying to get help though. Its nice to read you when no one else gets it and thank you for all you do. Oh dont think you are traveling down the wrong road. You are heading in the right direction and somehow you just have the right way to say things that makes us feel better. You have a big heart and I think one day you will find a way for your voice to be heard for all of us and we will all be heard. Keep up your writing and dont give up.

  10. I used to be very active in the Officer Wives club here on post. When my husband came home with severe PTSD, I was nicely asked not to come back due to an incident where my husband blew up on me in front of the house. The lady who runs the club lives three houses down and heard it all, they all did. I was shunned from my friends and pretty much everyone I called friends here. We are getting ready to go before PEB so I know exactly what you are going through. I put so much of myself in everything they did, cried when they cried and was there to watch their kids. No one would help me. I sit and watch from our window all these women get together and stare at our home. The commissary has become a gossip ground and I think to myself, I wish they could live in my shoes for a while. I dont believe the whole time I was there, that we ever shunned anyone else. No one was rude, but maybe I missed something. Now these women won't even look at me or say hello. I think back now and wonder like you, do they ever really know what is the cost of freedom? From my view, they couldn't add it all up. I am alone but its better to be alone than try to be something I am not. Shame on them Mistress. Thank you for bringing this up. It isn't one of those things that people really talk about. I have learned a lot from you and you know just how i feel. Just know you aren't alone either in case no one tells you that.


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