Sunday, December 11, 2011

All I Want For Christmas: Response to a Reader

On my last post of More Than Just The Turkey Spared, there were a couple of comments from Veterans and a Spouse that really made me think on how I wanted to approach this next blog. I am going to answer the comment left by Red Cell and hopefully answer all the others in that same response.

His comment,"Where to start...I despise the holidays now. I cannot go shopping with my wife, for presents for our kids anymore. There is no way that I would be able to handle the crowds. I would get in a fight with someone else or ruin it by fighting with the wife. I cannot handle the crowds, I lose it". He went on to say "I have lost my relationships with my mom, my sister, and my step-mom. They choose to believe that PTSD is not real and I am just acting like an a**hole. They do not come around anymore. I was estranged from my mom for 3 years, that all changed when her dad died. Now we are trying to build a relationship that is full of misconceptions and anger. She doesn't understand she is a stressor, how do you tell her? How do you forgive things that happened? It is hard and all the demons from the past and the anger takes over. I have not seen nor talked to my sister in almost four years. She has no contact with my kids, unless they are on their two week visit to my mom's in the summer. The only thing I want for Christmas is to be my old self. I want to go back to Iraq and find the old me. Find where I died and this doppelganger was born. I want to find where I lost my love of life and where all this hate and discontent came from. I walk through each day not feeling or caring.I get out of bed and cannot wait until I can get back home, that is where I am truly safe. Where I don't have to worry about losing my mind. What is wrong with me? How do I fix it? That is what I want for Christmas. To be Normal."

There were several more in regards to family, holidays and many towards just surviving. Now in staying true to my self, I am going to be blunt and honest, with no professional advice of course, given. I think all of us have struggled and still continue to struggle with such issues with the holiday season. First, I would like to state that since reading your comments, especially RedCell's, my heart hurt and I wished I had all the answers. I really really do. I don't have all the answers as we are still seeking, searching, and learning every day like all of you. Red Cell, you know what is wrong with you and you have a loving family right behind you. You can lean on your wife for support, and she is there to hold your hand but she can't carry you. You have to be willing to fight back, and fight hard. Only you can do this, but it will take you and your family to stand tall, stand strong and stick together. The holidays are stressful for all of us so I understand where you are coming from not only as a family member but you sound so much like my husband. I have thought long and hard and here is what I came up with for you and you can take it or leave it, because I am just answering as a friend.

  • You need to let the past go with family. If they are stuck on believing what they want, there is nothing you can do to change that and you will only end up hurt more in the process. Why not this year, take some time off from worrying about what they think and just concentrate on your wife and children? Life is too short to worry about what happened in the past. Letting go is one of the hardest things to overcome but you will spend all your time trying to make up for things that just can't be done and all that rage on something that can't be changed. If you wish to rebuild your relationships, you are just going to have to say "Ok, I am going to let all this go and from this day on, never look back". I don't know much about your past, so its hard to give you an answer on this. I simply have come to the conclusion on some family members, that it's their loss. They are the ones missing out and that is their choice. Start by fixing your family in your home, then when you feel ready to tackle one more on the outside, then take baby steps. Maybe just pick up the phone and say hello. This way, at least YOU know you tried. Rather than waste time being angry at family, relish in the love of your children and your wife this holiday season. I know it hurts, and I have been there and definitely done that. In my opinion though, it just makes me love my immediate family that much more.In this world we all live in now, families included, we must take one day at a time and expect bad days to show up. We hope for better ones and hang on to those days like nobody's business! As a spouse, I am going to give you some ideas that I would think would help you out.
  • Know that everything this holiday season is going to include screw ups, arguments and bad days. That is normal and I am sure your wife knows this. However, there are some things you can do to deter this and pitch in. You might not be able to leave the house, or feel safe on the outside, but you are not dead or helpless and there are things you CAN do from your comfort zone. The one thing you need to start doing is to kick this PTSD in the ass by fighting back. Whether that be through more therapy, organizations that offer different activities to get you back in the real world, like Project Healing Waters, or just socializing with old friends by having them over to your home. Baby steps. Don't set expectations so high that you fall immediately but set small ones each day, on a goal list, and cross them off as you go. 
  • I don't expect my husband to go shopping with me. Holy Hell, it's scary out there to me! I don't want to do it and often times, budgeting and spending money we can't afford, makes me stressed out. What do I want the most from my husband and this also came from many other wives....we just want you as the Veteran to acknowledge us and that we did do it all. Maybe a "Wow baby, I can't believe you did all this! You are amazing!" would be a huge step for you and your spouse. She would probably fall over in shock! You obviously know that she is doing a bulk of it and you recognize you are missing out. She is missing out too. Stop a minute to acknowledge her, darlin', and this will help relieve much of her stress and yours!
  •  Ok, so you are missing the fun and joy of picking things out for your children by staying home and that I understand. However, why not order online and do the store pick up thing? Sit your wife down on a good day for you, and explain to her that you are missing out and would like to help her whether it just be pick something out by yourself or sitting side by side at the pc. You can still help shop, she can pick up and I bet you that taking the time out for her, and just sitting with her, would be a beautiful thing. It is also helping you because you are taking the initiative to do something, ergo fighting back. Have you really ever stopped to just talk with her like this comment you made to me? Often times, Veterans don't communicate very well and we often just know you guys are angry as hell. Maybe stopping her one evening when its quiet and say "I really want to help with the shopping, I want to do something. I just can't go out and it scares me. Is there something I can do by computer to help you or something around the house I can do to help you out?"  The fact you are talking with her, sharing your feelings, and wanting to help will really help both of you. 
  • Now, with the holidays the spouses are usually stressed out to the max. Not only are we dealing with our kids, family members, holiday expectations but we are also dealing with some Veterans who feel the way you do. Remember when Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody gonna be happy! Run that woman a hot bubble bath and light a candle, or put on some soft music! Shopping, wrapping and normal household duties are tiring and stressful. If you stopped while you are at the house and cleaned, picked up, started supper, and just pay attention to your wife...this would make her very happy and feel that she is getting some much deserved attention. No buts, no can'ts, no can do this sort of thing if it only means unloading the dishwasher, or cleaning the toilet.  You CAN do this and remember that somewhere between all this is going on with you, that often family members and spouses get left behind.
  • Take a second and do something from home for your family just to let them know you care. If your wife is cooking, offer to help whether it be peel potatoes, putting sprinkles on the cookies, or washing dishes whatever! Often times, the silence of my husband can be extremely hurtful and deafening. Sometimes, when he just comes in the kitchen and pulls up a chair and sits with me while I cook is the greatest sound I ever heard. It's those little things that remind me how much he loves me. 

    • On those evenings when the home is stressful and you know your wife is gonna blow...pick up the  phone and call in a pizza to have it delivered. Tell her that she is going to take a hot bath, you will watch the kids and that you have supper on the way. Let her know you want to help. Offer to get the young ones into bed, have your pizza together and play some cards. 
    • So you can't leave the house but you got to start trying little things to get back out there. That's all there is to it. Most of us have Netflix or Blockbuster now, or there are those Red Boxes rental things all over the place. If you panic about going into crowded places, check out Red Box site and choose the one that is closest to you. Rent a sappy chic flic or something you know your wife will like. There are some good ones out there that both can enjoy. If you can make it to a rental store, go early on a Wednesday or Thursday when the store is less busier. Bring home a movie and snuggle in with her or one with your children. 
    • Fix your wife a hot cup of cocoa with marshmallows, maybe even some extra ones, for no apparent reason at all. If nothing else, a hot cup of tea or some hot popped popcorn while watching the movies. 

    • So you can't get out in the crazy world and shop, but I bet you CAN wrap presents! If your spouse has already bought, then share in the joys of wrapping those gifts for your children. Best wrapped gift I ever got was years ago when my husband used a pocket knife and duct tape. It meant the world to me because he tried, and that is all I ever asked for. Help her if you can't wrap, by handing her pieces of tape or putting the bow on top. You may despise the holidays, but try to remember that this is your inner demons coming out. Fight that by remembering that not everyone in your family does. Do this for them and for yourself. Taking on these small challenges for yourself to do for your family, is going to bring you that much closer to finding your old self.
    • For those asking about family and how to nicely tell them to back off, using swear words probably isn't the best way to handle these types of situations. Come on guys, ya'll ought to know your mamas ain't gonna take it lightly!  Some suggestions from Facebook readers were to simply explain to them nicely but firmly, that you are starting your own family traditions. Others said they spread it out over the month and they found that its not so overwhelming. If your spouse is adamant about it, explain to her why they bother you so much and that you need some down time or an escape plan to go be by yourself. I think using honesty with your family members, even if it is hurtful or not what they want to hear, is always going to be the best way to go about it. Don't expect to be mean to your spouses, and then demand she explain to the rest of the family why you can't do the holidays. She is your biggest fan, and one that takes the most crap. You guys think you have it hard, but you have no clue how hard it is for us. I never understood why my husband could take on the bad guys in Iraq but couldn't talk to his mother. His explanation to me was "Well, we never used words with the bad guys". I get that, but I also know that this puts me in a very bad situation and predicament, as well as makes me look like the bad guy most of the time. There are going to be hurt feelings, but you have to do what you have to do to get through it and on your own terms. It wouldn't be any different than someone with say cancer, having a car wreck, or some other debilitating illness or disabilities that caused them to change and prevent them from entertaining and living up to family expectations. If they don't understand, well they just don't understand. 
    • Lastly Red Cell, many Veterans feel the same way you do about going back over and trying to find where they "died", or where they left themselves behind. You aren't alone and often, many spouses wonder and feel the same way. Honey, I am going to be honest and say that if you left tomorrow and went back...I don't think you would find anything at all. I wish you could. I do know this, that there is not a day that goes by I don't see a small part of my husband's old self somewhere through the day. You are still in there, somewhere...but just a little lost. It's easy to get overwhelmed, lose patience with yourself and then give up. Only you can fight those demons and its going to take time, patience, and working at it through therapy and such. We know the VA sucks, but there are other places you can go like the Vet Centers, Give An Hour, and many others. You can use your health insurance and go out on your own. Continuous therapy, not just haphazard, here and there, therapy, is going to be a huge step and process for you. However, I think you can do it. The question really lies in this....are you willing to try and get your old self back? Don't put so much pressure on yourself for the holidays and set expectations that are reasonable. Communicate with your wife so she knows and can do the same. Try to remember that this Christmas and many more, your children will look back on and remember. Ask yourself is this how you want your children to remember? So when you feel upset, cornered, unsafe, take a second and look at your children...then breathe. Find somewhere to go in your home that you can take a minute to collect yourself, give your anger level a quick check and a minute to chill.
    I hope this helps you some and the rest of you who are looking for some possible answers. I don't have them all but from hearing so many stories, questions, and emails....these answers are coming from both sides of the house. We all know the sacrifices that have been made, and that we will continue to fight the war here at home for a long time....but know that you are here, you are loved, and you are safe. Remember the real reasons behind the Christmas season, allow yourself to enjoy it, and for those who have children, relish these moments as they go by fast. Take a moment to believe in hope, love, family and faith. I hope that next year brings bigger and better things for all of us.  Merry Christmas Red Cell...I hope this season finds you comfort, peace and sincere joy.

    I Still Believe,



        1. GieshaGirl from Ft. HoodDecember 12, 2011 at 4:23 AM

          I think these are some wonderful ideas. If my husband just pitched in and helped me a little, even helped me wrap, I would fall over in shock!!!! I don't want presents, or anything fancy. I just want him. He does not get it. Thank you for putting this out there and for Red Cell. My husband went back over, 3rd deployment looking and all he said he could find was more screwed up self. I think the mistress said it the best way and thats you are still there inside, you just got to find it. I thank you Mistress and think I will take on the "doing our own traditions" since my girls are older. My husband just can't handle the family or their false knowledge of whats wrong with him. Then everyone makes him feel bad. I get angry because he is angry and blames me. I don't get angry because of anything else but the blame. I wish he knew that more. I think all of us spouses wish for better holidays but we know what to expect by now and we shouldn't put too much on them knowing we are setting them up to fail. I just want my husband to help me out a little, and maybe a little Santa Nookie on Christmas Eve. Hah! Thanks Mistress. I always like coming here to read.

        2. Thanks Mistress for this. This is some good idea. I read this twice and thinking you gave this guy some good advice. I sometimes feel like I should just be better off dead because I aint worth much alive. I dont like the holidays either. You made me think about my kids though and I dont want them to hate the holidays too. My woman is so stressed out over the holidays, think i will try some of these things that you mentioned. Never really thought about some of these. Thanks for always kicking us in the ass. Merry Christmas Uncle Sams mistress.

        3. Thank-you for this blog. I am just discovering that the things that I had recently thought were ending our marriage are actually symptoms of PTSD and a possible TBI. Part of me feels like an ass while the other part feels betrayed. My husband and I began dating after he was discharged and things have just been popping up slowly over the last 5 years and now they are to a point I feel like an animal scratching to get out of a cardboard box. Knowing that others are going through the same thing I am gives me strength. Thanks for the support.

        4. I wanted to say thank you for getting us here at the holidays. Its not that i don't like my wife or my family, just cant deel with all the stress. Its been easier this year though and i keep thinking that maybe every year will get better. I wanted to say i followed your advice and just went into the kitchen and sat with my wife. I helped her peel and slice carrots and she started crying. She said it was the greatest thing i have done for her in a long time. i thought to myself that you dumbass, why didnt you do this sooner? Thank you for bringing your ideas to surface and help us clumsy vets navigate the world. Hope you have a very Merry Christmas Mistress.

        5. Thank you. Just.... thank you. If only I could get him to read this.

        6. USM.... Thank You for being you!!! My husband is in the 7 week treatment program, and half way done. As tough as this is being Christmas holiday and the worst year ever I thank god that he is alive and that we still have each other. I have not had faith in myself. But I have believed that I must have faith in myself first before I have faith in my husband. So this New Year I will start having faith in myself so that I have faith in my husband. Because no matter how hard this illness is or what it has done to our family I will never stop believing that my husband can, and will get better. I cry as I write this comment because as hard as it is I do believe. Just have a little faith. Thank you for your blog....

        7. Part 1.

          I just came across your excellent blog and this post and felt compelled to respond.
          I am a person with a brain injury – I also have PTSD which occurred before the BI (I was in 9/11). I am very involved in advocacy work for people with BI – including both civilians and veterans.
          First I want to say that your comments were very on target – they all represented good sound advice. What I tell people with TBI and PTAD are four tings; Rebuilding takes a long time – much much longer than you imagined- think years. So each day may seem like nothing is improving but it is, only very slowly. Secondly I tell them it is hard hard work. Rebuilding your self is not easy. You spent 20 plus years building yourself before and there are a lot of different challenges and expectations now but you have to listen to yourself and believe in yourself, even when you can’t. Third – you will fail, you will fail and fail and fail. Only it’s not failing – its trial and error. And then you will succeed. But you can only succeed if you are willing to try and learn by not succeeding.
          The fourth thing I tell folks is this – have grace with yourself. Often the demands and expectation we have on ourselves are the things that frustrate us the most. The expectation of having the perfect holiday, of being the best dad (or mom), of being the ideal spouse, the provider, the loving family man. Sometimes you will be those things and sometimes you won’t. Sometimes, even often, you won’t feel much – you won’t feel love or joy or happiness. Your brain may be working to turn down the emotional overload – both good and bad. The numbness is okay, it takes a long time but you can relearn to feel. Hold no expectations, no time limits on this – just work on now, on today. Vets are very goal oriented and one of their hardest challenges will be learning to live – for a long long time – with a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty about themselves.

        8. Part 2.

          Some other concrete things that I strongly recommend;
          1. Exercise – a regular, intense aerobic program is critical. If there are physical handicaps and or pain there are programs to address these things. I can provide information if people wish.
          2. Meditation – a mindfulnesss meditation program is the single most powerful tool you can develop to help you re-train your mind and that is what you must do. Yoga can supplement this especially if there is a lot of physical pain or limitations
          Physical exercise and meditation are essential ingredients to helping cope, get cognitive rest and physical rest and restoring your well being. They will help you sleep – sleep disturbances are a huge factor in making things worse.
          3. Sometimes you will have to just ignore family – they may be hurt but you have to help yourself and your brain can only take so much. Your ability to manage emotional content will be limited and so you will have to restrict some of the exposure until you heal.
          4. Take time to breathe in a variety of ways – take a walk with your wife or one of your children in the evening. Just a walk in the neighborhood.
          5. It is absolutely about little steps. Be proud of each one.
          6. Find safe community. Being able to say the most terrible things you can imagine without shame, without fear, without a sense of failing is important. You will need to learn how to lay your burden down.
          7. Sometimes it is hard to find words. I had to reteach myself social skills and often when nervous or in intimate conversations I struggle to find the words to say – the result is that I often prefer silence. If you cannot use words try writing.
          8. If you can get involved with someone or a group of people who face hardship – sometimes seeing the struggles of others can help you in amazing ways with your own. I almost died once but what saved me was helping someone else. That was an important lesson.
          9. Self. You still have yourself, it just need to be re-integrated. Yes, things were lost and I never use the word recover – I say rebuild. There is hope, there is a future. There will be despair, there will be sadness and anger – but each time you can learn from it and do better the next. The self that remains is the one that wants to be happy again, that wants to love your family and be productive, to feel peace. That self is you and no enemy has taken it away – but it need nurturing, respect, room to grow.
          10. Forgive yourself.

          PS. You sound like a wonderful wife.

        9. Engaged to the ArmyDecember 29, 2011 at 8:49 PM

          Dear USM,
          I stumbled across your blog today at was a slow day, and I found myself tearing up at some of the responses to your blogs. You are so inspiring and it is awesome how you have helped so many people. My fiance is in Afghanistan and having a very rough time. His brother (also Army), who is he's very close to, thinks he is exhibiting symptoms of PTSD and possibly TBI. I am going to e-mail you personally here soon....since we're not married yet I don't live near his U.S. post, so I don't have anyone here who "gets it."

          Thank you so much, and God Bless you and your husband!!

          "Engaged to the Army"


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