Thursday, December 1, 2011

More than Just a Turkey Spared


As the holiday season rapidly approaches us, I have seen an influx of emails in regards to Thanksgiving horror stories from the past and horrendous expectations for future ones. I have to admit, some of these really made me laugh out loud with you! I appreciate the humor you passed along with such bad stories! The one question remains evident in those emails is "How do you survive it all?". To be completely honest with you....beats the hell out of me! I thought hard about that question while many of you wondered from both sides of the house, how to survive family, high expectations, and immediate family disappointment. I always used to laugh because my mother would always drink eggnog before family came and of course, have several more afterward. As I became an adult, I figured out that the eggnog was spiked with her favorite liquor and that's probably how she made it through it.  I guess a part of me has become remote from the holiday season, as if everything is done mechanically but not much heart into it, if that makes any sense at all. Sometimes I feel like I have become separated and doing things on habit, but not much spirit in me. Much of this is from past holiday horrors ourselves, and of course, our family's encounter with the Bottom Falling Out in January.

For the first time in four years, our family and myself was spared like the yearly Presidential pardoned turkey. I didn't have to cook this year which was nice for me since I haven't been feeling up to par. I have to say this was the first time in 29 years, that I haven't had to cook, wash dishes, worry my self senseless over good china being broken, a husband who is flipping out and of course....not having to make excuses, apologies or hang my head because he was so horrible. I like to think it was probably the latest addition of Xanex to my husband's medication repertoire that pardoned our family from the "Holiday Horrors", but he was pretty mellow before that too. We spent Thanksgiving Eve with our Project Healing Water friends who invited us to dinner, which was really awesome. It was nice to be around some great Veterans, listening to their versions of the VA, military stories and the laughter that erupted from the living room while us wives were getting supper ready. I enjoyed it most of all because I actually was socializing which is something I rarely get to do. In all, we had six kids running around loose which caused me to envision the Apocalypse coming, with only the baked ham and turkey surviving in that fallout, but to my surprise....all of the Veterans did rather well secluded together in the safety zone of the living room. Perhaps its because we all felt a common bond and as if we belonged together. It's odd that close friends have long come and gone, and somewhere along the line, we have lost our ability to feel normalcy with people we know that doesn't have a clue. However, put a bunch of veterans and families together, and it's like we have been friends all along.

On official Turkey Day, my mother in law had to work which was ok with us because we were wore out from the night before. So Thanksgiving dinner being prepared by her, was postponed until Saturday so we could ensure that my husband wasn't totally over doing it. Since both our friend's dinner and my mother in law's were out of state, it made back to back drives kind of hard on all of us. My husband hasn't been sleeping too well as of late and I was worried that the eye twitch he was developing would become the next scene from the Exorcist. In all, my mother in law was more than understanding and it made sense to us to space it out to spare him the stress and preventing us from becoming future alcoholics. Although he handled the dinner with our friends, he was tired on the way home and of course, our little ones were exhausted and fussing the whole ride home. We decided to do a Thanksgiving stand in, occupying nothing but the couch, watching Christmas movies, eating a big pot of homemade beef soup and fresh sour dough bread. It was nice to not have to get dressed up, not have to deal with a ton of people and constantly watching my husband for signs of the oncoming stress.

Black Friday brought on some of our Veteran friends considering and some braving the crowds for a few holiday items. All I can say, is God Bless them. My husband looking over a few sales ads actually considered and asked me if I would like to go. Amongst his sudden proclamation, came sudden visions of Black Friday crowds, women running wild in their pajamas grabbing and snatching, my husband suddenly erupting, security or the police called and of course, whether my slim bank account could produce bail money! After some serious moments of silence, we both decided that yeah...sending a severe PTSD Veteran into Walmart or Best Buy on Thanksgiving Night or on Black Friday was not a good idea. So far in the news, we have seen people being pepper sprayed, shot at, and black eyes all while clutching their beloved items they saved five, ten, or a hundred dollars on. I didn't want to be the first family on the six o'clock news with the headline of "Combat PTSD Veteran runs rabid through a local Walmart" and permanently adding to the already piling stigma our Veterans are having to face.

Overall, it wasn't a bad holiday. I have had a nasty cold I have been trying to soothe and with the three kids home from school for a total of five very looooong days, about made us all want to pull our hair out. Sitting in, watching movies has been something we haven't done in a long time so was totally worth not having to get out and do the normal Thanksgiving turkey thing. So down to the nitty gritty of "How do you survive it all?". While we laugh and joke about alcohol, Xanex, Valium and whatever else helps you through it all....we have to be honest and be serious. Anytime you have company, family or friends over...it's going to be stressful. The spouse is stressed because she is probably doing the majority of the cleaning, the cooking and reigning in any children that are running around on a holiday high. Such demands can lead to one cranky spouse and that really does run over on our Veterans. In my experience, the less stressed I am, the less my husband feeds off of it.

Having dinner with a small group, not having too heavy of expectations on my husband and not worrying about trying to explain his if any, bad behavior, made for less stressful holidays. Doing the pot luck type dinner with other Veterans turned out to be the best Thanksgiving dinner we have had post war. Now I know from having family in the past, this isn't going to work for many because of the standard family demands of "You have to be here, it's expected". However, there are many things that have changed with our PTSD and/or TBI Veterans and that includes such large gatherings. Some can handle it with minor issues and some just can't do it at all. I find that after four years, I just stopped setting him up for failures and setting myself up for the scape goat and running around cleaning up the mess. We keep it simple, we keep it structured and other than doing a few things around the house for me.....I let him unwind before we go anywhere. While I love the holidays and socialization, keep it sparingly and keep it to a minimum.

From the Veterans side of the house, many stated the same thing over and over again such as this statement from a Veteran reader in TX, "My family doesn't understand and I feel like I have to be the way I used to be and I can't. If I don't smile, my mother freaks out. My aunts or uncles are all wanting to know what happened overseas. I feel bombarded, cornered and violated and if they aren't asking questions, they are staring at me and whispering about the son they used to have but is now crazy. If I don't have a lot to say or get nervous, everyone is angry with me. I go home to my wife yelling and screaming at me because I wasn't nice or demanding to know why can't I be the way I was before I went over? I don't know why. I wish I could be and want so bad to be. I just can't be that way. It's not like I set out to be that way or intentionally want to hurt them. I just try to be quiet and make it through all the madness." I really like when you guys write in because like this statement, I think this puts a lot of things into perspective for us spouses, family members who are seeking information or not understanding what's going on. It is more so important for those of us whose Veterans aren't really telling us how they feel.

I know a few years ago when all this was new, I was the one yelling and screaming at my husband on the way home all while in tears. He would just sit there and look straight ahead. I never stopped to consider what he felt or what he was going through. Thank you TX for bringing this point to light. 

A few good links I have come across that are useful such as this one on Spousebuzz, PTSD and Holiday Season Triggers. Always interesting, and some I have participated in, is Family of a Vet's Blog Talk Radio which has different opinions, options and discussions. Often, I learn more from these types of informational resources than I ever could in a book or pamphlet. There is a blog session Handling PTSD During the Holidays and there are two parts. The second discussion can be found here. Another article I recently stumbled upon was on About.com, Coping with the Effect of PTSD and Family Holidays.


We are trying to keep our Christmas season this year small, quiet and to a minimal on family. I am not over doing it on spending money mostly because we don't have it, not going to over do it on family mostly because we don't have very many left, and just try to enjoy the holidays day by day. I am making sure his input is in everything we do from the tree, down to the presents for our children, but other than that...hoping to do things one at a time and not get my husband overwhelmed or myself for that matter! If we can make it through Christmas like we did Thanksgiving, I will be be then be able to breathe again. Try to make sure that your Veteran doesn't have a lot on his plate at one time, encourage but not place too heavy of demands on them, and if family gets too pushy...sometimes you just got to push back and say NO. It's not about the presents, or the decorations...its about love, family and the joy of a new year with a clean slate.

I for one, am ready to get to the New Year as this girl has some much needed projects in the works that I want to get started! For Caregivers, make sure that the stress isn't completely all on your shoulders. If someone offers to help or pitch in, allow them to do so! Ask a friend to watch the kids to allow you to go do some shopping and stop and have a hot chocolate all to yourself. If you belong to a church, or an organization...ask for help with the decorating. I know many have written to say all they had to do was just ask and many pitched in. For some of us, I know that will not always be an option.

Hoping the Christmas holiday season will start with some ease and no stress here but am preparing cautiously for it like I normally do. Seriously considering writing a letter to Santa for just one really good Christmas without any tears. I wonder if they do those sort of requests at the North Pole?

Reconsidering Mama's Eggnog,


.

7 comments:

  1. Where to start...I despise the holidays now. I cannot go shopping with my wife, for presents for our kids, anymore. There is now way that I would ne 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 crowds, I lose it. The shrink calls it hyper-sensitivity, the Marine Corps calls it Situational Awareness.
    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 that she is a stressor, how do you tell her? How do you forgive things that happened? It is hard, the PTSD brings up all the demons from the past and the anger takes over.
    I have not seen nor talked to my sister in almost 4 years. She has no contact with my kids, unless they are on there 2 week visit to my moms 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 doppleganger 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 nor 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.

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  2. I am dreading the holidays because I know my husband will be so upset. I am trying to find the spirit, but just dreading it. Family is the biggest triggers for him. Any suggestions on telling them NO for the holidays?

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  3. SGT NunyadamnbusinessDecember 3, 2011 at 4:25 PM

    I Hate Christmas. Family, crowds, the whole nine yards. Absolutely loathe it. Now for my kids and my wife? How do I stop myself from being a dick and ruining it for them? I don't want to be that way. I just want to be normal. Can you give me some pointers? Thanks Mistress-you freeging rock.

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  4. I came across your page from a bud of mine. This site is pretty cool. I am coming home right before the holidays. Any ideas on how to tell the family to ^%$& off? Not my family immediately but outsiders? Too much and I am dreading coming home. I tried to talk to my wife and she gets all upset and is mad. What do I need to do?

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  5. Mistress, wanted to let you know I am here. I got you on my bookmarks. I am really glad you had a good turkey day. You deserve it. Try not to stress out about the holidays. Do it one day at a time like you told me. Long days ahead of us, but not to much longer til I am back for good. Got a good girl waiting on me back home cause of you. Just wanted to wish you a late Happy Thanksgiving and let you know I made it safely. Battle says hey. We are good and thanks again. Freeman

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  6. Red Cell, please find my new post addressed to you and the others. Hope this helps you somewhat. I don't have all the answers you seek, but hoping maybe my words will help you somewhat. Freeman, so happy to see you once again. Take care my friend and keep that head low. Wishing you the best this holiday season and may you stay safe to come home to marry that woman! Thank you all for the comments and hope that my latest post helps a little.

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  7. Red Cell, have you thought about a service animal to help you get through with the issues of getting out? Might be something to consider. We went through TADSAW, train a dog save a warrior program. It is not as long of a wait as many, and they are rescued animals. So it's a "Who is saving who" partnership. Might be something you can look into and be willing to try. It has made a huge difference on my husband leaving the house. ((hugs))

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