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,


        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 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'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, 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,