Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sticks and Stones

~Sticks  and Stones may break my bones,
but hard words will never hurt me~
(1894) G.F. Northall

This question was asked on one of my posts and felt it needed to be addressed with a longer answer than my comment section would allow.

How do you deal with the outbursts? The name calling? The verbal and mental abuse? How do you deal with that? 

This is probably one of the hardest questions to answer! I don't have an answer because I don't know myself to be honest. I empathize with you because when the "beast" rears his ugly head you can't help but want to run away and never come back! You begin to resent him, lose faith and trust in not only him but yourself, and most of are dealing with a mountain load of hurt. How can someone you love so much and they be this way?

My husband can be really really NASTY. Sometimes it really just appalls me on how he can be so mean and the words he uses is not only demeaning, but disrespectful. Now I have a card catalog of cuss words, and not afraid to use them if the need for them arises...but being the southern lady I am and of the old fashioned upbringing I had as a child, his "episodes" can make a sailor blush and really stick you in the heart. My paltry amount of foul language can't come near the terms he produces. It can get so bad, that it really physically hurts and I find myself thinking "why the hell am I putting up with this crap"?

The thing I have learned as a spouse of a Combat PTSD Vet is:

  • Learning what sets him off. With mine it can be as simple as stubbing his toe, dealing with someone with a serious attitude, and encountering moments during the day where it triggers a combat related experience he had. I try to cushion as much as possible but let's face it....we can't keep the world out and even if we did....something else would set them off! I don't give my husband bad news unless I absolutely have to, I take care of mediocre and major tasks so that nothing can irritate him or more so, frustrate him and I learn to lay low. That sounds really stupid but I do. You can pretty  much tell with them right off the bat what kind of day it's going to be. Keep them preoccupied, keep a low profile and don't egg it on. I used to knock heads because I get yelled at or started in on making me want to get in a stance and fight back. Don't. It just makes it worse. Hey, never said I was a saint! He is really bad about bringing up the past and so am I. I learned to lose my mental notebook of things I can whip out in a heartbeat and that the past only makes the fight worse. It's a hard habit to break but it can be done.

  • Learn to cope with the fact that he isn't a husband anymore but a child. Harsh reality, but it's true. I myself haven't come to full terms and I buck the system from time to time. The point is, somewhere along the way we lost our spouse and if you look at it....they can be as much of a handful like a child can be. I can literally count on my hands and toes the times I can compare my husband to my pre-teen 13 year old. I have learned that yelling at them isn't going to help them but make things worse. I found the best way to deal with the emotional outbursts and cussing fests to simply take a stance, count to ten, look at my Vet directly in the eye, and let him know how it is. I will say softly, "this behavior is NOT going to be tolerated. Your behavior is unacceptable right now.Until you can calm down, I am going to my room and you can come to me when you feel like talking in a normal manner. When you can talk to me like my husband, I will listen to you all day long, but until then, we need to stop and walk away." Yelling and getting mad at them isn't going to add up to anything in their minds and they just have no emotions left to make them feel sorry for their actions.

  • Coming to Terms: You have to realize this isn't the person you married yelling at you, this is PTSD speaking. Most of the time, they don't even realize they are being so harsh. I have learned to look at my husband as two different will see Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde switch back and forth all day long. Does it make the outbursts and emotional abuse any less hurtful? Absolutely not. I have to stop myself from absolutely walking out the door and tell myself, it's not him over and over again. I never could understand the psychological babble and scientific jargon that's in the books, but I try to look at it this way. You have to think about what they went through, what they saw, and what they endured. THEN you have to think about the fact that mentally they are facing not only a zillion neurons constantly firing off in their heads, but the constant roll of emotions. They can't sort what is up and down, why they feel the way they do, or the frustration of what they are dealing with. They lost just like we lost as spouses. I like to think, or maybe it's more of a peace of mind, that my pod person is yelling at me and going off because a part of them which was our old spouses, still is there and knows that they can talk to us about anything. They can rant and rave, and we still love them. Does that make sense? Only difference is they just can't sort out their frustrations to have a normal conversation when something sets them off.

  • We have bad days too: As a woman, I have the infamous Aunt Flo comes to visit and since having my tubes tied, no birth control pills to help regulate my hormones. So once a month, I have a nice long week of the boo-hooies, the moodiness and the ice cream binging. I try to compare that situation to my husband which is surprisingly the same. I can be mean, emotional and have an occasional "snap your head off" moment. At that time, we really don't apologize and we don't really give a shit right? Aunt Flo takes over us, but just leaves us as fast as it came. It's a fact that a man's testosterone level can surge one time a month giving them the moodiness and bitchiness like PMS. Strange but true. PTSD is somewhat similar to our monthly issues but just never goes away. We can purchase Midol, tampons or fancy smancy pads with butterfly wings. We can pacify ourselves with our favorite candy, or a good cry or whatever we crave. We can say "yes I know I am being a heffer, but I am PMSing and that's that:". Our Vets can't do that. They don't know how to help themselves, they don't know how to pacify themselves nor do they understand what they are doing let alone control it. 

  • Hardening of the heart: I know it's easier said than done, but its very easy to wear our hearts on our sleeves when dealing with our vets. We are already psychologically damaged from all the changes, on top of dealing with our pod people every single day. We are easier to get hurt because we are dealing with so much crap all the time. We have fights, name callings, and all this can eventually just wear you down to the point you are past the exterior to the most vulnerable parts of our soul. I know it's hard as hell to ignore them but as I said before, they are like children in the throes of a tantrum. It's hard not to take offense to the insults, the screaming and hurtful words but sometimes you just have to let it go and mentally put your fingers in your ears while screaming "lalalalalalal I can't hear youuuu". 
To sum it all up dear Anonymous...I don't deal, I just cope. I ignore what I can, focus on his positives and less negatives, and I deal with him like I do as a parent. By telling them softly, hey you are hurting me when you do this...eventually it just sorta sinks in. I was surprised in the middle of marriage counseling that my husband made a comment in reference to this. He said "Sometimes I get so pissed off that I lose it. I scream at my wife, I yell and call her names, but I don't really realize I do it until she tells me that my behavior is not acceptable. I feel sorta stupid when she treats me that way, but if I do get that upset I don't mean to take it out on just happens. She is the only lifeline and place to go to when I can't find my way anywhere else". This was a major breakthrough not just for him, but for me. Because then I understood that its not him and he doesn't mean it at me...we as spouses are just are the scapegoats. I have come to terms that I would rather deal with him myself, than have him do this at work, in public, or to family.

There is no cure, no answers, and you will find your own way I promise. See if you guys can get into counseling as a couple. Sounds sorta cliche, but it will give you a chance to hear his side and this will I promise, help you see a lot more than this angry and screaming person. When another person is there, our Vets seem to focus a little more which is good for you because then they listen to what you have to say. You don't have to worry about them rearing up and bucking against you because you have the mediator in the room. It really does help and you can do this through the VA or the Vet Center for free. You really need someone that understands or is familiar with PTSD. I have tried outside help, but unless they are military oriented, it's not much help.

You don't have to be mean, but you can tell your Vet that you just can't keep going. Do it on a good day when they are relatively calm and not so viscous. Keep in mind that your spouse is still in there somewhere and they do come to the surface and test the waters. Let him know how much you love him and say we both need help with this. I want to fight with you but I need a little back up. There is no shame in doing that. It won't be easy especially if he isn't receiving regular help now...but it can be done.

I usually walk away and take a walk, read a couple pages, blog...anything to keep  my mind focused off the hurt that I feel. After three years, it's not as bad as it was, but trust me....the days still come. I cry, and cry....until I just don't think I can cry anymore. However, after a while, you just sorta toughen up and really most stuff doesn't bother me anymore. I have learned how to calm him down and redirect his anger. I will say hey, I know you are upset but let's stop for a moment and take a walk. Or let's go out to the garden and putz. Sometimes though, there is no way to do this and I usually just have to batten down the ole hatches and hope I can pull through it.

Make sure you are taking care of yourself. Do things just for you. Having something to fall back on for emotional purposes is a good thing. Find something to redirect your anger, frustration and hurt. Use this as your coping mattress so it pads those times when those days hit. Think of the reasons you married or with them in the first place and hang on to those thoughts. Find an outside source to get involved with so it eases some of the pressure off of you. See if you can find a local support group or talk to social workers at the VA and see if they have any resources. If you run into serious serious problems, walk away for a little while. I know there are many like me who have separated as it became the only solution in a volatile situation. While I try to work things out and hang in here....sometimes you just can't. There is no shame in that either.

I hope this helps you some. I know not the answers you seek but it is all I have. My email is always open if you need to vent or talk. Keep your chin up, there are many of us who are walking in the same shoes as you honey.......For the others, please feel free to add anything you wish in the comment box. Perhaps there are others who have different coping skills and most definitely point of view!

Uncle Sam's Mistress


  1. Bravo Zulu...
    But don't underestimate your wisdom.

  2. Where's the pom poms!! hahaha! Yes, I am doubting my "advice" if you can call it that. Mainly because it's based on what what I learned from my experiences. I feel like I don't have all the answers and well, I really don't. I don't want to let someone down. Does that make sense?

  3. It's been Real!
    It's been fun!
    It's been Really fun!


    The second I say that in front of anyone I get this look or shamed for feeling that way, but damn it, the roller coaster is hard and I need to be able to feel that way without being shamed. Thank you for your blog. Thank you for your words of wisdom.


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