Sunday, October 21, 2012

When Life Hands You Lemons and Other Antiquated Comments

When fate hands us a lemon, let's try to make a lemonade”-Dale Carnegie
1888 – 1955

A while back someone made a comment that somewhat stuck in this ol' brain of mine. Kind of rattling around, nibbling at the inner core and then forgotten about again. Two weeks ago it was brought up again in the remark of "Well I know it must be shitty but, things happen for a reason and well you are proof that life can give you lemons but you ended up making lemonade out of it" in this awful sing song tone. Once again and often I hear "things happen for a reason" which reminded me how many spouses and/or family members/Caregivers must also hear this. So in all this mess, the challenges that have been placed in front of us, and then the fights we must battle....have we really made lemonade from the sour and bitter lemons handed to us? Or are we simply still fumbling around with the right mixture that doesn't purse your lips or make your teeth grind?

The jury is still out on that decision on my part. 

So far, I have been tinkering with that Life's Lemonade recipe people want to remind us of and have yet to succeed in the perfect balance of good and bad. I guess because I am a constant thinker, it came naturally to wonder about who really came up with that comment to begin with and how much lemonade did this person truly make out of their bad situations? Then one has to wonder....were they ever challenged with the obstacles we face that are bad situations within the military and the wounded? More than likely, Mr. Carnegie never encountered war or the service it requires from not just the military member but the families before, during and most definitely not after. I know, I know, its the "half glass full" positive outlook but, often times we can find that after the outside world turns us away we simply don't do anything other than survive. Would surviving and making it day by day count as one of Life's Lessons of Positivity? Do our situations count as one of those lemons or are we simply overlooking something?

Most comments from the general public and civilian communities, don't bother me but save a few. "Well, I feel so bad for you but at least he came home in one piece". "Well he looks fine/normal" really irks the hell out of me. I really love the one where they state "well can't he take his medicine and just go on back to work like everyone else?" which is hard to explain because it makes you feel like they are saying he isn't trying and it becomes quite clear they see nothing wrong. That one particularly crawls under the skin and pricks the nerves just enough to get frustrated and angry. I don't want pity or anyone feeling sorry for us, and as for the portion of the first comment; "one piece" is right but they don't truly see the fragments of what that one piece makes up. They don't understand that yes, one whole piece is here but who the hell does this "piece" belong to? Often finding answers to questions in regards to PTSD and/or TBI is the hardest because you can't see anything. Trying to remain in the middle, it does often catch me by surprise and I must remind myself that my husband isn't "fine" because on good days he does seem like the same man I married many years ago. There have been times in the past five years, I have found that even our own wounded communities can be the harshest of critics against one another. Couple that with the rest of the world, most times you just don't say anything at all.

In the South, the term "Bless your heart" takes on many of the sympathy, empathy and confusion people have. You can have an illness and while they try so hard to out do you on the illnesses they or their friends/family have so they feel like you both are challenged, they throw in the "Bless Your Heart" and well, even that drives me completely insane even though I am a true Southerner myself. Also, Southerners have an unique way of disguising even the most cruelest of comments like "that baby has got to be the ugliest child I have ever seen. Bless his little heart" or "her husband is high falootin' with some waitress he met so she must have done something wrong; bless her heart". "Well I can't tell you what to do but I wouldn't tolerate half near what you been through. Bless yer heart". The nicely and overly sweetened comment of making lemonade out of lemons becomes tiresome and quite bothersome. That and "Bless Your Heart", I think personally, has seriously become an antiquated and overused comment that doesn't even really have anything to do with any of our situations.

When such comments are made, it often creates questioning between myself and the big man upstairs because one has to wonder why. I think that becomes a natural response from a human being. Why did this happen to us? What have we done that was so bad to warrant such issues? Am I doing the right or wrong thing with my husband and family? Is there really a right answer to comments of "things happen for a reason"? There are days where I wonder if I must have been someone else reincarnated; a past life that maybe existed that has done something or someone wrong. Could there have been a herd of black cats that I have crossed or hell, ran over with my car? Perhaps broken a few mirrors in early childhood? I sidestep bad luck but it seems to want to keep waltzing with me and often keeps my dance card full. I figure my fate and our life probably did happen for a reason unbeknownst to us, and we may never understand the true reason for any of this. I am sure many of us in the Wounded Warrior Community have thought this very same thing. An Army Chaplain and a good friend, reminds me always on bad days, that the Lord never puts more on us than we can handle. Well, I am at the maximum weight capacity and he is not letting up. Rather than cave in though...we just grew stronger in some ways.

In the past four years, I think what I did do, was really look at things a little differently than making lemonade from lemons, or concentrate solely on the fact he came home in one piece as I have been constantly reminded of. It's been more of being deserted on some island without a single thing but learning to survive, adjust, and keep my eyes to the sky and high seas for that possible sign of rescue; the endless day and night watch for hope. It's been five years last month of salvaging our past lives, utilizing what resources we did have and learning to use new items washed ashore in the wake of the bad times to build a raft that could keep my family afloat just a little bit longer. I think rather than use the whole lemonade or other idiotic comments, it should be "You all simply survived. You had to choose; sink or swim" and swim we did.

At the beginning of October, I finally fulfilled a promise to myself  that I once made and that was to get to the White House in Washington, D.C. I was chosen to be one of the members of Senator Elizabeth Dole's Foundation for Military Caregivers to advocate for many of us and the issues we are facing and will face in the near future. It was not only an honor but it made me feel like I accomplished a lot in the past four years. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was in the right place with the right people. For the first time in a very long time, someone heard and truly listened to me. So here enters one of life's ever lasting mysteries, "things happen for a reason" although I don't know what those reasons are, but I keep thinking all this must be leading to some point. Who knows what will happen tomorrow as I can only live for today and take it one at a time. It's all I know how to do after this long. Perhaps all those lemons have left me soured?

I didn't make anything into some sweet or bitter concoction to sip on or come up with some positive creative crap because I kept to my promise that I would help in a way that I knew how. I listened to those who needed that sounding board, stayed true to myself without compromising or selling myself out and most importantly.....just being who I am and honest. I think after chewing on the idea of whether I have become optimistic or pessimistic, half glass full or now half glass empty, bitter or jaded from a life that has challenged us; The only conclusion that I can think of is that our experiences from this life wasn't lemonade at all when you look back. We helped by telling out story, standing up for what we believed in, we try to help create awareness and held a flare to those who are still out there lost and looking to the skies as we do. We took what we could salvage and turned it into an S.O.S. We never gave up looking for that hope.

I don't believe that fate turned and Lady Luck gave us a lending hand. I think we fought back and gave fate a good ass whooping. Sometimes in return, it kicked ours. All is fair in love and war, right? I danced when there wasn't any music and I played my best poker hands when I was bluffing all along. I believe we found hope in the smallest of places and learned to look for it in otherwise odd places. We learned to appreciate simple things like a smile, a kiss, and we find joy even in the worst times. We found laughter in sadness. We learned to leave our old hopes and lives behind us and find new ones to seek out. We took chances knowing that we could fail; chances that might otherwise have scared many off and knowing that we had nothing to lose. We found strength in the strangest of places, gained courage from otherwise a hopeless situation, and we learned what we were truly made of when much of the time we didn't know who the hell we were while looking back at our reflections. We were cut down by words and to the bone, turned away from family and friends, but in the process we made new ones and those wounds that hurt so bad healed with scars that merely thickened our skin. Our new friends and people I have met in this journey, I think turned out to be angels in disguise and ones that were more loyal than any of our old friends. Perhaps that is what my Chaplain friend was trying to say. Those new people came along and helped carry the weight.

Most of all though?

We learned the true definition of the Army's Values. Some in the world will never know what the words of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage truly mean. Some will never understand the Soldier's Creed that my husband vowed to fulfill. I did. My entire family learned. We never accepted defeat, we never quit and we never left a fallen comrade.

Some could argue that I did make lemonade from what otherwise would have been spoiled and soured lemons. I think we made much more. I think the truth of the matter is that next time I hear such a comment? I am going to say..."hand me the lemons, let's grab some salt and tequila so we can have a drink. Afterwards, let me show you what we have made out of this life......A Survival Kit."

Never Accept Defeat,

Friday, September 21, 2012

War Is Hell......

but I do believe the aftermath is a bitch.

I haven't really had the momentum to write much as many of you pointed out but, rather than give you all excuses or many numerous reasons why; I think I will just be honest to admit I just don't know what to write about anymore. Things have been rocky here, to put it mildly. The MEB crept up a lot faster if you remember my mentioning that. This in turn caused a lot of stress especially since we are pretty much on our own with much of the how to's, what comes next and because we fell in the cracks it seems no one can really help us or understand as we are going into it completely backwards. There were positives and negatives with this, but it honestly hasn't been that bad because we went at it differently than many. We finally got to see a real doctor who specializes in brain and spinal cord injuries. Two appointments, many phone calls/questions and many many weeks all boiled down to my husband having Central Nervous System Impairments, Eye to Hand Coordination Impairments, Balance Impairments, Sensory Neuro losses, and well many many more. We kind of walked in and was sat down only to be laid all of this at our feet. 

Finally after five years of fighting, years of telling the VA they were wrong and hearing "he may have TBI but he is ok and there are no lasting impacts" just went away. It not only validated that I wasn't just a pissed off spouse taking it out on the VA but truly telling the truth. It gave my husband a reason to lift his head just a little more although he really didn't understand what all this means. We both really, don't know what all this means period especially as the years tick by. It's different when you as a spouse/caregiver knows, its different when the Veteran knows something just isn't right but a whole lot harder when you have a specialist laying out all these diagnosis-es; bombarding you in medical jargon and staring at you like you have three heads because no one caught this five years ago. It was literally one after another; speech, language and communication impairments, cerebellar gait (this means listing-walking to one side) and then the recommendation of sending him to Internal Medicine for testing for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Early Dementia. All of this on top of the TBI confirmation and that because it went untreated, it is now affecting his body at the five year mark which is common this specialist stated. Post Concussive Syndrome was added to it to explain all the lesser complaints like headaches, vertigo and dizziness. We wanted answers, validation and someone else besides someone saying "eh, he's alright" but it was one of those where you have to be careful of what you wish for. 

The hardest part of it all was the drive home. I had to literally suck up the tears. I had to swallow and push it all back as far mentally as it would go. I had to lie and tell my husband, as he was confused, that all will be ok. I promised I would get him better medical care. I promised we would take it one day at a time and no matter what? I would be there. I still to this day, have it shoved back in the furthest darkest corner of my mind where light and your memory can't even tickle it. I daily, remind myself of the promises but honestly readers? I am not sure I can even keep those promises. I carried my husband and family through all this hell for five years alone but what if there are promises we just can't keep unintentionally? I called the VA to let them know; not to rub it in but to say hey, you know what? We tried to tell you. I got "Well we knew this for years but there was nothing that we could do". No apologies, no concern but somewhat sorrow in the voice and I know every VA is backlogged. My question many more slipped through? How many more at the fourth and fifth year are declining?

My husband and I haven't really spoken much since July 13th. We tried to fake the smiles, answer the calls with confidence; just trying to survive one day at a time as promised. August zipped by with school starting and getting the rest of the MEB appointments completed. I think all of that has been stressful just because we talk to people who aren't familiar with our case and its not easy trying to explain why your Soldier went as one MOS but served as another. How the hell did he get injured when he was supposed to be doing this? Why doesn't he have his CAB? Why didn't he get the MOS if he served that long? Why wasn't he sent to a Warrior Transition Unit? Constant; like the slow pulling of the band aid off a festering wound. Every damn week. How does one eventually heal when its all the time? I want to scream and say "you know what? Why don't YOU answer these questions because honestly I don't know and I would LOVE some answers!" I try to play on the safe side, trust no one and protect my family....but after a while? You just get so damned weary. Weary of talking about it. Weary of listening to the passing of the buck, excuses made and stories changing. 

While my husband is here, he really isn't. I never had time to absorb all of what the specialist had to say and I really think my husband is probably scared therefore pushing the family away. August was busy with the oldest in ROTC, the middle one transitioning into 1st Grade from Kindergarten, and the youngest developing more health issues. All of that has been pressure building on top of me but somehow I still find the strength to get back on my feet every single morning. With him though....I feel like whatever steps we made this summer moving forward, we got knocked back down hard. I honestly don't know what is going on with him except I do know fear. Anger is showing up again and the PTSD Beast has been a fight that I simply can't win. Memory loss and admitting to it or realizing things just aren't good, has in turned set him off. Little things such as thinking he bought Gatorade, and not doing it, turned into the entire family hiding said Gatorade and conspiring against him to make him look crazy. Little outbursts like this are hard to deal with. You want to be angry, you want to be pissed and hurt and all the feelings flood you....but all you can do is just feel sad. Sad because you watch your husband deteriorate and see him so angry at you that tears roll down his face as he throws those accusations. "The Gatorade Conspiracy theory" has been just one of many but will say that was the worst because I honestly, just didn't know what to do. All I could do was show him the receipt from the store, ask if possibly the cashier just missed it, and did he maybe leave it behind? There was no soothing him and all I could do was tear up because he refused to believe that he honestly didn't buy it. It turns out he really didn't but was thinking about it but he just didn't remember.

We made it through August and now heading full on into "Hell Months" as well call it. I try to remain quiet and let him do what he needs to do. Five years, I have learned so many horrific stories about the month of September and October that I know better than to say anything cross. Some days though, the ghosts of war become so bad that I just want to have my husband exorcised, drowned in holy water, something...anything...just to get a little peace. We haven't spoken much at all. He just seems to want to be away and that's hard because the kids think he is angry with us. Hell, I feel like I am being punished too and I am lonely. Single parenting is hard in this life we all lead and no matter what you say as a parent, any excuse you give just doesn't make it better. I try to explain that dad is with a buddy because he needs some time to himself, but that doesn't make up for a missed funny story of snorting soup out of so and so's nose at the cafeteria during lunch, the latest promotion in ROTC, the A's or B's on spelling and reading test for a 6 year old who hates school. I didn't think my heart could be broken anymore than it already has and while the smart part of my brain knows all the ins and outs of PTSD and TBI; I honestly don't know how to tell my heart not to hurt. How do you not be lonely? How do you learn not to have anyone to talk to when they sit right there? Sleep right next to you? Does one ever really get used to all this? 

Less than 10 days and September will be over with and then we will move on to October which is the worst. By this time, we have surpassed all the memories of IEDs, VBIEDs, body parts, roof top sniper attacks and firefight. October is when the ghosts really show themselves. Death of many, the passing of 18 and 19 year old babies. The sounds of TAPS being played, the photos in his mind of boots placed with helmets, gun and dog tags for memorial which is now permanently etched on the inside of his entire arm. I don't know what its like to be a Combat Medic nor has my face ever been the last someone ever saw before they died  with the echoed lies of "Everything will be ok". I wasn't there but God have I seen it in slow motion time in a rerun for the past five years. I wonder if that will ever get easier or this time of year should we just cross off this part of the calendar and go on without him. We have come far since the beginning because at least he is not seeking answers in the bottom of a bottle somewhere, we aren't dealing with suicide attempts. However, he just shuts down and pushes everyone away. It begins in August with dread and then we just added all this on top of us with the MEB.

Sometimes I sit and just watch him as he stares out of the window or is looking at the TV but not really "watching" it and wonder if he remembers that I have been there since day one. If he remembers the hell of these months that caused some memories of my own to wound me. I think he forgets how many calls I did get and some I didn't want to get. That September through December I panicked, watching that front door and remembering the sinking feeling of seeing an unmarked black car drive slowly by. The empty hollow voice of him assuring me he was ok although I could hear incoming bombs. How many phone calls after loud explosions did the lines suddenly go dead. The last call home at the end, to tell me he didn't want to come back but would rather die there. Memories are so hard to face but I just wish sometimes we could talk to each other about them and know that we both are hurting. It's hard being all to someone but not being anything to them. 

So that is my excuse. I am trying to limit myself online and only answering some emails in moderation. It's not because I don't care but quite honestly? I just don't have the answers for many of you. When I think I have an idea, everything changes again. I try to give you no BS, just let you know what I think because you ask, but I don't believe there is truly an answer for many of us. All we can do is share and hopefully learn from each other. I think I need this small time here and there to sort out my own feelings, to get through the stress of these months and hope that each of you understand if I don't get back to you immediately.....I will eventually but, just have so much on my plate.

So my plan right now is to dig deep on some projects that are over due, some that are long time needed, some that I would like to venture into and concentrate on my children with blogging last of my priorities. I will prop myself up in a corner so should he decide he needs to talk, I am there. Pray every night that these days will go by as fast as the rest of this year did and still keep fighting for the rest of my husband's case. Maybe just maybe...these ghosts of war will slowly come but quickly go. 

If We Can Just Make It To December, 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Open Invitation to LT General Jeffrey Talley-US Army Reserves

Dear LT General Jeffrey Talley, I have watched as you have sputtered out some reason or rhyme for the suicide rates that were so high this past Summer and all of the comments you made that were published by many newspapers. One that highly interested and bothered me was the one where you stated,

 "We're now having more deaths from suicide than combat losses," Talley said. "The challenge we've got there is how do we stop that enemy called suicide. All of the Army leaders are working every day to try to defeat that enemy, and there's no simple solution or silver bullet. We've studied it ad-nauseum." But Talley said in the Reserve, there are many suicides that don't appear to be linked to the stress of combat."
In another, you stated that
 Suicide is a soldier, family and institutional tragedy that all of us must work together to defeat. In the Army Reserve, I have asked our leaders to focus on a very basic tenet of leadership -- know your soldiers, civilians, and their families. Remind them that they are part of the Army family, and as a family we will address the challenges and stresses of life together,” said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey W. Talley, chief of Army Reserve and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command".

Respectfully Sir, I feel this is a load of bull and I challenge you personally, to show me where this family is that you speak of? One comment you left for the news stated that the suicide rates kept you up at nights. I bet that must be hard losing that much sleep if you say it does keep you up at night. On behalf of many many families still wandering around, fighting like caged animals against something we have no idea what we are battling against; I openly and respectfully invite you to come home to "your family" for a visit. You state that our Reserve soldiers are family and that their families are the Army's family. I extend the invitation to come see how the "Army Family" really works. To battle the suicide numbers, I extend the challenge of you showing me where "our family" was when I needed them the most. I challenge you to be on one side of the story you missed by being behind a desk and see for yourself how we see it. We do not see leaders working hard, we damn sure don't see them working with us. If nothing more, they are working against us. If you are baffled that some suicides are not combat stress related, you have missed more of the real life pictures many of us have tried to voice.

I challenge you to be on the end of a deployment with a soldier who was full of life only to come home with the last words on a call from Iraq stating "I don't want to come home, I want to die here". I want you to understand that my vibrant, strong and once loving husband walked off the plane alone, with no "family" and I almost missed him because at 31, he looked 50 with a solid head of white hair and walked like an old man. I invite you to come home for a visit and meet the ghosts of war that he has haunting him. Ones that haunt us daily and nightly, with no relief. A position he was asked to be put in, although that wasn't his MOS. Still, he did so proudly only to get the run around for acknowledgement from the "family". He was depended on heavily because of his civilian training and expertise, something you never counted on but many of our brothers and sisters did. We would like to to show you why we felt we got punished by the Army although he served and did more than he asked by serving dual positions. Dual positions that also included working for the Marines as their medic as asked by "our family". He did a job filled with so many horrid memories and injuries that we never received compensation, awards or even acknowledged because some of our "family" members didn't do their jobs. Family you say, that should know our last names and their families, let us down. I beg you to stop and visit your brother who went from holding down a job and living a normal life to that of a man who is and empty shell of what used to be. Come on by Sir, and see how your family is doing.

I invite you to share and compare your all nighters from the worries of suicide, to that of a night filled with sleep walking, night terrors and screams for the years I have endured. For the past five years, I'd like you to step into our family for just one week and see the home that was broken down by service. A home that was once filled with love, respect and laughter. I'll put some coffee on and keep it coming, because I haven't had a good nights sleep since he came home. I will have a clean bed for you, keep your belly full of food but there will be no real smiles from your family, Sir. I will try to put on a fake one but that laughter and joy was robbed from us long ago.

While we sip our coffee, let us tell you a story of how we slipped through the cracks like many National Guard and Army Reservists. How in a moment of completely giving up I would have lost my husband to a pistol. That .38 Sir, was loaded by "our family" because we were thrown away and he thought that we would be better off without him. We got left behind with no one to care. That family you speak so high of? No one was there to save him but me. Never heard from them again after a suicide attempt that I stopped just because I happened to walk in for something. Want to have something chilling and alarming to keep you up at nights? Listen to those screams of a man you no longer know, watch the tears fall away and feel helpless  because you don't know how to make it all better. Listen to that gun being clicked back and know that the world and his life rests solely on your shoulders. That should keep you up more than a few nights. I know it has me.

While you are at it, for one week I would like you to depend on the VA system for medical care solely. Walk in there, have the life sucked out of you, have people treat you like just another social security number and hand you a bunch of pills. It's just a stockyard filled with discarded cattle awaiting the slaughterhouse. Go years without someone knowing what Traumatic Brain Injury is or what to do for it. Find yourself in the position of losing the promotion you worked so hard for because you were issued a P3 Profile for seeking that help the Army so passionately claims is easy to get because well, leadership is there for us. You have studied it "ad-nauseam" was it? That P3 kept him from going to training so therefore no promotion. 15 years of service and just a SGT, Sir. No awards, no CABS, no Purple Hearts, nothing. All lost because that "family" just didn't care. Nothing to show for it but ghosts and a shadow of a combat Veteran. While you are here, let me show you how we almost lost our home. Our vehicles. How we went for months with no payment. Let me explain why we couldn't apply for TSGLI or incapacitation pay when his health turned drastically and declined. I bet living on 900.00 a month for a family of five would keep you up at nights. We have our "family" to thank for that. Let me show you how Military One Source really works for our soldiers. Let me show you how those magnets and brochures you all pass out for help, sits collecting dust because they are flawed. Let me show you first hand there is no where to run or no where to hide.

When you apply for benefits or seek that health treatment, see how personal they get with you. Let's take a closer look at how the unit follows up. I remember calling the Commander of the Unit to let him know that my husband was hospitalized for suicide. There was no concern, no apology in his voice or sorrow. It was "Well. I take it he won't be in for drill this weekend?" As a family member who has solely depended on and given all to the military, just went through the most horrific thing that still haunts me today; depended on "our family" to turn to and what was their biggest concern? Keeping that Battalion number up. Make sure to bring a doctor's excuse. Sure. "To Whom It May Concern, we just lost everything we ever had to work for in our lives, explained to our children that we didn't have money for food so keep it light, and well the soldier tried to shoot himself over the weekend. Due to his collapse and being over medicated, he will not be in to drill". His first bad mark against his record in 15 combined years with the National Guard and Reserves. Get that love, leadership from "your family" and see how you feel. Top that with the civilian job who nicely told you not to come back because you are "crazy". 

While you are here, I want you to meet my three children who are wiser and older than their real ages. Three beautiful children watching their mom trying to save their family and keep their heads above water. Let them show you how we manage on our own without a father figure. How mom is all the family they have. I openly invite you to come in to see how it is to be a single parent in a marriage. Go five years and see the declining roles of a marriage that went from strong to weak to broken. I lost my husband a long time ago and now simply just a caregiver that takes care of someone who can no longer because of missed diagnosis of TBI.  I want you to clean up the messes of disappointment, here the echoes of a 6 year old wanting to know if daddy is sick again. I want you while here, watch your loved one struggle to read or to keep up with a newspaper. To see first hand, what he said five minutes ago is repeated over and over again. During your visit, I will let you travel back and forth to doctor's who simply hand the next VA approved pill that they aren't even paying attention to. Watch how they just shuffle you in and shuffle you out all while looking at the clock.

Perhaps while you are here, we can tell you some of our stories. We have a lot. Some that one would wonder how the hell we made it through with only scars to show. The war didn't end here, but somehow I don't think you really see that. I want you to wake up on my side of the bed knowing that your day will be filled with trying to carry the world on your shoulders and knowing that you don't have anything that is your own anymore because its all based on your husband's moods or health problems that day. You are family right? Family sticks together through thick and thin. I invite you to come in and help me carry some of the burden. I will even try to put a smile on just for you even though I feel like I am dying a little as each year goes by. Let me show you how the motto of "Leave No Man Behind" only extends during war conditions.

I dusted off the flag my husband was semi-tossed, the other night and I thought of you. I wonder if you truly stay awake at night? Have you spoken to the families personally who lost their husbands, sons, daughters, brothers, wives to suicide? Have you picked up the phone? Sent a letter? I didn't think so. If you did, I guessed you missed this part of your family's phone number. This family you speak of so highly left many of us behind and closed the doors. We didn't hear from our "family" unless I was late on turning in a doctors note that was a fight and long wait to get from the VA. Never did I hear from them again until we got an Army Reserve Recovery who had to initiate communication. 

We were one of those that were never ashamed of my husband's PTSD or TBI. We encouraged those in our unit and as FRG, often stayed many late hours on drill weekends speaking to soldiers who were scared. We saw the look of fear on the officer's faces and one time we heard as we were coming up the hall, "SGT so and so is crazier than hell". We heard the statement of "We just don't know what to do with you" with the look of confusion as if we just landed from another planet. That's what we got from our family. A family that we built our lives around. That "institution" that you speak of, we signed up for and gave all as a family. We were prepared for death. We were prepared for him being gone. "Family" didn't prepare us for any of this and still to this day, they aren't. It was important to us to not only serve that institution but be willing to give all we had, including his life. Never again though, will I allow a military higher up make me hang my head in shame. Want to know how we knew our Command and Battalion had changed hands? "Family Day" and Change of Command Ceremony was? By reading it in the local newspaper. We obviously weren't invited by our family. The past two years has been filled working for the MEB and still, no concern or care from the unit as to how their family is doing. 

The only reason Sir, the unit knows our name is because I made sure people remembered it. I refused to let my husband and others just be another number. I didn't want to be discarded as just a number in a Battalion. I made sure that our past Commanding Officer knew our last name. Our new one has not been in touch with us personally and he probably could not tell you how many children we have or how many of his lower enlisted families he has in that unit.

As a writer, I deal with emails every day. This is our story. There are many just like it. Maybe in your office that "family" crap you are trying to spin works. Maybe in your world, it does. However, here? Your whole spin on family and brotherhood doesn't sit too well. Matter of a fact, I don't think out of the three years I have been writing that I have ever seen one positive thing from anyone in a leadership position that helped a soldier. All we ever hear is how we are the Army of One. There is No Army of One, Sir. There is only black, white and gray held together with a bunch of criss crossed red tape.We can't access posts due to geographical challenges or utilize medical care. Some units don't deploy as a whole but solely as individuals with people they don't know and will never see again. Many can't apply to most non-profit organizations because we are Reserves and National Guard members. Many of us deployed and lost income that impacted our families because it was less than what we made in civilian jobs. Many of us are still hearing the threat of MEB if we whisper the words of TBI and PTSD. I invite you to my readers, Sir and we will take a road trip to the surrounding units to hear first hand from all of these family members.

I had to fight for what we have right now.  I challenge you to come in and try to work on all of this MEB paperwork and hope like hell my husband's injuries are enough to get that precious health insurance. It obviously wasn't important during war time because they didn't treat him then. "Take some Ibuprofen and a nap then get back to it". Now that Ibuprofen and no nap left him five years later with Central Nervous System Impairments, communication, speech and language impairments with many many others. How would you feel when a doctor lays one on top of another and tells you, this is expected and will get worse? I can assure you the nights you lost over sleep from suicide rates, doesn't compare to the thousands of us who never sleep. I invite you to see first hand the war didn't end for all of us....its just begun. The battlefield only changed.

You may sit behind your desk, hold some meetings, spew forth some ideas you have because you aren't living our lives and think that you have an idea. The cold hard truth of it is that you don't. You may tell your leaders under you that this is unacceptable. Maybe just maybe, if we are lucky and those soldiers care...they might talk to the next. In most of our experiences? Somewhere down the line, that talk you are giving is still tied with stigmas of "don't be weak" and other derogatory comments. Somewhere beyond the higher echelons of the military on down, that order is being ignored by those who just don't care and aren't listening.Let's face it, these issues have been long standing. It's just that the media put you in the hot seat and you had to address it. When you do though...please don't use the word "family" because that is far from a description of what the Reserves really is. When we became broken, we became throw aways, expendable, and no "family" to be seen or heard from again. 

If you want to lessen the suicide rates, listen to us families as we cry out. Listen to our stories. I bet you would lose more sleep than just being in the hot seat for a comment for a few newspapers. Come see what the broken side of this family looks like. Come see the homes and families the Army tore down. Talk with us and listen. Its easy to sit behind a desk and think you know what we need. Maybe by getting your hands dirty you will actually see what we go through and see how the one thing we thought we could count on, because we gave it 100% all the way....simply shut the door and left us behind. I want you to feel that emptiness. I want you to feel the loss, the loneliness, the confusion as to why you were suddenly casted out. Feel the pain and feel the sadness of what once was and what is now. I challenge you LT General Talley to come see for yourself what its really like in our worlds. Perhaps you will rethink that "family" remark. Institution? I don't see the Army Reserves jumping in to make sure any family is taken care of. It's all about getting you out and replacing you. We were there for our family though when that institution and our country needed us. Where were you?

I challenge you to come up with a better explanation than its the family, institution and soldier working together. So far? Its been the soldier and their own who has made their way through this day by day. If this is what you call family....perhaps you need to reevaluate what you consider family. On behalf of every Army Reservists, National Guard, and Army soldier and families. On behalf of all the Marines, Air Force and Navy....I challenge you to see for yourself exactly how this family unit works in any branch. We didn't fail you, Sir. You failed us. Our own "family" turned us away and we became the unwanted house guest that has overstayed their welcome. This is how we are treated.

I invite you to hear all the echoes as many Reservists who are in the same position or possibly even worse as many don't know how to fight back or have the strength to, are resounding off empty walls of their homes and are the same. I openly challenge you to come see for yourself how war tears a family apart and why many feel that suicide is the only way out. For every story, for every word spoken...there are many behind it who sees nothing more a military branch that failed its heroes. For every one of us, there is a story so sad that I don't believe you could truly ever sleep again. For every soldier's story that is there, I challenge you to listen to the spouses who just doesn't know what to do.

Lastly, I want you to remember we knew what we signed up for. We were all willing to give to our country and our service giving our lives if needed. That we don't have any regrets. We thought we could get our benefits that were promised and earned. We thought we would be taken care of when they got hurt. Never in a million years did I think I would hear that Drill Weekend numbers/head count were more important than a soldier who never missed a day, who was an outstanding hero during war, and who gave more than what he had to give. This is what we got in return as well as so many others. I challenge you respectfully, Sir to see how wrong you are with your comments and perhaps once you do, then you have a reason to state how many nights sleep you have missed. I can guarantee you its not as many as most of us.

I don't really expect you to answer or comment but am hoping somewhere along the line, this gets passed along. I think its needed because quite honestly, I am tired of seeing your prompt and fancy manicured lines thrown here and there in hopes that no one calls you out. I am, however, calling you out. I don't want you to see this as an angry letter but one that is educational and just pointing out the obvious elephant in the room. If you think leadership needs to understand more? Hold them responsible for not checking on their families; for not knowing their names. The time has come and long been over due that the change needs to start with where it all began. This blog is just an invitation to show you a side you are obviously missing. Ask those Reservist's families if the suicides were combat/service related. I bet you will hear a different opinion. 

You have an invitation to come around anytime you are available and I will let you see first hand how your idea of "family" really is. Perhaps you can see the shattered hearts and pieces that are left. I want you to see all of our struggles, and the hardships ALL of us have endured. We can throw some food on the grill and just sit outside talking. I promise I won't treat you like we have been treated. It's been five years this month. We can celebrate that our family has come this far on our own. Time is all I have now and perhaps you can see the price that we are paying if you should so choose. After all...we are family right? Maybe after your family can see first hand how foolish your words ring in many of our ears. My invitation is open always. Any time, Any place. 

Respectfully and Sincerely on Behalf of All Of Us Black Sheep of the Family,

Monday, July 23, 2012

It Takes A Real Man......

In the past two years, I have received more emails from Veterans than I do family members or spouses. Much of the same sentiment is echoed throughout each one; feelings of being alone, lost, confused, denial, hostility, anger and most of all...feeling like less of a man. Recently, I posted such a similar email on Facebook in regards to avoiding trash being on the road, the impact of being home, and the Veteran stating that he felt like he was less of a man because his wife had to drive him most times, that he still had a job to do and he was a leader of men in the military. I am not a professional but I use common sense and from the travels online that this life has led me through....I tend to see more outside of the box than many because you all place me there with different points of views, personal stories and sincere letters. Some of you I have seen come home, get deployed, come home again and deploy once more. It has been an amazing honor to talk to so many of you, getting to know each one of you and I have learned more from each of you than I ever could from a counselor, book, or support groups. I have been through suicides, babies born, love gain and lost, accomplishments and failures.....Where you went, I was there with you. Now it's my turn to give you something back in return.

As a woman, it hurts to hear each of you think that you are less of a man. Many of you, have no idea of how much strength, confidence and courage that resonates within you all. Because of you all...I found the strength to fight and the courage to keep going. Because of you.....I know you are out there reading and keeps me on the right track with good news, victories won, and positive things that happen in your lives. Some of you have been through hell. I am starting to find that more and more of us are traveling the same weary road and that we are just bumping into each other as we go along. Some have traveled with physical injuries, some with unseen ones and together...all of us are broken, desperately trying to pick up the pieces. What amazes me the most is how you see all the negative things but miss so much about you that I do see in all of you.

Less of a Man?

It took courage, strength, honor, integrity and pride to put that uniform on and place your life on the line for many who may or may not support you in the country; fighting for those who you don't know and will never know your name. We as women, family members, wives, sisters and girlfriends no longer need to see that uniform on to know those same qualities are within you. They will always be with you, no matter what you are wearing. No matter where you go, what life may hand you in the future...this part shall always remain a part of you. Anyone can put on clothing, but its what you do in them that tells us who YOU are as a person.

It takes a real man to step up to the plate and seek help for those problems that just doesn't seem right with you. The most courageous man I have ever met is my husband while I watched him walk down the hallways, after checking himself into a six week program through the VA for help. No matter how small he felt, unsure and a little scared, he looked like a giant to me with a chin made of steel built from the many falls and hits he took.

It takes a real man to struggle day to day, and still wake up for your family. That is love. No matter what you think about not having feelings or that you are numb...a part of you is still there and a part of you still wakes up for us.

We don't need you to sweep us off our feet any longer or try harder to win our love....we already said yes.  ;)

We don't need you to provide for your family, bring home the proverbial bacon, or to make sure we are all taken care of. Let us take care of you for a while. You had your turn, now let us as a family help you get through this. One man can be a rock, but a family is a whole island.

We don't need diamonds, pearls, or fancy clothes to pamper us. What we need is that smile on your face even if just occasionally. We need that hand held, to listen when we are frustrated, to wipe our tears away when we are sad and to laugh together. It takes a real man to talk about their problems or things they are worried about. More than likely? Your significant other needs to hear it and feels the same way. There has to come a time where you decide whether you want to be in the fight together or alone?

A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.
~Albert Einstein 

Helping you get through daily life, doing tasks such as driving or paying the bills, never made me look at my husband as anything less of a man. If anything, we are angry because as women we naturally want to comfort, take it all away, nurture and heal.  In my eyes, it takes a real man to hold a woman's purse for her while she is trudging through the VA or at the grocery store with you. It takes a real  man to reach up from his wheelchair and pat your hand. If you need shelter from the world, we want to take it all away and build you a fortress. If you fall....we want to be there to catch you and to take the fear away. A real man takes the time to say "I love you". That's what we want and what keeps us going.

Courage is walking into the VA system or anywhere and seeking the help. It's sticking with it and trying your best to deal with it. We know its not going to ALL go away, but it makes me tear up when I see my husband or many many others step forward and just do it. Most women don't want you standing in front us of....we want you to stand beside us. To me, that takes a real man to acknowledge that you and your SO are a team.

It takes a real man to realize his mistakes but even a better one for those that try to correct those mistakes. 

It doesn't matter whether the outside world pummels us into the ground, I still see a whole being there. Most women like us, don't want the flexing of the muscles, measuring the penis competition, trying to be something that you aren't. It doesn't matter what you have lost...its all about what you are doing with what you have now. To me, that screams MAN all over it.

Occasionally, most women want you to take the reigns in the bedroom. Often, this can be a challenge with the medications or injuries. Sex isn't everything in a relationship and there are ways to work around it. It takes a real man to speak up to his doctor when things like Erectile Dysfunction (which is extremely common) and not be ashamed about it. Sometimes, being held while watching a movie or just being kissed is enough for me. Most women just want the attention. The rest, can be figured out and most definitely worked around.

Talking to other Veterans and sharing your story, is helping others. You just don't realize it. It's inspiring to me to be in a room full of Veterans and watch them from behind the scenes and listen. It takes a man to open up to someone else. Giving someone advice or that leading into another adventures because you shared your story...truly knocks this woman's socks off. That is a MAN. 

We don't need you to pound on your chest, screaming "I am Man, You are Woman" all while dragging us around by the hair. The Caveman period is over. What we need is acknowledgement of our accomplishments and that we are still standing. Sometimes, we need a rock to lean on. Be there for us when we break down just as we are for you. Sometimes, or at least in the Mistress's case, I might need a really big, fat, hairy spider killed but I don't need you to be upset because the toilet is clogged up and you can no longer fix it. Kill the spider, we can figure out the toilet together. Kill the spider, and let me deal with the big, bad, scary VA for you in return. It doesn't matter about the rest of the world, as long as that damned spider is dead and gone! I think my hero is one who can tackle that spider and not shudder.


The most common statement from men is questioning their leadership skills. What the HELL are you questioning your leadership skills for? Is it because you are no longer leading? Is it because you are still leading, but are injured? How does being injured impair your leadership skills? A leader is defined as someone or somebody whom people follow; guides, instructs or directs others. This is based on integrity, respect, experience, behavior, courage, and strength. Did you lose those when you went to war and came home? Nope.  Standing up and getting help, does not make you weak. Speaking up, may put you in a precarious situation especially with the military but I guarantee you one thing....there are many under you who are impressed, think you have a big set of brass ones, and respect you more now than they ever did before. By doing such, you are setting an example for others to follow. If you give up, you let them down. If you lead by bad are losing the faith that others have in you. If you stand tall, no matter how many blows you have taken......people notice that. I would rather follow someone, who leads by example and against all the odds placed against them, across the face of the earth than one who sits back, is silent and does nothing. Leadership in true definition...isn't accepted by others unless you prove yourself. Everyone and anyone that has or had higher officers, Commanders and higher ranking in the chain, wonder how the hell they managed to scrape by, and how desperate was the military to put that person in that position of leadership, knows what its like to see some ass in a position that he cares nothing about. The integrity just isn't there and neither is the respect. To see someone below a SGT take the steps to get help, follow through, and try his best, outweighs any stripes, medals or stars on someone who just landed in there due to the years being in. To see someone in a command, doing the exact same thing...blows my mind as they are truly going against everything to make sure they are doing the right thing. Leadership is what you make of it. Never question that.

This blog is out of the norm for me, but it makes my heart hurt to hear so many of you writing in and sharing your stories, your fears but most of all....the uncertainty of who you are. Disability does not define you as a person. It doesn't change you are and you are still whole. Disabilities are just a new part of the person you were and that should never be something that anyone is ashamed of. As a Vietnam Veteran reminded me of a phrase he heard one time, "Let's concentrate on the doughnut, not the whole"; which is a really good way of looking at things.

Take a second, look in the mirror and say who you are and say it louder and louder until you can feel it. Each one of you is a bad ass, a force to be reckoned with and not many can honestly do what you have done. Don't forget that. That part never left any of you, no matter how many curve balls that life has thrown our way. Lean on your family, soak up the love that is in the form of help and positivity from your loved ones. We don't feel sorry for you, we want you to succeed. We don't want to fight this alone. We won't let you give up as long as you don't give up on us. It takes a man to really realize that its love that is holding all of it together. If you are single, then stop a minute and realize that its YOU that is making it happen without anyone's help. You were given a chance to be will you accept the challenge and beat it??

I hope this reaches and all my readers really read this. I think this can go for ANY Veteran; man or woman. It can apply to our many spouses and caregivers out there. Please feel free to add on to my list and pass on to others. 

The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.
~Albert Einstein 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What Happens When the Battles Are Done?

Again, here I sit alone in my room trying to figure out what went wrong in our journey. It's been a while since I blogged last. I don't really know what's prevented me from writing but summer vacation has played havoc with my ability to schedule, find extra time and keeping the "Beast" at bay. I have had a lot on my mind lately and most of it, really isn't about my husband. It's been me. I am probably a psych doctor's dream patient in all reality, because I feel so lost most days. I am starting to question a lot of things, and question much more.

It's been a long journey and as our Federal Recovery reminded me....we are near the finish line. We were notified pretty quickly about the Med Board evaluations and within less than 24 hours, appointments were starting to pile up. I felt relieved but, at the same time I really wanted to reach out and smack someone because they were rushing us. I nicely reminded the lady who set our appointments that we have been waiting on the Army since 2007, and now I am supposed to drop it all to meet their demands? I think the problems I am facing are inside of my muddled mess I call my brain. I never really had time to just breathe in between it all, and haven't really fully taken a deep breathe since 2007. Of course, many hurdles have been jumped....mountains climbed, battles won and some still waging on but I am very weary and burned out. The anger still is in me, the fight yet not gone out of me but just am tired. I am ready to get the Med Board out of the way but at the same time I am a little scared of it all. I haven't the knowledge or my aces stacked for this, no plans for my fail safe- Houdini escape and then I wonder....what will I do after that?

I have fought so hard and for so long, that I know nothing else. Much of the conversation these last few months with my husband has been all the appointments, doctors etc. When I think about it...all we really have in common anymore is fighting back. I am going to be honest and say that I wonder what will hold us together after that? What bond, what fight, will we have to carry on? Right now and for the past couple of months, he has distanced himself from me and doesn't speak to me. It's like the only lifeline I have is the battle we chose to fight. I spoke to a dear friend the other night forever it seemed (literally I used two phone batteries up). Allan and Robin, who run Veteran's Benefits Support, have such a relationship that all of us could and would probably give it all for. I really opened up to him as he is so easy to talk to and talked about my fears, my dreams and my need to fill a void that is still in me. I think I have so much in me to give, so much more that is left of me to fulfill a purpose but I need to focus. A good friend, is one who can really put a boot up your ass and tell you that he loves you at the same time. He and a few others, really really know me and I felt suddenly vulnerable and naked as I explained my fears and concerns. He knows I trust no one, that I am a fighter and that I am passionate about my Veterans and all of you but at the same time, he knows that I slowly burning the candle at both ends. He knows that I am hurting still, even after all these years and still deep down...I miss my husband.

As we spoke, he felt I was still in the "fight or flight" mode. What would happen when it all comes to an end and I no longer have anyone or anything to be angry at he posed to me? Here we were, two friends really talking all through the night and man, what an eye opener did he give me. He was absolutely correct and the more I thought about it...the more I realized that he told me the truth. I am still stuck in a vicious cycle of resentment, anger, frustration and more. His analogy was that of a boiling pot and my fury and resentment that drives me is the stuff inside of the pot. If at full boiling point and left, eventually the liquid will dry up and all you have left is a burned out, sticky black mess. You have to learn, he said, to focus and let yourself simmer. It took all I had to keep from crying because I really don't want to be that burned up mess, a ruined pot, or an angry person forever. My friend told me that I can fight all I want but if they take my heart....then they won after all.

The Mistress really has a lot of things I want to do, and friends who will support and back me up. Some of them say I have a drive that they admire, and what they see I wish I could because I could use a break and a lift of spirits for a change. I keep asking myself what stops me from going after what I want and I find I make excuses. However, my excuses are that of my husband and that I don't know how to remedy. Some is just weariness bringing down my self-confidence. Some of them are based on where I would find the time? I want to make my husband proud, but I want to do what I want to do. I want him happy but I want to be happy too. I want him to acknowledge what others see or even notice me at all and I am not sure that will happen. Right now? All I want to do is run. Run far, far away and just start over. I am trying so hard but there is more than just wars won with the VA, more than a stable income, more than fighting for earned benefits. There is more to me as well and much more I have to give to others. In some ways, I feel I am failing somehow because the one person I need that push from is just simply not there.

Loneliness is a hard battle to wage against. I have tons of friends online, people I probably need to really call more often, and supporters out there. I got an email the other day from a "hater" who told me I should be grateful that my husband came home at all. I normally don't pay much attention as I usually use my middle finger to hit the delete button on those types of emails. That one in particular caught my attention as I will give credit to the asshole who wrote it, that it was well thought out and written. I sat and read it, then looked over at my husband and thought "how the hell am I lucky?". I swear if loneliness could kill you, then I am halfway there with one foot on a grave. I don't know how this person considered me lucky or felt that I should be thrilled that my husband is this way. Conversations include appointment times, what's the latest on Yahoo or what is going on with a TV show. Never before have I seriously considered doing the oddest things with his phone, or the tv...but it would make me ashamed to even write them out. If aliens are out there....I could give them some suggestions and it would go way beyond anal probing. Sex now a days? I probably need to pencil in on the calendar and next to it "pending possible cancellation". If he acknowledges anything, its negative things. If he touches me? It's a pat on the back like he might give to an elderly lady he just met and who wants to drown him in conversation over her arthritis. The only time I see any emotion is that of anger, hate, and sadness.

I don't understand how he can remember his show comes on, or a new season of something another starts but yet can't remember our Anniversary, appointments, or to eat. I wonder how it is that he can talk to his buddies, slap someone on the back and laugh....but yet I receive the cold, the dark, and never see the sun. Of course, its all for show...we all have seen it or notice it. The smile is false and plastered, the eyes are empty and the laughter hollow...but damn right now? I would take it selfishly just because I could use a change. I just wish I could get the support in my home and not have to hear from someone "aren't you getting paid to do this?" or "you have it made". Yep. That's me. Living in the lap of luxury, on Forbes Fortune Five Hundred list, and all the happiness in the world is being handed to me on a silver platter. I know PTSD makes them say things but these are statements that are constantly made. I am on my feet all day, I have to make myself stop for a bite at least once a day and the only person I know not doing him. I fight, he sits. I work, he sits. I try to encourage him, its a blank stare or one that could literally make you shrivel up. Here lately, laziness has been an issue and now I wondering what the hell therapy is really doing for him. He seems to like the doctor, really likes the therapy he is doing, I know he goes...but is it working really or is he just going through the motions? I don't know how to fix something like that and I don't believe anyone has the answer for it.

I find as the days go by, its a repetitive nightmare. Some days, I no longer even know what day it is and when the day is done....the calls have ended, the calendar is filled, the kids sound asleep; silence is my nightly visitor. We watch the same old shows, he asks me if I read an article on Yahoo three or four times if he asks at all, repeats the same questions a few minutes later, I go take a bath then I go to bed. Every night the same thing. I don't care about the shows he watches, don't want to talk about damn Yahoo articles, or ask me questions about the Army. I just want a little more. Maybe talk about the neighbors, perhaps the weather, hell even politics or religion. Instead, the day drags on and on and I am met with the same silent ending. I wonder if he even knows or cares that I go to bed and miss him like hell. I have tried to talk to him, I have explained that the cold treatment hurts, or sometimes I mention these are things we have to work on. I really don't think he gives a shit about any of it.

I find those talks are becoming repetitive too and that part worries me the most. I find I am a single parent 99% of the time and he has no interest in what they are doing. What is left between us, that one single thread of something in common, is the last battle we face. Once that battle is done? I am scared I will be lost and not know what do anymore. I have become master of words, one who doesn't back down from a fight or shy away from titles and ranks, and one who stands up to point out the wrongs. I just wonder though sometimes when our personal war is done, and we both show fatigue, battle scars....what will happen to us then? I sometimes miss the company and the safety the Army gave us; a foster family that we embraced and we built our lives around. Now it seems that family is slowly dissolving, and all we have to show for it is a hell of a lot of paperwork, and the ghosts of war haunting what was our home that was full of love, laughter and faith. I sometimes feel cheated, often rejected and angry...but do I have any major regrets? I don't think so because it is a chapter in our lives that we can look back upon and know that both of us gave all we could and both of us fought as hard as our bodies, minds and souls could fight. For the first time, I feel like I am suddenly losing my voice and terrified of becoming who I used to be when all I know is the person now.

One chapter closes and others open, I know. We often see that repeated all the time and I believe that's true but sometimes what if its the end of the book? The ending suddenly shows up and leaves you hanging? What if there never comes a sequel? I have come so far, and I don't want to pause but at the same time I can't keep running on anger either. For the first time, I am truly somewhat lost as to who I am anymore, what I am fighting for and what I stand for. I know in my heart there is more, but my biggest fear is losing the one thing that I fought for and that's my husband. Such hate he has towards me, and there is no reason, rhyme or excuse that he has and he truly doesn't know. Other days, he seeks me out and then doesn't know what to say or tries to start but stubbornness gets in the way. Pride prevents him from truly deciding whether he chooses to say I have been injured and that's just a part of me....the other part of finding a purpose keeps him lost. I see the light but he doesn't. I say I love you, he doesn't say it back. Most times I feel I am being punished but not really sure what I did. I am no quitter, but I am running out of aces to play at this late of the game. There really wasn't any victories won, just earned entitlements. There wasn't a war waged that I didn't have him as the primary focus, but somewhere along the way I met some amazing people who feel I have more to offer. Sometimes I wonder if its because of jealousy that causes him to lash out at me because I chose to accept the challenges? Other times, deep inside, I wonder if "hate" is just the way PTSD tells me he is lost too.

It's hard to carry an entire family through all this. Battle weary and tired, some days I don't know where the strength came from to hold my family together through it all. I don't know who is winning now, and if there was anything ever to be won to begin with? I just know there is something I am missing, some part of me as a person that is empty and needs to be filled, and my fire is still simmering but not completely gone out. I am afraid that once its all over.....will my voice disappear or will I simply keep adding to the book?

Sometimes Silence is the Loudest Thing Heard,

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

When Forgiveness Carries a Debt

I was raised to do the right things like not lie because eventually the truth will catch up to you. To treat others with respect, and forgive when you are able to. It's not only the Christian thing to do but a Southern belle thing my mama tried to instill in us girls. My mama used to tell me sometimes though, it was easier to forgive than to forget and occasionally she would remind us that often she forgave but she never forgot something wrong someone had done. I never really understood that until I got seriously involved with relationships and then married. I didn't want to think like that and really didn't want to carry such baggage as not forgiving and forgetting. That baggage of a "rewind" button, can become very heavy. My 2012 list of erroneous New Year's resolution was to say out loud to my husband and to myself, repeatedly, that I forgive him. I had forgiven him for many many things like all the hell he has put me through, and I forgave him for giving up. So many things that I had this instant index card that scrolled through my mind at times I was angry and hurt that I tore up and threw it all away. I instantly did feel better and really haven't had a thought about past crap, or dwell upon things that he has done because I forgave him and that was the deal I cut with myself. I have accepted finally, I think, what is and what will be and that nothing is going to change. I may not like it, I may be miserable on some days, but there are good days where things happen and it lights up your life. Others though...can come down on you and it burns up the stress free zone that you finally just got yourself in. Suddenly forgiveness turns to remembering, and once again I am pissed off all over again for not just that particular moment but for the past five years. In counseling, this is one of those things that I am trying to work on because I feel like its eating me up. I try really hard, but its just one of those demons you must battle especially when you have the opposite team member shoving it in your face all the time.

We have had a rough month this May, there is no denying that one. I don't know what's going on with my husband except that I do know I can do no right. The Social Security hearing tore us all up mostly because this was the first time I didn't have a safety net in place, no aces up the sleeves, and definitely had no idea what the hell to expect. As in my last post, our attorney we worried about, did ok and the judge who we were prepped to expect to be bombarded with questions...never asked a single thing. I had to check to see several times if the Vocational Rehabilitation Expert who sits in these hearings and asks questions then suggests jobs for disabled people; to see what he was doodling was anything interesting and a couple of see if he was still awake. After our lawyer asked my husband if he had homicidal and suicidal tendencies, and his response was truthful that yes he did, but he didn't act upon them (which is normal for all of our Veterans); the Voc Rehab guy started packing his stuff up. I guess the last resort of "He can always get a job as a Walmart Door Greeter" went right out the window on those last questions. Twenty minutes turned to an hour and a half but it was over and done with, with a comment of "We will make our decision within 30 days". I held my husband's hand through it all, I softly patted his back when he started to get upset, I calmly explained anything he couldn't get out due to nerves and when he froze. Once it was over, we felt like we had been put through the ringer literally. With all this, his new therapy which he seems to really like and the med board paperwork is done and sent in. We got our tax return in finally which was a good surprise and other than the kids ending up their school year? That is pretty much it except for some much needed maintenance around the house.

For some reason, he just can't find anything to be happy about. If he does, then he counteracts it with something to be pissed off. It's like there are two people inside of him leveling out the playing field. This week and last, he has done nothing but pick on me, yell, scream and find things to be mad at me about. I know that stress and out of routine/structure "field trips" as I call them, can set him off and upset him. One incident recalled our relationship 12 years ago when I didn't marry him within three months of dating. He is still angry about this and I asked "Seriously? Is this the best you can come up with? We are married now and have been a long why are you mad?" If it's raining, it's my fault. If it's too hot, its my fault. I have to say this past two weeks have literally exhausted me to the point I can't even sleep or think straight. I clean the house once a week, and in between days and sometimes every day...I dust, sweep up crumbs, run the vacuum, laundry, cook and deal with my children. The kids alone take most of my time because with three boys there is always one who needs scolding, one who needs holding and one who needs advice on girls or school. There are fights, there are times where they are rowdy, and they are just boys. There isn't enough hours in my day to get it all done, so what's left goes on tomorrow's list. Last Wednesday before the hearing I cleaned so much that I have to admit I did things with an old toothbrush that someone would be shocked to hear. I only wanted to clean to wear myself out to sleep due to nerves and hopefully stay out of his way and his yelling because I knew it was coming due to stress. The house is cleaned, the laundry is done accept for a few odd and ends, paperwork is done, the kids have all their stuff completed, and things are scheduled.

In part of my "Saving My Sanity" plan, was to start allowing him to do more of his paperwork and to be more involved with his caseworkers. There were times where I didn't want to deal with it anymore and asked desperately, "Please, talk with them today. They are YOUR caseworkers and you need to be a part of this" only to get a blank stare and "You can take care of it". So I did and I did the best I could, always keeping his best interests in the number one slot. I thought if I could let him be more involved, step back a little and let him see what I have been doing; it would reduce the level of paranoia and the chronic weird comments he comes up with in regards to me. It didn't help and I have to say that some's defeating. He is angry now because he is having to do this stuff and I am not doing it all. I am always there to help but sometimes he needs to be a part of this or he has no right to yell at me. I didn't ask to be put in this position, I didn't ask to give up my life to care for him, I didn't ask for the stress or having no rock to lean on....but I did it and I did it alone. He isn't dead, and yes, he is capable of filling out paperwork but instead of just trying with me helping...he blew his top. Yesterday, he had to fill some of his Med Board paperwork out and just completely lost it over having to do it on his own. A bulk of it was already filled in. He yelled at me and said "Aren't you getting paid to do all this for me?" referring to the Caregiver program.

I have to say, it was a slap in the face. This comment has been brought up many many times and I know this is a statement that many of us have probably heard. If I am not doing something all day long and night, then I get reminded I am getting paid to do such things. He reminded me yesterday that I was easily replaceable and he didn't need my help. I felt sorry for him because of his behavior although I was extremely hurt, pissed off and confused why he was so upset. He wanted more involvement, I gave it to him and now he is mad. I took on the fight because he wanted me to, and he was mad about that. It's like no matter what....nothing is good enough. He just kept going on yesterday about crap that happened years ago. I once got a speeding ticket the first year we were together, I once bounced a check and was mortified although it was the bank's fault and not mine, and I once burned a dinner the first year of marriage. Out of all the years, out of all my hard work....that's it.

I realized yesterday that although my forgive and forget was an issue with me, I wasn't carrying anymore miles with me. His though? His will always have a debt with it. A debt so large, an enemy target painted on my chest so huge that there is no place to keep from being hit. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I fight...I will always be in the wrong. I stood my ground with him yesterday and told him calmly he needed to listen to what he is saying, walk away and then come back to the paperwork. That turned into all my hard work in filing, prepping, and indexing his binders for the Army and the VA (which there is so much paper that we probably are responsible for half of the tree losses in the US) wasn't good enough and I should have done it a different way. I should have "been smarter than that". All because he didn't want to fill out three forms.

All those hours working. All those hours reading, highlighting, putting in order by date and in specific ways determined by the Army and with no help from him at all. Not even a glance over. Not even a thank you, or an offer to help. He did sit down one day after hours of punching holes and my hands swollen, to punch the last few remaining pages. He never once offered to help me with the house while all the fighting with the VA and the Army...nothing. All the stress I carried for my entire family. All the times I had to figure things out on my own because I refused to be a quitter. I just sat yesterday at the table and the tears came. I cried most of the morning yesterday and just was so disappointed in him. I recently heard the news that a friend of my Army Wife community got the casualty notification of her husband. Her son's face always lit up my Facebook page with his grin and his "mini-me" looks of his father. Their pictures graced my screen and the look of love, happiness and togetherness always made me smile. My heart was breaking for her and here my husband was yelling at me for something so stupid and looking for reasons to again, give up. Her husband wanted to come home and I was dealing with a grown up child throwing a temper tantrum because he "just woke up that way" with the weekly reminders of how he didn't want to come home. It's a very big, hard, and bitter pill to swallow. You can judge me how you want to, but that's the honest truth. It's hard to think about that "knock" on the door because I remember every single day of deployment looking out the blinds at the front stoop. How my heart would stop when an unmarked black car would come up our street. When there were weeks that went by with no word from him and the call that I got when there were  wounded, but didn't tell us families who they were for almost a week. I was there on the other end of the phone, a million miles away from each other, with a hollow sounding man telling me he didn't want to come home from Iraq. For five years, I have been reminded we weren't important enough for him to come home to or to stay alive for. I cried in the tub for my friend, because I felt horribly guilty and for the sorrow I felt. I think for the first time in my life...I really felt ashamed. I know that sounds horrible, but its the truth and how I feel. I wish it didn't happen to their family but it infuriates me that my husband can't be happy that he is home.

All I can think is if the house is cleaned, he has no reason to be angry. If we can win just one more battle, he will be happy. If I can keep the kids quiet, the laundry done, the cooking to be perfect, his appointments running on time, and everything goes his way...then he has no reason to be mad at me. It doesn't work like that though because he will always find a reason to be angry at me. When he told me yesterday that I could be easily replaced, I told him he didn't have to fire me...I quit. "Good luck in finding someone else who will do what I have done for you in the past 13 years". So he huffed, he sighed and slammed the pen around. Then it was "Are you going to help me or not". Yes, when you can have respect for me and ask me nicely. Rather than choosing to ask me nicely, he said "Well I will do it and if its screwed up, it will all be all your fault". I just walked away.......

Eventually he calmed down, but I haven't. I went to bed early after a hot bath and another good cry. I wanted him to come to me and just say "I'm sorry" but I can't even tell you how many of those I have heard or even count them on my hands. I understand that he has issues, I have accepted his disabilities, and I know that he will never be the same man I married. However, I feel there is still a degree of responsibility of control and the facing of consequences. Just because they have PTSD and/or TBI doesn't mean they can act like an ass and then its excused.  I think what hurts is I just keep trying and he isn't at all. Yet, I have the most debt to carry in his eyes that will never be paid up. How does one determine which part is PTSD, what part is TBI, and what part is just being an asshole? How does one make up or try to combat things that I have no control over or ever did? How does one repay a debt when you don't even know what you owe it for? I can't make the battlefields greener, I can't take away the dreams, I can't make it any better....but God knows I have tried and have always been there to support him. I wish just once, he could see how fortunate he is, how loved he is by his family, and most of all....that his closest ally and biggest fan, he has hurt the most.

Hurting More Than You Could Ever Know,

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Defending Your Life

The biggest challenges of living with someone who has injuries like PTSD and TBI, is the constant defending of the Veteran's life and that of ours. We sometimes live in silence due to fear of judgment of the outside world, in some cases, Child Services is a fear, and in others; the look of pity and the confusion that crosses people's faces when they don't really get it. Not too long ago, I didn't understand either and I try to be patient with people who show disdain or make judgmental comments albeit hard to bite the tongue. If not for me, deciding for myself and for my family five years ago...I wonder who would have educated me on such subjects? The outside world isn't the only ones we find ourselves in the defensive position. We must defend the injuries to the military branches and hope like hell they don't drop us over a large cliff somewhere, hoping we will just go away and not get back up. The promise of "The VA will take care of you my brother/sister" falls short and here we go right back into a vicious cycle of defense. We must then deal with the VA systems where many are finding they are having to fight for their rights and benefits promised to us and earned. In many cases, like that of Social Security Disability, some of us find ourselves facing hearings although the medical files are a zillion pages long.

We recently found ourselves in that exact position of trying to defend my husband's injuries to an attorney who had no idea what either injury was, or how it impacted his life and that of mine. I don't mind educating someone, advocating on these issues but there comes a time or two I wish that I could just walk in and say "He is a disabled Veteran with these injuries" and someone say "Oh no worries! I know all about this". Even our local American Legion VSO officer who is known for his shark like approaches and wins for Veterans, told my husband he was too young to give up and to get back on the horse and just ride it. "PTSD is just a nice way to say your depressed. Take a pill and deal with it". If only it was that simple......

I sometimes feel like the world just left us behind. I know during deployment that my husband had no other choice but to leave us behind in his mind because of his job. Time stopped for them but for many of us who survived deployment, it kept going slowly. It was always nice to drive down the road and see a fellow "Proud Army Wife" sticker on the back of a car, or a "Support our Troops" bumper sticker. For all those, it made the time worth it because I thought a bumper sticker showed pride, love of our country and respect. When they come home, the clock suddenly speeds up for all of us and we see that we just don't seem to fit in anywhere in time. Those we thought were friends have quietly withdrawn. We ourselves, have withdrawn into this safe haven we call home. After five years of this haven, it starts to feel like a prison. There are days where I drive down the road and I see my house that I fought for so hard to keep, we saved so many years for and represented a new life for us....and it now has an ominous look to it. It feels oppressive, suffocating and safe all at the same time.The bumper stickers we now see are faded from the sun, scratched off from many washes never to be replaced again. I sometimes wonder if that bumper sticker represents their pride still and respect? Or is just as faded, long forgotten and washed away from the sun and the rain?

I like to think of the positives and its probably my biggest downfalls as I am prepped by a past family who ran a Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C when all else fails. When it comes down to say, the Social Security prep for the Hearing, and being drilled for five hours of grueling, bombarding questions of why we think my husband is disabled; it makes one think about all the wrongs that is in your life. We live in a certain lifestyle, we manage routines and structures, we try to be the best parents we can be even when one really can't do that. We deal with the obstacles, the ups and downs of emotions, the weariness of fighting all the time with the government and its become almost numbing and we then learn to do it almost by rote now. Mechanical movements almost with absolutely no show of emotions. To have an attorney not take the time to respect, show some sensitivity as she was portraying the Judge and how he will ask; was to say the least a little disheartening. I left that afternoon with a raging Veteran and a screaming three year old and cried all the way home. I have been put in certain positions and Lord knows had my share of stupid comments stemming from just ignorance, but never before did I feel like we don't belong anymore than I did that day. I felt horrible we had to put my husband through that, I felt ashamed and almost embarrassed for the attorney and most of all? I was angry.

It dawned on me that we just sat through five hours of defending our lives, to someone we are paying to defend us. It's difficult to pick apart your day, and to really look deep at what our Veterans do and can't do. To pick apart every little detail of what the spouse/family/caregiver does and then try to all of a sudden deal with the realization and try to defend it. It was five years all over again suddenly in front of the woman who is to defend my husband's rights and entitlements to Social Security Disability. Of course, I know much of this is a formality due to age. It's common knowledge that Social Security would rather pay out for an elderly person who might have ten to fifteen years left of their life span, than that of a wounded thirty something Veteran who will outlive the elderly person times three or more. Having to explain and defend our life just suddenly felt wrong, and we were both very vulnerable in front of her. I guess most of it is because we were one of those families that didn't get dropped off the cliff but thrown off. We fell in a crevice so deep it took us two years to get out. To be fair, the attorney didn't know our history. Didn't know the first thing about us except for our names and partial health history. It was just the fact we still to this day after five years, still keep defending ourselves.

To add all of this on top of the Medical Board, you then find you are defending yourself and your Veteran with the rest of the family. You find you are trying to explain to your children, then must deal with all the immediate family, in-laws, outlaws and the rest of the gang. Sometimes its tiring to hear how someone has a bad back, but Lord have mercy and "bless their heart" they are disabled and just can't expect to work. Someone else has cancer, or a bad car wreck...its the same "bless yer heart" and "what else can be expected of them?". With this though....its harder. Most of what I hear is "leave him". "Cut your losses and run". "I just don't know how you deal with it". Even with our Southern Appalachian twang, I hardly ever get a "bless yer heart". I still to this day wonder why that is? I find that I now stay away from having to explain it all over again to say, a non-profit organization. I know they don't know me, I don't know them and its just not worth the breath trying to get someone else to understand. The most that anyone has understood our lifestyle is those that live with it. Unfortunately, I am having a hard time finding those "others" close by although I can feel them nearby.  This leads me to some anger because I wonder why they can't step up, allow me to have someone nearby who is raising their hand with me. It's not that I am afraid of pioneering my way through a backwoods moo-cow town area, but God sometimes I wish I could just find someone.

Anger seems to fester quite a bit with me these days. Most of the time, I can walk away and try to focus on something else but it still is there. One thing happens and before I know it, I am angry about the last damn five years. I am hoping since I am receiving counseling, that is one of those things that I can work on as its just not me at all. I love to laugh, love to smile, love to talk and most of these I rarely do unless its with the right people. My defenses have been built so high I often wonder if I ever will be able to let them down? Or will they permanently stay up and how much will I miss if I keep myself closed off. Some of the comments made I can always deal with, shrugging them off with just raising my chin a tad bit higher. Some of them hurt to the core and those are a little harder to shake but I do it none the less. Explaining I can do, but with as much news and media is out there in regards to PTSD and TBI (minus all the negative crap) you would think people would pay attention. However, I have found that most people know more about the Kardashians or the infamous "Octomom". Why is it our society can worry so much about who wore what to the Oscar's, or what the latest gadget but yet, do not know that 1 Veteran in every 80 seconds commits suicide?

I think my frustration comes from having to try so hard to defend my husband and the reasons why I stay with him. Not from explaining his issues and not be ashamed of them, but feeling like I MUST defend us because there isn't anyone else there to speak out for us. Yet, "Octomom" seems to get front page Yahoo, and is one of the most "clickable" likes on Google these days. Some days I wonder if it will ever end, even after we leave the military and we finally get settled with Social Security and the VA. Or will we always be destined to defend ourselves to others and more importantly....trying to explain to ourselves that this is just the way it is and there's nothing we can do, than what we have already done. That is to keep going and survive.

Survival 101 Completed and Passed,