As an ex-wife who met and married him after his last deployment to Southeast Asia, I lived the whole PTSD spectrum without any assistance. He refused any psychological treatment because it would have meant that he was “crazy”. I experienced the nights of fighting the battles again (and he was Air Force, flying KC135s and F4s); during these, I received slugs that resulted in bruises.
He was passed over for rank and got out of the military. Over the next 12 years he was employed in a variety positions – a few he “quit” and some from which he was fired. I supported him through these times but our relationship began to suffer. Communication between us was deteriorating. His verbal, emotional and psychological abuse continued and slowly escalated. And his alcohol intake slowly increased.
He began to blame me for everything in his life that went wrong and to accuse me of doing things that I did not do. I kept our sons involved in activities so that we were not home much. Being home was a delicate balance of walking on eggs, never knowing what would set him off. Something would cause a major blow up and then doing the exact opposite the next day also resulted in a major blow up. Many of these were directed at our youngest son; many times I would physically get between the two to prevent him harming the child.
Because I had been an independent woman prior to marriage, he never could control me. Over time he started to brainwash our youngest son to believe that I was the cause of all the family problems. This child became the other adult in his relationship, and not me.
I had no one in whom I could confide. I thought that people would think that I was making it up or maybe I was crazy. To maintain my sanity and sense of worth, I got involved volunteering in activities in which my boys participated. One day as I was teaching about substance abuse and posttraumatic stress to nursing students, I realized that I was living with a person who was abusing alcohol because of his PTSD from Viet Nam. About that same time, a student project about abuse opened my eyes to reality of my home life. I was not the problem.
I began to seek help for me and us. He continued to refuse treatment for PTSD, alcohol abuse, and our marriage. The marriage finally dissolved.
Once the divorce process started, it lasted just over 15 years – because he refused to comply to property division. But the divorce freed me to become a whole different person. I traveled, moved to the beach, became active in my nursing profession which lead to involvement with the student association, and most important, teaching nursing. My experience with him prepared me for helping students whose significant others threatened harm and who were in the process of divorce or breakup or dealing with substance abuse.
My support system gave me the strength to hold my head up and continue to fight for my sanity and safety. They included different groups of people from many areas in my community (church, neighbors, working colleagues, volunteer groups I belonged to, friends, and of course, my family). I learned that people who really cared listened without judgment, allowed me to cry, and just hugged me; I learned to identify those who did not want to “get involved” by the horror on their faces as I began my story. I distanced myself from those; I did not need their negativity.
At the time I was going through the “dark tunnel”, I wondered “Why me?” Now I can see that it was to allow me to be a support for my students and my friends when they needed someone who knew what to say and do. I mirror what helped me traverse the journey as I was going through it – I listen when they need to vent, hold them as they cry, and freely give hugs.
If you are in a similar journey,
- You are a person of worth
- Do not identify yourself with your situation
- Hold your head up
- Ascertain your support system – clergy, friends at church, neighbors, family, colleagues at work, whomever
- Share your story with them
- Tell your supporters what you need and let them do it for you
- Seek help from your health care provider
- Identify your happy place – where you get your strength and spend as much time there as you can
- When you encounter negativity, avoid that person
The people that were my best support were
- My parents who let me travel with them during my summer breaks from teaching
- The ladies in my church circle – we had a spring and fall retreat to the beach over a number of years; I get my strength from time at the beach
- My faculty and clinical area nursing colleagues and medical staff who asked how I was doing and listened when I had to vent
- Church friends who willingly listened when I needed to talk and cry
I found my support system and used them for years. I spent as much time as I could at my happy place – the beach – until I moved there. Now I can go as much as I want every day and every time I find the peace and strength I need to continue moving forward. I no longer look back because I do not live there anymore.