It Should Never Be About “Us Vs. Them”

The comments that I see on social media that show a total lack of understanding about the emotional trauma many veterans’ families face could fill a book. For many veterans, facing the difficulties that come with healthcare, housing and jobs are bad enough. The particular struggles that family members face are also challenges that are often overlooked or minimized.

One such depth-lacking comment made was that “Some of them never get over it and it’s their right.” Nobody that has endured trauma, including war or related injuries, should feel as though they’re on some arbitrary deadline to “get over it” by a certain time. However, there is a need to realize that it is not a veteran’s “right” to use their lack of a meaningful recovery to physically or mentally abuse others.

Society has reached a point where the needs of the family are sometimes seen as detrimental to the veteran’s needs as an individual. We must avoid this trap, as it ultimately only hurts, rather than helps, everyone involved.

Although the family cannot be expected to fully understand everything the veteran went through in combat, there are certain parts of the journey towards emotional healing they can share. Here are a few observations I’ve made based on my experiences as the daughter of a veteran whose “path” ultimately diverged from mine:

  • You do have the right to shape your identity as you – not whoever’s son or daughter. Invite your parent to be part of your interests, even if it’s just in the form of talking about them together. Finding this common ground allowed me to maintain my ability to maintain correspondence with my dad for a little longer.
  • If your parent lives with PTSD, you might find that they don’t like activities that involve crowds, that’s likely a defense mechanism that they use. Instead of having your heart set on certain activities, think of options that work well for both of you. Hikes and other outdoor activities helped provide me with some better memories.
  • Should you have a parent with substance abuse issues, don’t let yourself get pulled into having to attend 12-step meetings with them as a condition for them getting clean. If their interest in recovery is strong enough, they will accept your need to cope as you are comfortable. Everyone doesn’t feel comfortable attending an in-person support group.
  • Establish clear boundaries about your comfort level with involvement in their veteran-oriented activities or activities that involve alcohol, if your loved one struggles with alcohol. Boundaries must be enforced to be beneficial, so stand your ground. Had I understood the importance of boundaries a lot sooner, things may have worked out differently.

Some veterans struggling with PTSD or substance abuse never do “get over it” this side of the grave. However, you have the choice to not end up being a form of emotional “collateral damage”, so to speak. You need to care for your emotional health, and this does not have to include being supportive of your loved one at the expense of your wellbeing.

 

Remembering their legacy

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On Memorial Day, we remembered the service members that made the ultimate sacrifice. While we honor their sacrifices, let us also keep in mind the importance of honoring their legacy by remembering their unique place as family members and friends of people who miss them.

Vietnam veteran Jim Crigler recently made the news with his 2,000 mi+ trip down the Mississippi River, handing out Gold Stars to family members of fallen service members. His touching tribute serves as a reminder that their sacrifices should never be forgotten, nor should their faithful service be taken for granted.

Even if we have deceased former military members that were part of our families who didn’t die in battle, we must not forget that they, too, felt the burden of the costs of war. Regardless of whether it was in the form of readjusting to civilian life, coping with the effects of addiction or mental illness, or living with a disability, many now-departed veterans struggled and left behind family members who must also cope with struggles of their own.

Meaningful tributes to both war dead and deceased veterans matter to families. In addition to the typical military awards, tributes that involve commemorating the service member’s life outside the military are often very meaningful.

For example, remembering someone only as “Jim, retired Staff Sargeant, United States Army” says less about them as a whole person than “Jim, a dad, dog lover, avid reader and Italian cuisine fan.”

A Jewish proverb that is very fitting reads, “The only truly dead are those who have been forgotten.” The war dead and those who lost their lives after returning home maybe won’t be forgotten in the traditional sense as long as wars are documented, but we can lose sight of WHO these brave souls were.

Whether we remember them each Memorial Day or at Veteran’s Day, let’s truly remember THEM, as family members, friends, people with interests that often mirror our own. Each of them matters in the ongoing story of shaping our country’s and world’s history.

 

Yes, People, the Families DO Matter!

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The day a person even insinuates that a group of people doesn’t matter is the day they fall into that dangerous, deadly human trap – apathy.

If the family members of veterans didn’t matter, why are there so many outreach efforts intended to give them emotional support? While I’m sure nobody, unless they were being deliberately cruel, would state that vet families don’t matter outright, plenty of people, by their words and actions do hint that what they go through isn’t important.

When a status was posted on social media in recent months about veterans with PTSD, a comment rightfully pointed out that the families go through a lot, too. The OP’s, response was something to the effect of how pointing that out “doesn’t help the veterans”.

Seeing as how the OP has never been in that position that I’m aware of, she certainly doesn’t know what it’s like. Many family members of veterans with PTSD, particularly if the vet also has addiction issues as my late father did, go through their own hell on earth because of it.

Why does this matter? Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

  • People with PTSD and substance abuse issues who don’t get help do need it – without help, they are endangering themselves and others around them. Sometimes recognizing the hell their loved ones go through is what it takes for them to see their need for help.
  • Just because the spouse (or ex-spouse) and the children didn’t serve doesn’t make their lives any less valuable. To send the message that civilians impacted by a veteran’s trauma don’t matter shows the same type of callous disregard that many of our country’s leaders have for military and veteran families in general.
  • Glossing over the experiences of the families also shows a lack of respect for who the veteran is as a person. To act as though a veteran’s existence revolves completely around their identity as a veteran and nothing else shows no regard for them as an individual. Most do, of course, value their family members and to see others show such little regard for their loved ones hurts them, too.

In a nutshell, it’s safe to say that denying a veteran’s family’s need for help does more harm than good. No person, veteran or civilian, is an island, and true healing can only occur when all sides are considered.

The Most Damaging of Myths

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Even with all the attention that PTSD receives today, there are unfortunately people who believe that PTSD is something that only happens to weak people. The psychology site Psych Central addressed this and other common myths in one of their articles.

The weakness myth and other damaging ones need to be addressed and denounced as often as possible. The only thing that these ideas do is help create a stigma that keeps people from getting help, and not getting help is the last thing that needs to happen to anyone with PTSD.

Here’s a list of things to keep in mind:

  • People with PTSD are very likely to have an especially strong defense system when it comes to trauma – we must bear in mind that everyone’s response is different
  • The level of social support a person has often plays a significant role in how they cope with trauma – genuine friends and family members who take proactive, positive approaches are likely to make a better impact
  • Warfare is a type of interpersonal trauma, which is more likely to result in PTSD as opposed to a natural disaster or a car accident – sexual abuse and domestic violence are also types of interpersonal trauma
  • There is no deadline for when someone must “get over it” – reminders of the trauma can come up at any time, although many find effective ways of coping that minimize these incidents
  • One should never think that a traumatic event happened too long ago to seek help – many seek the help they need even a long time after the event

Combating these myths and having no place for them in our society is one of the best ways to bring help to the veterans and their family members that need it. We owe it to our men and women who have served and their families.

Kids NEED Friends: Veteran Parent or Not

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I’m not a child psychologist, I wanted to make that clear. However, speaking from personal experience as the daughter of a particularly troubled veteran, I can say that a normal social life is crucial for kids. This can unfortunately be very difficult when there’s uncontrolled PTSD or other issues going on.

To start with, I’ll point out a few of the social issues that occurred with me when I was school-age. Despite having a few cousins close to my age who attended the same schools, though they were not in the same grade level, I think much of my family outside the immediate household was in the dark about how Dad’s behavior affected me.

A few things that happened:

  • I was often unable to invite friends who didn’t live in the neighborhood over because I was afraid of Dad being drunk and making a spectacle, as well as my friend’s parents not letting them come over anymore
  • Attending birthday parties at other kids’ houses or otherwise spending time with my friends at their houses was also difficult out of fear he’d show up under the influence and cause trouble
  • The worst, though, was my dad believing that every time I was bullied, it had something to do with his status as a veteran and the fact I was his daughter, when in fact it was typical teenage bullying

Difficult as they are, a veteran’s struggles are theirs, not their children’s to pay for in the form of social alienation. There is no logical or valid psychological reason for veterans’ children to be exempt from socialization.

Some may see what the children of what some combat veterans go through as being insignificant in comparison to what the veteran has gone through. This is unhelpful, as the struggles of a veteran’s child are DIFFERENT, not better, not worse.

What children in these situations do experience in seeing their parent act out is a form of trauma, emotional or otherwise. The National Center for PTSD acknowleges this trauma as being very real and in need of support.

Having friends you can turn to in time of need is important, for all ages. Not only that, but kids who have a network of friends they can turn to will be better-adjusted as adults.

Rather than being part of the problem by treating kids’ social needs as insignificant, be part of the solution by acknowledging the importance of their social needs.

No, You Don’t Get Over It

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Soul-Fully Beautiful recently shared an excellent statement via their Facebook page. To summarize, it points out that people who aren’t emotional abuse survivors don’t understand fighting daily mental battles with someone no longer in your life. All types of abuse, physical, emotional and verbal, leave residual affects that you simply can’t just get over.

Children of veterans with emotional and mental issues, as well as other family members directly impacted, often feel as though they’re fighting a battle. That battle occurs when the effects of long-standing emotional abuse rear their ugly heads.

This become more of a problem as my biological father descended deeper into the bottle and cut himself off from those uninvolved with his pub-focused life. Fighting a daily mental battle where you wonder where to even begin should the issue of confronting their abuse come up isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy.

When the emotional abuser isn’t alive anymore or you otherwise aren’t in contact, your troubles don’t automatically end. Sometimes, the very techniques you need to use to cope with the abuse make you into someone you’d rather not be – those who think you can simply “get over it” most likely haven’t walked that difficult road.

In one way, it was good that I wasn’t forced to confront my dad at the end of his life. In my last call to him, I was able to let him know I forgave him.

The hardest part wasn’t that final phone call, as much as I expected it to be. It was knowing that there were things left unsaid on my part and knowing that certain family members I thought understood how bad the relationship was were utterly clueless.

Going through emotional abuse does alter your reality, though you never intended it. Here are some of the things you’ve probably dealt with:

  • Feeling kind of lackluster about things that otherwise interest you
  • Having to be on guard against things that might set off your abuser
  • Thinking that you’re somehow deficient
  • Feeling too anxious, not trusting yourself to take charge of your own future
  • Having emotional difficulties spill over into relationships

No two people will have the same path to recovery – some can manage well with the help of a great support system, others may require at least a little therapy. Regaining trust in yourself and a better sense of your own worth is one of the most crucial steps, as well as knowing when you need to give yourself some healing space.

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What You Don’t Know DOES Hurt Others

Lascar Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil (4552118526)

At the risk of sounding like I’m ripping off a tired cliche, this is more true than many realize. What people don’t know about a situation can hurt others, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, and yes, physically. Ignorance is not bliss, folks, I’m sorry to say.

When my biological father died last November, it was such an emotional trip it was unreal. Grief is never simple by any means, and when a troubled relationship is involved, things are more complicated than they appear. As with many other issues, people that are not the ones most closely involved only see one layer or one angle to the situation – and that layer or angle often takes only the vet into account.

After someone made a particularly insensitive comment that insinuated that everything he went through was someone else’s fault, I realized just how rampant the one-sidedness is in people who ought to know better. The irony is that the person that made the comment witnessed a lot of his drinking antics firsthand, and had excluded him from a lot of activities because of it – once he was gone, they apparently thought they could make up for writing him off by elevating him to sainthood and pointing fingers at others.

I’m going to be brutally honest here, hopefully without being brutal in the process. My father’s military service did not make him an exalted being automatically absolved of responsibility for his actions. He had to want help badly enough to not shut everyone out, and those who had more influence than I did in his life needed to care enough to see him 100% sober to make some sacrifices for him.

If I had the chance to address the person who made these comments directly, here’s what I would like them to know:

First of all, stop pretending you know exactly everything he went through – just stop it! You weren’t there on the battlefield any more than I was. The combat veteran has one experience related to their trauma – the family members and friends have another, and some family members’ secondary experiences involving the vet’s trauma are far worse than others.

Secondly, if you never lived in the same house as the veteran when things reached their very worst, you can only guess at what it’s like. PTSD and other psychological issues mixed with alcohol are a heavy cross to burden others with who never asked for it. Maybe what some of us went through or witnessed is just too hard to talk about much.

Just imagine: if you’ve ever had to deal with a noisy, drunk, sometimes violent houseguest for a few hours at a time, imagine what it would be like to have said person living with you and having their tirades go on for hours, and worry about what the next thing is that might set them off. This is “life” for many living with an alcoholic.

Yes, there is recovery for all those impacted, even in cases where family members may have been set against each other by the veteran. (Alcoholics are good at pitting people against each other, even if inadvertantly). Recovery isn’t reached by forgetting about what happened, sweeping it under the carpet, or haboring grudges.

The Serenity Prayer can be most helpful here:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

My path to healing started with:

  • Accepting the fact that living under the pain of past experiences was no longer acceptable
  • Having the courage to speak out about my experiences in the hopes of reaching others
  • Having the wisdom to know that I can’t change others’ skewered views about my late father’s troubles, but can change whether I allow their alternate reality to affect me.

How did you find your path to healing? Feel free to join the discussion on Facebook!

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