Yes, People, the Families DO Matter!

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

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

Battling PTSD (4949341330)

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

Barrio de La Boca (6923432515)

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

The most difficult question to ask 131022-F-NW635-999

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.

Save

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!

Save

Save

A Letter to a Wall (Inspired by a Peace Group’s Writing Prompt)

sacrifices

Dear Vietnam Veterans Memorial,

This feels odd to be addressing a wall, but talking to a wall is exactly what many adult children of Vietnam vets feel as though they are coping with with a public that still largely misunderstands the impact that this war has even today. All of the broken relationships, the heartache of those losing their loved ones to the effects of addictions, the human aspects are things you can’t get. As a silent witness, though, I know you can see that the impact on families is very real.

If you were a human, what would you feel, having witnessed so many people visiting you? Would you feel heartache for all those who lost loved ones? Share the anguish of those whose loved ones never came back and whose fate is unknown? Possibly some anger that the human race hasn’t improved much in its thirst for conflict? My guess would be you’d feel all three, and then some.

Memorials and monuments have been a part of the human experience for millenia. When we see memorials with names, we’re reminded of those lost. We shouldn’t forget, though, that behind each of those names is a person who lived, who loved, whose future accomplishments are and will remain unknown because their lives were cut short. Much of American culture glorifies the service member without considering what was important in their civilian lives, who loved them and who they loved, what they could have achieved had they lived.

Even for those who returned home, the things that made them who they are and who they were often get eclipsed in the light of honoring their service. There is more than meets the eye to what goes on with society’s designated “war heroes”. As a silent witness, you testify to the lives of those who were lost. However, it’s too easy to forget those who still live, and those whose lives ended long after their service. Many of the living still bear emotional scars, and many took their emotional turmoil to the grave.

Lastly, let’s not forget those who have indirectly become “casualties” in their own way:

  • The adult children who had their parent there for them only part-time, if at all, and have missed out on important bonding
  • The spouses who must often endure abuse that they’re expected to accept as okay because their partner is seen as a hero
  • The ex-spouses who get villified when their ex-partner wouldn’t get help and they had to leave for their own sanity and/or safety
  • The friends who don’t understand all the dynamics and think that their friend is antisocial
  • Family members who don’t know the full extent of what goes on when they’re not there and are inclined to blame everyone else.

As we remember the fallen, let’s hope that your witness to this war remains a testament to what we lost and are still losing. May you continue to stand as a stark reminder of war and its many costs. Maybe one day, our society will learn something.

Why a Liberal “Voice in the Wilderness” is Necessary

Woman peace activist from Pittsburgh with sign - Fund Jobs Not Wars - 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

When I set up my Facebook page, I had been realizing just how much healing I still had to do, even though my biological father, with whom I had had a troubled relationship because of his substanance abuse and refusal to get counseling, had recently passed. I also realized that many of the online support group options are too disproportionately balanced towards the conservative side.

The last time I had been part of an online support group, I found the other members nice, but felt as though I couldn’t be as open as I wanted to be because we weren’t on the same page politically. You shouldn’t have to walk on eggshells because your thoughts and feelings aren’t “politically correct” for the group.

Some of the viewoints I’ve found, from personal experience, are often sources of contention in majority conservative settings include:

  • The belief that war is, regrettably, necessary sometimes, but not something to glorify or celebrate. Many “hawks” don’t legitimately understand the positions of peace advocates, and by their actions appear to glorify war, although I’m sure the idea is actually as sickening to them as anyone else.
  • An adherance to the Christian “just war” concept, which guides my belief that much of America’s military actions are unjustified. Many conservatives of a Christian background either aren’t familiar with this concept or ignore it.
  • Being uncomfortable with a culture that glorifies those who served to the extent that they are perceived as being above reproach and can’t be held accountable for their actions, even when they harm those closest to them. A helpful hint: religious leaders who are treated this way are considered cult leaders, so maybe this way of thinking isn’t healthy.
  • Believing that, if a country sends its service members off to war, it should provide adequate medical, psychological, and other resources for them and their families when they return. Most conservatives do, of course, believe veterans deserve benefits, but still cast votes for politicians who would take these benefits away from the veterans.

Although I realize that many military families are at least somewhat conservative, there are many who aren’t, or may harbor disagreement with how many conservatives approach our nation’s military politics. By providing a place where these views are welcome, I hope that other family members of veterans can stop feeling as though they’re alone in their struggle, as I frequently felt growing up.

In closing, here’s a song I think many of us can relate to: