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.

 

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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.

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