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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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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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:

The Siren Call We May Miss

Scream and shout

First of all, I’d like to thank Sister Gloriamarie (knitternun)  both for inspiring this post and for her support of the Facebook page I’ve created that offers help and hope to veteran families. My hope is that my  Hope and Healing for Veteran Families Facebook page will be a safe refuge for children, spouses, exes, friends and others who want to help a veteran in their lives or need healing from trauma inflicted by one no longer in their lives.

One of the things I’ve had to cope with since my biological father’s passing is people treating him as an exalted being who never did or was even capable of wrongdoing. In their eyes, his status as a perceived war hero absolved him of any wrongdoing.

I’ll be blunt: my father was not free from any taint of sin from the moment of his conception. Nor was he a monster, he was a good person at heart who never overcame his personal demons. However, his PTSD symptoms were significantly aggravated by his drinking habits, and many people in his life did little or nothing to help him.

As Gloriamarie said, the symptoms of PTSD are a siren call for help. Like sailors of old myths and legends, many people who ignore said siren call have to witness or be part of a shipwreck – in this case, the shipwreck of a life ruined by mental illness and/or alcohol abuse.

There are many reasons people ignore siren calls, one of them being pure and simple denial. It’s easier to believe that someone you love just “enjoys a few beers” and that their behavior is essentially harmless than believe they can cause some to fear for their very safety.

For some it’s easier to think that the more outrageous behaviors are something to laugh at. After all, how many people want to believe that behavior that horribly embarasses one family member is anything other than said family member being overly sensitive?

Unfortunately, for others, it’s easier to think that those who had to deal with a veteran who refused serious help were making things up or exaggerating. I think it’s all part of the denial game, assigning the blame to others instead of facing the fact that their loved one needs help.

Hindsight is better than foresight by a long shot. It’s impossible to know whether a marriage may have been salvaged or whether a parent may have mended a relationship with a child they alienated.

However we can, to a certain extent, control what happens going forward. The best way to build a bridge between yourself and others harmed by the same person – stop making frikkin’ excuses!

Don’t just chalk things up to the fact that they were drinking when they said hurtful, hateful, relationship-destroying words – recognize that words cannot be unsaid, and the wounds may not fully heal.

Never, ever, treat drunken antics as though they’re a joke – such behavior can impact others in the person’s life that their perception as a hero won’t fix.

Lastly, don’t put your head in the sand and ignore a veteran in your life that is crying for help by their actions. Recognize that sometimes they won’t allow their spouse or children in too deeply emotionally – it may fall on those in their lives prior to marriage or children to have influence in their recovery.

If it’s now too late, don’t dishonor your loved one’s memory by making excuses, making light of others’ suffering, or refusing to acknowledge the role of their brokeness. Do honor their memory by showing love, mercy and compassion to those they hurt the most in their lives – don’t turn your backs on them, you do need them, even if you can’t let see it.

 

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