When Our Safe Spaces Are Violated

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This post diverges a little from my usual. It’s about the Sutherland Springs church shooting and touches on how clueless many people are about the reality of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The fifth worst mass shooting in US history and the worst in Texas history, this incident shook even a lot of people outside the area to the core. The decision to demolish the building where this happened and rebuild has elicited a lot of commentary, with some clearly not understanding why returning to the same place where this tragedy occurred may be too much for some who lost family members and friends.

I saw a lot of comments in the first few days after the shooting to the effect of how rebuilding elsewhere was “giving up” and how “everyone needs to think positive”. These sentiments don’t bring back any of the lives cut short or erase the painful images that are likely too fresh in the minds of the survivors at this point.

The reality is that PTSD is very likely to be an issue for many of those who experienced this tragedy firsthand. In addition to coping with the effects of trauma, bereavement is also a factor for the survivors and the loved ones of the victims.

My late father was medically diagnosed with PTSD and I saw what the effects were when he was exposed to something that needlessly reminded him of Vietnam. To me, it is very easy to see why the remaining members would want to find a different location.

A church or any place that fosters a sense of community ought to be a safe space. Shootings or other tragic events violate those safe spaces, and there are times when the loss is too great for the space’s sanctity to be regained – this may be one of those times for the affected congregation.

Rather than criticizing how survivors of a tragedy decide to move forward, support them with thoughts, prayers and meaningful action. We, as a society, owe it to all who have faced such tragedy in life, whether it’s war, terrorism or other human-created disasters.

A happy Veteran’s Day to all who have served! 


Some Thoughts on This Blog and Its Purpose

The catalyst for me starting this blog (which grew out of a Facebook page originally) was the loss of my veteran biological father, who struggled with PTSD and other issues during his life. There were certain things that needed to be said in regards to the struggles that many family members of veterans in these situations face, among them:

  • Support options for family members trying to mitigate the effects of their loved one’s emotional issues or cope with grief complicated because of their departed loved one’s issues are somewhat limited, and sometimes come with issues of their own
  • Nobody, not even the veteran themselves or unsupportive “family/friends”, can control your narrative – your struggles are unique from the struggles that the veteran in your life faces
  • Estranged family members or ex-spouses/partners of a veteran who struggles with substance abuse who decided they cannot remain in the veteran’s life for their own mental health or safety should not be “punished” for making a tough decision
  • All support options are not a good fit for every circumstance – some are uncomfortable with in-person support, some prefer to avoid groups that don’t align with them politically or spiritually, others base their decisions on whether the group is a mix of veterans and family members or just family members
  • Veteran families can face a variety of issues that may or may not overlap with a veteran’s PTSD – these need to be acknowledged to help the families overcome struggles unique to their situation.

I hope to be able to keep blogging about issues that will be helpful to veteran families, and welcome suggestions both here and on the Facebook page. Please keep the following in mind:

  • The Facebook presence for this blog is a PAGE, not a GROUP, so please bear in mind that comments posted there are public
  • This is not a military-oriented blog, it is geared towards the family members of veterans, so any topics will cater to a mostly civilian POV
  • A closed Facebook or Google support group may be an option at some point, please follow this blog or the Facebook page to receive news if/when this is a possibility


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.


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.