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.

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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.

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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