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.

 

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.

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.