Practically everyone in this nation has heard the stories of our military coming home with PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Actually depending on your age you may know it as Post Traumatic Shock Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. The name changes from year to year, but unfortunately, the symptoms do not.
My husband served in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983 when the Marine Barracks was bombed killing 241 servicemen, many were his friends. The day he came home on the ship after that horrible event, I could see it in his eyes. The man I married was gone, left behind in Beirut, in the rubble where the bombing took place. His body was with me, but yet his soul was lost in between our own life and what had happened in Beirut.
25 years later, he is still out there, standing in that same spot in Beirut, waiting for answers he never received.
I had my husband for 3 short years before he was gutted by terrorism, his very soul robbed in the night when that terrorist drove his truck into the front of the Marine Barracks. 3 short years out of 28. I have lived with him hoping that some day, he will return to me. The man I married who was so full of life, hopes and dreams.
The first 10 years after the bombing were the worst, but by no means has it been easy since then. The strength we had to survive life’s little jokes had diminished. We found ourselves falling into a pit of deception towards each other to numb what had happened. To give ourselves an alternate answer as to why we no longer felt the same way within our unity together. Things had changed drastically.
I remember the very first time he went on a 6 month cruise. It was a feeling that is hard to put into words unless you have been through it. Almost any woman who is married to a military man has had to endure time spent alone, waiting for and worrying about her husband, and this is what causes what happened to me.
I found myself finding any reason at all to be mad at him, picking fights over silly things that I would ordinarily not even think twice about. I couldn’t control it. Even though I felt terrible after my explosions towards him, I somehow also felt better.
Then one day I spoke with another wife of a sailor and she explained to me what I was going through, why I was acting the way I did. Apparently it was commonplace for Navy couples to argue alot right before a cruise. It somehow helped them to disjoint themselves from one another, making it easier to leave or be left alone without sorrow or pain. Although it saddened me, it made sense and became a tradition from then on when he went on other cruises.
This is one of the rough parts of being a military family, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg so to speak.
Having children is the next rough part. Most couples whether they’re civi’s or military will want children. Nobody wants to rob themselves of this wonderful part of life due to the career of one of the parents. Not to mention that it is the frequent long absenses that cause many of the so called “military brats”. That precious “time alone” before jaunting off into another part of the world so far away from the ones you love. I have very fond memories of these times because they were in fact precious and few during my husbands time in the Navy.
Now, we have a sailor with PTSD, a wife that feels robbed of the man she married and holding in feelings of guilt due to the previous, then we have the children that were born “pre-bombing” and “post-bombing”. You would think that they would all react the same way to the parents issues, but that simply isn’t the way it works. The children that were born “pre-bombing”, even though they were still very young, feel that they were involved in some way. That it WAS in fact a part of their life. As adults now, they remember back to when they were young and actually see Beirut as a big part of their life. Why is that? The answer is easy. Any child that is brought up in a family where something drastically altered their life (whether they remember the actual event or not) will be affected in such a deep way that it becomes a reality in their own personal life. Our first two children have lived and breathed the 1983 Beirut Bombing since they were very young. They have watched as their father changed, went through fits of rage, severe depression and an assorted array of other odd changes that were very eratic. He was never the same person for more than a week at a time. Consequently, neither was I. The bombing had morphed both of us into someone different constantly, making it hard for our children to ever get to really know either one of us completely, causing a chain of PTSD”.
I have often wondered though these past 25 years how things would have been different if the bombing had never occurred. Would we have stayed together and been happier, or would we have split up, not having this cloud hanging over us and causing us to fight it day in and day out.
Did the bombing cause us to be stronger people? Did the mental anquish extenuating from the bombing cause us to hold on to one another through thick and thin, grasping for answers in a life of total confusion? I really don’t know, but I do know that it seems to have affected our children even more so. They grew up watching their parents struggle through anger, dispair, depression, sorrow, financial problems, fear and in between all that the occassional happy moments of which we all cherished but couldn’t hold on to. It invariably would dissapate as the reality of what happened set back in. Knowing that this is a world where human life seems to mean so little to so many. Where political secrets destroy our nation. And where strength, although a grand virtue normally, is better catagorized as personal vendetta.
So, to make a long story shorter, PTSD does NOT just affect one person within a family, it affects all of them like a contagious disease. It sneaks up on you unsuspectingly leaving you with a false sense of normalcy until something else triggers you to seek help.
I would wager to say that most military families are suffering from PTSD and it is for this reason that I feel very strongly about not only serious mental care for veterans, but also their families.
When a man or woman joins the military, their whole family joins. Consequently the service connected person reaps the benefits of being active duty as do their families, but what of the families of the veterans? What happens to them after years and years of dealing with all the pain and anquish of their spouse or parent? Why does it seem that the veterans themselves count at that point, but the family members are left to struggle alone unless they can afford the appropriate care? What then?
When a person spends the only life they have been given in fear and dispair, it’s a waste of life. I don’t care how old you are, if you or a close family member served this country, you should not be tossed to the side and forgotten. It’s bad enough that our men and women that put their lives on the line for this nation are paid less than an actor or actress who rarely has to worry about injury let alone death, but when the veterans or their families are completely ignored after they have sacrificed normal lives, it’s a slap in the face.
This is just a look at PTSD. There are many other forms of mental illness that stem from war and terrorism. Imagine how many families in this country are suffering and not getting the proper care just so we can have freedom. Now I am not saying that freedom isn’t worth it, but I AM saying this. A country free of war and terrorism is wonderful, but what kind of people will be living in that free country if this ignorance keeps up? Sure, we won’t have other countries invading us and causing death and destruction, but will we begin fighting against one another within our own country due to untreated PTSD? It’s not something to mess with or be ignored. It’s VERY real. It causes people to imagine that things are going wrong when they aren’t. It causes people to distrust and to rage. Who the hell wants to live in a country full of people like that? We need to treat ANYONE who is service connected AND their families if we are to TRULY be a free country. I know I personally had to fight CHAMPVA to get proper care for years. But through “NO FAULT” of their own, they lost my paperwork 7 times. Imagine that. I really wonder how many other families of veterans have also been “lost in the shuffle” and are suffering due to a family members time served in our country’s military?
I wonder how long it will be before they wake up and see what they are doing to people that only wish to live a normal life after going through hell for their country. I can only imagine, but I’m sure this will not be an easy fix nor will our country ever wake up and actually pay our military as they SHOULD be, but I can dream and that’s something that nobody can ever take from me.