Archive for January, 2014

You came back different. Changed. You can’t really describe  it, but you’re not yourself. Not who you used to be. You’re angry. Blow up at stupid shit. Lack other emotions. Feel numb. Tired. Disinterested in stuff that used to be interesting. Tense. Sleepless. Have nightmares that scare the hell out of you. Forget shit. Can’t focus. You miss your buddies. Miss the war. Miss the ones you lost. Miss feeling like you used to feel. Before.

He came home. Different. Instead of you being able to step back and let him take over sharing the household, childcare and financial responsibilities, you have to take care of him now, too. He’s angry. Silent, except when he’s mad. He can’t remember shit. Seems unmotivated. And distant. He’s up all night; keeps you up all night. Spends more time on the sofa than in bed. Keeps loaded guns around the house. Is edgy. Drinks too much. Seems obsessed with weapons and war. Wakes up sweating from nightmares. Says he loves you, doesn’t act like it.

Sex? Ha, not the same.

You lose interest in the midst of it, your body’s just not working the way it used to. And god damn it, you’re young. You’re supposed to be a sex machine at this age, right? She doesn’t understand. This isn’t by choice. You’d give anything to be the best lover she will ever have. Doesn’t she know it hurts like hell to disappoint her? You know she has expectations. She’s young, too. And your worst fear is that she’ll get her needs met somewhere else. But you can’t help the way you feel now. The way your body won’t respond, won’t let go, won’t. Just won’t.

He says he still loves you, but when it comes to sex, you’re not so sure. When it does happen, it’s too fast. His mind seems elsewhere. Or he just can’t get it up. When you do manage to get him in the mood, shave your legs, slither into lingerie… you wait. Minutes turn to half hour, turn to one hour, turn to 4:38am. He hits the bed, zonks out. You cry yourself to sleep. It has to be you. You’re not attractive enough. You’re not good enough. He doesn’t want you anymore. He. doesn’t. want.you.anymore. It slices to your soul.

She used to look at you differently. Like you were a man, not some exasperating child. She has no clue you are barely holding it together. How dark your thoughts get. How you wonder if you just might snap. How you imagine killing again and how good that would feel right now. She tries to be supportive when she’s not exhausted from the kids. But she’s angry, too. Why can’t she understand that you don’t want to be this way? You’re not some child, even though TBI fucked up your brain and now you can’t do half the stuff you once did. Why doesn’t she understand how humiliating that is? She reminds you constantly of what you need to do, when, where, checking, double-checking. When you don’t remember, she gets frustrated. As if you could remember if you just tried harder. Why can’t she realize that the part of your brain that’s supposed to remember is gone. Fucking gone. Trying harder isn’t an option. It’s never going to be an option. This TBI shit isn’t going away. It’s who you are now. And underneath it all are deeper wounds…

He’s more like a child these days than the man you married. You can’t trust that he’ll be able to handle taking care of the kids alone. What if he forgets something important? Like that the baby’s in the bath? Or the stove is on? Or that he is even supposed to be watching the kids? You are so tired. So fucking tired. You’re more caregiver than wife. More mother than lover. And he just sits there, in that chair, unmoving for hours, cleaning his guns. Lost in a world that you know hurts him. You know you’re supposed to be patient, kind, understanding. Not lose it. Remember that he’s a warrior. A wounded one. A hero of our country. You’re supposed to realize that he can’t fucking remember, because it’s the TBI, not him. It’s the PTSD, not him. But you forget. And it is him. This is who he is now. Who are you supposed to be?

He can’t do the things you used to enjoy doing together. He panics in crowds. Hates being around your friends and family. You make excuses for him. People are starting to wonder. He keeps to himself. Overreacts. Blows up at the kids. You’re walking on eggshells, trying to keep him calm, trying to keep the kids calm, trying not to fall apart from it all. Will you ever get relief from this pressure you’re under?

Doesn’t she know you miss “you” too? That no one ever prepared you for this. That all the training in the world never prepared you for this life now. That most of the time you are barely here. That you never wanted to be a burden to her. That you hate knowing she’s carrying all of the load. That you never thought PTSD/TBI would mean this. Half alive. Half dead. A warrior at heart. Always. A body that says you’ll never have the life of a warrior again. Sometimes you wonder if she’d be better off without you. Because, well, she would be better off without you. Free. Not having to be your brain. Not having to put up with your shit. She’d be better off, but what would you be?

Doesn’t he know you miss “you” too? That no one ever prepared you for this. That all the experience during deployments, all the fear, all the worry, all the prayers, all the promises you made to God if He would just bring you home, never prepared you for this? That most of the time you’re not sure where you are anymore? That you’re stressed to your limit. That while he no longer has the stress of combat, your battle has never ended? You went from fear and being brave — so brave– handling it all, the kids, the house, the finances, work, the mortgage, family, Christmas, birthdays, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, month after month, year after year… alone…and it has never stopped. He came home and the war came with him. And all this time you’ve been strong. Holding it inside. Putting on a brave face. Because you had to. And falling apart wasn’t an option. Because you couldn’t breathe while he was gone. And somewhere deep inside you, in the pounds you’ve gained, the ache in your back, the band around your chest…it’s all still there. Fear. And now, grief.

Grief? You think about them all the time. How one moment they were there, the next gone, and you had to keep going. Shove it all aside. There was no time for grieving. They’re gone. These brothers. The ones who knew you better than anyone else. The ones you would have died for. Except you lived. Did you do enough? If you had just… why them? Why not you? You’ll never know. You see the faces of the dead. You close your eyes. They’re there. You miss them.

You watch her. She’s so beautiful. Such a great mother to your kids. You don’t know how she does it all. How she puts up with you. You wish you could tell her. You wish you could feel beyond the consuming rage. You wish you could make her know that you’re just lost and broken and you don’t know what to do. That all this time you’ve been strong. Holding it inside. Putting on a brave face. Because you had to. And falling apart wasn’t an option. Because you couldn’t breathe while you were gone. And somewhere deep inside you, in the pounds you’ve gained, the ache in your back, the band around your chest…it’s all still there. Fear. And now, grief.

You watch him. He’s so beautiful. Such a good daddy to your kids. You don’t know how he manages. How he puts up with the hell that PTSD and TBI put him through. You wish you could tell him. You wish you could feel beyond this tightness in your chest, this fear that life will always be this hard and that you won’t be strong enough. You wish you could make him know that you’re just lost and broken and you don’t know what to do.

I don’t know what to do.
I don’t know what to do.

###

And so here you are. Run over by the energy of war. Fighting each other because there is no enemy to fight now, only fear and self-doubt and shame and uncertainty.  Expecting life, expecting yourselves, to pick up where you left off and continue on. Only he’s changed. Only she’s changed. You’re relating to each other based on the last version you knew of each other. And it doesn’t work. He’s changed. She’s changed.

So where do you go from here?

You start by looking at yourself and determine what you have do have control over and what you don’t. Then you decide that for the things you have control over, you will own your power to make choices.

(You remember, too, that the only thing we ever truly control is our perspective. And you give grace to the reality that PTSD and TBI make choosing a perspective more challenging.)

You start by looking at your relationship today and decide, together, that you are not each others’ enemy. That, if you are going to make it, you’re going to have to be on the same team. Standing side-by-side, looking out at the world, together. Even if that means the one with PTSD can’t do more than what he’s doing now. Even if that means the one without goes to the PTSD support group.

You start by accepting what is, now. You grieve the loss of the hope and belief that the permanent changes will go away, as you focus on the good and beauty and joy that remains.

You start by stepping back to realize the extent of what you have each been through. That means you realize the layers of fear, grief, exhaustion, and the depth of emotion that is held within each of you and you find a way to start gently releasing it. Write. Paint. Journal. Cry. If you can’t talk to each other about the parts you want each other to know, message each other, write each other a letter.

You start by realizing you will never fully know the parts of each other that are hurt the most. His combat. Her homefront.

You start by recognizing that you are each grieving. And you give yourselves permission to grieve.

You start by deciding to be gentle with yourself and kind to each other.

You start by accepting that your roles have changed. And you find ways to give each other space and time to do the things that nurture you independently.

You start by choosing to believe that Love is stronger than Death. That Love is stronger than life with PTSD. That Love is stronger than life with TBI. You choose to believe that you will be given the strength you need, in the moment  you need it, and not a moment before.

You start by shrinking the big scary future down to the sizeable now of today.

And you reach out for support. You band together with those who are walking the same path and you let them become your family, your source of strength, the ones who fill in the gaps and help remind you that you are stronger than you think you are. That you can do this. That when the struggles are thoughts and beliefs, thoughts and beliefs can be changed. That when you just need to cry, you can cry. That when you have a hell of  day, that tomorrow can be better.

And sometimes, you start by understanding that not every marriage has the foundation to bear the weight of war. And if that happens and your heart breaks, you are not to blame. There is nothing, nothing in this world that proves that human beings should be stronger than the destructive weight of war. Sometimes, a marriage just won’t be.

And all you can do then is make life-giving choices. And remember that as much as it hurts to lose someone you love to war, it doesn’t mean that you are unlovable. Another love can find you still.

The public hears about Fallujah falling back into terrorists’ hands and it’s a blip on their stream of distraction. They don’t give a shit. You hear it and it puts into question the reason why you continue to pay a high price for Iraq 24 hours a day. Why your life is what it is now.

It cuts deep because you love your brothers. Those who remain, those who died there, and those who have died since because they were there. They are not just names on a memorial list (names most of the public will never know or remember), they are vivid, real people. You remember the sound of their laughter, their jokes, how they were there for you, the stories they shared with you, how they pissed you off. You knew them better than anyone else–at a soul level. And they knew you the same.

You love them still.

The possibility now that their deaths and what you went through and continue to go through could have been in vain is devastating.

The public has the perception that soldiers die in combat like they do in films. En masse or that nameless warriors get shot and die, the action keeps going and the “hero” is unaffected. Rarely in a film do the deaths of warriors impact the storyline. The public perceives the military in an impersonal way.  They do not see (or try to imagine it in terms of their own lives) the real, personal, close bonds you have.

The public doesn’t know that your life, your heart, your mind, your spirit is forever changed because of your combat experience. They don’t know that you didn’t come home and just leave it all behind, as they might leave one job and move on to the next. You live with PTSD, nightmares, chronic lack of sleep, feeling unsafe, anxiety attacks; TBI, memory loss, trouble concentrating, trouble reading; chronic physical pain, bad back, neck, knee, headaches; can’t be in crowds, feel isolated, feel as if you no longer belong because you are so changed, and have to deal with anger, grief, and high levels of loss on so many levels. Every day. Every night.

You can’t separate yourself from Iraq even if you wanted to. It’s part of who you are.

This means that when something like this happens in Iraq, you are faced with having to answer what the whole thing means to you on a very personal level. It’s not just about political opinion. It’s about your identity, your sense of worth, and the purpose for your life now.

As you search for an answer that makes sense to you, here are a few things to contemplate:

1. You had a job to do then, you did it, you did it well, and it was done.

2. You cannot predict future outcomes after any war, in any land. Ever.

3. Warriors do not choose their wars. The “purpose” is not your decision.

4. Purpose is a perception. Victory is a perception. Perceptions can be changed.

5. What happens after a war does not change the meaning of what you did or tried to accomplish during a war.

6. Warriors who die in battle, die honorably and loved. The honor of their deaths does not depend on the outcome of the battle/war (which is unknown at the time of their deaths).

7. Each life is meaningful no matter what the reason one dies.

8. Nothing can change the love you have for your brothers.

The one thing that stands out to me and I keep coming back to is Love. You fought for your brothers. They fought for you. Love bonded you together then, it bonds you together now. Love.

And that Love extends to you. Here. Now. Today.

Was it worth it?

That’s a question only you can resolve in your heart. What I do know is that we can’t see the big picture. The big picture of these events in human history. The big picture of these events in the course of lives and families and cities and cultures. We can’t see the individual lives whose paths have been altered because you were there. Or the hope that you inspired. Or the the shift in perspective that occurred because you were there.

What if one heart, one life, was blessed or saved or given hope because you were there?

One life, broken, only to be blessed in ways you could never imagine?

Is one life worth it?

Would it be worth it to you if you were that “one” person?

NOTE: If you are in imminent risk of ending your life, please call 911 or the National Suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 for immediate help. 

You’re thinking about it. Ending your life. Stopping the pain. Doing it because you think it’s best for those around you. You’re tired of your shit being the cause of other people’s pain. Tired of fighting demons. Tired of… just tired.

Every night, every day, is a struggle. A goddamn fucking struggle. You wear a smile. You’re screaming inside. And no one can hear you. Not the fucking VA. Not your family. Not your friends. You’ve been cheated on. Left. Denied. Turned down. Turned away.

But you’re supposed to be okay.

You’re supposed to be better by now.

But you’re not.

No one can see you. Yeah, your buddies know this shit. But they don’t have to live inside your head. And everyone else? “Go to counseling.” “Take your meds.” “Try to forget about it.” You’ve heard it all. Just do something, fuck, anything, as long as we don’t have to deal with your pain. That’s what they’re thinking, right?

So, suicide. Go out quickly. No reason not to. At least then the people you love won’t be hurt by your shit anymore. You’ll be free from these ghosts you can’t evade. The anger you can hardly contain. The scenes that flash before your eyes over and over and over and fucking over again and…

Give me one damn good reason to live, you plead. And silence echoes from the heavens.

Alone. Lost. Exhausted. No end and no hope in sight that things will ever get better. That things can even get better.

You should’ve died down range. Would’ve been better than this internal hell.

And so you are thinking about it. You might have already tried. And for whatever reason, you found this article. These words. These thoughts that feel as if I’m reading your mind. And you feel a spark of recognition. Enough to keep you reading.

Because everyone talks about “suicide prevention” but no one gives a damn about you. “Call the hotline”, they say, as they hand you a flimsy card, turn and walk back into their comfortable lives. Twenty-two veterans a day.

You know what? I’m tired, too. I’m tired of hearing about good, caring guys like you who pulled the trigger, fastened the noose, and died believing they were alone in their pain. Died believing that suicide was the only way. Died believing that no one like me existed out here. Died without knowing how easily they could have lived. How if they had made one connection to one person who actually gave a damn about them, it would have made the difference. That one healing embrace would have been the turning point. A spark lighting up the dark.

Because it is the difference. Your spirit doesn’t need a miracle cure. You’re not dying of cancer. The wounds you bear are not unhealable. The pain you feel can be eased. You CAN heal. You can feel joy again. You can find a life that you live on purpose and with purpose. You don’t need a miracle cure. The power is within you.

But you are tired. Worn. Weary. Exhausted. Depleted. You don’t have the strength to continue on alone.

That’s why you’re here. Now. Reading these words I’m speaking to you.

Because you need someone to take your hand and look you in the eyes and fight for you.

Yes, fight for you. You don’t need to be rescued. You need someone to fight this battle for your freedom with you. To be there when you can’t go on, to remind you of the light and joy and beauty and strength that’s still in you. To hold up a vision of you, whole, and remind you of what IS possible. To see, when you can’t see it yourself. To believe, when you can’t believe it yourself.

To fight for the Light in you until you can feel it yourself.

Don’t. Don’t be that guy I hear of tomorrow whose death causes his buddies to absorb the shock like another blast. Don’t be that death that makes it just a little bit harder for them to stay. Don’t be that death that lets war win, that lets the enemy win, years after they had their last chance.

You matter. You matter to your buddies. You matter to me.

You. matter. to. me.

I don’t care how broken you think you are. I don’t care how beyond hope you think you are. I am looking you in the eyes and telling you this:

I am here to fight this battle with you.
I see you.
You’re not invisible to me.
You can find healing.

So what do I want you to do?
Clasp my outstretched hand. Connect.
I will fight for your freedom. I will walk this path with you. You owe it to every single person who has ever loved you, living and dead, to give yourself this chance. You owe it to your buddies.

You owe it to me because I’m here, looking you in the eyes.
You owe it to yourself.

REACH OUT.

Email me at brittareque@gmail.com or connect via Facebook.