Tag Archive | The Warrior

Military Mondays: The Harsh Realities of War

I’m one of those spouses who WANTS to know exactly what happens in war.  I don’t know how common that is, because I have heard both sides: needing to know and not wanting to know.  It all depends on personality and your coping style, but my coping style definitely hates being left in the dark.

I’m the Army wife who is attracted like a magnet to the TV when the word “Afghanistan” or “terrorism” is mentioned; I’m the Army wife who watches documentaries like Battleground Afghanistan and Restrepo; I’m the Army wife who would prefer to read a raw, honest saga of a journalist embedded with fighting soldiers, rather than the latest issue of “Military Spouse Magazine.” (Disclaimer: That is not a rip against the magazine, it IS a great resource and I enjoy their articles!)

Furthermore, I don’t just want to know what happens in war generally.  I want to know specifically what is happening to my own soldier.  I know to not pepper him with TOO many questions, but when he opens up about combat (whether it’s about his previous tour or his current one) I listen attentively and soak up every word.  I want a visual picture painted in my head.  I want to know when things get really bad.  But most of all, I want to understand what he is going through.

But that is where I get tripped up and frustrated.  The cold fact is that I will NEVER understand.  No matter how many times he repeats his stories, no matter how deep he may let me look into his soul, I will NEVER GET IT.  Only another veteran can completely understand him.  Only another veteran can look at his eyes and know the pain he’s suffered.  Only another veteran can say, “I get it. I know.”

I DON’T know, and during Mark’s first deployment that especially caused me great anguish because it was a very rough tour.  He was violently engaged with the enemy.  He was knocked out in a rollover accident.  He had to shoot a puppy to death because it might have been rabid.  He looked death in the face numerous times.  Those are things I cannot fathom, even though I wish I could.  There have been times I’ve truly wished I could go to Afghanistan, just so I could understand him better.  In all honesty, if I had the opportunity to travel there as an embedded journalist, I would.  And at one point, I was trying to get a contractor job over there so I could quickly pay off my student loans…but also so I could see a TINY bit of reality.

However, one of the puzzle pieces to being a good military wife is to understand what my role is.  My role is to be his support, his rock, his love.  My role entails being patient, unshakeable, and a good listener.  He may be a warrior in the traditional sense of the word (his name even means “God’s Warrior”), but in my own way, I am a warrior too.  We each have unique warrior qualities that complement each other and give strength where the other is weak.  Even after our military life is over, we will fearlessly face life head-on….together.

Warrior_Wife

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Army Wife Life

Most of you who read my blog on a regular basis (or know me in real life) probably have known about The Warrior’s deployment. (More on that another day!) After he got his official orders, he had many of his fellow officers and even commanders saying to him, “And WHY are you not getting married before deployment??” He broached the subject with me, we discussed it, and I mulled it over. I had to write out the pros and cons to this plan – and as I found, there were no cons. It was all positive!

So very soon before his deployment, we went to the county clerk’s office, got our marriage license, and made things official with the state! For all legal and military-related purposes, we are married! I want to stress that since we are Catholic, we DO understand and believe that in the eyes of God and the Church, we are still engaged, so living together is still “not kosher.” However, since he will be in Afghanistan for many months (and we will be getting “church married” swiftly after his return) that obviously isn’t possible anyway.

After that, I enrolled in DEERS/Tricare, got my DoD military dependent ID card, and got DoD decals on my car. So at this point, I can *officially* say I am an Army wife! :)

Many civilian friends and family may be shocked by this news (our parents certainly were at first!) but as I began telling my military wife contacts, I got reactions like “Oh yeah, my husband and I did the same thing!” and “I was wondering if you guys would end up doing that!” The Warrior’s co-workers and advisors also heartily approved. It just makes logical sense, and if I can be completely blunt, we did it for two reasons: 1) for financially-beneficial reasons, and 2) so I can be better connected during this deployment.
The financial reasons are numerous: separation pay, higher housing allowance, I can get on Tricare (health insurance), filing 2013 taxes together, etc. We also had the uncomfortable but necessary conversation about what will happen if he does not return from war: since we have been planning on marrying right after he returns, he wanted to make sure that if, God forbid, he is killed in action, that I am taken care of.

Regarding connectedness, those points are numerous as well. The first one that comes to mind is the fact that I am the first point of contact should ANYTHING bad happen to him. It gives me comfort that the military recognizes us as married and that I will know right away if anything is wrong. I also have access to benefits that non-married significant others do not have access to, such as DoD and USAA resources and job opportunities that target military spouses. Right after The Warrior returns, we’ll have our wedding, go on our honeymoon, and almost immediately move to his next assignment (out of state). I will, of course, need a job – so being able to connect with potential employers in that state as a spouse, several months before arriving, will give me the upper hand. And with my student loan debt, this is a VERY smart move.

After I became an Army wife, I began to realize just how expansive this life really is! It even felt overwhelming. However, I am SO glad that I can explore the official side of things now and get a grip on that. After all, learning how to live together and BE married is a huge task in itself, not to mention having a PCS (Permanent Change of Station) thrown into the mix! The less craziness at that time, the better.

So that is what’s been going on in my new Army wife life recently! :) If any of you are having trouble processing what I just told you, think of it this way: when two people get married, there’s the legal side and there’s the religious/ceremonial side. We just decided to separate the two parts, since it behooved our deployment situation!

I don’t want to be long-winded, but I have a couple more things to add. Since getting married, two military-related opportunities happened. First of all, I am the new Blog Assistant for the Army Wife Network! Being part of the core team has already been a fabulous experience and I am so thankful for these ladies. I am also looking forward to spreading the AWN message of positively empowering Army wives! The second opportunity just came up this week, and I am going to be a blogger for the organization Blue Star Families! It is a five month assignment, one post per week, and I will be focusing on everything deployment related. So, since I am gaining more professional visibility in the military wife world, I am going to start using The Warrior’s real (first) name in my posts. Please stay tuned for my first BSF post on Thursday! :)

~Malori~

Military Mondays: PTSD – A New Acronym

If you missed the first three installations of my PTSD Awareness series, you can find them here:

An Introduction

Steps to a Better Future

Erasing the Stigma

Psalm 23 Trail-PTSD

I thought up a new meaning for the PTSD acronym: when faced with this challenge, we need to ask for Patience, Trust, Strength, and Divine grace.

That was inspired by my favorite resource thus far: the book Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home by Marshele Carter Waddell.  As I said last week, this is not a battle to fight alone, and I would not have a positive outlook right now if it weren’t for help I found outside myself.  I read Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home during the last few weeks of Lent this year, and I began to find a spiritual meaning within the pain of PTSD.  As I read, I highlighted paragraphs, made note of Biblical passages, and felt comforted when I read of other spouses who were seeing and feeling the same things as me.

If you have a loved one with PTSD, I highly recommend getting this book especially if you are coming at things from a Christian perspective.  Below are some of my favorite passages:

“A warrior’s hurtful words and actions are not excused, but it helps to know that usually the soft targets are not to blame.  Refusing to take your warrior’s anger personally is a key step…We can’t resolve the warrior’s issues, so that leaves one option for the here and now: identifying those things that we can affect or control and developing the inner resources to maintain a balance.” ~p. 68

“There are two types of PTSD sufferers: those who see PTSD as their new home, who have no intention of getting well or moving on, and those who are committed to passing through, who desire to get well and are teachable.  The lie is that a vet and his/her family will never get out of this darkness, that his/her new, permanent address is in the valley of the shadow of PTSD.  God tells us the opposite.” ~pp. 140-141

“Many Christian physicians, psychologists, social workers, and ministers believe that PTSD is not only a mental wound, but equally, or even more so, a spiritual wound as well.  Trauma of any kind can cause a fissure in the soul of a man or woman.” ~p. 148

But one passage that resonated in my heart the most was this:

“Jesus knows a warrior’s heart and can make it whole again.  He also recognizes the cry of the warrior’s family.  Our Warrior, who was wounded for our ultimate protection and freedom, has promised to present us perfect, complete, and spot free to our heavenly Father one day.” ~p. 27

This put a whole new face on the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus for me.  There were so many times that I had thought, I feel so alone with this.  But I was failing to remember the One who understands it all, the One who has waged war on our behalf, and the One who can heal all wounds.  What was also comforting to me was that He knows and completely understands The Warrior.  I know my limitations.  I know that I will never truly “get it.”  I’ve read books like On Combat and On Killing, I’ve watched documentaries and movies about war, and I’ve listened to The Warrior’s stories….but those things can NEVER amount to actually experiencing the trauma.

Passing Through Someplace Dark” is Mrs. Waddell’s new definition of the PTSD acronym; and as we do that we should pray for Patience, Trust, Strength, and Divine grace.  No matter what stage of PTSD we are in, each new day is a chance to renew our strength and hope for healing.

~Malori~

Military Mondays: PTSD – Erasing the Stigma

We're all in this together

We’re all in this together

(To read the first two installments of this series, please visit HERE and HERE.)

No one enjoys talking about mental health issues.  Even in the civilian world, there is a stigma – mental health is not treated the same as physical health.  We don’t have a problem talking about breast cancer or diabetes; but when it comes to problems like depression or PTSD, we feel a bit more uncomfortable.

When you enter the military realm and face mental health problems, that stigma becomes even stronger.  It wasn’t until recently that the movement to tear down the negative connotation (as related to PTSD) began.  We still have a long way to go, but it is comforting that there are so many organizations and individuals offering hope for healing.

Hearing the stories of other military wives whose soldiers struggle with PTSD can also be extremely comforting.  They remind me that this is not a battle to fight alone.  They know what it’s like to be a “soft target.”  They know what it’s like to schedule meals at restaurants outside the normal meal times, in order to avoid crowds.  They have seen the outbursts of anger.  They know the triggers.  They know that even reaching out and touching their soldier’s hand could sometimes be met with rejection – and while that is difficult, they know why.

But the good news is that a diagnosis of PTSD is not a death sentence.  The Warrior has said, “It’s not like I’m gonna sit around and feel all sorry for myself.”  Soldiers with PTSD can live functional, healthy, productive lives, as this veteran describes at BrainLineMilitary.org.  Life after combat is different, and I do NOT want to downplay the difficulties.  But I believe one of the keys to effectively handling PTSD is being honest about it.  It can’t be hidden or be treated as something taboo; otherwise, it will fester and become a thorn that could eventually tear down a relationship.  When The Warrior told me that he was diagnosed with chronic PTSD, I felt a burden lifted from my shoulders.  It’s not that I was happy about it, but it was validation that everything I had observed over the past year was not in my head or overblown.  It was real, just as real as any physical war wound.  The same goes for TBI.

If your soldier has returned from combat and things seem “off” for about a month or two, don’t be concerned yet.  But it is right to become concerned if it’s been four to six months and the symptoms persist.  PTSD could also be “delayed onset,” which means the symptoms show up six or more months after combat.  Take notes on everything unusual you observe, even if the details seem minor.  This could be of use later, to determine what is PTSD and what could be overlapping TBI.  Finally, do not blame yourself.  Resist the temptation to look inward and cower from the problems.  Instead, look outside yourself, find helpful resources, delve deeper into your faith, and talk with your warrior if you can.  If not, take baby steps towards that last goal.  It can be slow-going, but the walk is worth it.

~Malori~

Resources of the Week:

On Combat: The Psychology and Physiology of Deadly Conflict in War and in Peace by LTC Dave Grossman

Hope for the Home Front – Facebook support group

Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home by Marshele Carter Waddell

“Help for My Life” video series on PTSD

“How War Changes the Mind of a Warrior” by Dr. Keith Ablow

Military Mondays: PTSD – Steps to a Better Future

Photo Courtesy U.S. Army, edited by Malori

Photo Courtesy U.S. Army, edited by Malori

Welcome back to the special Military Mondays series focusing on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  If you missed last week’s post, it can be found here:

PTSD – An Introduction

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is very real.  It is just as real as physical wounds that we can see.  PTSD is not something to be taken lightly, it ranges from mild to severe, and for many it is chronic.  But despite the suffering and the hurt, there is hope for a better future.  So this week I will give an overview on some of the treatments available.  By no means is this an exhaustive list, and not every treatment will work for every veteran suffering with PTSD.  But I wanted to point readers to resources available should you ever need them.  Please also share your favorite resources!

Psychotherapy

There are several treatments in the category of psychotherapy, which Dr. Hoge in Once a Warrior, Always a Warrior outlines:

1) Cognitive behavioral therapy, which includes exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring.  With exposure therapy, the veteran talks or writes about his traumatic experiences with a counselor.  The traumatic memories will at first cause distress, but over time many have experienced success and healing in some way.  Cognitive restructuring is where the veteran analyzes and reframes thoughts and reactions, in order to develop new ways of approaching situations and himself.

2) Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or simply EMDR.  This one is the most fascinating to me.  Dr. Hoge explains it as “body awareness and relaxation exercises, exposure therapy, and cognitive restructuring….The eye movements are thought to stimulate both sides of the brain to help integrate traumatic memories.” (p. 195) A video demonstration of EMDR can be viewed HERE.

3) Stress inoculation training is very similar to cognitive behavioral therapies, but it also integrates “muscle relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing, and ‘stopping’ certain thought patterns.’ “ (p. 195)

Medications

The Veterans Affairs website says that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) “are the only FDA approved medications for PTSD.”  Approved drugs need to be taken with care and correct dosages.  Examples of SSRIs are Zoloft, Paxil, and Prozac.

Alternative Therapies

There are many alternative therapies for PTSD which do not have official statistics attached to how effective they are, but they can prove to be just as helpful as “traditional” therapies – and perhaps even more so.  They also are used in tandem with the treatments listed above.  They include, but aren’t limited to, herbal supplements, low-voltage electrical stimulation, pet therapy, massage, acupuncture, and music therapy.  Spiritual counseling for people of faith is another vital part of the healing process.

While not officially a “therapy,” veterans also benefit from connecting with other veterans.  They are the only ones who can understand.  They are the ones who can completely relate to a story of combat – to the horror, the helplessness, the rush of adrenaline, the battle between life and death.  Veterans can also benefit from sharing their stories with their loved ones and anyone who is truly interested in hearing them.  It is important for the listener to not push stories out of them or ask pressing questions, but to listen with an open, non-judgmental mind.  I, personally, will never tire of hearing The Warrior’s stories, and I always welcome them.  Even when I hear a repeated story, there is something for me to learn; there is another insight I can take away and ponder; and I gain a new level of appreciation, respect, and love for him.

At the end of my first post, I mentioned the organization Make It Visible.  They are sponsoring an interactive way for the public to get involved with helping veterans with PTSD and TBI, for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence.  Please visit www.crowdrise.com/IFHFMakeItVisible for more information!

~Malori~

Resources of the Week:

Not Alone – a non-profit that provides confidential, no-cost programs and services to veterans and their families dealing with PTSD

Give an Hour – another non-profit that provides free mental health counseling for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans and their families

National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICoE) – providing cutting edge treatments for veterans suffering with PTSD and TBI

God Squad blog post on PTSD – written by Chaplain John Potter