Tag Archives: PTSD

Am I Enough? Rejection and PTSD

In a departure from my usual format, I have asked for & received permission from a friend married to a Wounded Warrior with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to repost a note she shared with some of her friends.  The remainder of this post is dedicated to responding to her pain.  I applaud this dear young woman for her bravery in being willing to share her deep heartache with others.  Her desire is to help others who are dealing with their own confusion and rejection from the man they love.

“I have been silent on here 4 a long time but now I just need to share. My husband came to me last week out of the blue and told me when he retires he is leaving me and going back to his hometown to live and I am not invited to come. I have been trying to rationalize this in my head but my heart is just smashed all to pieces… I can’t make sense of it… I practically begged him to not leave me and told him I would do anything I needed to, to change. I have a back injury that has left me on crutches for the last two months. I have gained about 40+ pounds due to medications and not being able to do much. I even asked him if it was because of that and he says no he just doesn’t want to be around people including me….wow did that feel like a punch in the gut….I am just totally heartbroken and can’t seem to stop crying…I am trying to figure out where I failed him.” ~name withheld

Sweet friend, 

First let me say I HURT for you.  Rejection can be brutally painful.  It tears at our self-image & shatters our confidence.  It always leaves us questioning, insecure, full of doubts about our “enoughness”.  Rejection, especially from someone we love, can cripple us even more than a bad back or other physical ailment. We limp through our days heartbroken, wondering what we could have done differently.  Even today I understand rejection more than I wish I did and have cried more tears because of it than I am comfortable admitting.  

Someone told me year ago that “rejection is God’s Protection”. It certainly didn’t feel that way at the time.  I felt cheated by God in those moments for not “fixing” the situation so I could be happy with the man I loved. It took years before I realized what God had, indeed, protected me from.  In my current struggles, I thank Him for His sovereignty knowing in the heat of my circumstances I can trust Him even when I don’t understand.  I’ve learned to trust God with those who reject me and I pray for their own healing as well as mine. 

Having said all that, May I speak to you as someone who suffered gross violence and lived with my own PTSD as a result of it?  In my PTSD I abandoned ALL my friends, my family and a man who loved more than I’d ever been loved in my life.  Seclusion was, for me at the time, a matter of life and death.  I couldn’t explain it to anyone and I knew they wouldn’t understand if I tried.  I moved in with my rape crisis counselor but I wouldn’t even let her speak to me.  Thankfully, she understood what I didn’t and she gave me plenty of space.  I couldn’t even bear to make eye contact with anyone, feeling like they could see into my soul how wounded and messed up I was and if they pitied me it would destroy me.  I needed to pretend that I was in control even as I struggled to make it moment by moment on my own.  The more anyone tried to get close to me the meaner I became.  I hated myself even more for being heartless with people but felt I would die if I didn’t somehow regain control over my life.  Eventually God led me through extensive counseling, healing and recovery.  I still walk with a bit of an emotional limp but God restored my heart to be able to trust and love again, to even risk rejection from someone new.   

What you need to know is that this rejection is not about you…not about how thin, or pretty, or healthy or loving you are.  Not about how clean you keep the house, how quiet you keep the children, how delicious you prepare the meals, how steamy you are in the bedroom.  You could be all those things and still not reach your husband because the truth is, this has NOTHING to do with you.  Your husband is in a battle for his mind and for his very life…even greater than the battle that raged while he served in the Middle East. He imagines and feels a threat against his soul that if he doesn’t guard against, it will take his life.

Not all combat vets {or others} with PTSD will physically leave.  Most will just check out emotionally, withdraw to a separate space or melt into the sofa watching tv, oblivious to their surroundings.  They may spend countless hours with buddies who understand without a word.  They may bury themselves in work or projects. They may seem normal for a few days, maybe even let you feel close to them but when it gets to be too much, they suddenly “disappear” again.  Life becomes an endless roller coaster.  Sadly, I understand both sides of this because I’ve lived them both.    

I am living proof that there is always Hope for recovery from PTSD.  I would be the last person to tell you to give up on your husband.  However, unless and until your husband is willing to seek counseling and commit to healing in that process, there is almost nothing you can do for him.  The more you push, the more he will reject you.  The more desperate you act, the more determined he will be to flee. The more you cry, the more heartless he may become.  I wish it wasn’t true but I think many who live with someone traumatized by violence will attest to similar experiences.  

Remember I said “there is Almost nothing” you can do…You can pray.  You can respect his space.  You can refuse to view His conduct as Your fault.  And you can become really good at forgiving as God stretches you to love deeper, unconditionally.  Most importantly you can take care of yourself.  It’s what the “Hope for the Home Front” retreat was all about, remember?  In the end if your husband leaves you permanently or simply checks out over & over, you must believe that you did your best and you must not feel guilty for taking care of your heart first.

Our goal at “Hope for the Home Front” is to embrace women who are living with the agony of rejection and the crazy-making of the back & forth, ups & downs.  We don’t spout empty platitudes or offer you 50 cent solutions for million dollar problems.  We simply understand what you deal with every day because we have been there, are still there.  We are here to walk this journey with you…even as you limp along.  We want to listen to you, cry with you, rejoice in little things with you and love you.  The saddest words I read are “I haven’t spoken up for a long time…” because I know the heartache and loneliness that comes from carrying these burdens alone.  Please know, you are Enough, you are Loved, and most especially, you are Never Alone.  

Any woman needing to connect with others who love a man with PTSD and/or TBI, please feel free to write to us at:  http://www.whenwarcomeshomeretreats.com/index.cfm/PageID/1601/index.html

Plants, Priorities & Perspective: Clarity on What Matters

After a 5 day absence serving at a retreat in Washington, I came home to a dead plant.  Not just any plant.  One I’d brought home from my Daddy’s funeral 15 years ago this month.  Naturally, I’m sad.  The plant held special meaning for me.  To see it neglected, limped over and dried out evoked unexpected emotions in me.  I cried.

Even so, it’s just a plant.  I shed my tears, dried my eyes, blew my nose and let it go.

After serving with Hope for the Home Front and Operation Homefront   for the past year, having the honor of meeting countless young women attending retreats for Wounded Warrior Wives, I’m learning much about letting go, living with disappointments and leaning in to what really matters.  These brave women, most in their 20’s, represent a living classroom of right priorities and clarity of perspective.  A dead plant would be the least of their worries.

In a 3 day retreat, one woman in her mid-twenties received over 430 text messages from her wounded warrior spouse experiencing separation anxiety, wanting to know when she was coming home.  Another woman spent an entire week preceding the retreat lining up volunteers to stay with her spouse, dress him, feed him and give him meds in her absence.  Still others repeatedly left sessions because a husband was calling confused about something or angry that she was gone or stressed out because the toddler was crying.  One young woman received a phone call from her neighbors at 10:25 p.m.  They spotted her husband wandering streets on foot, experiencing traumatic flashbacks from the battlefield.  The police were en route to defuse the situation and escort him home.

Women wearing t-shirts bearing the Wounded Warrior Wives emblem, and one “Marines with one leg are HOT” shirt,  shared stories of how dramatically life has changed since their husbands came home from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, missing limbs, missing memories, missing coping strategies, missing identity.   The prevailing questions throughout the weekend retreats are always, “who is this man returning from war?” and “where is my husband?”

Like most of us, these women grew up with dreams.  They fell in love with a man who wore a military uniform and they married him with hope of building a life of happy memories together.  Many carry a picture of their wedding day, a reminder of more peaceful, loving times.  Somewhere along the home front of a returning warrior, dreams abruptly crashed and burned.  As my dear friend Marshele Waddell puts it, “Fort Fantasy became Fort Reality and we realized nothing would ever be the same.”

Their disappointments extend far beyond a sentimental attachment to inanimate objects like house plants.

Purses formerly toting make-up, nail files, chewing gum and a photo album of the newborn now overflow with bottles of pain pills and sedatives, a day planner filled with medical & counseling appointments, and emergency contact information.  An extra-large diaper bag that held Huggies for the toddler now carries Depends for the husband.  She hasn’t slept through the night since his home-coming from Afghanistan in 2008 ushered in night terrors, screaming, uncontrollable trembling, bedwetting, violent outbursts, and hallucinations.   A home sold when she had to give up her job & income to become his stay-at-home caregiver.   Her goal of completing a college degree is still on hold while student loans continue to accrue interest for the 5th year in a row.  She traded her bright red Pontiac Sunbird for a van to accommodate his wheelchair.   A sweet, thoughtful man who once never forgot a birthday or anniversary, who even surprised her with flowers for no special occasion, now often cannot remember her name.   The sweetheart with broad shoulders for her to cry on now says he feels less than a man and won’t let her touch him.  Marital intimacy ceased; she can’t even remember the last time he kissed her.  These are only a few of the stories of heartbreak and hopes gone awry.  Many others are too painful to print and too graphic to recount here.

Yet, these women stay…committed, devoted, determined.   Friends in the civilian world often question, “Why don’t you just leave?”  Comments like, “you’re so young…you’ve got the rest of your life ahead of you…you deserve to be happy,” rip through her soul like shrapnel.  She pulls out her wedding photo, her heart longing for the tenderness of that blissful day.  But as much as the picture reminds her of dreams long-since dead, it also recollects vows she made and meant… “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health…til death us do part.”  To be sure, not every marriage will survive, but it won’t go down without a fierce battle.

Any woman attending a Wounded Warrior Wives retreat is a hero every bit as much as her husband.  She musters tremendous courage just to leave her home front for 3 days to show up.  On any given day, she fights on battlefields of exhaustion, frustration, misunderstanding, government regulations, red tape.  Her weapons are her heart and soul, her voice and relentless commitment to the one she loves.  Her cause is a matter of life and death for her home, marriage and children.  Her utmost priorities are faith & family and she’s determined nothing else in this world will steal these from her.  Her perspective is selfless sacrifice for the man who sacrificed for her, even when she no longer recognizes that man.

An empty plant stand in my room tugs at my heart, reminding me there is a hedge which cannot wither like a neglected house ivy…this hedge of protection guarding life’s most precious gifts of love and belonging.  Seeds sown by Wounded Warrior Wives, watered by her sweat and tears and nurtured by her love, sprout deep roots.  Ultimately, her courage bears fruit even if only in tiny increments unnoticed by most civilians.  Believing what emerges from her devotion to relationship matters more than anything else in this life, she courageously plants and she trusts God for how it grows.

You can learn more about Hope for the Home Front at  http://www.whenwarcomeshomeretreats.com  and Operation Homefront at  https://www.operationhomefront.net/donationform.aspx?id=15425 .