June 27th is National PTSD Awareness and because it has affected my family in a profound way I wanted to bring it back to the forefront. My son first asked me to write about PTSD in June of 2015. He wanted to bring awareness to the massive fight that is still going on for some of our combat soldiers.
For some of them, the war isn’t over. For some of them, it’s a battle that’s being waged in their minds and in their hearts every single day. These men have been re-wired by the military to become killing machines and then they come home the next day and are expected to walk through Walmart and not look for enemies. They are thrown back into everyday life when they’ve been told to ignore it for so long.
If you’ve been reading my posts for awhile, you know that I have 2 kids. A son and a daughter and I’ve mentioned them in the past. I talk about my daughter and twins all of the time.
She lives right down the road, there’s the adorable baby factor and she’s finally at an age where she can be my best friend. (We both think the other needs to hang out with better company, though!)
Seriously, though, I don’t often mention my son and there are several reasons for that. My son and I have a different kind of relationship. As a matter of fact, I’ve been dancing around this post for several weeks because I’ve been thinking long and hard about that relationship and the struggles that he and I have had over the last few years.
He has given me some of the highest highs and also some of the lowest lows that I’ve ever had. I also love him very, very much, but the honest truth is sometimes we just don’t seem to like each other very much and as a mom that is heartbreaking.
He hasn’t been in my everyday life for 8 very long years and most of that time he has been in unreachable locations. Mostly physically, but I’ve learned that sometimes you can be right next to someone and be still unreachable at the same time.
He’s been a Marine since his 18th birthday and has traveled all over the world. He has seen and experienced things that I will never in my lifetime begin to understand.
I thought when he served in Afghanistan that it would be the very worst thing we would ever have to go through and in a lot of ways it was. You spend your life trying to keep your children safe and it feels as if it will kill you to send your child off to a war zone.
It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. After Afghanistan, he was sent on what he described as a “gravy” deployment only to land in Japan 2 hours before the huge Tsunami in 2011. Another terrifying time for our family.
He has seen and been through so very much and he is not the same boy that I sent off with a kiss and some tears. It has changed him deeply and there were times when I could no longer recognize the sweet little boy who used to suck his thumb while playing with my hair.
He had become so desensitized and militarized that he had no emotions left, except for pain and anger. This has been such a scary thing to experience. I’ve been angry, hurt, and devastated as I watched him come home still in “destroyer” mode and explode and implode every important relationship that he has ever had. His wife, his children, his father (my ex) and very nearly his and mine.
There have been times when the term “emotional terrorist” has been used. There have been times I didn’t know if our relationship would ever be repaired. That healing only started unbelievably with a FB post that he sent me by private message. Here is that post.
If you don’t read anything else, please read this…
1. He/she is addicted to war, although he loves you. War is horrible, but there is nothing like a life-and-death fight to make you feel truly alive. The adrenaline rush is tremendous, and can never be replaced. Succeeding in combat defines a warrior, places him in a brotherhood where he is always welcome and understood. The civilian world has its adrenaline junkies as well; just ask any retired firefighter, police officer, or emergency room staff if they miss it.
2. Living for you is harder. It would be easy for him to die for you because he loves you. Living for you, which is what you actually want, is harder for him. It is even harder for him if you are smart and do not need him to rescue you, since rescuing is something he does really well. If you are very competent at many things, he may at times question if you need him at all. He may not see that you stay with him as a conscious choice.
3. “The training kicks in” means something very different to him. It is direct battle doctrine that when ambushed by a superior force, the correct response is “Apply maximum firepower and break contact.” A warrior has to be able to respond to threat with minimal time pondering choices. While this is life-saving in combat, it is not helpful in the much slower-paced civilian world. A better rule in the civilian world would be to give a reaction proportionate to the provocation. Small provocation, small response (but this could get you killed on the battlefield). When the training becomes second nature, a warrior might take any adrenaline rush as a cue to “apply maximum firepower.” This can become particularly unfortunate if someone starts to cry. Tears are unbearable to him; they create explosive emotions in him that can be difficult for him to control. Unfortunately, that can lead to a warrior responding to strong waves of guilt by applying more “maximum firepower” on friends, family, or unfortunate strangers.
4. He/she is afraid to get attached to anyone because he has learned that the people you love get killed, and he cannot face that pain again. He may make an exception for his children (because they cannot divorce him), but that will be instinctual and he will probably not be able to explain his actions.
5. He knows the military exists for a reason. The sad fact is that a military exists ultimately to kill people and break things. This was true of our beloved “Greatest Generation” warriors of WWII, and it remains true to this day. Technically, your warrior may well be a killer, as are his friends. He may have a hard time seeing that this does not make him a murderer. Although they may look similar at first glance, he is a sheepdog protecting the herd, not a wolf trying to destroy it. The emotional side of killing in combat is complex. He may not know how to feel about what he’s seen or done, and he may not expect his feelings to change over time. Warriors can experiences moments of profound guilt, shame, and self-hatred. He may have experienced a momentary elation at “scoring one for the good guys,” then been horrified that he celebrated killing a human being. He may view himself as a monster for having those emotions, or for having gotten used to killing because it happened often. I can personally recommend ‘On Killing’ by Dave Grossman.
7. He may have been only nineteen when he first had to make a life and death decision for someone else. What kind of skills does a nineteen-year-old have to deal with that kind of responsibility? One of my veterans put it this way: “You want to know what frightening is? It’s a nineteen-year-old boy who’s had a sip of that power over life and death that war gives you. It’s a boy who, despite all the things he’s been taught, knows that he likes it. It’s a nineteen-year-old who’s just lost a friend, and is angry and scared, and determined that some *%#& is gonna pay. To this day, the thought of that boy can wake me from a sound sleep and leave me staring at the ceiling.”
8. He may believe that he’s the only one who feels this way; eventually he may realize that at least other combat vets understand. On some level, he doesn’t want you to understand, because that would mean you had shared his most horrible experience, and he wants someone to remain innocent.
9. He doesn’t understand that you have a mama bear inside of you, that probably any of us could kill in defense of someone if we needed to. Imagine your reaction if someone pointed a weapon at your child. Would it change your reaction if a child pointed a weapon at your child?
10. When you don’t understand, he needs you to give him the benefit of the doubt. He needs you also to realize that his issues really aren’t about you, although you may step in them sometimes. Truly, the last thing he wants is for you to become a casualty of his war.
My son and I love each other and we get on each other’s nerves, but we can laugh about that. My husband thinks it’s because we are both so much alike.
When I traced those family stories that I have been writing about he was with me every step of the way as fascinated by them as I was. From courthouses to libraries and even graveyards he was the one to say “We’ve got time for one more momma, let’s go”.
Those were some of the happiest days of my life because we had finally found something that we had in common, history and music are the two things that we could connect over and still do.
A few months ago, my son was diagnosed with PTSD. With help and time, while he may never go back to the loving, care-free boy he used to be, maybe one day soon he’ll become a man that can look in the mirror and be proud of who and what he is. I know that his momma is.
Today is PTSD National Awareness Day. If you would like to do something for our returning soldiers please donate to your favorite military charity like The Battle Buddy Foundation where the above post originated.
The Battle Buddy Foundation raises funds to provide our veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD service dogs. Twenty-two of our Nation’s heroes are committing suicide every single day!
I wrote this story today to bring awareness to a growing problem in the U.S., but mostly I wrote it because my little boy asked me to.