When living with PTSD and TBI, every day seems like forever. Some days are better than others. Often times, we spend our hours covering up for our veterans, apologizing, lying to ourselves….ignoring our worst fears and only hoping for the best. We clean them up when they are a mess…when they are drunk, we put them to bed and let them sleep it off……when they screw up, we try to correct or make up for their mistakes. We apologize when they are nasty to others or lie to ourselves when they are mean to us. When you think you have almost everything figured out…then the bottom falls out.
I will more than likely get some nasty grams from some readers telling me I shouldn’t be writing this. I will get some slack from those who read my blog and know those who screwed up, will make excuses to me. I will tell my story though because for every person who will shun me for writing my tale, there will be 500 others who will sit there and agree or take caution for themselves. There is so much that has happened, I will be breaking this down into several blogs so I don’t bore you to death. I will pass on my story so it helps others who may end up in my position and the lessons learned.
Last week rocked along like any other week. Same meds, same night time tosses and turns, nothing really out of the norm, IF that term even applies to us anymore. My husband woke up somewhat irritable that morning, but nothing that I couldn’t shrug off and go on about my business. He had his coffee, read the paper and decided the trash needed to go out to the can for pickup. Now with the crap loads of snow we had, it was easier to place one bag of trash outside on the porch for later, than to track through the ice and snow. Hindsight 20/20, I should have made the trek in the snow.
I was on the phone with a friend and outside watching him. He turned around and, if looks could have killed, they would have had to bury me twice. I told my friend that I needed to go, hubby was in a “mood” and I needed to see what was going on. I looked at my husband and said, “What’s wrong?”, and all hell broke loose. He started to yell at me over this one single bag of trash. Then that led to the trash can wasn’t in the place where he wanted it. I quietly and calmly told him that I wasn’t going to fight or argue with him….he needed to take a step back and breathe….then we will talk about whatever was bothering him. I turned and walked back into the house.
After that it was a blur.
He came rushing through that back door like the hounds of hell were on his heels and started screaming, “I can’t take it anymore!” Our old, solid wood kitchen table and chairs suddenly became splinters. Whole chairs were picked up and slammed against counter tops, floor and the table…solid oak reduced suddenly to fifty tiny million zillion pieces. I don’t remember much as I think I have pretty much blocked most of what happened out, but I know I looked to my little ones and said, “RUUUUUUN!”
In between the screaming, the yelling about small things like the trash can and the VA, my husband suddenly stopped. He looked at me as if I was someone he had never seen before and started to laugh. Now, as weird as that sounds, it was the way he was laughing. It was laughter mixed with sobs, hysteria and tears. I started backing away and trying to calm him down to no avail. My oldest son was behind him, and I said slowly, “Call 911.” My husband immediately grabbed for the phones. He smashed my BlackBerry and broke the home phone, leaving me no way to call anyone. He came at me and started screaming as if I had suddenly set him off somehow. Pushed me up against the wall, threw me to the floor and just started choking. My oldest son started yelling, “Leave my mama alone!”, and my husband reached for him and slammed him up against the counter.
I don’t remember every little detail. I had this blog planned out in my head, but its as if suddenly that part of the tape in my memory got erased a little. I know that whatever that was facing me, wasn’t my husband. It was dark. It was enough to make the hair on my arms and neck stand up. He started barking orders….telling me I needed to move out of his way and fire back. “They have us surrounded…Sarge is down, repeat Sarge is down.” He was running around the house, and yelling, screaming and just literally panicking. I had my oldest run downstairs and get the old phone that we had unplugged for me to use. My husband walked into our bedroom and just closed the door. I was so afraid that I didn’t want to go in there, but I knew that I had to do something. I walked in, and saw my husband with a gun in his mouth.
Now for those of you who will chide me, fuss at me, and call me wrong, please remember that when in this situation, your thinking goes out the door. I was literally scared half to death, on top of trying to locate my children. I knew not to run, because he was holding a gun. He just kept crying and saying “Make it go away Mommy, make it go away!” (Mommy is his term of endearment for me.) I talked softly and slowly and told him that I would get him help. I would make it better, and I wasn’t going anywhere. I took that gun and, after unloading it, gave it to my son to take outside and hide.
Mumbling and stumbling, he started looking for alcohol. He began to tear through the fridge and discovered five beers we had leftover from when a friend was here months ago. He hadn’t drunk anything in a very, very long time, but it gave me a chance to make some calls. Before I knew it, he had downed two pints of Jack we had been given as a gift by his deadbeat dad and refused to open. Then, yes, we had a little moonshine that someone had given us that hadn’t been open. Drinking that much in short amount of time allowed him to be a little more pliable about getting in the truck and going to the ER at the VA. I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t call 911 because he works for them and would be so humiliated. Hindsight 20/20, I should have done that.
It took forever for us to get him in the car. It took even longer to make it part way before we had to stop since he started throwing up. On the way down, he was ranting about IED’s and how we were going the wrong way. It hadn’t been cleared, we were going to die. Then he switched and started screaming about the tractor trailer in front of us and it was a bomb and we were going to get blown up….it was horrifying. My oldest son who went with me, really saved me and got us to the ER. He started barking orders at my husband. “SGT, you need to get in the truck and drive. Stand down soldier….stand down. We will be getting ourselves back to the FOB and get some rest.” My husband kept saying “I have blood all over me, its all over me.”, and my son ” Soldier, we will get you cleaned up…we have to move. That’s an order.”
My husband literally was driving in the passenger seat. He asked for directions and my son barked them out all while assuring him that it was friendly fire and the convoy was safe. When we arrived at the ER, I couldn’t get him out of the truck. Because we are an emergency medical family, we called a 911 operator we knew who was able to get VA security out there and EMS. They were smart enough to get an EMS tech who just got back home from Iraq. Whatever he said to my husband had him calmed down within two minutes. I heard him say, “I know, brother, I was there with you in the blood and the muck…its ok….at ease soldier.”
My children were taken by a friend of ours, and they rushed my husband into the ER. They had to restrain him for a while, but the EMS tech stayed with him the whole time. They took me by the arms and led me out, making me wait outside the ER doors in the back. I was hysterical to say the least. I can’t remember if I fell to my knees, but I was on the floor just sobbing. Sobbing for the last four years of hell…sobbing for the fact that my love didn’t save my husband or help him in anyway. I couldn’t calm him down this time, I couldn’t take away the pain.
I remember them sitting me down in a chair in a separate area on the other side of the ER waiting room. A resident doctor came out with two VA security officers, a nurse and our friend the EMS tech. They circled around me and told me my husband had a psychotic break with dissociative disorder. I was kind of in a daze and said, “Ok, what does that mean?” No one would tell me but the EMS tech said, “Honey, he thinks he is in Iraq.” The resident doctor said my husband was suicidal and homicidal, which I couldn’t understand. I mean, yes on the suicide but homicidal? I was then informed that my husband threatened a Middle Eastern resident physician.
Now flame me if you want…go ahead. I would be the LAST person who would ever be called or even accused of being racist. I myself, having grown up around all of these different accents and heavy English that can be barely understood had no freaking clue on what this young man was saying. He wasn’t very nice to me. Matter of fact, he asked me questions point blank like “Has your husband ever hurt someone that was of the Middle Eastern descent?” I didn’t understand that. I looked wild eyed at these cops and our EMS buddy and said, “Beats the shit outta me, buddy. He went to war. From what I have learned, it wasn’t a trip to Disneyland.” So then this young man proceeds to tell me that because he is in this psychopathic state of mind, I have two choices. One: I can have him moved to a lock down facility in Nashville which is about five hours from me, or Two: I can have a crisis team be called in to investigate, and they will take him away from me along with my rights as a spouse. He asked me if I was my husband’s caregiver in which I replied. “Yes.” He then stated, “Well, obviously you didn’t do a good enough job now, did you?”
I went off. I can’t even remember all that I said, but I did tell him, “For FOUR %^$#&**() years, the VA just pumped him full of medicines. Four years, I dealt with all this alone…with no one. No support, no help, no respite, no understanding. I kept telling you all this was coming. I kept telling the psychiatrist over and over again. He told his psychiatrist. That just led to another damn medicine and right back home he goes!” I said other things….some very unlady like. Some my mother, God rest her soul, would have rolled over in her grave to hear such words come out of her daughter’s Southern Belle mouth. I also told him that if he felt insulted or threatened because he looked like he could be an Iraqi to a Veteran who isn’t in his right mind, he was in the wrong damn place.
He marched away and the cops and EMS were trying to calm me down. I never felt such failure in my life. Did I really fail my husband as a caregiver? Didn’t I do a good enough job?
I don’t remember much after that as it was a blur, but the EMS guy went back to sit with my husband who was agitated. They wouldn’t allow me to see him. The VA security guy looked at me and said, “Look me in the eyes, ma’am. There isn’t enough training in the world or enough love to prevent that. You did the right thing. You look at me and know that just last year, that was me in that room with the restraints and my wife was standing where you are. I served the Army as in combat, Vietnam two tours. Now we are going to go grab a smoke together, if you do, then I am going to take you down and buy you the world’s worst coffee, and we are going to take deep breaths together.”
When we came through the ER waiting room, I got an applause from the Veterans who were waiting there. I don’t know what I said to deserve it, but one man looked at me so sadly as I walked past him and said. “This is the side of the war they don’t show you, honey”.
I don’t know who the VA security man was….can’t recall his name tag or even if he told me his name. If it hadn’t been for him though, not sure if I could have made it through all that. They couldn’t sedate my husband because he was four times the legal limit of alcohol and they were trying to frantically wash all of it out of his system because they were afraid mixed with his meds, it would kill him. They did give him something small to to relax him and, due to the alcohol, he eventually cried himself to sleep in a fetal position.
During all this, I don’t remember much as I have said, but I remember calling all my friends. Anyone and everyone who I thought could come help me. No one answered. No one was home. No one returned my calls. I made the last call, praying to God that the battery would stay charged long enough to make these calls, and my fellow Wounded Warrior Wife answered. I can’t explain the relief, the hysteria of trying to tell her what was happening, trying to tell her her I was hurt. She got on another phone while keeping me on one and made the necessary calls I needed so desperately to make. This friend lives 8.5 hours away.
Wife of a Wounded Soldier was one call she placed who immediately called me back and calmed me down. She was my voice of sanity and reasoning, she made me breathe. She explained to me about the ER at the VA, and that it was my best option although she really wanted me to call 911 and have him transported. For his sake, I just couldn’t humiliate him in front of his co-workers when they think so highly of him. Looking back, that would have been the better choice. Although in two different states at the time, although there wasn’t much in person they could do for me., their friendship was what saved me, ladies and gentlemen. I hope they know how much it meant to me to have them to call on and the love they showed me in times of my hysteria.
They eventually transported my husband to a lock down facility which is known for it’s detox center for alcohol and drugs. My husband wasn’t either one, but that is where they sent him. After IVs and a little food, and six hours later, I had to walk out of that ER to get my children and go home. I walked out with my husband in restraints screaming my name over and over again and saying, “Please don’t leave me!” as I left.
That was the hardest thing I have ever had to do.
Before they transported him, the doctor who was on call came in and explained to me that my husband suffered from a long-term severe flashback. He told me that I did everything that I could do and to go home and get some rest. “You have to be strong for him and be well mentally and physically.” I was very sick as I was coming down with flu and pneumonia that day. They took my husband away, and all I could do was watch. No information on where he was going…no numbers to call. Only, “They will contact you sometime this coming week,” but that’s going to be in another blog………
So what have I learned from my PTSD and TBI Veteran when the bottom falls out? I know that now, I need to keep a phone hidden away from his temper and blow ups. I now know that any cell phone even out of service will dial 911. I know that when a Veteran is in a flashback like mine was, to never ever, ever touch them. I know to let professionals come in and transport rather than trying to shelter him from the world. I know now to have a back=up plan when things get bad like this. Make sure you have a friend, anyone, someone who you know you can call right then and get your children if you have them. I know to have cash in my purse for emergencies now. I know that the true meaning of friendship is when a friend is planning on packing her bags and driving 8.5 hours to you, or a friend who is out of town and can say, “You have to breathe…breathe with me…in….out…..you have to calm down.”
Looking back at last weekend, it still makes my stomach sink to the bottom of my core. I am having nightmares about it. I can’t sleep too well, and I feel still, somewhat alone. I have all these people literally living inside my computer who know what I have been through and understand, but never before in my entire life have I ever felt so damned alone?
Four years and I was strong. I did everything I could do for him, and it just wasn’t enough to hold him together. Does that make me a failure or a bad caregiver/spouse? I hope not, but it sure feels like it. I know this week my self esteem and confidence somewhat deflated because of all this. I am very fragile feeling and not sure why. My oldest son is doing fine, but my four-year old ,who it took me an hour to get out of the closet when all this happened, is also suffering from terrible outbursts and nightmares. I think on Sunday, I looked at my oldest son for the first time in a different light. I am so proud of him that I literally just well up in tears thinking of how he held it together. I asked him that evening, “How did you know to do all that?” He said, “What mom?” I said, “Bark orders, pretend you were his command.” He said, “Call of Duty, Mom. Dad and I would play together and have so much fun. I just listened to him and though of the game and immediately thought he thinks he is in Iraq. I just started telling him what he needed to do, and I learned from the game or what Daddy taught me they do in the military.” I never really liked those stupid games and even felt left out because that was their “bonding” time…but that damn game helped my family.
I worried about my husband Saturday. I worried for all of us who will or have been in this situation. It shouldn’t be this hard. It shouldn’t be sobs to a doctor and a psychiatrist yelling, “Do you believe me now?” No one should ever have to go through this alone. I did. When I get this group up and going, I will make it my sole purpose to show the world this side of it. I will make Congress look at us and the families who are silently falling apart at the seams with the caregiver trying to gather the pieces as they fall. Maybe if they are staring at a soldier with a gun in his mouth as I did, maybe they would see how they failed us. I don’t think I failed. I think it was the VA who failed me. It was the Army who never once called or checked in with us. It was the government who is making it impossible to get his benefits that he EARNED. It was the world who proudly slaps a “support our troops” sticker on their bumper and just forget. It was the ones who just don’t give a f%$# about us, as our soldiers who served are now expendable and easily replaced with fresh meat. I kept thinking all week long, “What if I had lost him?” I sat here and literally watched him fade away a little at a time. Would the VA even do anything if he had killed himself? All I can think of is, “Whooops…our mistake.”
I recently read where President Obama is adding all these “new programs” to help military families. Pfft. Yeah. You want to help me? ASK ME WHAT I NEED, NOT WHAT YOU THINK WE NEED. Listen to us, hear my cries for help, feel my loneliness right now, take our word on the fact your programs aren’t working. I am not failing…YOU ARE.