Tag: counseling

Tribute to a Veteran Counselor

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My Vet met me in the driveway  to walk me over and make introductions.  I could see the members of his group gathered around the patio where their host was busy barbecuing.  Some were standing, others, those with the bad hips and knees, sat at the patio tables.  They were all talking quietly, more often than not raising their voices for those of the group who had hearing aids.   I knew  a few of them, but I was meeting the majority of them for the first time.  As I shook their hands and was introduced to their wives, each one of them teased or joked about me being married to “the Gunny”.   Even the wives recognized my Vet when I mentioned his name.  “The Gunny” was one of the “movers and shakers” of this particular band of brothers and one sister.

As I made my way around the patio, I realized that these veterans of a particular age, knew my husband far more profoundly and intimately than I.  One  man in particular I was there to meet.  He was the guest of honor.  He was the reason these veterans ventured out of their routine and comfort zone to gather on their usual group meeting day, outside the familiar confines of the clinic room where they met every week for the last twelve years.  They were gathered on that patio to do the unexpected, say farewell to their veteran counselor.

I didn’t know their stories.  The veterans don’t talk outside the group about each other.  But he knew not only each of their stories, but their fears and dreams, their pride and their sorrows.  He was not just their counselor, he was their friend, their consigliere,  one of them who slowly helped each of them learn not just to help themselves, but to help one another.

Over these years I had seen the transition in my Vet.  I watched him hurt when it was easier for him to be “blank”.  I watched him grieve for his mother who had been dead for forty-six years because it had never been “safe” to open the lid to that jar of pain.  I sat silently as tears streamed down both our faces as he let himself feel pain for the families of those he had taken.  I stood by one solitary dismal night  as he raged against the memory of his 19 year-old self, who killed with purpose and efficiency and finally could weep tears of forgiveness for that same country farm boy.  I lay next to him as he prayed in the early morning hours for wisdom and understanding of the incomprehensible.  I listened with trepidation as he spoke without filter to a young veteran close to our family, helping this young man off the edge and choose life over certain death as he wrestled with his decision to seek medical help but was stigmatized by his command because of it.

As these veterans gathered to say goodbye to a man who was so much more than their group counselor, our host remarked that without him and the group members he wouldn’t have “all this” spreading his arms out to encompass the pasture with the horse and donkey, the patio and home, the garage open to the expanse outside, and most important, the wife who stood by him.  We all nodded our heads in understanding.  “… But for the grace of God, go I…”

After I said my goodbyes and made ready to travel back to my office, I took a couple of pictures of the driveway past the pasture and clearing where the house was located.  The trees grew such that they created a canopy over the road and for a moment I remembered my Vet’s description of the jungles of Vietnam.  The lush green density that barely allowed sunlight to filter  through, and I realized this band of brothers and one sister had come a long, long way with the help of their families, each other and their counselor.  This had not just been “farewell”, this had been “thank-you”.

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“What began as a love affair became how to manage life with the PTSD veteran ” excerpt from “Train’s Comin…”

“PTSD is a thief.  It steals your job, it steals your sleep, it steals your family, it still is your identity, it’s steals your life”.

This is what my Vet told a young Marine who suffered a breakdown and hospitalization. This is the fight. Fighting the “thief”.  I have observed my husband struggle with this thief for 17 years. I didn’t know what PTSD was. I didn’t know what depression was. I’d heard about them and even read a little about them. What I know now is that love and understanding are key in living with this fight, but counseling, a support group of veterans, as well as family, and your vet’s will to live his best life is what gets him back.

My vet could not have navigated to this point without at some point deciding whether he wanted to stay where life was comfortable in a “bunker” …or in the world with the rest of us.

“God Did Not Give You To Me, To Let PTSD Defeat Us”

Chet and I

From a journal entry dated 21 April 2005 – Last night he came to bed not long after I, because he had not slept much the night before. 

He said, “It’s like I’m on duty  – four hours on, then sleep for four hours, or four hours sleep, then up all night.”  All day long.  

Yesterday was when members of his troops were shot.  Next week on the 28th was when he was shot.  He said “I saw that guy’s face.”  I asked him, “Was he killed?” He said that they told him they heard screaming all day and into the night and then one shot and no more screaming. 

I asked him why he hated the Michael J. Fox character on “Platoon”.  He answered “Because he had a conscious…he had not gotten to scared, mad, don’t care.  He never got to don’t care and not at don’t care stage will get you killed or others killed.  I said that “Platoon” was a movie.  That character was just that, a fiction character.  “Calley wasn’t fiction”, he answered.  I told him I had forgotten about Mai Lai.  Calley wasn’t fiction.

He then told me the reason he didn’t have flight mode was because I didn’t put pressure on him when he was sleepless, or fragile.  It made it ok for him to go through these rough months.  He said he’d gotten better over time, to the point, it bothers him now to be like this.  (That was the first time I remember him every saying this.)

He said,  “I need to tell you that you got a compliment.  Our guy Ray, the group leader, said to him ‘Your wife really cares about you because she is involved.’  I said to him ‘Because I am in the wives group?’ He answered, “No, not just group, all of it.  Salem.  You came to Salem, all of it.”

“Well, why not?” I asked him.  “I am crazy about you.  And when I met you I didn’t know what you had, the extent of the PTSD.  When I realized the extent of it, I wasn’t going to let it defeat us.  God did not give you to me to let PTSD defeat us.”

When I met my husband, I was forty-two and he was forty-seven.  We both had been married twice.  I met and knew I wanted to know him.  He met me and says he knew he was in “so much trouble”.  Trouble, because he had been diagnosed with PTSD, was going to counseling, was on medication for depression, and he found a face he was drawn to, but he was so very gun-shy.

We were married nine months later.  It was the beginning of our journey with PTSD and the journal entry I posted above, is indicative of how far we had come in seven plus years of marriage.

2005 was a big year for us for several reasons.  Megan, who had been eleven when we married, was in the Navy and had been for almost a year.  I had been going to a six-week session of the wives of the PTSD group my husband was in.  At the time of the journal entry, I had pretty much given up on us getting a house, but in July of 2005, we would move into Evansridge.

I am sharing this journal entry with my readers because it the beginning of a turning point for us.  Chester was at a point where he wanted to be better, but his “anniversary”, when he received his trauma on April 28, 1969, surfaced every year.  Every year from 1969 to this day, he relived his troops being wounded, he relived his own wounding, he relived and is reminded of his own role in taking life.  It was distressing to know that after a year of doing fine, he would approach his anniversary and anxiety, or anger, or flight mode would set in.

I realized from the group session I had been in, that spouses and family members were not equipped with the tools to manage the stressors their veterans were going through.  The group counseling merely scratched the surface of the second-hand PTSD wives and loved ones were experiencing.  I didn’t know what was needed.  All I knew,  was in that group setting, I wasn’t the only one going through anniversaries with my husband, I wasn’t the only one suppressing my own emotions, I wasn’t the only one waking up at three in the morning to hear the TV or the Playstation going, I wasn’t the only one going through the day, in the same house with my spouse, with only a handful of words being exchanged… if I could have used that group meeting for an extended period of time,  I am sure others did, as well.