Real Warriors and Families

When a service member deploys, everyone around them is affected. Learn more from these brave warriors and their loved ones.

[♫ upbeat music ♫] [REAL WARRIORS * REAL BATTLES] [REAL STRENGTH] [Sometimes, after deployment...] Things are so nice when you come back, and usually then the regular life sets in. You start having trouble sleeping and thinking about your past experiences. I lost a lot of sleep, and so I started compensating for that by drinking so that I could sleep. I was distant from everybody in my family. The room could be filled with people that I loved and cared about, and I'd be over here thinking about what happened to me or some of my fellow marines in a wreck 3 months ago. I would get angry at things. I would get frustrated. I was angry at everything and everyone. My anger from work would carry over, never physical. I just wanted them to go away because I didn't want them to be part of what was going on with me. [Everyone changes...] I was concerned that, "What is she going to be like when she gets back? Is she going to be the same woman I married and how is it going to affect her?" I think every spouse goes through that to some extent. "What is my spouse going to be like when they get back?" The person who left is not the person who is going to come back just as the spouse is not the same person who you left at home. Things change. They mostly change in a positive direction, honestly, and over time, you see that. You've just got to understand that you're not going to be the same person afterwards that you were before you deployed, and don't try to be. Accept who you are, accept what's happened, accept that life experience, and now figure out how to move forward and make that positive. You're really trying to figure out what the new normal is for the relationship. You've both grown, you've both taken on more responsibilities, and it's hard to get back to living as couple again. So it's recognizing that that's going to be the case, and you're going to go through that adjustment, and then figuring out how to communicate in a way that works for both of you. [Communication is essential...] We had a reunion of our unit, and it was an ah-ha moment for me. You'd hear these spouses say, "Is your husband doing that? My husband is doing that, too. I thought it was just us." And really understanding that, hey, this is a common experience. Spouses need to have a better understanding of what their soldier has been through, and I learned more to listen to what he was saying. I was hearing stories from the beginning to the end, where before I had just heard bits and pieces, and that made it easier for me to understand where his pain was coming from. I didn't throw all the gore and the ugliness in her, but I was able to tell her right up front when I came home, "Honey, here are two or three things that I've been through. They give me nightmares periodically." And when I didn't feel good, I would tell her just to prevent an innocent family interaction, normal arguments that you have in the home, from escalating to something stupid. Sometimes, all we needed was just for someone to sit quietly with him, and other times, he just needed to be left alone, then come out and rejoin the family on his own terms and on his own schedule. We never pushed, and I always explained to the children, "Let's give Daddy some space today," or conversely, "Give Daddy an extra hug today because he really needs one." When you see the cloud coming over, back down just a little bit. It's not that big a deal if he doesn't take the trash out. You did it for a year to 15 months. It's not going to hurt you to do it one more day. It's not that big a deal if he doesn't get the yard mowed when he said he's going to. Just give him time to work through it. They'll talk; they'll open up more. You just have to be patient. [Reaching out makes a real difference...] Initially when I was getting ready to come back, I was very angry and was afraid of what I would face when I came back-- people asking me questions--and I felt like I did not want to talk about it. I didn't want to talk to anybody. But then when I came back, I realized I really wanted to tell my story. You definitely know something is bothering you from the deployment you've been on or something you might have seen over there. It's up to you. If you want better, you can get help and get better. When I went to get help, I had more help than I could ask for from my mom and dad, from my entire command. I get the majority of my support from my Airforce family, and I've got some great friends that saw a big change in me that I could not see myself, and they encouraged me to get the help that I needed, and I'm so glad I did it. It takes absolute real strength to deal with your own emotions in a mature manner, admit to yourself what you have been through and the challenges that you face, and to step in and encourage others to do it, and get them to people that can help. It takes real strength when families send their loved ones off to war and to know that what you do at home is important in maintaining your health, your mental health, and giving them a soft place to land when they come home. [Real Warriors. Real Battles. Real Strength.] []
Posted on BrainLine January 31, 2011.

Used with permission from Real Warriors, Real Battles, part of the Real Warriors Campaign, an initiative launched by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury.