Honest Love

Pam's front cover 2

September 1st My Life with a Wounded Warrior will be released out into the world, available with the click of a button at the great Amazon supermarket of books.  Now’s a good time to answer the question I have heard at least once a week since beginning this blog.

“What does Jack think about you sharing your personal lives with strangers and friends alike?  Putting the struggles and frustrations and joys of life with his PTSD right out there, for everyone to see?”

When I started this blog, this written exploration into my marriage, I had reached the point where, for better or worse, things had to change, or they had to end.  Now, because I’m as wonderfully flawed as anyone on this good earth, my assumption was that the changing was going to be done by Jack. Right?  He’s the guy with the raging PTSD.  Come on!  Of course, he’s the one who needed to change.

But a funny thing happened on my journey, the actual writing of My Life with a Wounded Warrior.

Gut-wrenching-bleed-all-over-the-page honesty very often left me remembering the love, the joy, the shared laughter that had once been the base of our marriage.  So, what started out as a kind of internet gripe session about the challenges of living with PTSD, quickly became a love song.  I did not mean for that to happen. 

My original goal for starting this blog was to give hope and understanding to other women who love men wounded emotionally by war.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  That’s the label for what our warriors experience. 

Of course, it’s not a disorder at all.  PTSD is the natural reaction to going to war.  The body shuts down, concentrates on survival, and there is so much adrenaline flowing that the survival instinct becomes embedded in the brains and chemistry and bodies of the men and women who enter into battle.  Besides, like Jack, these veterans have seen and experienced images and events that we civilians can’t, in our worst nightmares, comprehend.

So, my goal in writing the book, in writing this blog, was to, through utter honesty, share my experiences with Jack and his PTSD in the hope of helping other women to better understand their warriors. 

And, judging by the comments, that connection with other wives of veterans did absolutely occur.  Which brings me great joy. But something completely unexpected happened also.

My arrangement with Jack is that he read every blog post before it’s published.  Over time, through week after week of posts, for the first time in our twenty-five years together, Jack began to comprehend that I know who he is.  He came to understand that I accept him.   He, finally, GOT that I love HIM, not the man he wants to be, not the man I sometimes wish he was, but HIM.

And, here’s the kicker, I finally GOT it, too.  Accepted that right here, day-to-day, with this big, stubborn, complicated, old Marine is where I need to be.  Where I choose to be. 

I love him.  It’s really, after all these words, as simple as that.

Hold on to Your Ass.

PamJack2

I’ve been thinking lately about the rewards of being married to a man who has survived battle and fought his way through the trauma of returning to civilian life.  I’m not sure all combat vets are stubborn, but Jack is.  I suspect if he wasn’t, he’d have died when he stepped on the land mine in ’64.  Jack is loud and claims his place in the world.  I have vet friends who are just the opposite – quiet and stoic and self-contained.  I’m pretty sure both responses come from the understanding that not much in the world really makes all that much difference once you’ve seen the worst and the best of what man is capable. 

“It don’t mean nothin’.”  Jack says.

So, as the wife of a man who’s struggled with PTSD for fifty years, a man with the beginnings of dementia and the after effects of a stroke, I am often frustrated with Jack’s emotional numbing and his obsessive behavior and his paranoia and his depression. I cuss and moan and complain.  That’s not a secret to anyone who follows this blog.

But I also remain in awe of Jack’s ability to grab life by the balls and demand to be recognized.   Two years ago a stroke robbed him of strength in his hands, his left hand in particular, and slurred his speech. The VA said he wasn’t a kid anymore, he should age more gracefully and accept his limitation.  

That response pissed Jack right the fuck off.     

He bought an acoustic guitar and enrolled in a music class at the university.  Walked right into a college classroom, just a few weeks after the stroke, and demanded a place with those kids.  Day after day for a full semester, he struggled to position his numb hand on the neck of the guitar and keep the pick between his fingers.  He’s Jack, so he made inappropriate remarks to the college girls and pushed his way into the blooming love lives of the kids.   And, he gained almost full use of his hands and had a lot of fun in the class, too.

He also bought a karaoke machine.  At the time, I was convinced he did this just to see if he really could drive me completely insane.  And I’m still not convinced that may not have been part of his motivation, but singing country and western songs (very, very, oh god so badly) four hours a day, improved the hell out of his speech.  The next semester he took an acting class and the elocution helped his speech even more.  The memorization of his lines jump-started his memory.

The other day a friend asked me, “If a young woman came to you and said they’d fallen in love with a combat veteran, what advice would you give them?”

I’ve thought about that for a while and here’s what I’ve come up with:

“Hold on to your ass.  If you survive you’re going to be stronger, braver, and closer to God then you’d have been married to anyone else.  You’re in for a wild, wonderful, painful, heart-wrenching, and unbelievably joyous ride.”

Jaws

shark-sam-7

This week that toothy shark spiraled up from the black, sunless depths and took a good-sized chunk out of my ass.  This week I remember why I have such a difficult time floating in the good moments of my marriage.  This week, I’m tempted to exhale and sink into the dreamless release of surrender.  This week, I’ve lost my sense of humor.

Jack has begun his journey through this year’s Vietnam Anniversary dates.  He’s doing his best, using his good-mental-health-tools to fight against it.  But he’s increasingly negative, his mind filled with conspiracy theories and the same old paranoia and distrust of the government he’s battled since crawling ashore at Red Beach near Danang.  He’s a little more irritable, talks about selling the house, is becoming increasingly obsessed with buying a couch or a rug or a car. 

We’re less than a week into the season and already I’m desperate to break the cycle.  I have a clear, visceral memory of why, in our younger days, I’d agree to anything to stop the downward spiral.  Slip on backpacks and travel around Asia.  Done that.  Move to Mexico and become scuba instructors?  Been there.  Sell everything and move to Panama?  Bought the T-shirt.   

Because you see the very worst thing about this time of year is that my husband hates me.  He really does.  Because, I’m the mirror.  Oh, I’m not saying he doesn’t love me.  But, right now, he mostly hates me.  And, here’s the very hardest part, after all these years, I hate him too.  The mirror of marriage is, after all, double-sided.

I’m bone tired of dealing with his PTSD.  Sick unto death of the financial messes, and the negativity and the physical pain and psychic wounds.  And, he’s just as tired of dealing with a wife he can never please, who has suddenly, after twenty-five years, decided she wants more in life than being his cheerleader. Right now, today, the two of us cannot say two words to each to each other without starting a fight.

So, how are we going to get through the next six months?

The same way we always do. 

Stack minutes into hours, and hours into days, and days into weeks into months until we look at each again and remember why we’re together. 

Recite what I call the marriage prayer.  “Lord help me in my unbelief.”

And, if all else fails, we’ll sell everything and fly to Thailand, or Tasmania, or Timbuktu.

But, guaranteed, come December 14th, the anniversary of the day Jack stepped on the landmine, the day he left Vietnam, we’ll still be right here, glaring or gazing, either way, we’ll be side-by-freaking-side.