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Let me start by saying I am married to an amazing man (whom I love to death) who willingly put his life on the line for his country to protect his home, his family, and the freedoms we so carelessly take for granted. During his time in the army, he saw some pretty unspeakable horrors, weight he will carry with him for the rest of his life. The scars may not be visible to the naked eye, but as his wife, they are crystal clear to me. It is easy to treat a wound that you can see, one you can touch with your own hands, but it’s a challenge when the wound is invisible. Ask him if he would do it all over again, knowing what he does now, and he will respond “Yes!” before you finish the question. Every service member will tell you the exact same thing every single time.
The Invisible Wounds Of A Veteran Through The Eyes Of A Loved One
As his wife, I walk with my husband through all the struggles that come along with his PTSD as well as the physical injuries he has sustained. Almost every night nightmares haunt him, causing him to sit upright in bed, sweat pouring down his face, pupils wide. He often does not know where he is, still caught in the throes of his night terrors, so I reach over and gently rub his back. I reassure him that he is home and safe, but it still takes him a minute to regain his composure and when he does I stay awake with him, no matter how long it takes to get to sleep. Sometimes sleep never comes and before I know it the sun has come up and I am exhausted.
Many people don’t know that the transition for soldiers coming home is the hardest part of their selfless commitment to serve their country. The fight overseas is a battle that he fought alongside his brothers, people who were going through the same experiences, allowing them to confide in each other and support each other. The real hardship is coming home and being separated from his brothers since they are all spread out throughout the country. The adjustment to living the civilian life can take months, even years, if the veteran does not have the right support system. The amount of programs that help veterans transition from life as a soldier to life as a regular old civilian are scarce compared to the amount of training and conditioning they endure to become a soldier.
I only met my husband six years ago, when he had been out of the army for five years already, so I wasn’t around to see him come home. I did feel a sense of turmoil inside of him, something he buried deep, and drowned with alcohol. He always had a smile on his face, but I remember thinking that the smile never really extended to his eyes, instead they seemed cold. Despite the internal battle he seemed to be fighting, I knew that he was a good person with a huge heart and he proved that to me time and time again. Once our friendship began to develop into something more, I felt him put up ten feet walls to stop me from getting too close and seeing his struggle. It took me nearly two years to finally breach his defenses and even then, it was just the beginning.
Eventually, he began to open up to me as I gained his trust and patiently waited for him to come to me about his problems rather than push him to talk. The more he confided in me, the more I understood, which means I could try to help him through it so he wasn’t alone. I began to see a glimpse into the person he was and I fell in love with him (way before he fell in love with me). He would tell me that he cared for me and wanted me in his life, but saying those three words was a process for him. My patience was tested (there were days I thought about throwing in the towel) throughout the never ending waiting period it took for him to finally let me in. Six years later we are happily married and I know him inside and out in a way that very few people do.
Like every couple, we have our good days and our bad days, but the ups and downs with a veteran are unlike any other. The bad days means my husband can go from angry to quiet to sad to anxious to depressed and back round again more times than I can count. It means that bad news isn’t just something that ruins our mood, it can be a crippling black hole that sucks all hope from the veteran. During our relationship, I learned to recognize the signs that a mood swing is on his way, the subtle things I can do to distract him from the overwhelming emotion, and the things I should (and shouldn’t) say at that moment. The symptoms of PTSD can truly only be understood by someone who has the same condition; while I can sympathize and support him, I will never know.
There are days that are harder than most, like 9/11, the anniversary of the day that changed the lives of every American, especially soldiers, forever. This unspeakable tragedy shook our feeling of safety to the core and even though it has been 15 years, every single American remembers exactly where they were when it happened. My husband was in his final weeks of basic training, when he heard the news and soon after, he deployed. Every anniversary, whether this one or the death anniversary of a fallen soldier, has a dark cloud hovering over his head, threatening to pour down on him at any moment. The triggers that can set him off can be as simple as being out in the heat for too long or seeing a violent clip on television. It’s up to me to keep his mind preoccupied, make sure he takes his medications, to listen to him if he feels like venting, to comfort him when his emotions explode, and to let him know how much he is loved.
There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of all the American soldiers that served because I have the honor of being married to one of those heroes. I have the privilege to thank him every day by loving and supporting him and being the shoulder he needs to lean on. I am able to share my respect and appreciation with every service member that I have come to know in the entirety of my relationship with my husband Victor. I am proud to be in his corner because there are times when veterans feel alone or isolated and I can help rid him of that feeling. While there are certain days when America remembers the men and women that make our very lives possible, I wake up each day thanking him for his sacrifice by being his anchor.