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Are We Forcing ‘Out Of Options’ Vets Underground? Their #1 Barrier To Getting Help

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How you and I think and speak about PTSD may be getting in the way of people finding the help they need. Photo Credit to pakorn

How you and I think and speak about PTSD may be getting in the way of people finding the help they need.
Photo Credit to pakorn

Moved by the desperation captured in Bill Briggs’ article, ‘Out Of Options’: Veterans With PTSD Hit Pot Underground, I join in the call, along with Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, to stop waiting for Washington and save the American Dream. Beginning on Throwback Thursday (April 3, 2014), I’ll be posting a series of articles with suggestions for real solutions to the PTSD epidemic, along with a challenge or two.

Today, let’s start by challenging OURSELVES. Before you or I make judgements about the use of marijuana, medicinal or otherwise, let’s consider a possibility:

What if your very next breath depended upon simply walking away from a comfort zone?

Would you be willing to face whatever fears arise?

Would you fight for a life worth living?

Given a fight for your life, a fight for whether or not you’ll live long enough to marry the love of your life, or a fight that must be won, so your children won’t grow up without a parent, my bet is YOU and I would do whatever it takes to survive.

Regardless of how the trauma happened, the method (and timing) PTSD survivors choose for their healing is their decision alone. I’m as guilty as anyone else out there for thinking and responding out of ignorance. . . and I’m a PTSD survivor. It wasn’t until I made a commitment to healing, I realized how much society had stigmatized my view. It’s been said, “Walk a mile in their shoes.” I have. Let me give you a bike.

If you’re a survivor, don’t let anyone, including professionals or family, embarrass or shame you for doing things that help you feel better (Of course, be wise in this area. Abusing drugs, alcohol, money, your body or someone close to you is never a healthy choice.).When it comes to a life or death decision about healing from PTSD, I say, “normal” is what works.

STOP. THINK B4 U SPEAK.

As more and more veterans break their silence about their struggles with PTSD, at the risk of losing their jobs, their VA benefits and respect of family, friends or colleagues, one thing is becoming glaringly obvious. We could be doing a lot more to help. I mean WE, as in YOU and ME.

I’m not talking about throwing money at or investing time in a cause or charity, although those things are worthy of supporting, provided they get resources that actually work in the hands of those who need it most. I am talking about just one small thing you can do every day – think before you speak.

Do you know the number one reason veterans and civilians alike choose addiction or worse, suicide, instead of reaching out for the help they need to overcome PTSD? The number one reason is the way YOU and I think and talk about mental health, especially PTSD. Translated, that means stigma, a weird soundingIMG_3615 word that’s easy to hide behind; a word that puts distance between YOU and ME; a word that’s usually followed by THEY or THEM. These are words that de-humanize, stripping personal responsibility away from where the application of it can do the most good. The bottom line is this, when people are de-humanized, reduced to “things,” they become as disposable as your last Starbucks coffee cup.

The New England Journal of Medicine published the results of a study in 2004 that points the finger directly at YOU and ME. In 2004, for heaven’s sake! What have we been doing for the past 10 years, while the suicide rate for veterans climbs to a staggering 22+ every day? That’s one family torn apart every 65 minutes. And guess what? Those statistics don’t take into account other PTSD suicides, like child sexual abuse, rape, or intimate family member survivors. The veterans from that study said there were very specific barriers in the way of getting the help they need. Here are the top three:

  1. I would be seen as weak.
  2. My unit leadership might treat me differently.
  3. Members of my unit might have less confidence in me.

These are men and women who are the bravest of the brave, have fought in wars many didn’t believe in, all for the sake of keeping YOU and ME safe and free – free to choose how we live our lives, free to seek our own happiness and free to enjoy the benefits of being an American Citizen. Which, by the way, you would think might include the possibility of getting the help a person needs, when they need it most, especially for those who wear a uniform with honor.

Think you’re not contributing to the PTSD epidemic?

For years, I didn’t either.

Here’s an excerpt from, PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living, coming out June (2014) – PTSD Awareness Month:

PTSD Stigma: What Does It Sound Like?

Examples of the devastating effects of PTSD ignorance and insensitivity have taken many forms in the news media recently. You see it in shock-value stories about survivor suicides and violent crimes with subtle side notes  (“It was reported that he had PTSD”). Unfortunately, these examples result in and perpetuate the stigmatization of PTSD survivors, making them people to be feared, distrusted, or shunned as unproductive members of society.

Individuals, institutions, caregivers, people close to the survivor, and even other survivors may be contributing to the social stigma of a PTSD diagnosis—and not know it. Without a doubt, PTSD healing cannot be accomplished without the help of caring, compassionate people. Although most have good intentions at heart, those same people can also unintentionally do more harm than good.

Maybe you know someone attempting to heal from PTSD (and working hard to do so, I might add). Perhaps you are that person, and feel confused by messages received from people who supposedly love you or are in a position to help. So, just to be sure we’re clear about what PTSD stigmatization sounds like in everyday language, let’s look at these actual statements made to survivors:

Discounting dismissing or minimizing through comparisons or outright statements

Which sounds like:

It happened so long ago. It’s over now.

How could this have affected you that much?

Just get over it!

Come on now, it wasn’t that bad. Why, I went through. . .

Blaming the survivoron some level, suspecting the survivor deserved it

Which sounds like:

I guess that’s what you get.

You’re doing this to yourself.

You’ve always been sensitive.

I told you, you shouldn’t have. . .

You signed up for the job and its consequences.

Judgment forming a negative opinion about the survivor for normal reactions to and ways of coping with the trauma, long-term symptoms or the healing path they choose (notice this list is longer)

Which sounds like:

You’re just doing this for (attention, money, sympathy).

Wow, you’ve got some real mental problems, don’t you?

You spend a lot of time with your friend. Are you gay?

You must not be (praying, repenting, confessing, believing) enough, or you would be healed.

Wow, I wish I had all the time in the world to get massages, go to yoga and hang out with my best friend.

Oh, you’ve always had to learn the hard way.

You just hate men/women!

You know you’re not being a (biblical wife, Proverbs 31 woman, good wife or submitting to your husband) if you withhold sex from him.

Denial of assistancewithholding necessary, expected services or support based on a personal or procedural judgment of the survivor’s need or lack of entitlement

Which sounds like:

Let’s wait and see if you get better.

Well, can you prove it happened?

There are other people who really need assistance.

I’m sorry. You just haven’t demonstrated an urgent need.

If you’re crazy, I’m outta here! I didn’t sign up for that!

You aren’t (praying, reading your Bible, casting out demons, getting to church/temple/synagogue) enough.

You can be sure you are participating in PTSD stigma if you respond in one of the above ways. Whether you’re at work or with your family, if you respond directly to a survivor or comment about PTSD to others in this manner, you’ll become an accomplice.

It might be surprising to realize that if you happen to be a PTSD survivor, and you’re allowing yourself to be treated in this manner or actually buy in to this derogatory perspective, you’re participating in PTSD stigma, too. I can only say these things because I’ve “been there, done that.” Remember, it doesn’t take a spoken word for stigmatization to occur. If you’ve thought it (about yourself or others), it’s already happened.

All stigmatization, regardless of where it comes from or why, feels cruel to a survivor. Sometimes, it is enough to push them over the edge, cause them to give up and take their own life. As you can imagine, for someone who has already suffered so much, it’s not surprising survivors have a hard time overcoming trust issues and have a tendency to isolate themselves.

If you are a PTSD survivor, for the most part, strangers who don’t know your situation may unintentionally say something cruel. However, so can people who love you most. As difficult as it is, you must break free of the isolation associated with PTSD and secure the help of other people.

It’s just plain impossible to heal from PTSD without the care and assistance of others. To be sure you’re making good choices about who you allow on your Healing Team and who you spend your time with during the healing process, please keep the above points in mind.

 

Our challenge? STOP. THINK B4 U SPEAK. Let’s do our part to bring down the barriers that are keeping our loved ones from asking for and receiving the help they so desperately need. Let’s end the judgment surrounding PTSD and give survivors a fighting chance at a life worth living.

Peace,

Annmarie

Resources

‘Out Of Options’ Veterans With PTSD Hit Pot Underground: http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/legal-pot/out-options-veterans-ptsd-hit-pot-underground-n64026

Starbucks CEO Announces $30 Million Gift For U.S. Troops: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/starbucks-ceo-howard-schultz-announces-30-million-gift-for-us-troops/

Combat Duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mental Health Problems, and Barriers to Care: New England Journal of Medicine (July 2004)

Why Suicide Rate Among Veterans May Be More Than 22 A Day: http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/21/us/22-veteran-suicides-a-day/

PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living (June 2014) http://www.PTSDSelfHelp.com

PTSD Self Help: Turning Survival into a Life Worth Living . . . Countdown to Book Launch!!

PTSD Self Help Promo

Filled with all of the helpful information you’ve found here at PTSD Relief and more, PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living, THE BOOK, will be available everywhere Spring 2014!

So, if you missed your chance . . .

Everyone had ONE LAST WEEK in January to gather all the PTSD Self Help material they could from PTSD Relief . . .

Now it’s gone!

At least until you purchase your very own copy of PTSD Self Help: Transforming Survival into a Life Worth Living!

By the way, 10% of the proceeds from the sale of each book goes toward building an interactive, on-line version of The Center for Hope & Renewal!

Subscribe! That way, while we’re under construction getting ready for the BIG LAUNCH, you don’t miss out on great giveaways, pre-sale order opportunities and book signing tour updates 🙂

Can’t wait to hit the road and meet many of you in person!

Peace,

Annmarie

 

PTSD Support for spouses and families: Healthy boundaries

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Survivors aren’t the only one’s affected by the aftereffects of PTSD. Family and friends feel the impact of the healing process, too.                      Photo credit: smarnad/freedigitalphotos.net

For every person wrestling with the debilitating symptoms of PTSD, there is a partner, spouse or family member significantly affected by the survivor’s recovery process. Unfortunately, there is minimal literature and almost no support for them.

Whether the survivor’s traumatic event included sexual abuse, rape, wartime events, or another life changing event, at some point, partners and family often sense there is something wrong in the relationship that defies explanation. Despite the best efforts of loved ones to be positive and encouraging, the survivor remains depressed, moody, and driven to irrational behavior. “Indirectly, partners of sexual abuse survivors are also victims,” according to Ken Graber, author of Ghosts in the Bedroom.

Graber defines partners to include lovers, spouses, intimate friends, family members or any other person in a relationship with a survivor who is affected by the survivor’s feelings and actions. Keep in mind that the survivor typically is not aware of how far reaching the impact of the traumatic event is or how difficult the recovery process can be for themselves and the people who love them. The key for partners is to practice detachment with a healthy dose of love for the survivor.

A Tacoma mother, who asked not to be named, has an adult daughter with undiagnosed but suspected PTSD. She says, “The emotional outbursts that occur seemingly without provocation and the physical ailments that no doctor can pinpoint make life for a young adult woman harder than it should be. As a family you get through the initial trauma. The child grows up and everything is good, until they get into what should be a healthy sexual relationship. That is when the hidden triggers rear their ugly effects. It is heartbreaking.”

Detaching from the recovery process with love means supporting the survivor while they face their personal issues without trying to manage the survivor’s recovery or taking offense when they express strong emotion. By gaining clarity about which issues must be addressed by the partner, which issues can be addressed by the survivor and partner together and which issues must be addressed by the survivor alone, partners or family members can go a long way toward establishing themselves as an ally.

“All you can do is walk along side them and continue to love them. They have to be the ones to accept treatment,” continues the Tacoma mother. “As a mom, I would rather take on all the hurts she is going through than see her re-live the horror of the assault that happened so many years ago. It is a heavy burden to carry for the person with PTSD and for their loved ones. Thank God there is help out there. To know we don’t walk alone is a major factor in survival and healing.”

If you are a partner or family member of a survivor and feel you have been affected by the survivor’s experience, you may be feeling confused, frustrated, angry, or a variety of other feelings. It is good to know you are not alone and that many other partners have these same feelings. Remember, these are temporary feelings that you will resolve on your own and that dealing with these feelings is your own responsibility. Is your partner or loved one a survivor of sexual abuse? Check out these 14 questions to find out.

Join your loved one on the journey! Subscribe, so you won’t miss out on upcoming articles about how to be a positive member of your loved one’s Healing Team (handy button at the top/side of this page). It’s free! So, let the adventure begin! Also, feel free to ask questions, let me know what you think about the series, or just see what I’m up to! Here’s how to connect:

PTSD Support for Spouses: Is my loved one a survivor of sexual abuse?

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Do you suspect your loved one might be struggling with PTSD? Many survivors keep their trauma a secret…even from the ones they love most.
Photo credit: Idea Go/freedigitalphotos.net

Your girlfriend tells you that she was abused as a child, but that it doesn’t bother her now. You think differently. Or maybe your boyfriend shares a startling and disturbing story about his past, and you’re quick to brush it off as irrelevant to your relationship. Think again. On the other hand, maybe you’ve been married for a number of years but recently, your spouse has been distant, emotional and spaced out. You suspect it has something to do with the past, but can’t be sure.

It doesn’t matter what kind of trauma your loved one experienced. Lovers, spouses, intimate friends, family members or any other person in a relationship with a survivor can be affected by the survivor’s feelings and actions, according to Ken Graber’s book, Ghosts in the Bedroom. Typically a survivor is not aware of how far reaching the impact of the traumatic event is or how difficult the recovery process can be for themselves and the people who love them. The key for people supporting a loved one in the healing process is to practice detachment with a healthy dose of love for the survivor.

As a spouse or significant other, the best thing you can do is to prepare yourself for your loved one’s recovery process by creating your own support system, as well as educating yourself about PTSD and the healing journey. You can begin by looking within to identify your own patterns of destructive or limiting behavior and taking responsibility for your own issues. This is an important part of being in relationship with a survivor, since the survivor’s recovery process can and will trigger your own issues. Your courage to take on your own core issues will be an encouraging example to the survivor you love.

However, being the intimate partner of someone struggling with PTSD as a result of sexual abuse comes with an additional, healthy dose of trust issues. For this reason alone, you need to feel confident about what you’re dealing with. Below I’ve provided a brief quiz to get you on the right track. Use these questions to build up your confidence that what you’re experiencing with your partner is real. Then, take the next step and begin educating yourself.

Am I the partner of a sexual abuse survivor? Is someone I care about wrestling with PTSD and the aftermath of sexual trauma? Remember, entering into recovery must be the survivor’s decision and in the survivor’s timing. However, the questions below will help you identify the possibility of whether or not someone you love might be carrying the weight of a PTSD struggle as a result of childhood sexual abuse. For more information about survivors of other forms of trauma, check out the book I Can’t Get Over It! A Handbook for Trauma Survivors by Aphrodite Matsakis, Ph.D.

Answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the following questions:

  1. Was my partner raised in an alcoholic or other dysfunctional family?
  2. Is my partner in an Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon or Adult Children of Alcoholics recovery program?
  3. Does my partner have an eating disorder such as overeating, anorexia or bulimia?
  4. Is my partner moody or someone who cries easily and frequently or suffers from prolonged depression?
  5. Does my partner frequently space out or lose track of a conversation for no apparent reason?
  6. Is my partner often accident prone during unremembered time periods?
  7. Is my partner afraid to have children? Or children of a particular sex?
  8. Is my partner uneasy about being around adults of a particular gender?
  9. Does my partner frequently wear inappropriately tight or revealing clothing?
  10. Does my partner frequently wear loose clothing or excessive layer of clothing?
  11. Does my partner compulsively have sex or love relationships?
  12. Does my partner almost exclusively use sex to get money, control or affection?
  13. Does my partner have siblings who were victims of incest or sexual abuse?
  14. Has my partner engaged in self-mutilation, self-tattooing or threatened suicide?

If you answered Yes to three or more of these 14 questions, you are likely the partner of a sexual abuse survivor who may be struggling with PTSD. However, keep in mind that only a qualified, PTSD informed mental health professional can make a diagnosis. Check out the article PTSD Support for Spouses: Wrapping Your Mind Around Healing to find out more about loving someone in the PTSD healing process.

Join your loved one on the journey! Subscribe, so you won’t miss out on upcoming articles about how to be a positive member of your loved one’s Healing Team (handy button at the top/side of this page). It’s free! So, let the adventure begin! Also, feel free to ask questions, let me know what you think about the series, or just see what I’m up to! Here’s how to connect:

PTSD Support for Spouses: Wrapping your mind around healing

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A deep bond and strength comes from helping your loved one heal from PTSD. Enjoy it! It's lasting. Photo credit: Graur Razvan Ionut/freedigitalphotos.net

When couples discover that PTSD is interfering in their relationship, risk suddenly enters into the equation. The survivor risks sharing the painful recovery process and the partner risks being involved. Want one sure-fire way to minimize those risks? Change the focus of your nurturing and support.

In the beginning, most spouses make the mistake of trying to steer their loved one away from the terrible reality of what happened (and is still happening). Stop doing that. It’s not helping. Instead, start nurturing and supporting your loved one with a heart of empathy and acceptance, from a place of listening and allowing their feelings – a sacred place. You are currently the stronger half of your partnership and have what it takes to reach this place where your relationship can truly blossom.

Healing from PTSD can be a mutual journey where you both learn a tremendous amount about yourselves as individuals and as a couple. There will be a place in your partner’s healing journey where you will find a way over or around some of the biggest obstacles in your relationship. If neither of you chooses to turn around and walk away (literally or mentally/emotionally), your commitment to each other will take on new depth and meaning.

I’m not going to sugar coat your loved one’s healing process. It can be gut wrenching to watch. There will be times when you never know who you’re going to come home to. One day your spouse is fine, cooking, playing with the kids. The next day, you might find him/her curled up in the closet. One thing is for sure, you’ll know your partner has no control over their flashbacks, because this isn’t the person you know and love. No one would ever choose to be in this much pain.

Your partner will struggle with the PTSD healing journey. No doubt about it. However, it is their struggle. It is your job to track the wonderful successes along the way. Each time your loved one overcomes a trigger, be there to help him/her reason through it. This is just one example of those small victories that will keep you both going and strengthen your connection.

The skills you’ll build to help the survivor on their journey are the same skills necessary to thrive in any growing, satisfying relationship. Many spouses secretly hold an idea that if it gets just too hard, too crazy, too painful, they can always walk away, because who could blame them? Don’t think that by walking out on this relationship when it gets hard, you’ll get away from facing your own need for personal growth. The mistake you’ll really be making is jeopardizing what might possibly be your loved one’s last chance at being free from PTSD forever, or worse, drive them over the edge.

Healing from PTSD, especially if it involves sexual healing, will be one of the greatest challenges you will face as a couple. The best part? You will enjoy a lifetime of mutual understanding and deep trust long after the healing is done. But you’ll have to employ these things:

  • Open communication
  • Respect for each other’s individuality
  • Commitment to forming a Healing Team

Did you know that you can personally reap some amazing benefits and positive side effects by choosing to help your partner heal? Here are just a few:

  • Improved self-esteem
  • Richness and depth of your relationship
  • Effective, workable partnership
  • Mutual change for the better
  • A safe place to share yourself
  • Increased honesty and communication
  • Creative exploration of intimacy

Throughout your loved one’s healing journey, there will be valleys of despair and mountain top experiences of victory. Your support gives your loved one the permission to boldly explore new and sometimes frightening territory. Being a loving, compassionate partner just might be the first step in helping the survivor in your life get on the path toward healing.

It is in moments of unconditional acceptance that a survivor will choose to see their spouse as an ally. Can you find the courage and compassion to see your loved one as a victim of a crime, a war, or a terrible tragedy, and suffering horribly from aftereffects they have no control over? Are you committed to walking through PTSD healing with the survivor in your life?

Join your loved one on the journey! Subscribe, so you won’t miss out on upcoming articles about how to be a positive member of your loved one’s Healing Team (handy button at the top/side of this page). It’s free! So, let the adventure begin! Also, feel free to ask questions, let me know what you think about this new series, PTSD Support for Spouses, or just see what I’m up to! Here’s how to connect:

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