“…it is possible to have a loving and fulfilling relationship in spite of the PTSD. However, the road is not smooth, and we have to be willing to learn and grow on this journey.”
by WELBY O’BRIEN
When my husband and I first started seeing each other, I felt so alone and so overwhelmed. He told me from the get-go, “Welby, I’ve got PTSD and I’m all screwed up.” I didn’t have a clue! PTSD… what’s that? The farther along we got, the more I realized this was an exceptional man, and this was a relationship worth fighting for. BUT, I needed to know if it was possible to have a loving and fulfilling relationship in spite of the PTSD.
So, I signed up for a class at the VA which really helped. I wept all the way home that first night… the horrors our warriors have experienced that haunt them day and night! I also learned that it was not me. And I could not fix it.
And I also learned the importance of taking care of me.
Over time, we sought counseling for us together and also for me alone. And we put lots of prayer into seeking God’s will.
So here I am today, years later, and can say without a doubt: it is possible to have a loving and fulfilling relationship in spite of the PTSD. However, the road is not smooth, and we have to be willing to learn and grow on this journey.
The challenges can be so overwhelming, and often we feel so alone. But please know you are not alone, and there is hope.
Caregivers, what follows is a framework that has helped me as well as many others who care for and support their PTSD Warriors. It’s a two-step mindset to tune into every day. My hope is that it will help you not just survive, but thrive and bloom where you are.
ACKNOWLEDGE and ACCEPT MY LIMITATIONS.
These are the “I Can’t”s
I can’t fix them/it [and that is okay].
As caregivers, so many of us are naturally wired to help and of course to “fix.” A first place to start is to accept that it is beyond our power to make it go away.
I can’t understand it all [and that is okay].
No one can. And we will make ourselves crazy trying to.
I can’t do everything I’d like to do [and that is okay].
Once again, I have to let go and accept my limitations.
I can’t always have a great day [and that is okay].
True. And remember that things always seem to look better the next morning.
I can’t keep holding on to a dream of how I wish things were [and that is okay].
Someone vented to me recently, “I signed up to be a wife, not a nurse.” And I also hear so often, “He isn’t the same person he used to be.” No. And we probably aren’t either. Letting go of the dream is a form of grieving – a true loss that we have to face.
I can’t do it all by myself [and that is okay].
Wonder Woman is a myth. I know… I’ve been trying for years. But it does help when I can acknowledge my limitations, and reach out to God and others for help. And to let some things be left undone. Tough to do!
I can’t always keep everyone happy [and that is okay].
It’s not our job. And it’s not possible anyway!
I can’t force others to understand [and that is okay].
Does it seem that often it is those closest to us (friends and family) who just don’t get it? You have to live with PTSD to truly understand.
I can’t do it all perfectly [and that is okay].
I wish someone would have given me permission years ago to make mistakes. To actually be human.
I can’t love with a perfect love [and that is okay].
A few weeks ago I was feeling pretty burned out. While I was praying, I cried out, “God I just don’t have it in me right now. I can’t do this!” His message to me was, “It’s been My love all along, and always will be.” It’s a continual opening up of myself to let His love flow through me… and not trying to muster it up from inside myself.
So, step one is to ACKNOWLEDGE and ACCEPT MY LIMITATIONS… but don’t stay there.
ACKNOWLEDGE and ACTIVATE MY CAPABILITIES.
These are the “I CAN”s!
I can show kindness.
All through the day. In big and small ways.
I can ask them how I can be most helpful.
Sometimes they may dump on us, and we feel frustrated because we’ve been doing our best. I’ve learned after everyone has calmed down to ask him to let me know what I can do to be most helpful.
I can listen.
And also remind them that we are there for them anytime they need to talk, without having to have answers. Just be there.
I can have healthy boundaries [decide what I will and won’t tolerate].
PTSD is no excuse for bad or abusive behavior. Your safety, and that of your children, is always the priority. There are many good books out there on boundaries. It is important for us to decide what is okay and what is not okay, and to follow through. For our good and theirs.
I can advocate.
Do they need us to make phone calls, or talk to doctors or anyone on their behalf?
I can educate others and spread PTSD awareness.
One example is that for friends, family and anyone else, we have an awesome graphic card, PTSD Basics, free on the Love Our Vets – PTSD Family Support website and Facebook page, that has been very helpful to share with others. It’s a simple summary of what PTSD is, what is isn’t, what not to do, and what we can do to be helpful. You can download the graphic at www.LoveOurVets.org
I can express my feelings and needs [before I have a meltdown!]
But I have to be aware of them first, to learn to stay tuned to what I need before I burn out.
I can and MUST take care of myself [without feeling guilty].
You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Also, like the emergency oxygen masks on an airplane, you have to put on yours first; otherwise not only do you put yourself in danger, you won’t be able to help those around you. Self-care is not a luxury – it’s essential!
I can pray for them, and for myself.
There is no perfect way to pray… just reach out to God openly and honestly. God has deliberately created us to need Him, so we can be close to Him. He showed us His love when He sent his Son, Jesus, to die for us and come alive again. God has more than enough of everything we need, and He eagerly waits for us to ask.
I can surround myself with others for support.
Why is it so hard to ask for help when we need it? We all need each other. What an amazing, intriguing mystery, that when two or more weary, wounded people support each other, we all benefit!
I can keep my sense of humor.
As the saying goes, “Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves, for we shall never cease to be amused.” It can feel like the heaviness of the world of PTSD has drawn a dark curtain between us and the true joy we once had. I hope you can open that curtain and laugh again soon… maybe even today.
I can encourage healthy, grounding behaviors in them and myself.
What a surprise to me when I realized that I too can get triggered! I’ve had to learn to breathe, and to see (and smell and touch) things during an anxiety attack. To wiggle my toes when I forget where I am. Try a few different things and do what works best for you.
I can be grateful for so much.
There is always something for which to be grateful. It’s easier to focus on the negative. We need to get in the habit of looking for the blessings we DO have. I heard recently that when we are thankful, it actually alters our body chemistry in a beneficial way.
I can be willing to learn and grow.
Sounds painful, doesn’t it? Even if it is outside my comfort zone, it can be so worth it!
I can love with God’s love.
Not only is His love far superior to mine, the source never ends.
And the last one: I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me.
Written from prison after being beaten, Paul reminds us of this truth in Philippians 4:13. Wherever you may be on our faith journey, you can always reach up to God for help. Let His love and grace flow through you. And when it does, the surprising thing is that you too will be blessed and replenished.
Every day, and throughout the day, stay tuned into how you are feeling: What you can’t do (your limitations), and what you CAN do (your capabilities).
It’s been said that when you are in a hard place, sometimes it feels like you’ve been buried. You made a mistake. Or God has. This is not how it’s supposed to be… or is it? Perhaps you’ve not been buried, but rather you have been planted. Be willing to bloom, and grow, and bear fruit right where you are, in spite of the dirt.
With God’s help, we CAN.
WELBY O’BRIEN is crazy about her Veteran husband, and together they face the daily challenges of PTSD. With a master’s degree in counseling from Portland State University and a teaching degree from Biola University, based on her own life journey she has authored the books LOVE OUR VETS: Restoring Hope for Families of Veterans with PTSD, and Goodbye for Now (grief support), and Formerly A Wife (divorce support). She is also a contributing author to Chicken Soup for the Soul (Divorce and Recovery, and The Spirit of America), as well as Shepherding Women in Pain. Welby has been welcomed as a guest speaker across the country, and on media interviews. She initiated and facilitates the spouse and family support network Love Our Vets – PTSD Family Support, LLC. www.LoveOurVets.org.