“REBOOT didn’t just save our lives and our marriage. REBOOT helped us build a new life and new marriage that is better than we ever thought possible.”
Photo: Beth Mann, Early Bird Photography
My veteran husband’s struggle to get help after his last deployment with the Army nearly killed us both. Literally.
We were both pushed to the brink, considering suicide as a way to end our suffering. We felt like we had tried everything to heal from his post-traumatic stress (PTS) and other invisible injuries. Our situation seemed hopeless as we felt powerless to change our circumstances and like Angela Duckworth mentions in her book Grit:
“It isn’t suffering that leads to hopelessness, it’s suffering you can’t control.”
I knew I had hit rock bottom when I found myself on a school trip to Venice, Italy, staring into the gorgeous, romantic waters and thinking about letting myself fall in and drown. My husband’s ten year battle to get help had taken its toll on me. I had developed secondary post-traumatic stress (SPTS) which meant I too was overtaken by depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. I felt like I was drowning at home and I was ready to give up.
If it wasn’t for REBOOT Combat Recovery, we’d either be divorced or dead or possibly both.
I found REBOOT while working on a graduate school project. I enrolled in a Masters of Fine Art program at American University where I started to learn the most powerful art we studied (in my opinion) was created from a very personal place.
I asked myself: What do I have that’s deeply personal which I could explore through art?
At the time, I hadn’t yet heard of secondary-PTS nor the term “veteran caregiver,” even though both accurately described me. I only knew that if I admitted it to myself (which I never had before), I was a very angry veteran wife. I felt bad for even thinking such a thing. I thought people would hate me, yell at me and tell me I’m not a real American if they found out I was mad at the military.
When fear of retaliation keeps us from speaking out about our struggle, we’re trapped in fear prison.
I lived in that fear prison for years. I grew afraid of my husband and afraid I’d never have a normal life again. This turned into anger toward him and our situation. This carried on for so long I grew to hate him and the military for getting him into this mess, which only led to my own misery and suffering. Master Yoda was right:
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.”
I began making art about my struggles and let’s just say my first art pieces used a lot of red paint. I also explored this topic through performance art and started an Instagram project titled When War Comes Home. That’s when I decided to search online, wondering if anyone else struggled like I did (the answer was and is YES).
Images from the When War Comes Home Instagram project.
I found a military spouse forum where a veteran girlfriend was discussing how hard things were at home (her struggle was quite familiar). Another user suggested she check out REBOOT Combat Recovery. I had never heard such words put together in one phrase – I didn’t know it was possible to recover from combat (there certainly was no recovery happening in our home). I Googled the name, found the website and was shocked by what I read.
Reading the REBOOT website was like reading a description of my life.
The site named things I didn’t even know existed like soul wounds, spiritual wounds and an invisible war against PTS. They claimed hope and healing was possible. I had never heard PTS and healing in the same sentence before. The site mentioned their Combat Trauma Healing Course and I knew my husband and I needed it. Immediately.
We were so desperate to get help we started a course ourselves, meeting in our living room and leading the course while also being a participant, because there were no courses near us. Many, if not most, REBOOT groups start in the same way.
The course helped us name things we were struggling with that we didn’t even know have names – grieving the loss of a normal life and an identity as a soldier, survivor’s guilt, false guilt, learning that trauma compacts over time and through generations and how hate and a lack of forgiveness are poisons – and the list goes on.
REBOOT gave my husband and I language to talk about our struggles together – something that seemed impossible before the course.
We also attended a Love Reboot course (no affiliation with REBOOT, just a coincidence) that changed our lives and our marriage forever. If you want to hear more about how it helped us heal, listen to my husband and I discuss the impact of the course on the Relationship Rewire podcast.
After the first REBOOT course we went on to lead two more courses in the Washington, DC area, learning and healing more every time. I attended workshops for veteran caregivers where I met other people like me for the first time. All this exploration taught me we weren’t alone in our struggle – in fact there are 5.5 million veteran caregivers in the US.
We began to make one life-giving choice after another – got the gun out of the house, kept leading courses, went to individual counseling, left soul-sucking jobs, traveled together again, moved out of the hectic city, bought a house in the woods, adopted a dog, got the alcohol out of our house, and more. One day, one decision and one hard conversation at a time we picked up the pieces of our life that had fallen apart and built a new life together.
REBOOT didn’t just save our lives and our marriage. REBOOT helped us build a new life and new marriage that is better than we ever thought possible.
Once we dug our way out, we both began to feel alive like we hadn’t in years. Our new life is now full of hope and we don’t want to waste another minute of our precious time. We feel like we already lost so many years we can never get back.
If you met me today you’d never believe I was once suicidal because I’m a person who is full of life and energy and it shows all over my face. I now use my creative skills to continue healing and to help other military families find healing as well through art and film and a new organization I’m building called New Rosie.
At New Rosie it’s our mission to share 5.5 million helpful solutions for post-military life – at least one solution for each of us. I don’t want anyone to suffer like we did so we’re organizing the solutions we’ve all learned over the years (the hard way) and putting them in one place online, where anyone could access them anytime.
I believe it’s my responsibility, honor and privilege to give back to my community of fellow caregivers who are still hurting and struggling. My vision for New Rosie is that the next time a veteran comes home from their last deployment and their loved one needs help, they’ll search for answers online like I did and find millions of solutions at their fingertips.
Ten years after safely returning home from his Iraq deployment, my husband and I returned to the Middle East together. We stood on a sandy beach in Dubai and renewed our marriage vows, promising to never let war nor its aftermath come between us again, then celebrated with a new honeymoon trip to South Africa.
Renewing our vows on Middle Eastern sand (left); Taking a new honeymoon to celebrate (right)
A veteran who once couldn’t go to the corner grocery store without a panic attack, traveled across the ocean, back to the corner of the earth that nearly killed him and stood up with his wife, where they claimed their lives back. Now that is solid proof healing IS possible.
Those first words I read on REBOOT’s website were right – healing and post-traumatic stress can go together – it’s called post-traumatic growth.
I have tears of joy streaming down my face as I close and write a thank you to Evan and Jenny Owens, REBOOT’s founders. I wouldn’t be who I am today, living a life that I love with the person I married ten years ago, who has finally come back to me a whole person again. I never thought I’d see him whole again but his involvement with the REBOOT community has worked miracles in his life and mine. I will never stop thanking you for helping me get my husband back. I will forever be in your debt and eternally grateful.
– Sarah Dale
A Note from REBOOT – Perhaps this story hits close to home. If you or someone you know is struggling with PTSD or the aftereffects of combat trauma, click here to contact us. We’ll put you in touch with a combat veteran or spouse who has been through our program. Our team will do whatever we can to offer help and healing.