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PTSD Spouses– Emotional Numbness

September 7, 2011

I was fortunate when I came home from Vietnam.  Not only was I not married, I was not even remotely involved with anyone.   When I left for my tour of duty I was dating only one person.  She wrote me a “Dear John” letter about half way through my time in Vietnam and I had really no emotional attachments coming home.  It is a good thing,  since I would not have been really good company.  I was numb about my feelings and my PTSD anger and PTSD depression were out of control.  Interesting enough I really didn’t notice very much since I was wearing my own skin not witnessing it from afar.  Everyone  in my family gave  me a wide path and had adopted the “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy”.  Not about my sexuality but about my experiences in Vietnam.  I suppose it was because they were uncomfortable talking about it and didn’t want to stir up a hornets nest which could easily occur since my return.  So silence was the order of the day.  I was left to work out my problems on my own, which actually suited me just fine.

It is different for the PTSD spouses of the PTSD victims.   They have waited impatiently for their mate to return, fully expecting that they will return and relationship will  just take up where it left off.  Those with PTSD will be anything but certainly not the same person who left.  The profoundness of this change is so powerful and unexpected that the wife is left with the position of trying to fit back into this marriage and be a part and partner to the PTSD mate.  Since the PTSD mate  is numb and may or may not know it, the situation becomes impossible.

I would love to say there are plenty of resources available for the PTSD spouse to help with this transition but  there simply are very few.  I’ve talked in an earlier post about a program started by the Walter Reed Hospital   They invite a small group for a short term in-depth  treatment program for PTSD spouses only.  Like any new treatment it will take a while to gather enough statistics to base today’s precious and scarce money on.  The negative is that no matter how successful this program might be, it is limited to a small number of women, I believe it is eleven  at a time.  Compared to the number of women or men who make up the number of PTSD spouses and loved ones involved, we are talking about… “Really”.

I am happily married now and one of the things that I have always loved about my wife is her support.  She says the same thing about me and together I guess we make a good pair.  I remember how I felt coming home from Vietnam.  Not only could I not give any support, I couldn’t take it in either.  I was numb to all of this.  I felt I had depleted my supply and I was walking around on empty for a long while.  I had to rediscover my humanity and this, as I’ve said before, took a lot of soul searching and personal introspection.

I have stated openly that I don’t think my marriage would have worked if I had already been married or married just after I returned.  I marvel at those who have PTSD , are married, and can make it, I really do.  I am not advocating divorce by any stretch because I believe a strong partnership will be helpful in getting past the storm of PTSD.  But statistics are scary.  They surveyed returning PTSD sufferers from Vietnam and of those who were married 40% were divorced within the first 6 months.  This is staggering!!  If you are a PTSD spouse of a PTSD sufferer, your clock is ticking.  You have two choices, as I see it.  You either can stick your head in the sand and ignore this issue by trying to just tough it out adhering to the “in sickness and health”  issue like a martyr and hope that you are not simply a statistic waiting to happen or you can start a campaign to get help and fight.  You need to enlist all your resources to help.  You can start the ball rolling to get your mate back.  Maybe not completely but closer to the one you fell in love with. 

Professional help is always the best but sometimes the circumstances will not allow this as step one.  We are a good step two.  Talking about feelings is the beginning step to refinding them.  No one is happy to be going through this so deep down he/she is an ally to your search for answers.  Start posting here.   It is free and easy.  It just means taking that first step. By taking this step you may find that taking step #1 at a later date might be appropriate and easier to deal wuith.

The posting is open to both the PTSD sufferer and you, the PTSD spouse, too.  Your courage can be anonymously shared not only by your spouse but by many others as well.  We are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  No one is turned away, edited or criticized for what they write.  Sunlight is the greatest disinfectant.