«Keep your friends close but your enemies closer».
I feel like I am conscious about how my life made me who I am. I'm not saying that I am who I want to be but I know the person inside I want to become.
Silence was a painful notion to me. Silence was my ultimate protection against the rest of the world, my isolating and reassuring bubble. You don't come into my bubble: I'm the one who must accept to leave it.
I live with a veteran with PTSD who knows how to handle total silence, his damn trenches that would cut me out totally from his world. I remember so well how painfully crazy his coldness would make me feel: «Don't shut me out, please, don't shut me out!!!!». I remember pathetic scenes from our fights into our fortress.
Ugly. Emotionally ugly.
For the past 8 years, I've been living with him 24/7. I am so blessed to say that I have the most loving and caring husband in the world. I am fortunate to say that in his PTSD, he doesn't call me names so much, doesn't hit me, doesn't act so erratically anymore, doesn't brake things anymore, doesn't drink anymore. He's been through the long and tough road leading to his own empower regarding him, as a man, as a husband, as a veteran and as a veteran wounded with PTSD. I see him like a butterfly coming out slowly but magnificently from his cocoon.
It's true that there is hope. In my mind, there is absolutely no doubt about it.
Never the less, the collateral damages remain at some level and the healing process in an ongoing cycle made of bad and good days.
As for me, in my life, I had to learn how to deal and balance my definition and utilization of silence. You know, everybody keeps repeating how important it is to «break the silence» and «to reach out». I totally agree with that: don't stay into your little unhealthy silence..reach out.
Do what I say, not what I do. Or what I did.
As for me, I think I'll continue most of my journey accepting the fact that the lonely person that I was became a solitary one. I don't think that's wrong. It feels like coherence to who I am..it's my way of adapting in peace to my reality as a caregiver of a veteran with PTSD. Not as his spouse, but as a caregiver.
When it came to my husband's PTSD, I was kept silent by the system: from Veterans Affairs and the case managers who completely ignored my calls for help, to his specialists (It took me 6 years to meet my husband's psychiatrist he would see every 6 weeks), to the ones who where suppose to help my children who didn't acknowledge the reality of PTSD in our home, to his family who totally (and still do) ignored his situation...
So I became silent, dealing with the painful reality of PTSD, as much as I could: sometimes with love, sometimes with hate. But always with passion and determination. Resistance too.
For so long, I thought I was crazy, re-questioning myself over and over about the non-sense I was both a spectator and a contributor, trying to save our family's sanity as much as I could. How many times did I ask him to «keep it down» because I couldn't bare the idea that the children would hear us? Would hear his comments about them?
Silence. I prayed for silence..
My husband's PTSD isolated me. Silenced me.
You know, his trenches?
They used to make me feel panic inside. When he used his «military energy and determination» to finally determined that I was an enemy that didn't deserve anymore of his time, that he would completely ignore me, punishing me with his silence...
That would be the ultimate attack on the little girl in me, the one who was so scared to be abandoned.
Like I said, pathetic memories of glorious fights ending up in a total and terrifying silence.
Although my husband never was physically threatening to me (except on a very few occasions) and never directly expressed threats (excepts for a couple of times), his silence would make me feel hypervigilant myself about any noise, any words he would express out loud.
Silence, you say?
Oh yes. When he would shut up, grab a couple of bottles of wine and slam our bedroom door behind him, his silence was scaring the shit out of me as I had in mind the damn crowbar that he kept suspended (for 11 years) at our headboard.
Sometimes, silence was scary.
But silence in our fortress was not only his PTSD , not only his military culture: it was what was in my own kit too. In order not to feel so intensively about my husband's silence, I had to work on myself. I had to address not only my husband's PTSD but first and above all, I had to take a good look of what was in my kit, in terms of my own «triggers» and how they would make a distortion about my own perspective of his PTSD. I am dealing with my fear of abandonment and as much as my husband is working on dealing with his choices of responses and behavior, I am working as hard concerning my own shit. Not just for him, but for me too.
But I also had to learn when to be silent in order to avoid whatever I know is coming or to simply not to contribute to a situation.
Tough lesson, let me tell you. Learning to shut up AND to feel at peace inside was a Hell of a challenge. It's hard to answer anger with love. It's even tougher to «feel the love» inside.
Silence is sometimes the answer.
For instance, the other day, he was driving on the highway. A car, at his left, wouldn't pass him, forcing his to remain on the right side. Not only he doesn't like to be forced in one way, he certainly doesn't appreciate the fact that the car is continuously in his dead angle and that is a trigger to him: that is PTSD and his twisted perception about our society. Danger, to him, is eminent.
When the car finally passed, us, he looked at the driver, a young woman in her twenties, and said, with a tone of disgust:
-Oh. She's just a fucking bitch.
To him, that was the final explanation. The fact that she is a fucking bitch explains her «bad driving»; but the fact that she is a bitch also explains that in fact, she was no danger.
Oh. «Just» a fucking bitch.
To me, his words and mostly his attitude, were offensive. I mean, her driving is not perfect but she didn't do anything dangerous or illegal. She could have been my daughter or yours. And it's not so much «the words» than the easy judgment he reflected, how free it was.. This is exactly the kind of situation that would make me react because I would have tried to defend her (for my principles) and to make him understand..something. Anything.
But in this case, I remained silent. Silence was my weapon of choice.
Why? Because he said the word «just»: «just» a fucking bitch.
«Just» was my indication that he was triggered, that he was a military wearing his invisible uniform, that PTSD was making his anger and most importantly, his disgust, very real. By the tone of his voice, I knew that wasn't my husband talking. Being silent prevented us from having a conversation where I would have end up being angry at Rambo's perspective and excuses with no long term results.
Now that I am able to recognize him, my silent is not painful anymore: it gives me peace because I know why I choose to remain silent. I looked at the young driver, relieved that she couldn't hear him, and thought to myself:
«You're not a fucking bitch. But press on the pedal and get out of his way: I have my shield on and I can handle his anger.»
It's another, healthier version of «being silent when dealing of the reality of PTSD»
Did I ever tell you that I remained 4 years in our fortress, with very very very few contacts with the exterior? My silence was stronger than Rambo's hypervigilance, as he was the one who had to take care the grocery shopping: I wouldn't go out.
I remember about 3 summers ago. My husband's depression was bad: he would sleep more than 20 hours a day; this is the period when I lost him into the woods for hours..dealing with the cops, the search unit, ...my father had a few weeks to live...I remember going outside, making a «campfire», just sit there and cry.And cry. Cry my father's imminent death, my husband's condition and what it meant in my life, my loneliness. My fucking darkness. My desire to have another life.
I had a choice.
You know, true friends? I have 3.
All of them would have answered the phone, jumped in their car and in an instant, I would have had a comforting shoulder to cry on and a new perspective.. or just the sense of «liberation».
You know? Break the silence. Reach out.
I didn't make that choice. I choose to remain silence.
Today, I can make sense of this silence.
Yes, today, I can tell you that I inflicted myself some additional pain by remaining silent in my unhealthy bubble. This is when «Break the silence and reach out» should have made sense.
It was a choice, yes, but at the same time, you know what? I couldn't talk. I physically couldn't talk about my pain to anyone. I learned how to make people talk in order to avoid talking about me; I learned how to entertain to distract the attention and avoid the focus to be put on my husband. And add to that the fact that my social life and my physical freedom were Rambo's definite control over me.
Yes, physical freedom.
I'm sorry that he will have to read those words. I'm sorry if you feel like I'm exaggerating. I just don't see how to say differently.
Things have changed radically since then. But in our lives, into our fortress, my freedom is a challenge that still remains in some areas of our lives. Thank God, not all of them anymore.
You all understand that my objective is not to hurt my husband. The fact that I have this blog is the proof that his perspective changed. And I certainly don't want to portray him for what he is not..or not anymore.
Respectfully speaking, in our lives, this is the area where PTSD was very powerful for the control it had, both on my husband (his perception, his reaction, etc..) and myself (my reactions and my choices). He didn't have friends. Still doesn't. Anyone I loved was a threat to my love for him, an enemy he couldn't trust around me. He wouldn't recognize my social needs, my needs for a brake. My need to have a little piece of my life without him.
But for years:
1) Anyone, especially those I cared about, where perceived as enemies but also as people «who could know» his secrets and dark sides, affecting his image;
2) Every time an opportunity was presented to me or I suggested one concerning an activity that would not involve him was creating a commotion, just having THE IDEA. I will always remember when I «informed» him that my best friend an I were thinking about planning a week in Europe to celebrate our 20 years of friendship the following year.
I ended up tired defending my best friend's integrity: «You know she's not a whore, we won't be looking for sex with strangers, she wouldn't accept it from me anyways».
I let him win every time. Or was I buying peace? Anyhow, at one point, I considered the price to be too high and slowly physically distance myself from others, the ones I loved.
And Sandy, my best friend for the past 27 years who I will always consider as the sister I never had, was the first collateral damage of my definite silent outside the fortress that made me angry enough to continue to stand up to him. I chose my isolation to buy the peace but isolation never killed that part about missing her into my life.
3) Talking on the phone was a mission. I had to be careful of what I was saying and how I would say it. And I had to behave very normally in front of him (or walking in house in search of intimacy) so he wouldn't suspect that I was saying something I wasn't suppose to in his mind. A phone call made him highly paranoiac, same as for when I went for a coffee with a friend. After the call, the questions he had to ask me sounded like an interrogatory:
- Did you tell her about the fight we had last night?
- What did you tell her?
- What did she say?
The question period became excruciating. Enough for me to lie to him; enough for me remain silent with my friends. As my best friend, she respected my silence, had her own life, but she always found a way to keep in touch with me, once in a while. Over the years, I knew she would have been there for me. But I could explain to her what I couldn't see myself? Shame kept me apart from her.
7 years ago, my husband and I had a business. I met there 2 clients, 2 inspiring women, who I also call today «best friends»
In the matter of «me talking about me», I owe a lot to my friend Sarah who kept pushing my limits . You can ask her, we could talk for hours and «when it was time» to talk about me, it lasted a couple of minutes. She would kindly laugh about me: «Sarah talks for 4 hours and Jenny is done in 2 minutes!» And she insisted in her own and unique way. Even when I pushed her aside, she would come back.
She would openly confront me with my silence. My silence regarding the words I wouldn't say, the silence I would find refuge in from the rest of the world.. sometimes for months. She is the first one who was courageous enough to overcome the thick wall I imposed to the rest of the world and to myself: «Enough Sarah! I told you what I had to say. 2 minutes is already better than last time!»
Sarah's persistence forced me out of my wall of silence just because I felt her concern for me was real.
I also have my friend Chantal. She lives 3 houses from mine; we see each other once every..2-3 months. We walk together. Chantal is the one who inspired me to physically get out of my fortress. I don't know how many times I cancelled our meetings at the last minute, but her non-judgmental acceptance made me decide one morning, after one terrible night with PTSD, that I wouldn't cancel because of it. That for once, I could try to vent as close as possible to a situation, instead of briefly talking about it months later.
I smoked a joint before I left. She generously added Baileys to my coffee (I actually believe it was Bailey's with a touch of coffee...) and she listened to me. Not telling me what to do, what to think, what to say, what my options were...no: she listened, she let me vomit as much as I possibly could .. For the first time in years, I cried in front of somebody else, freely. I told her what just happened the hours before. Why I didn't sleep. She thanked me for trusting her, knowing what this moment meant to me.
When things were bad in my life, it was hard for me to reach out. As a couple, we also have our unique bond..the unbreakable complicity that we share.
It is known that for instance, a schizophrenic might decide to end up his medication because he feels better. I guess you could compare our couple in the same matter: when we are open, we are. But when we decide we must pursue alone, without help, nobody will brake the walls of our fortress. You won't get in.. We like to call ourselves «Bonnie and Clyde», close enough to «Jenny and Klode»: we are a team.
Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not.
Sometimes, it means «we are feeling normal right now, leave us alone»
Sometimes, it means «you made a mistake».
Like when were suppose to have couple therapy. We met with our therapist. Neither one of us liked her.
PTSD is very handy when you are looking for a way out because my husband is not so much into «therapy» to begin with not to mention the fact that his wife..is me: rather talkative and articulate, compared to him.
«You know what? I don't like her, you don't like her. Do we really need it? We are handling it!»
Oh yes, we were «handling it», the dysfunctional par of our life, being silent about. Yes, indeed, we needed the help. We needed it so badly that we couldn't see it.
But it's so easy to go hide into the fortress, into our parallel world. It's comforting..and so reassuring.
So silent too.
Today, my silence is more peaceful. It's a choice, rather than a protective reflex. I respect silence..and not looking to be heard.
Probably because in my silence, I found a way to listen to myself.
Probably because I have friends who loved me enough to help me brake my own barrier;
But most importantly, because I have a husband who loves me more than the veteran with PTSD that he is.
I'll never be silent about one fact:
I love him.