You’ve made it home — or at least friends and family think you did — but it doesn’t feel like you are “home.” Everybody is overjoyed that you’re back but you are miserable as well as guilty because you would rather be there than here. You have relationship, sexual and financial problems and miss the structure that got you through every day, as much as you complained about it.
Most of all, you miss your friends. They are the only ones who really get it. If you go into an insurgent’s house, you know there’s a change in plan just by reading your sergeant’s eyes. If you go into your house, your partner can talk for hours and you still don’t know what they want! No wonder you call people at 0200 to reminisce or watch the war channel all night.
There is increasing support by the DoD for veterans to receive psychotherapy with no negatives attached: A DoD Memorandum (April 18, 2008) specifically states that under many circumstances including marriage and post-war counseling, the applicant for a security clearance can answer “No” to Question 21. So, you’re good on that one.
…but why should I tell anyone about what happened to me? I don’t have PTSD.
OK, you don’t have to have PTSD to benefit from talking to somebody, but if you DO have things you did, saw, smelled, heard, or felt AND if that gets in your way of functioning every day, it might be helpful to talk with somebody who gets it.
When troops returned from WWII, they came home on ships and had eight to ten weeks to process, honor, grieve — their experiences. They also had one very long deployment — as did most Viet Nam vets, so the recovery process was different: You go to war, you come home, and you try to get on with life.
This time you might have gone back three, four or five times and now you wonder why you would ever want to fit in again. Who could possibly understand that?
- There is huge conflict not only between those who have been deployed and those who haven’t, but even about which unit you were in and when/where?
- It’s stressful for a 23-year old with three combat deployments trying to teach new people who “learned it by the book” that some of those same book techniques got your friends killed?
- You hate crowds or sitting with your back to a door because you can’t see what’s happening next, and you need to be prepared for the worst?
- You really don’t want to be THIS addicted to porn (really), but porn – and drinking – are the only two things that put aside some of those memories? And that still give you the edge. Oh, riding your bike gives you the edge, too, but all of these cause huge fights with your family.
- You don’t want people thanking you for your service because it is your job?
- You feel angry because the parents of a fallen friend call you every anniversary? On one hand you’re upset with them because the calls are constant reminders about his death and on the other hand, you’re thankful for the same calls because it keeps the experience alive and, in an odd way – him, too! (And then, it’s even worse, because they keep asking you if you’ve visited him at Arlington yet. No, but I’ve sure had a lot of drinks in his name!)
- Oh, and Mom and Dad, there is no God.
Finally, you don’t want people telling you to forget about it or suck it up. You’re right — the friends who didn’t come back or who are changed forever deserve more respect.
And so do you — from you — by putting those memories and experiences in a different place so that you can live well in this world, too. Laying your pack down for an hour with a clinician who gets it might make all the difference. Many of us realize that the transition from the military is so disruptive that most of you would rather go back to war than deal with civilian life.
You don’t have to have had a heart attack to be a good heart surgeon. You don’t have to have been combat-deployed to be a good clinician. There are people in both fields who should be there and who shouldn’t! Clinicians cross a wide range of training, titles and endorsements. The one common variable is that they must be licensed in order to provide mental health care. Some are generalists, like your family practice provider — and some specialists.
When you interview them, do they “get it?” Does their age matter? Gender? Do they look like the ex who broke up with you when you were a high school senior so even if they walked upside down, it wouldn’t be a “good fit?” Can they discuss a treatment plan with you? Do they understand the brain changes that contribute to some of your behaviors? Do they keep their own political opinions completely out of the conversation? Do they ask you what questions YOU have? (You’re the team leader. You have the right to ask a lot of questions — and to have them addressed).
Therapy can be hard work. So can just getting through every day. If whatever you’re doing is not working for you now, try putting that plan on hold and just looking at another one — talking to a clinician.