Here it is two days after my birthday, my wife is now packing up to leave for the weekend, and it is not on good terms. I’m not sure what happened since she came back from Afghanistan, but things are different, way different. It seems to be a blessing now if we can get through two days in a row, without this impending feeling as if things are coming to an end. I am the spouse of a returning veteran from the Afghanistan war, but what makes me different from most spouses, is that I too am a veteran, one who fought in the Iraq war as a special operator. Never did I imagine myself to be sitting here writing as the spouse of a returning veteran, in just the beginning stages of her own battle.
It was several years after my deployment, when the 100 mph lifestyle stopped, did I find myself reaching what would seem to be an endless rock bottom. Just on the verge of giving up on the idea of ever getting better, the words engrained into my brain by the military to never quit kicked in, and I made those first difficult steps forward in asking for help. It was hard, the problems seem to never end, and I hated the person for whom I was. Over the years though it got easier, or maybe it was just that I was sick of hearing myself speak, but nonetheless the more I did talk, the more problems I began to figure out on my own. Throughout those years I would still become an officer after many years of being enlisted, graduate college with a 3.9 out of 4.0, and finish my master’s degree summa cum laude again with a 3.8. Honestly, those things are small in comparison to how I began to change my life mentally. Numbers are numbers, and a degree is a piece of paper, but putting those together with a new sense of self, one where I could finally look in the mirror without shame, that was the real accomplishment. Why does any of this matter in regards to my wife? Well, during the seven months while she was gone, I had the greatest opportunity to polish off the rest of my inner demons, and to become the best husband I could be for her, so that she could have her own time to heal without having me to worry about. This seemed to be a great plan to me, and even better, I felt great! I knew things were not going to be easy at first, but I was going to be the rock for her to cling onto when things were rough…or so I thought.
I knew when she came home her experiences would not be the same as the one’s I faced, but her being in a combat unit, I thought we could still relate. After an incredible homecoming, the realities of the world come back to returning home: the bills, shopping, picking up dry cleaning, all the mundane things that we were all sheltered from while deployed. As that life crept in, so too did the anger and rage. No more could I make her smile, take away the pain with kind words, or be the person she wanted me to be, everything I seem to do is wrong. Each day I tip-toe around the house and carefully choose each word, for I do not know which word will be “the one” the makes it all start up again. There was something lost in Afghanistan, and some days I feel like more of a colleague then a spouse. With each new knockout, I get up like Rocky and say, “One more round.” I would be a liar to say that with each blow, a little bit of me isn’t lost too, and inside the resentment, frustration, and honestly my own anger builds as well.
Having now been on both sides, I’ll take getting shot at in a heartbeat, then to endure the stress of having a loved one deployed. The impact and ramifications of war are forgotten quickly after the authorization letter is signed to send us off to hell. We live in a society that is short sighted, and that will glorify death through games like Call of Duty, where you get to hit the power button to your PlayStation and it all goes away. The 1% of us who serve, and those who have been in combat know, there is no power button to make it turn off, the pain continues to linger on, and on, and on. I truly thought that with my experience and the willingness to be the best that I could, would make everything better, but I am not able to and I can’t. So, just like many spouses out there who are doing the same job, I am no different than you. Being a spouse for a returning veteran is the hardest job in the world. To watch someone you love spiral down, while still wanting to do everything and anything you can to bring them back up, is something that every American adult should face before they send troops into battle, so they know what it is like when they come home. I’m not sure how things will go, as I can only take it one day at a time. I am not trying to let this change the person I worked so hard to fix, but I’m kidding myself to think I am not building up a callus to keep from getting hurt.
In closing, I hope this blog is the beginning of a great dialogue to come, and I welcome constructive criticism and feedback. Please let it be known that everyone has a different story and different circumstances. I don’t believe what I have done is the only way, nor the right way, it is merely just my way, and I would love to hear the challenges others are facing as well, and how they are going about tackling them. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, and may you learn and be better from your own challenges and sacrifices.