I’m married to a veteran, and I’m pissed. I’m stuffed with so much anger that I don’t know what to do with it. Until recently, I didn’t even know it was there.
I’m pissed because my husband was damaged long before I met him, and it didn’t have to be that way. He was so young, and he got lied to. Now it’s too late, and nothing can be done about it because it’s all a big secret.
I’m pissed because I’ve been lied to, and no one seems to notice how much it hurts. No one notices how much I’ve changed, how much I can’t trust them anymore, how much my face has hardened. I’m not the same woman I used to be, but no one can tell.
I’m pissed because the storm never ends. Nothing is calm for my little family for very long. We fight and scream and lose jobs and go to jail and ruin holidays, and when we’re done, we shove all the damage into a closet we can never manage to close all the way.
I’m pissed because I knew what I was getting myself into. I thought I could handle it. Sometimes, though, I can’t.
I thought things would change. They haven’t.
I’m pissed because of the silence, the tension, the emptiness, the way we can all shut down in a split second just so we can survive one more day.
I’m invisible, and I’m pissed.
When you’re married to someone who’s been broken by war, you learn how to keep secrets. You learn how to hide things. You learn how to smile through the hurt and tell everyone you’re just fine.
Eventually, though, the anger oozes to the surface. That’s what feelings do.
It’s not something we talk about. When you Google “angry veterans’ spouses,” you get a bunch of articles about vets’ rage, not their partners’. Our veterans are the ones who’ve made unimaginable sacrifices. They’re the ones with the diagnoses. I get it, but I’m still pissed.
So, for this article, I had to throw keywords out the window because there aren’t any keywords.
There’s only anger.
Why We’re Angry
Some of us are a little angry at everyone.
We’re angry at the military. We know things other people don’t, and we know they never should’ve happened.
My husband was deployed to Iraq when he was only 17 years old. He scored a 114 on his ASVAB Test, which should’ve qualified him for any job, but he was told all he could do was join the infantry. It was 2005, and the Army needed warm bodies on the ground.
I doubt they thought about that 17-year-old boy growing up to be a 33-year-old man still struggling to assimilate and forgive himself and heal from the trauma his young brain endured. I don’t think they saw a person, at all. They saw opportunity.
They saw a pair of combat boots.
Even without these issues, being close to someone with PTSD changes us in subtle, powerful ways. Through the years, we may start to feel more and more alone. The day-to-day task of supporting a veteran with PTSD wears us down, and the more severe our partners’ symptoms are, the worse we feel.
We’re also really good at setting our own feelings aside so we can take care of everyone else’s. We feel depressed, panicky, and maybe even suicidal, but we bury all that where it can’t cause any more problems than we’re already dealing with. After a while, we’re raging inside until, eventually, it explodes.
Through the months and years, I’ve dealt with crisis after crisis. I’ve been patient, graceful, selfless, strong, and resourceful. I’ve forgiven all the mistakes, all the bullshit, because I love my veteran.
Then one night, I realize my compulsive forgiveness only goes so far. I haven’t forgiven anything. I yell and scream, threaten and push. I’ve even gotten violent with my husband, even though I hate the way it feels.
Which brings me to my next point.
We’re angry at ourselves. We’re angry at ourselves for feeling angry. We know what our spouses have been through. We’re aware of the hidden battle they fight inside their heads every day. We know why they do what they do, but, sometimes, it still pisses us off.
We think we should be able to handle it, maybe even fix it, and we get angry at ourselves when we can’t. We get angry at ourselves when we cry, when we deliver threats and ultimatums, when we talk shit, when we decide we just can’t take anymore.
We want to believe we have no limits, no lines our beloved soldiers can’t cross. When we realize we’re wrong, we get mad.
We get mad at ourselves when we don’t know how to handle the rage, the nightmares, the flashbacks and withdrawal and long, Jack-Daniels-fueled nights. We’re angry because our partners are loyal, strong men who would do anything for us, and yet their episodes leave us feeling empty and resentful in a place inside we won’t let anyone see.
We’re angry at ourselves for being breakable and human.
What We Can Do About It
So, yes, we’re pissed, and we have good reason to be. We’ve been wronged, and so have our families. We’ve sacrificed things we can never get back. We know things we can never un-know.
So what can we do?
We can forgive ourselves. We probably don’t even know how angry we are at ourselves, but if we look close enough, we can see it.
We need to tell ourselves we’ve done the best we can. We’ve loved our soldiers the best we can love, and that’s our only job. It isn’t our job to fix them or say just the right thing or save them from a war in their heads that may never stop raging.
Our job is to love them, which is exactly what we’ve done.
We can forgive our spouses. They don’t want to say and do and feel the things they do. They just want to feel safe and normal for one day.
Our partners don’t want to be drunk all the time. They just want the nightmares and visions and the echoes of mortars to finally go away.
They don’t want to put up walls, but they don’t know how to take them down, either. The most they can manage is a brick at a time.
They don’t want to alienate themselves from everything in their world, but they don’t know how else to get by. They’re tired from the battle, the struggle, the faces that die in their minds over and over again. They’re tired and disillusioned and scared.
We can forgive them for being human, too.
It probably won’t be enough to forgive just once. Our anger may run deep enough that we have to do it on an as-needed basis. We may cry and scream and curse and have to forgive all over again…and then scream some more.
Maybe we have to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be in love with soldiers who’ve sacrificed more for the neighbors than they’ll ever know.
Maybe we need to give ourselves permission to get pissed and then give ourselves permission to forgive.
It isn’t always easy, but if we lay back and let everyone feel and process life the way they need to, we’ll find that forgiveness is always there, patiently waiting for us.