Military.com | By Andrea Carlile, Military Pathways
Learning to Heal PTSD and Secondary Trauma
June is PTSD awareness month. While continued attention on PTSD is vital for our service members and veterans, I hope to also create awareness about how PTSD affects the entire family.
Family members of people with PTSD can suffer from secondary stress and experience some of the same debilitating effects as PTSD. They may experience depression, anxiety, and even susbstance abuse. Attempting to cope with the challenges of caring for a loved one with PTSD can bring on those symptoms. I am one of those family members. While my husband has come a long way in dealing with his challenges, there are still issues that we face.
Stressful situations can cause my husband to become frustrated and angry. Therefore, I sometimes attempt to prevent these triggers by handling the situations myself. This can make me feel worn down and discouraged. It's sometimes difficult to understand what my husband is feeling when he becomes withdrawn and closed off emotionally.
If we are not careful, feelings of resentment and anger can emerge. Why is he so upset? What did I do wrong? Is there any hope? It can be difficult to not take his actions personally. It's easy to feel discouraged and anxious about a situation that doesn't seem to improve.
While the family member who first had PTSD needs help, it is also crucial to heal the entire family. When the spouse of a PTSD sufferer is revitalized and strong, he or she can be a better support for the family.
I have learned that I am not the cause or the solution of my husband's PTSD. This alone has brought me some peace and reduced my anxiety. I also take steps to strengthen my own mental and emotional health. I have gone through counseling and connected with other spouses who have been in a similar situation. I am sure to take time to relax and seek strength from my Faith. I also make sure there is counseling available for my children, if they need it. I can better support my husband when I am strong.
My husband's PTSD diagnosis came four years ago and our journey has been arduous. We've had our fair share of pitfalls, rock bottoms, and victories. Throughout the battle, we learned to cope, find success, and keep our marriage strong. However, the journey is a daily battle and we must continue to use the tools that have helped in the past if we want a successful future. My husband has come very far with his battle.
It has never been easy tackling both PTSD and secondary traumatic stress in our home. The divorce rate is high for families who face this diagnosis. However, as more people learn about PTSD and secondary stress, I am confident there will be many more success stories. There is hope for a happy ending for the entire family by utilizing resources that can lead to better understanding and healing for everyone involved.
Andrea Carlile is the spouse of a twelve year military veteran, received her Master’s from Indiana Wesleyan University, and is pursuing a career in Family and Marital Therapy. Andrea has two daughters and currently works at an optometry office. She enjoys writing, reading, and scrapbooking. The War That Came Home is her first novel, and she hopes to publish more books in the near future.