After my husband returned from his tour in Afghanistan he has been mostly silent about what went on there. But he's withdrawn and moody and sometimes he throws and breaks things. He's never violent towards me or our son, and after he gets angry he leaves and comes back okay. But even when he smiles he never seems truly happy. What can I do to help him?Dear Warrior's Wife:
You know your husband well, and you know he's wounded even if he has no physical scars.
How would you deal with nerve damage that might cause you to grimace in pain and throw your arm about wildly? You would contact doctors and experts who know about nerve damage to see what they could do to help you.
What else would you do? What else do others do? Smart people will find others who had the same wounds and ask them: "What did you do to help yourself?"
They would contact families and ask them: "What did you do? How did you - and how do you - cope?"
And there are many resources to help families and you. (There's one from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, HERE.)
I know your husband loves you and he's in pain. You may feel he feels like less of a man and more like a monster. He might even tell you "I'm a monster", and you know he isn't and yet... and yet you can't convince him he's not.
That's because he feels like a freak, a demon, a savage.
You know, that's what he "feels." And you can't stop him from feeling what he feels, even if it's not true.
Let's say you put your hand on a hot stove for too long and you burn yourself and now you have a burn. How do you know? The evidence is there. Your hand is rapidly swelling, getting red. Others can see your hand. And your burn is painful.
Can someone seeing another person with a burn on their hand say: "Hey, buddy, stop feeling your pain!"
Even if they love you they can't tell you to stop feeling.
You have to administer to your wound and put on medicine to cool it down and it takes a little time... and gradually you feel it less and less as the nerves settle down, and you apply soothing medicine, and your bandages come off and now your hand is better (even if you always remember that time you touched the stove.)
Maybe your husband feels like a "demon." How to get rid of demons? You will find rituals, ceremonies and practices that allow you to help him bring joy inside his life, to slowly push out the bad spirit and replace it with good. And yet there will be no spiritual "magical" cure, or if there is some divine magic, it is long-term supernatural magic that you may find to cure him. And you know any sacred magic will only work one day at a time, and it takes time.
Your husband may feel he was not successful at what he should have done, or that he could have done more than he did. True, maybe he was not as successful as he wanted... or maybe he could have done more... or maybe he did as much as he could do and yet he wanted to push himself even more... Isn't he a warrior? And don't all good warriors always want to do more? And you know it's silly for you to try to convince warriors like him that they shouldn't have worked harder. You know him.
Your husband has memories of those who were lost, and he will never forget them. How can you help him to honor their memory, and keep them alive with honor inside himself? When he regains more and more strength, what else can you both do as a tribute, to elevate and to recognize what they have sacrificed?
I am also obliged to tell you to go to your counseling and see your therapist and get to your veteran programs... and you already know all that, don't you? And you're smart enough to know what else you have to do.