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I met Dick in the Spring of 1969 and he showed me a maturity and seriousness beyond his years. I was impressed!
As newlyweds, I realized it was dangerous to wake him out of a sound sleep. I had to make sure I was out of his reach, as he would attack when startled. I tried various things, such as tossing pillows or water from the doorway to wake him. That should have been a cause for concern, but little did I know!
In 1972, Dick was an usher in a friend's wedding and I was a guest. Dick went off with his friends and had too much to drink. When he got home, he locked himself in the downstairs bathroom and threatened to kill himself, saying he just could not go on any longer. I called the police, his mother and brother. Dick ended up spending the night in jail, as I was afraid of what he would do in that state of mind. I was concerned. Everyone else pretended nothing was wrong.
He usually drank too much whenever we were at a party, or had one, and there was a crowd. He became verbally abusive and would start an argument over nothing at all.
In 1973 we both went to college full time, but Dick was obsessed with getting perfect grades. A 4.0 Grade Point Average took precedence over family, home and all else.
When Dick drank he had fits of rage which always came out of nowhere and never had any apparent reason. As a result we never had any friends At 12 years old our daughter started to show problems, herself. We attributed them all to adolescence.
During all those years, Dick never talked about Vietnam, even when the subject came up for discussion somewhere. I used to say that he was always OK as long as everything was peaches and cream. It seems, in retrospect, that he needed all his strength just to keep the memories suppressed and had nothing left over to deal with the everyday problems of life. I knew he needed help, but I could not figure out for what, or what kind of help. He had a kind of Jekyll and Hyde personality and there was no explanation for it that I could see.
He never liked crowds, fireworks on the 4th of July, and worst of all shopping at Christmas for presents, or even worse than that, a tree. Dick always managed to especially spoil Christmas and really never wanted much to do with it. This too was something out of character for him. I just could not understand where he was at. Now I do, finally: He was in Vietnam, expecting a mortar attack he knew he was not going to survive!
He also never liked yard work or being outside in Summer humidity. He said he could not breathe and had to stay in the house. Now I know the humidity was bringing back memories of the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.
Dick used to have nightmares which really became pronounced after the Gulf War. It seems that without that war and without the positive attention that war received, versus the Vietnam War and the Vietnam veterans - there was no homecoming parade or celebration for them - Dick might have been able to keep things more or less buried. But it all started to come back, little by little, in nightmares, sweats, flashbacks. For the first time he started to talk about Vietnam, not when he was sober, of course, and, naturally he usually didn't remember the next day. But even so it was a beginning, not a pleasant one, but a beginning, never the less. Neither he nor I have had a good night's sleep since.
Sometime after the Gulf War, Dick had become impossible to live with. I told him if he didn't get help I wanted a divorce, because I would not tolerate his (mental) abuse any longer. However, he kept drinking more and more, would become intoxicated and start talking about Vietnam and put off seeking help.
Then it happened! Just before Veterans Day, 1994. I awoke at 6 AM to find him sprawled on the floor, passed out. I had never before seen him this drunk since I have known him. When I could not wake him up or move him I called the police. He came to and they talked to him. We called an ambulance and he was taken to the hospital. A volunteer at Seaborne Hospital came with the ambulance and they talked about Vietnam. Late that afternoon he was released, so I could take him to Seaborne Hospital, a substance abuse center. He was there for approximately three weeks, over Thanksgiving. He attended AA meetings regularly thereafter and started counseling for PTSD. He still sees his counselor once a week and meets with a group of Vietnam vets once a week. He constantly has nightmares, waking up screaming sometimes, bathed in sweat at other times.
If you find this account too cold and intellectual, without feelings, you are right. I do not expect anyone, who hasn't experienced it, to understand how difficult it is to live with someone who has PTSD, because I still don't understand it and I am still unable to put it into words. I am under so much stress that even though I am on 60 mg. of Prozac a day, there are days when I can hardly get myself out of bed and face another day at work. What is even more frightening, is to know that my husband has these same feelings, only more so. He gradually found it impossible to continue to work and is now classified by the VA as 100% permanently and totally disabled.Ulrike Weywoda
a story published in VA literature...
I was born fifteen months after my father returned from his tour of duty in Vietnam. I was eight when he and my mother were divorced. All my life I felt my father did not love me. My mother would say, "Your dad loves you. He just has a hard time showing it." I never believed her, but now I am beginning to understand why my father acted the way he did. Individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) have painful and unacceptable memories of the actual events of the trauma. the person may relive the experience in his mind or try to shut it out completely. Either way, the person's behavior is not the same as it was before the event. The individuals need to talk about the event, but many do not. They stay in denial for years (Williams 22, 23).
My father came home from Vietnam in 1968. My mother said, "I kissed the man I loved and married and watched him board the plane for Vietnam. That person died over there. A stranger returned in your dad's body." In 1992 he realized he had a problem and talked about his experiences in Vietnam for the first time. He denied he had a problem all those years. He said if anyone asked him about the war, he made a joke or said he saw a little action. He changed the subject as quickly as possible. Denial was a factor in his problem, and realizing this started him on the road to recovery. He began to talk about the war and what it did to him.
Guilt, shame and anger are other emotions shared by veterans of the Vietnam war (Williams 23,24). The first time my dad saw a dead Viet- Cong he got sick. When he saw the first dead American GI, the sickness turned to anger. He decided to kill as many Viet-Cong as he could, and he enjoyed doing it. He saw men walking beside him get shot through the head, and he came home without a scratch. He felt guilty because he was alive and others died. He felt both guilt and shame because of all the people he killed. He was angry because one of his good friends was killed one month after arriving in Vietnam, and many others he had gotten to know and care about were killed. He felt he could not share the guilt, shame and anger with anyone. He decided to protect himself and not care about anyone or anything. After that, nothing mattered except surviving any way he could. He came home a cold and hardened individual.
"Many veterans find it extremely uncomfortable to feel love and compassion for others. To do this, they would have to thaw their numb reactions to death and horror that surrounded them in Vietnam...; many of these veterans go through life with an impaired capacity to love and care for others" (Williams 51). My dad started therapy last year at the Veterans Administration Hospital, and he said only a few weeks ago he started to feel real emotions again. The therapist instructed him to write a letter to his good friend who was killed in Vietnam. He wrote the letter as if the friend survived. The therapist told my dad to read the letter aloud, and he said he cried for the first time since he went to Vietnam. He said for the first time he really cared and had emotional feelings about something.
According to my father, the most difficult aspect of the war for veterans is the lack of understanding and feeling of alienation from their fellow Americans. They did not feel welcome when they returned home. The veterans were labeled as women and baby killers. The war was not a popular war, and much public disgust for the war was directed toward the veterans. This caused a great deal of stress and heartache, thus becoming a major factor in PTSD. Many veterans just like my dad felt abandoned by their country. They were expected to be cold blooded killers and live in the jungle for a year, then return to civilization and lead a normal life that no longer existed for them. No help was given to help these men adjust. My dad was angry with his country and with others for not understanding what he went through, even though he did not want to let anyone know what really happened.
My parents both saw a psychiatrist, but they still ended their marriage. No one understood the problem back then. They do not know if things would have been different if the proper treatment had been available for them. My dad said that help has become available within the last ten years. PTSD was first recognized in 1980 (Williams, introduction). Since PTSD has been identified, veterans can get the treatment they deserve and need. The past year has been a good year for me because my father is trying to show me that he really does love me. He is trying to explain to me why it was so difficult to show me that he cared. I went through life without a father's love. Now thanks to the treatment my father is getting for his problem, I feel very close to him. I also feel loved.