Part 1: Why Your Veteran Loved One Won’t Talk to You
“He wouldn’t open up. I tried . . . I tried so hard it hurt. Now, he is gone forever. If he would’ve just talked to me, I could have helped him . . .”
Suicide survivors are left behind in a haze of shock and disbelief. In the many conversations I have with suicide survivors, I hear the guilt, shame, and regret in their voices. As someone who wouldn’t talk to his own wife, my very best friend in the world, about my emotional issues, anxiety, and night terrors, allow me to share the simple reason why . . .
Seems counter intuitive, right? You are thinking that if they loved you, they would have shared their struggles and problems with you. They would have allowed you to help – especially when it starts to impact your relationship. In fact, their lack of willingness to open up is your proof that they don’t care about you or your relationship. In many relationships, that is simply not the case.
Let me share my perspective from the other side to help you understand. In my unit, protecting my Soldiers – my brothers and sisters in arms – provided the motivation to fight, to continue, to press-on. But those I love – family and my closest friends – have always been my greatest inspiration for service. In my most personal, vulnerable moments of loneliness, my family was my strength. My morale would soar with a letter, the sound of my wife’s voice, or hearing my son laugh. I would read a letter or gaze at a photo before I would drift off into sleep. I was committed to doing the hard work so they wouldn’t have to. They deserved a better world, and I was making my sacrifice to help give it to them. That was my reason for being in that hell in the first place. In return, you express with pride the nobility of what we do. I fight for my brothers and sisters, but I represent you – your hopes, your dreams, your Love.
When you join the warrior caste, you change. The military culture will help you realize your potential – to “be all that you can be.” You learn about yourself – the good . . . and the bad. In basic training, the stress from the novelty, separation, indoctrination, and assimilation changes you. When you deploy and head off to war, you change even more. The frequency, duration, and intensity of stress impacts how you view and interpret the world around you. You come face to face with the darkest parts of the human condition – and yourself. For me, I saw my own vulnerabilities. I saw the darkness inside me, and I was exposed to aspects of myself I didn’t like.
As I struggled to understand and gain control over what I was dealing with, my instinct was to shield – not share – what I was going through. The guilt, regret, and shame was a part of me, but a part I wanted to keep from my wife and kids. I didn’t know why things “felt” different. Because I didn’t understand it, I couldn’t talk about it with those people closest to me. My wife and kids were so proud of me, but underneath the veneer, I was struggling to reconcile these emotions inside me. You see me as a hero. I was afraid that if I shared my “weakness,” if they saw some of what I saw in myself, they wouldn’t recognize me anymore. To you, I would be less than what I was and undeserving of your love. If I couldn’t understand what I was feeling, how could I trust they would understand? The experiences, emotions, and memories made it hard for me to identify with the man I once was. No. Love of my family was all I had, and I couldn’t risk that they would see me as something less (the way I saw myself). I was losing myself, and I couldn’t lose them, too. I loved them too much.
When I struggle to control the negative, painful memories and emotions inside me, I become emotionally disconnected from you. You see me, but become increasingly frustrated because I am not there. I don’t express joy. I become hyper-vigilant to protect the most sacred part of my life. I worry. I don’t sleep well. I numb the pain with alcohol and other, reckless behaviors. Because my brothers and sisters in arms have seen these vulnerabilities, I long for a return to horror of war – so I can feel again. In the end, I harm the very thing I cherish the most – my relationship with you. All done under the initial premise of love.
Too many veterans who struggle and get to this point choose suicide as a way out. They want you to remember them as they were and not hate them for who they have become. They are hurting you, and they can’t bear to do that. They feel alone. They feel lost and frustrated with themselves. They want to release you from the burden they have become. They do it for Love.
The story of the military journey does not have to end this way. Unfortunately, too many of them do. Mine didn’t. In fact, I believe I am a better person now with a stronger relationship with those who I love. I discovered a better path, and you can too. In Part Two of The War Within entitled – “Why We Respond This Way”, I will share why this experience is not only normal – but entirely predictable. Understanding how and why this happens from a psychological and biological perspective provides the insight to how to discover the alternative path from the one that leads to despair. Here’s the hard part – you can’t do it alone as a veteran or a loved one, but the good news is that you are not alone. We are here. Connect with us today (1.844.889.5610) if this sounds like you (click here) or someone you love (click here). Give us the chance to help you discover that alternative path.
This is Part One of a Four Part Series entitled The War Within. The objective of this series of blogs is to increase service member, veteran, and family member understanding of how the warrior journey impacts their lives and the potential to heal and grow through the experience. Stop Soldier Suicide is a non-profit organization committed to ending the problem of military related suicide, and we rely entirely on the generosity of individuals to fund our operations and advocacy efforts to improve the military to civilian transition process. If you would like to offer a donation, please click here.