The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

August 2002
PTSD/SUBSTANCE ABUSE COMMITTEE REPORT
   
 

 

BY STEVE MASON, CHAIR 

I write this not as a committee report, but as the observations and recommendations of an old soldier. The Spanish have an appropriate expression: "The Devil is wise not because he is the Devil, but because he is old."  

I, like you, am an old traveler. We learn from our experiences and those of our extended family. I write this on a personal basis in the hope that it will serve to ameliorate the "quiet desperation" so many of you now suffer. If it is of moderate help to you, it will be of incalculable value to those veterans, who, living in moral pain, need you.  

A man alone is keeping bad company, indeed. He or she needs you. And since you must love your veteran, it is vital that you remember that the cost of a thing is how much of your life you are willing to exchange for it. This is an emotionally expensive commitment - one which can bring great rewards for you and your loved one.

There are two things to know at the onset. One is that no relationship can begin until the romance is over. The other is that no one can get on with the future by denying the past. It is the past - not the future - that holds the key to our greatest fears. These two life observations become the core of the problem I now briefly address. 

As you earn the trust of your veteran who suffers the ravages of PTSD and/or substance abuse, you discover one of life's best kept secrets. We do not "find" each other; we "invent" one another. Betrayal is when the person we love becomes who he or she was all along. It is maintenance, therefore, not passion, which sustains any relationship. 

As the chair of this committee, it is a safe bet that I know a thing or two about PTSD/SA. It is a sure bet that you know first-hand what some "experts" learn only second hand. PTSD is not war specific. Spiritual abuse as a child, rape, witnessing horrific events, divorce for children, a damned dog bite, the national fear of terrorist attacks, are just some of the other tragic events whether singular in incident or sustained, which cause trauma. Trauma is not just a bad memory. It cannot and will not be denied. It is in us, it becomes us. It will not be ignored and refuses to be allayed with time or distance. Unlike memory, trauma becomes neither distorted nor attenuated. 

No one expects you to be a therapist. But help does exist. And the future can be bright. For instance, how many trigger mechanisms have you identified in your veteran? Certainly, he or she is deeply invested in avoidance and, if an alcoholic or a substance abuser, the propensity for getting away from him/herself in an altered state is proof of that. You cannot be responsible for understanding situational reactivity or re-experiencing. You cannot understand the origins of his/her repressed rage. You must, however, understand what, if not with whom, you are involved.

There are those who understand the indications of dissociation, repetitive negative behaviors, and trauma-specific fears. You owe it to yourself to seek them out. The Vet Center in your area is probably the easiest and best first step you can take. Take this advice: Refuse to be a co-dependent and seek the advice and counseling available to you. Both you and your veteran can only be the better for it. And I hope the veteran who reads this will have the moral courage to ask his or her spouse/significant other to read it. It was written with love and respect for you both and a certainty that only good will come from counseling.

   

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