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Combat Stress & Moral Injury

When I finally agreed to support Matt's desire to become an Army Chaplain, he assured me again and again that during a deployment he would be in more of a supportive role and not be in places that were unsafe.  Unable to carry a gun, and relying on a Chaplain Assistant as a body guard, I figured his experiences would likely less traumatic than those we would be serving.  Trauma is subjective though.  We can find ourselves with flashbacks from childhood experiences as well as car accidents, and research is coming out that some may have a predisposition for developing PTSD when a traumatic event occurs.  Our first deployment was no ordinary one.  We lost 12 amazing soldiers, 8 during a historic mass assault.  Matt was responsible for setting up makeshift morgues, being present for calling time of deaths, and setting up memorials for his friends. On top of that, he found himself working closely with those working in the OR as they did their best to save local children, Afghan locals, and working on injuries for our men.  Matt was built for this.  Practically growing up in a hospital as a child trying to overcome hip perthes disease, he has always felt comfortable around medicine.  Yet, as most find out, you cannot expose yourself to death and trauma without it coming back to you somehow.

I would describe my husband as coming home with Combat Stress.  Within six months, sensory images and experiences around him would remind him of vivid pictures of the OR.  Often calling Afghanistan "bizarro world", he began to feel surprised at what he had accomplished during a crisis moment once he gained the distance of time on it.  Although proud, he also battled internally as tears welled up, questioned life and God, and defined what "living" meant for us as a family.  The ups and downs of reintegration were met with unpredictable emotions, flashbacks that left him with a stare, and feeling uncomfortable with civilian apathy.  What used to be Thursday nights in front of Grey's Anatomy, were now reminders of death and full sensory overload.

As a spouse, we are often so excited to have them home safe, we don't expect to see the aftermath of war 6 months to a year after they return.  If still in a deployment cycle, some soldiers will compartmentalize their thoughts and emotions as they get ready to leave again.  Many spouses struggle with knowing what PTSD and Combat Stress is and how they can support their soldier if they have it.  We hope to provide you with as much information as possible, both personal and professional.  Memories, ours and our spouses, are sacred places.  They are not exposed easily and must be met with safety, kindness, and understanding.  We cannot forget what has happened, but we can live for today.  Let us know how we can serve you better.

Helpful Resources:

What is (PTSD) Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? It is a type of anxiety disorder occurring after a traumatic event that involves death, perceived possibility of death, or injury.  Traumatic events can include anything from sexual/physical abuse as a child, rape, car accidents, September 11th, war, or other experiences defined by the individual.  It can occur at any age, regardless of gender.  You should not try to assess yourself, but should get the help of a professional.  For more information, click here

What is Combat Stress? It is not a diagnosable disorder, but is characterized by symptoms of emotional and/or physical fatigue.  Some of these may include difficulty managing moods, crying, withdrawing or avoiding social situations, replaying events or flashbacks, difficulty with anger or other behavior.  Every person is different.  For more information,  click here

For an informal confidential assessment on whether you may suffer from PTSD,  Depression, or Combat Stress, click here

General Carter Ham, the Commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, experienced combat stress upon his return from an Iraq deployment. He and his wife spoke candidly about the experience, his treatment and recovery in a January 2009 click here

On "Moral Injury" by Jonathan Shay, Ph.D.

Dr. Jonathan Shay is a personal Hero of mine. He has adamantly championed the healing of Veterans dealing with the Wounds of War. He calls into question the idea that Post-Traumatic Stress is a "disorder," contending that we are dealing more with an injury, not an illness. In his book, Achilles in Vietnam, Dr. Shay examines the similarities of symptoms that Warriors have dealt with throughout time. When we look at the wounds of war, we are not dealing with a modern concept, but a timeless invisible Enemy that seeks to rob the Warrior of their future, because of their past. For further reading on Dr. Shay:

NY Times Article: "Dr. Jonathan Shay on Returning Veterans and Combat Trauma" (Jan 2008)

'On Being' Article: "Beyond PTSD to Moral Injury" (Mar 2013)

For a glimpse into Dr. Shay's recommendations for a new approach to Moral Injury:

 

 

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Date Night With Yoga While Healing the Brain

New research out of the Trauma Center in Boston is coming out on the healthy effects of yoga on the brain to treat PTSD and Combat Stress.  Specific aspects of yoga that teach you how to calm your body and control your breathing can begin to rewrite the neurological pathways giving the individual more mastery over their mind.  What a great idea for a date night as you strengthen your body and heal your brain together!

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