Dear Ms. Vicki,
After my husband returned from his third deployment to Iraq, he was living was some serious survivor guilt. A fellow and wonderful Marine actually died in his arms and he was unable to save him. My husband seemed OK but was struggling with the loss, which is of course totally normal.
Then he deployed to Afghanistan. This was his fourth of six deployments. Another one of his guys died brutally while he watched.
This survivor guilt was even worse. He was constantly telling me he wished he were dead.
He was so drunk, he didn't even show up to our wedding three years ago. I had to go get him. The wedding started four hours late and was not anything any little girl's dreams were made of. I told myself he needed time to heal.
The drinking got worse -- way worse. He had night terrors, flashbacks and blackouts on top of the drinking. Insomnia and an unhelpful new duty station lead to violent outbursts.
Finally, I took control and got him "help" through his command. They were less than helpful. Rehab and therapy ended up in a medical retirement.
The doctors found some heart damage that could have killed him if not treated, plus severe PTSD. After all of that (I was pregnant for part of it), he was still drinking and passing out. He was not supportive or helpful to me. He almost missed the birth of our son because he was so drunk.
I have done everything to support him and get him help. All he wants to do now is lie around and watch TV. I moved in with my mom for safety and started going back to college.
He complains about having to come over to my mom's to see our son because it's an inconvenience for him to come over. It's three minutes from our house!
I feel like a failure. I don't think I have the strength to keep putting up with this behavior, but I don't want to abandon him either.
I know you can't help those who don't help themselves. What should I do? I'm exhausted and miserable. Do I give up on my marriage?
He keeps telling me he loves me and that he wants me and our son to move back home because he can't live without us.
To be honest, I don't think he wants to live. I think he wants to drown in his sorrows while we watch. I have done countless hours of research and contacted hotlines for PTSD and even the Wounded Warrior Project, but nothing I do is enough. I'm so lost and I no longer know how to help him or us.
Sincerely, A Wife Living in PTSD Hell
Your relationship with your husband is very volatile. Because of this, I am very concerned for the safety of you and your son. I think it would be best if you continue to stay with your (thankfully!) supportive mother for now.
I am also very concerned about your husband. You could be very correct with your analysis -- he is drowning in his own sorrows.
From everything you report, your husband has experienced a lot of trauma that I wouldn't wish on anyone.
I know this is very painful for you to watch, especially since your husband won't get help. More help is available for your husband.
Your husband might believe there is a stigma associated with seeking mental health or behavioral health services. This is false. People from all walks of life seek behavioral health services and for many reasons like anxiety, depression, etc.
Your husband may believe this is about willpower and that if he can gain more willpowe,r he can get better. This is also false. This is not about willpower. More important, the longer he waits to seek treatment, the worse it could get.
Your husband may think that therapy and medication is for weak people. This is false. Therapy and medication are evidence-based treatments for post-traumatic stress. In other words, research shows that combined treatments of therapy and medication are efficacious and have great outcomes.
I can't tell you to give up on your husband or to divorce him, but you have to take care of yourself and your son. For this reason, I think it's important that you have a therapist to work with and that you continue to get more education and resources about PTSD.
You should also consider a support group to help you handle all of the many emotions you are experiencing. You probably feel alone, but there are many people who understand what you are experiencing and would gladly listen and provide support.
Lastly, reach out to your husband's family or friends who can help convince him to seek help, because they are often people who can make him accountable for his actions.
It can be powerful when parents or siblings can tell a person about the negative changes they have observed.
It will also be helpful if your husband can connect with Marines he served with in combat. Most often, these are people who know exactly how you feel and they understand.
Please know that I am thinking about you and your family. Thank you so much for reading the column and for writing to me. Let me hear from you again.
Sincerely, Ms. Vicki