Having a conversation with someone with PTSD can be a challenge. One wrong word and it is like living in a combat zone, full of explosions and pain. We do not want to set off those triggers, so we say nothing or apologize for things we do not do or say. As a result we build up resentment and anger. We get to a point that we just want to scream “DO YOU HEAR ME”.
I know for me I did not want those explosive moments. It was like everything I said set him off. Every word became a ticking time bomb. Sometimes the words were a dud and had no effect on him and other times the same word was like a volcanic eruption.
It was not just the word I said. It was the way I said it or what I was doing when I said it. Who knew that “I love you” could have so many meanings? There were days that “I love you” were like throwing a live mortar and it landing at his feet. Ugh!! If “I love you” can set off such an explosion in my house, then why do we not see it used more in battle. Can you just imagine everyone yelling, “I love you” and the enemy yelling, “I love you too”? It would be followed by a huge explosion. That is what it was like in our house at times.
I realized that if I looked him in the eyes and said, “I love you” it was better than the guaranteed explosion if I walked up to him why he was sitting on the couch and put one arm on each side of him and leaned down and told him, “I love you”. Even looking him in the eyes and saying it could cause an outburst. I was so confused and mad and hurt that I just stopped saying it. Of course that caused another argument, “Why don’t you tell me you love me anymore?”. Are you kidding me? I felt like it did not matter what I said there was always the possibility of an argument.
Simple things like “dinner is ready” was a 50/50 shot at happiness or an outburst, if it was ready too soon, he felt like I was pushing him to eat. Too late, he wanted to eat earlier. Trying to juggle the right time was exhausting. It often ended with cold dinner that I had to reheat repeatedly.
Trying to figure out the exact time to talk about the important things was like trying to guess all the lottery numbers. There are times I thought I had a better chance of winning the Power Ball. When I did not tell him everything and I mean every little detail of a meeting or doctor’s appointment I was keeping something from him. Telling him too much was sugar coating things. Heaven forbid if he did not remember me telling him something. I was lying, dishonest and planting “seeds of doubt”.
I never realized that my body language talked. To him it was a language all on its own. Crossed legs or folded arms meant I was holding something back. Talking with my hands or moving my fingers meant I was being dishonest. Standing with my hands on my hips was saying “I am in control and outrank you”. When I wasn’t looking directly at him and maintaining eye contact, I was disengaged. Looking away for a minute to find the right word was being deceitful.
I struggled taking a foreign language in school. I do think that learning Combat Veteran with PTSD should count for 4 years of a foreign language and any college. I am sure that I speak it better than anyone that graduated from even the best college. There is no textbook for learning “Combat Veteran with PTSD”.
There were days that I wish we had a camera recording our conversations and fights. It was apparent that we did not see things the same way. He never remembered the way he talked to me. He never remembered what I said. I am not sure I did either. All I know is we were not communicating well. Looking back it must have been like having a debate at the UN where no one had those little headsets on.
I knew that if we were going to have any chance of having a strong relationship or any relationship for that matter we had to learn to communicate. Our conversations, disagreements and arguments were becoming toxic. They drained everything from me, and I walked away feeling beat up and defeated. I felt like what I had to say did not matter. It was always my fault. I ended up saying I was sorry for things I was not sorry for and sometimes things that I did not even do just to have peace. I did not realize at the time that was my biggest mistake.
The longer we communicated this way the more bitter and resentful I became. I no longer felt the love I once felt. I was hurting and angry. Who feels hurt because they cook a good dinner? Who feels resentful because they left one word out of a 30-minute conversation when he only wanted to listen to 5 minutes of it? I did.
Something had to change. I just did not know where to start and I was having a hard time realizing that any of this could be my fault. How was it my fault because I sat with my arms folded like I had done my entire life? How was it my fault because he did not remember me telling him something? How was any of this my fault? It was.
I saw PTSD as the blame for everything. I was afraid to communicate because I was afraid it would cause a trigger. I did not tell him every detail of a 30-minute conversation because it felt like an interrogation. I lost confidence in myself and began to question my feelings. I let PTSD control our lives.
Living in a house with no communication creates loneliness and isolation. That leads to depression and I was quickly becoming depressed. I knew I had to find a way to communicate. Initially I thought why did I have to be the one to change, then I realized that I was the one who wanted change.
I realized that if I had a child that was deaf, I would learn sign language. I would learn what triggered my child with Autism and find a way to communicate with them. I communicated with some of my patients that were on a ventilator by using eye movements. I could learn to communicate with my Veteran with PTSD too and I have.
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