Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Graduation Day

Yesterday was a big day for Allen, and well our whole family. Even though we couldn't be there to see it, Allen graduated from The Pathway Home's PTSD program in California. I couldn't be more proud of him right now. He was nervous and anxious about the whole thing, but he did it!

There were 9 guys graduating with him and they were each expected to say a little something. They had been told to be prepared. After all, these ceremonies usually have several hundred people in attendance. Yesterday, I was told there were about 200 people there. Well, Allen just planned to say "Thank You" and be done so he didn't prepare anything. Then the moment got him and he actually spoke for quite a while.

I got a phone call last night after it was all over with from our good friend Wendy, who volunteers at the program and has become extremely attached to Allen. I'm so glad she called and told me about the day because Allen was pretty exhausted last night and not too talkative! According to Wendy, Allen did great! He made it through the ceremony, which that is a huge accomplishment by itself. But he also shared with them how much the program, the people, the other vets, and his family mean to him. He credits the program with saving his life and that without the love and support of me and the boys he wouldn't be here today. He brought the audience to tears and there was much said throughout by many of the speakers about Allen. Not only did the program have a huge impact on his life, but apparently he made a difference in many lives that he has met there as well.

Let me tell you how awesome this makes me feel. I am so incredibly proud of Allen. He has proven to himself that God does have a purpose for his life. He has demonstrated to our boys what determination and hard work can do and that no matter what happens to you in life, you can never give up. Everyday is still a struggle for him, but he knows how to overcome. He is a survivor, not a victim. I am so thankful to have him in our life.

His work at The Pathway Home is not done. He will be staying there a while longer to do some more one on one work with the psychologists there. But he has come such a long way from where he was last September when my sister and I walked him through those doors. He has found his smile again, his laugh. It's such a relief to see him get some enjoyment out of life again. And while he credits the program with saving his life, that credit goes to God and to Allen, for all the hard work he put into it. The program wouldn't be successful if he hadn't done the work.

Thank you to everyone at The Pathway Home! You are doing incredible work and changing the lives of many. Our family will be forever grateful!!

If anyone reading this wants more information on The Pathway Home, feel free to email me, or visit their website It is a non profit program that is completely free to OIF/OEF veterans. If you know someone who may benefit from the program, Allen and I highly recommend it. If you are looking for somewhere to donate to that is changing lives for veteran's, check them out and consider donating.

Even Now.........Gina

Monday, March 28, 2011

Success or Disaster??

I've often thought about an experiment. It might be a good topic for a reality TV show or it might just be a huge disaster. It's an idea that could end up being extremely healing for families like ours, or it could be the worst thing possible. I still think it is something that would be incredibly interesting to see how it turned out.

The experiment would be this. To make an entire neighborhood, right outside of a city, preferably a warm one that is for wounded warriors and their families only. We could all move there and we could have our own sense of community. After all, that sense of community is one of the biggest things families miss having after leaving the military.

No one gets it better than those who have walked in our shoes. My husband would feel secure in knowing that he was surrounded by a "unit". Last week, he said that is one of the big differences in being home versus being in treatment. At home, protection and security is all up to him. At the Pathway Home, he is part of a unit. He knows that those guys all have his back. This sense of security and back up allow him to feel secure, to relax a little. He is happier there than I have seen him in years. He can laugh again. He smiles. He interacts with the other guys and has made new friends all on his own. He has began to live again.

Our kids wouldn't have to worry about what their peers thought about their dad. They wouldn't have to hide their feelings about things going on at home or be embarrassed by another "episode". Everyone around them would get "it". They would have somewhere safe to go when they needed to get out of their own house for awhile. They wouldn't have so many questions to answer that are difficult for them to answer. They would have friends who know the path they've been down that their civilian friends will never understand. They too would have security.

As a spouse, it would be amazing to be surrounded by other spouses who truly understand what it's like to be married to someone completely different than the person you sent off to war. We would always have support, someone to watch our kids when things at our house were chaotic. It would be similar to living on a military post again where there is no stronger bonds made.

The flip side to all of this is that it could end up in a total disaster. So many families with so many issues living all in one neighborhood could be very chaotic. Tempers would fly, and the whole thing could blow up. I can see it going both ways, but I honestly think it would be an interesting project. And, if it worked, it would provide so many benefits to families who have sacrificed so much, but are still struggling everyday to hold it together. I know, this family, for one would be one of the first ones to sign up!!

Even Now......Gina

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring Break

Spring Break is here and I'm loving the time I get to have my boys home all day with me. I always love the added time breaks get us, plus the sleeping in!! This year is a little different than the last few with Allen not being home, which is good and bad.

The good is that the boys and I can just take off and do some things that the past few years we haven't been able to. Life with Dad not here can be so much more spontaneous. I do not have to worry about what might happen if we do this or that. I think I am more willing to take the boys out to do some things, like going to the movies, shopping, or just whatever we happen to feel like each particular day.

However, we are also missing him a lot lately. Dreyson said just this afternoon that he really missed his dad and just wanted him to come home. The boys don't really voice that very often, so it really melts my heart when they do. We definitely have a piece of us gone when Allen is away and we miss him. It always reminds me how much I love him. I often think about the saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Times like this sure do show me how true this is, for not only myself, but also for our kids.

As much as we would have liked to have gone out to California to see him, we just couldn't make it happen. That means the boys and I are just hanging out at home and doing some much needed spring cleaning and ridding. We are hoping to have a garage sale next month!! We are hopefully going to be putting our house on the market soon, in order to make some type of a move away from the triggers. I am looking forward to a fresh start! We plan to stay in this area, but the idea of a new home is beginning to look more possible.

On a sad note, my great aunt passed away over the weekend so we will also be attending a funeral. My Aunt Ruby was an amazing, fun loving lady who we will miss dearly. I'm so happy for her though, to know she has been reunited in heaven with our Heavenly Father as well as her parents, siblings, and husband. She was the last one still here from her generation which couldn't have been easy. She was 96. I loved hearing her stories of growing up with my Grandma and moving from Kansas to Missouri and back by covered wagon. The picture for this post is of me and the boys with my Aunt Ruby a few years ago, taken while Allen was deployed. While today, I have a heavy heart from her death, I know she is in a better place. I love you Aunt Ruby!

Even Now........Gina

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Our Boys are My Heroes Too

I've written before about how my husband's injuries have affected our entire family. Tonight I want to talk about how it has specifically affected our boys. During the current conflicts, my husband first deployed in August 2005 and returned in November 2006. Our kids were 9 and 2. He then turned right around and deployed almost immediately again in January 2007 and was critically injured 21 November 2007, the night before Thanksgiving. By the time Allen was injured, our boys were then 11 and 4. This was a lot for them to deal with at their young ages.

One of the most touching memories I have of how it changed them is of our youngest. He was in preschool when his daddy came home a changed man. I was a stay at home mom and suddenly he was thrust into staying with grandparents, an aunt, friends, and daycare for the four months I was at Walter Reed right after Allen's injury. When we finally returned home to continue Allen's treatment, he had already been through so much. But he was so strong and just showed us how resilient he truly is. When we first started going to the VA for Allen's treatment, he often went with us since he wasn't in school everyday. New places are always triggering for Allen and places like hospitals are especially so. (The long hallways with many doors are huge triggers still.) Often walking down the hallway was very slow and tedious with Allen checking each and every door we passed. On one such day, Dreyson was with us. He reached up, took his daddy's hand and led him down the hallway. With each door we passed, he explained to his daddy what was in the room. Any noises, he would explain the best he could so his daddy wouldn't be scared. In his four year old voice, he would say, "it's okay daddy, that is just _______________." Whatever it was triggering Allen, Dreyson would explain exactly what it was. It was so moving for me. It really showed me how much Dreyson really understood of this new beast in our life called PTSD.

I think it is a testament to how much kids of these wounded warriors have to go through. I do not know any other four year old who would know how to help their daddy through a long, frightening hallway the way he did that day. He didn't even ask anything, he just did it. He knew how to help his daddy through the anxiety and fear that was paralyzing him. We had not ever really explained it much to Dreyson, not sure we even knew how. But he didn't need us to. He was living it everyday. It's not something we could hide from him, but yet he knew and understood better than many adults do. He truly gets "it." And this was after only having been home from Walter Reed for a couple of months. So, imagine, now three years later how much our kids truly get it.

They both have witnessed many, many frightening flashbacks and dissociative episodes. During many of these, I do not know what I would have done had Makale not been there with me. He has shown great strength and calmness in the face of an emergency. There has been many nights he has been woken up to a very dangerous and scary situation and he has been my rock. It sometimes saddens me how much they have been through, but I know that God is looking out for all of us. He is protecting us.

Our boys have had to sacrifice each and every day since that defining day in 2007. Not only have they had to get to know a dad who is completely different, but they have had to adjust their lives to this post injury life. They often can't have friends over because Dad is having a bad day. Or they can't go somewhere they get invited to because Mom is the only one who can drive and she is often too busy taking care of dad to run them wherever it is they want to go. Instead of having the full undivided attention of their parents, they are often over shadowed by whatever is going on at the moment in the realm of PTSD. At an event they are involved in, whether it be school, sports, theatre, or other, they have attention put on them because of their dad's story, or his service dog, or any number of things pertaining to their dad, rather than their own accomplishments.

They are now 14 and 7. I am proud to say that they are both amazing young men. I know that what we have been through as a family, and continue to go through, is changing who they are going to be. I'm sure that some of this may not be in a positive direction, but I know that much of it is. They are strong, compassionate, giving boys. They know what a good role model is, what a true hero looks like, and all about sacrifice. They work hard, play hard, and love hard. Makale, our 14 year old, has a strong interest in becoming a counselor. Dreyson, who is 7, wants to be an actor or a teacher. They are different as night and day, but both so precious to me. While I wish they didn't have to sacrifice as much as they do, I couldn't have asked for any more resilient and strong boys who amaze me everyday!

Even Now......Gina

Friday, March 4, 2011

Housing Issues

Many wounded warrior families have housing issues, most of which involve handicap accessibility. There are several great organizations out there that address these needs of wounded warriors, often even by building them a brand new, mortgage free house. The VA also has a program that grants $50,000 for accessibility improvements. This is great and very needed as the statistics on those coming home injured are staggering. I think I just read an article this week that listed the number at 40,000 combat injured in the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There obviously is then a huge need for handicap accessible homes for these families who have sacrificed so much.

However, (I hate that I always seem to have to have a however or a but!) there are many other issues besides accessibility out there in the wounded warrior community in regards to housing. Take us for instance, we live in a single story, ranch style house that is almost 9 years old. We have a mortgage on this house and overall it is a great house. It is small, and this is an issue in and of itself, but if this were the only issue we could make it do.

The bigger issues for us are the external, environmental triggers that are very close to our home that constantly keep Allen revved up and on edge. He has been away getting treatment for his PTSD for the last 6 months. Is all of this treatment and coping he is learning going to be sabotaged by the constant triggers he has to deal with in his own home? These triggers I am talking about are huge for anyone with PTSD, but Allen's severity is over the top.

The first environmental trigger is the rail road tracks that are about 100 meters from our house. Just the noise and vibrations from this are enough to keep him awake and revved up all the time. Then, add on the fact that there is a train depot just down the tracks about 1/4 mile makes it that much worse. They use the tracks next to us to connect the trains. Do you know what this sounds and feels like? You guessed it, incoming. The two cars bumping together make a huge boom and large vibrations. They do this all day and often at night too. No wonder why his PTSD is off the charts!

The second environmental trigger we have going on here is the rock quarry that is exactly a mile from our house. They blast with TNT 1-4 times a day depending on the season. And again, guess what that sounds and feels like!! A real live blast!! That's right, that's because it is! To Allen, it sends him right back to Iraq every time. He has several different reactions depending on the day. We can only hope it is one of the milder ones. He takes cover. He runs to our bedroom, gets in the corner and curls up in a ball. He has been in this position for hours before. I've had to call 911 to get him to come out. The paramedics have had to physically remove him from the corner and take him to the hospital for medication to get him out of that state. Another time, he might run out of the house to go search for casualties. He doesn't see what is really there, he sees whatever happens to be in his head that time. Yet another reaction may be for him to find a weapon and look for the insurgent to take out. Thankfully, he's never found anyone who he deemed to be an insurgent, but what if someday he sees me or my children, or someone else as the insurgent? I can't even think about that possibility or I would be crazy!

A third, and less severe causing trigger is the tornado sirens. In our town they test them every Monday at noon. These used to really send him running as well, but he has become somewhat desensitized to these as long as we remember that it is time for them to come. He worked on this several times in counseling with them going off there. Whoever the genius was that made the tornado sirens and the incoming warning sirens the same tone was not very smart!!

These environmental triggers are all things we never would have thought about had we not lived through these scary and often dangerous dissociation's of my husband's. When we first bought our house, they were not an issue. We didn't even know about the quarry since we were always at work when they blasted. Now though, since he has returned from war with such disabling PTSD, these are a huge component in our everyday life and his well being.

Fighting these invisible wounds is so frustrating much of the time. There is so much stigma and discrimination tied to them. The non profits set up to help the wounded often do not consider the invisible wounds for their programs. It hurts. It hurts Allen and the rest of us. It makes him feel that his sacrifice is not as significant as some of the others. But it is. His PTSD will never go away. It is chronic. He will hopefully learn to manage it better, but it will always be there. It is no less significant than the physical wounds. After all, there is no prosthetic for his mind.

Even Now.......Gina

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Some Encouragement Today

As I last blogged about, I've really been wrestling with a great deal of stress the last couple of weeks. I have not yet heard back from my husband's counselor, but have done some research, talked to some other close friends/family, and am reassured it will all be okay. I know that I have the love and support to get through just about anything.

Through all of this I also know that Allen has really been struggling. We went about five days without even talking at all, which is not normal. While he's been in California, we have talked almost everyday, until last week. I was struggling, he was struggling, not a great combination for good communication between the two of us! Thankfully, this week has been much better on many fronts!

I talked to Allen this afternoon and was really encouraged after our call. He is still really struggling but it is to be expected as he is working really hard processing some of his most difficult trauma. He actually told me that he shared with his group stuff that he thought he would take to his grave with him. He shared stuff that he really thought he would never tell anyone. This made me so excited it was crazy! I think this is an incredible break through in his therapy. I know that he will never be cured and that PTSD is something that we will always have to live with. However, I also know that he can get it better and learn some coping strategies that will greatly reduce the symptoms and the extent to which it affects our lives. I am really excited to know that he is sharing parts of his trauma that he never thought he would. I think this is huge to him getting some control of his life back! And let me just say, I can't imagine how bad this particular stuff he is talking about must have been. I say this because I have been in most of his therapy sessions for the last three years, and I have heard stuff you can't even imagine. It is hard for me to believe that he had so much more, that was worse than what he had already shared. It makes me excited that he is willing and able to share it now, in a safe environment. I think I am also glad that I didn't have to be in the session where he shared. Not that I wouldn't listen, but man, he's been a part of horrible trauma and I'm not sure I need to hear it all. And, while it makes me excited and hopeful, it also breaks my heart that he has to live with such horrific memories.

I just wanted to share what might be a turning point in my families life. It may not end up being as big of a key as I think it might, we will just have to wait and see. But, I am hopeful!! I am also so proud of the hard work that my husband is doing. I know that he truly wants to get better and that we are much of the reason he wants this so badly. His strength and determination continues to amaze me!

Even Now.......Gina