Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Can Stem from Abuse
Instead of PTSD, maybe it should be called PTS-A-D— Post-Traumatic Stress—and Abuse—Disorder.
Medical findings indicate that more veterans today report PTSD related to noncombat situations than ever before. Unfortunately, much of this is related to physical, mental, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse. This is a fact that, for me, is close to home—literally.
My neighbor Stephen, 65, a former homeless Vietnam veteran, lives next door to me in a duplex paid for in part by HUD-VASH (Housing and Urban Development–Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing).
We share a front yard, where he also recently shared some of the more difficult aspects of his childhood. This included beatings he received from his stepfather starting at age 7, and how his bruises attracted the attention of bullies. Being targeted this way led to him fighting his way through high school.
It would be hard to determine if Stephen’s PTSD is exclusively a product of his childhood or a combination of his abusive childhood and his time in service. Add to that time in prison later in life and he has three situations that contribute to his PTSD.
Add years of drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness and three heart attacks, and it is a miracle that Stephen is even alive.
When helping a homeless veteran take advantage of benefits that include housing, medical and therapeutic care like treatment for PTSD, substance abuse disorder and abuse, it is important to approach these factors independently as well as in connection with the others.
Imagine a young man or woman who joins the military after growing up in an abusively violent household. They make it through boot camp by finding the strength of character to rise above the physical and psychological challenges. In a way, the abusive childhood may have prepared this person to cope with the demands of the boot-camp challenge. They may have been “sucking it up” since they were 7 years old.
Some people take the approach: “Don’t play the victim; get over it. It’s all in your head.” But my point is: What is in our heads is preventing us from wholeness and well-being.
When a veteran is ready to face their demons, whether they stem from childhood abuse, combat, time on the streets, abuse of drugs and alcohol, or time in prison, it takes a village to support this process. And family members are often the key component in this village.
Unfortunately, too often family members don’t want to support a loved one who has acted in conflicted ways. When family reminds us of the past we don’t want to remember, it may seem easier not to deal with that family member.
Perhaps it may be easier for them to justify their choice by telling themselves that their brother or sister or father or mother or son or daughter is a violent, crazy addict and it would be best not to have anything to do with them. But does this unwillingness to help a loved-one heal reflect a family member’s resistance to healing their own unresolved trauma?
When Stephen was homeless, his sister let him stay with her. But one day he felt cornered and lost his temper. Stephen left so that the dispute would not escalate. He wanted his sister to go to treatment with him to face the pain of their abusive childhood. But she chose not to go down that road. “That is all in the past,” she told him. They haven’t spoken in years.
Today, my neighbor Stephen sees his therapist, stays away from drugs and alcohol, and takes medication for his PTSD in order to prevent anxiety and depression. He told me that he has only love for his sister and understands why she doesn’t reach out to him or return his phone calls.
During his last heart attack, Stephen told me he “found himself in the arms of Jesus Christ.” And that is where he wants to stay if he has another heart attack. To ensure this, Stephen has signed “Do not resuscitate papers” notifying doctors that if he has a fourth heart attack, he wants to die in peace.
Stephen lives day-to-day, acutely aware of the darkness that seeks to snuff out his light. He strives his best to focus on his faith in God so that he is not taken over by that darkness.
Stoneman, a former Ventura County homeless veteran, is an intern for the Camarillo-based Gold Coast Veterans Foundation, a nonprofit organization. For more information, call (805) 482-6550 or visit gcvf.org.
Source: The Camarillo Acorn – October 12, 2018 edition