Monday, June 20, 2011

When You're With a Veteran...

When you're driving with a veteran, don't be offended that he points out every other vehicle, dumb driver, possible obstacle. When you're walking with a veteran, walk with purpose. When you're talking with a veteran, make a decision and move on. When you're with a veteran, take deep breaths, give yourself a pat on the back, have patience, go easy on yourself.

My fiance is a soldier. He serves with the Reserves. For this post, that makes the distinction that he came home from war to the complete civilian world. Not the military cocoon. I don't think either one is easy, and both present problems. But to understand my perspective, he returned home from war, had about 5 days in the states and was dumped off into the civilian world. Approximately two weeks later, he was forced to report to training for his civilian job, injured his ankle a day later, and is now living in civilian desk jockey limbo while he heals.

Take a guy who thrives on adrenaline anyway. Who just came back from the adrenaline of war. Yeah, as families, we worry, we think of the threats and we are scared. Many of these guys thrive off of it in a way that he's tried to understand, and I don't fully understand. I guess being shot at, hearing rockets overhead, being face to face with the IED that was supposed to kill you, it all makes you feel more alive than anything else. I've heard guys describe combat like a drug. Like the highest high you've ever experienced. And even when you're active duty, where are you supposed to find that high again?    Now, chain that guy to a desk. Give him a new uniform...   a suit and a tie. Plop him into a nice little routine where nothing will change, except for someone flipping out over the wrong email, the choice of dinner, or some other mundane, bullshit decision that they've decided to treat as life-or-death.       Welcome to just a chunk of reintegration.

Oh yeah, we've butted heads. We've had moments where I just want to walk away, storm off, maybe sit and cry. Times where he's wished he could just leave. No idea where he'd go. By nature, I am indecisive and a people-pleaser. I bend over backward to make the people around me happy, and often get treated like a doormat. What that means is that I will decide we're going to do something fun for the day. But then people don't seem excited, so I question my decision. Add to this a guy who wants and needs a plan. A decisive, firm plan. Yeah. He snaps at me. I take it personally. I shut down because I can't walk away and cry. He is angry that he can't fix it. He snaps again. Before you know it, we're both wandering on separate floors of the Newsuem instead of together, dropping $60 to ignore each other, and our "fun" day got ruined.  Luckily, we're both willing to talk it out. Usually at the end of the day. Usually we have to take a mulligan on the day. He apologizes, I sit silently. We talk. We figure out what caused both of our behaviors. And we promise to work on it.  Will tomorrow be perfect? No. Will it be better? Yes.

Driving with him is great. He's trained to observe his surroundings, to scan for threats and dangers. It's taken a while to realize he's trying to keep us both safe, not criticize my driving. But it's hard to not snap back "I see it. I know". I'm trying.

When you're with a veteran, patience is hard.  Even when you're past the first tour. When you understand that he won't just come home and be exactly the same and fit right into your routine like a peg in a hole. You're still not sure how it will go. Which things will be triggers this time. What he will need. And what you will need.   Sometimes I need him to be engaged when he can't. When he just needs to unwind from his day. From the stresses of putting up with civilian stupidity. 

When you're with a veteran, remember all the little things people did today that annoyed and angered you. Multiply that by at least 20. Give him time to decompress. When you're with a veteran, remember that difficulties with reintegration are normal. Watch him for things that are beyond the norm, but have patience with all of it.  When you're with a veteran, make decisions. Quickly. And stick to them. When you're with a veteran, be aware of his mood. If the triggers are getting to him. If he's getting overwhelmed with the things around him.

Mostly, when you're with a veteran, give yourself a break. He doesn't mean to snap at you. He doesn't mean to be a jerk. You're not doing everything wrong. You're strong, and you're shouldering a huge weight. When you're with a veteran, be patient and be strong. You're pretty amazing. When you're with a veteran, stand behind him, stand next to him, and move forward.

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