The Hidden Heart of the Warrior

A letter written on behalf of Vietnam veterans still suffering from PTSD.

By Mary Tendall

 

Dear Family,

I’m older now and the kids have grown. There are so many thoughts and feelings I haven’t shared with you. Not because I haven’t wanted to. I just can’t seem to move them past the emotional barricade that has hidden me from you, and even from myself.

I thought I would be able to relax once I didn’t have to work so hard, but in a way retirement is worse. It is like it was when I was in Nam on the short stay. I looked forward to going home, but when the time came and that plane drew nearer to the U.S. soil, I dreaded the reunion. Now, after waiting years to retire, I sometimes can’t stand the quiet. You wonder why the TV is my best friend, and why I spend countless hours in solitude on projects that occupy my time with no requirement for conversation. You try to talk me into doing errands or shopping with you, always hearing the same excuses that I have work to do.

There are so many thoughts and feelings I haven’t shared with you. I just can’t seem to move them past the emotional barricade that has hidden me from you, and even from myself.

In spite of my isolation, I usually feel extremely lonely. The preoccupation with the TV and my projects helps me to numb out the feelings and memories I try to avoid. When you don’t understand why I still avoid socializing or certain family events, I am not able to give you an explanation, so I either get angry or give you the same old reasons. What you don’t hear is how sorry I am that I haven’t been able to participate in numerous family and social events. I know you would like that and you have sacrificed on my behalf. You are appreciated more than you will ever know!

When my anger gets out of hand, please know that afterwards I feel rotten too. I am unable to take it back, and I see the hurt and sometimes the fear it causes. Thank you for hanging in there with me.

I do not want to hurt or embarrass you with my reactivity. Just give me some time to pull myself together and I will work at controlling my reactions.

I know I need to be more aware of how my behavior and moods impact your life.

You are courageous and loyal and we’ve had an interesting journey together! We have learned a great deal about tolerance and the lack of it. We have learned the importance of trust and loyalty. (That is sometimes hard for me in the civilian world outside of family.) Now, as we grow old together, I must learn from you how to be patient.

I know I need to be more aware of how my behavior and moods impact your life. We’ve come this far together and I want you to know that in spite of my inability to even access my loving feelings (much less express them), I know they are deep and significant. I want us to make the best of the rest of this life we have together.

*Names and some situations in this article have been changed. Some photos may include models who have no real-life relationship to the story or any PTSD issues.

 

Mary TendallMary Tendall, MA LMFT, has worked for over 20 years with combat veterans and their families, as a licensed psychotherapist, specializing in combat-related PTSD. She has consulted for the Gulf War Resource Center, National Public Radio, and Newsweek. She continues to work with combat veterans and their families, and is affiliated with several national non-profits whose goal is to help veterans, such as VietNow, Soldier’s Heart, Train Down, and America’s Heroes First. She can be reached by e-mail at maryten@jps.net.