Be Their Hero

A diagnosis of post-traumatic stress changes everything, both for the individual and for the family.

Last year, my husband Todd began talking to me about a horrific event he endured more than three decades ago during his time in the Marine Corps. It wasn’t long before the dam that was holding his trauma back came crumbling down. His behavior took a troubling turn, and I felt I’d lost the loving and caring man I once knew.

Suddenly, we were on a journey of confusion, anger, frustration, and helplessness, walking the line together between hopelessness and hope. I experienced the unending stress, depression and anger right along with Todd, yet was left to only imagine the full magnitude of his pain.

During this time, I was unsure about my role and was lost as to how I would communicate my concerns and fears to Todd. My support system – friends and family with limited understanding of post-traumatic stress (PTS) – advised me to protect and care for myself. But it wasn’t just about me, it was about Todd and me together.

Just prior to our Project Sanctuary retreat, Todd had come home from a six-week in-patient stay at a VA hospital. It saved his life, and quite possibly our marriage. But I was two states away and hadn’t learned anything about PTS or how to help him cope. I was still reeling from all the stress and uncertainty of the past year, and I didn’t know how much more I could take.

When we arrived at our Project Sanctuary retreat in Granby, CO, it was so beautiful and serene that I immediately felt myself relax. The team made us feel welcome and supported, and the other families in attendance looked like Todd and me, wary but excited about the week we had in store.

Seeing the group of families work together helped me to understand that military personnel excel at being a part of a team. The key is to know what part you play and to commit to being part of the process. I made the vow that if these men and women could wake up every day and do their best-even in the face of  pain and uncertainty-so could I. And who more important to demonstrate my commitment to than my husband?

My overarching hope for our retreat was to learn how I could help Todd live well with PTS. Addressing this goal in a session with Project Sanctuary’s counselor, Scott, produced our most profound takeaway. “Avoid triggers,” he said. There was a silence. I expected more, but there was nothing else that came out of his mouth.

And then it hit me how brilliant his advice was. Living with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis my entire life has taught me that heat and humidity cause me extreme pain, so I avoid them. Why not learn Todd’s triggers the way I know my own and help him in the same way?

Today we do our best to live well with PTS. We’ve learned to address challenges as opportunities to strengthen our relationship. We’ve learned that PTS isn’t a curse, but a reality that can be managed when we each understand our roles. Most importantly, PTS has taught Todd and me just how much we love each other and how grateful we are to be sharing this life together.

The past year has been one of the most challenging and one of the most rewarding years I’ve lived through. Your investment today will ensure that thousands of other families, just like ours, have access to the healing they need to simply carry on.

Warmest thanks, from our family to yours,
Kat Elton
Military Spouse, Project Sanctuary Graduate Family


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