For wives of soldiers with PTSD – and husbands of women who have developed the severe anxiety disorder in the line of service – the effects of trauma can be far-reaching. In addition to the tremendous support, flexibility and care that wives of soldiers exhibit, dealing with a spouse with post-traumatic stress disorder can add to existent familial, relationship and individual stressors.
Just as the soldier deals with the fallout of PTSD, wives of soldiers can experience anxiety, depression, relationship struggles, fear and even abuse if PTSD remains untreated.
Wives of Soldiers Coping with PTSD
PTSD occurs when physical and psychological trauma becomes too much for the brain to naturally process, causing a host of chronic reactions that trigger the body’s “fight or flight” responses. As a response to severe instances of trauma, PTSD is a job hazard of military duty – particularly for those who have been deployed to theaters of combat.
Though many wives of soldiers may be familiar with the incidence of PTSD in families they know on base, dealing with the emotional and psychological fallout of trauma can be difficult, confusing and frustrating firsthand.
As their husbands struggle with recurrent nightmares, waking flashbacks, panic attacks, mood swings and guilt, wives may feel at a loss for how to cope with daily life – let alone how to help their spouses.
Additionally, as more time passes between the combat experience and the present, wives may be confounded as to why their husbands haven’t healed. The relief and joy that wives of soldiers feel to have their husbands back may not be experienced by the PTSD sufferer himself – often simply overshadowed by the pain of the disorder. Soldiers may also experience a common symptom of PTSD known as dissociation, experiencing identity crises, the onset of emotional numbness, or seem unresponsive as fathers and husbands – often due to forces of depersonalization (feeling out of touch with oneself) and derealization (feeling disconnected from the outside world).
Alcoholism and Drug Use in Soldiers with PTSD
In some soldiers with PTSD, the persistent and harrowing symptoms that accompany the disorder lead to escape into drug use or alcohol abuse. In fact, individuals with PTSD experience much higher rates of substance abuse – often in futile attempts to block intrusive thoughts, cope with chronic insomnia and sleep interrupted from nightmares, or deal with the emotional pain involved with the disorder.
Unfortunately, when substance abuse and PTSD collide, the soldier generally does not improve his state of being. Alcohol and drug addiction only serve to impede cognitive and emotional healing, and create a secondary obstacle to healthy relationships and long-term happiness. In some cases, sudden outbursts of anger associated with PTSD can even become unbridled, leading to incidences of verbal and physical domestic abuse.