Domestic Violence Victims and Soldiers – What Do They Have in Common?

“A battlefield is a battlefield. I don't care where you are fighting it. Unless you have lived through fearing for your life on a nightly basis, you cannot imagine what war is like.” – Dr. Gayle J. Hall.

A victim of domestic violence fights for her life on a daily basis, just like a soldier on the front line of combat fights for his. Now, this may be difficult for soldiers to understand and may even make some angry. They may say, “I sure did not see any women out there on the front line with me when I was at war. What the hell! How can you possibly compare the two?” Here is my reply to those remarks. You are 100% correct. A woman may not be on the front line of combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nevertheless, if a woman is living in a ferocious domestic violence situation in her own home, she may be facing the front line of combat nightly right in her own living room with the very same person she must sleep next to.

The following are four common denominators between victims of domestic violence and soldiers once they are out of the war zone:

1). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We are now seeing a higher rate of PTSD with our soldiers returning from war than ever before. My belief is that the soldiers understand they can talk about what they have witnessed without the feelings of shame and guilt. On the other hand, victims of domestic violence who suffer from PTSD (and not all do — only about 20%), still have some of the symptoms of PTSD more than five years after being out of the abusive relationship. Domestic violence victims who fit this category may still suffer from flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and sleeplessness.

2). Both the victims of domestic violence and soldiers have problems with maintaining attention for any period of time. This common factor causes them to be restless. They have been trained to listen for sounds so they may take control of their situation during an attack. A battered woman must learn to flee her abuser or retaliate, while the soldier has learned to kill or be killed.

3). Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is very common for any survivor of abuse or soldier returning from war. This means the person is a “worrier” and worries about anything and everything, for no apparent reason. For the survivor of domestic violence, she has been under the rule of her mate and has not been allowed to think for herself. Regarding the soldier, he has been told 24/7 what to do and must now try to blend back into society and make decisions daily. This may seem easy to a regular person; however, for a soldier, having to make daily decisions may be overwhelming at first. Both the soldier and the battered woman may suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

4). Proximity and personal space will be common issues for both the domestic violence victim and soldier returning from war. Victims of domestic violence have sometimes been kept from their friends and family during the relationship with their abuser. They may want extreme closeness, or may be so used to abandonment, they prefer being left alone. Soldiers have, for the most part, been in groups and sub-groups. They are used to their “own kind” and this is their preference. They would choose to not venture into large crowds of unknown people and may not even be comfortable going to the grocery store.

I hope these four descriptors of similarities for domestic violence survivors and soldiers have helped you understand some of the complications from living in a battlefield. War is war and adapting afterward takes time, both for victims of domestic violence, as well as soldiers in our Armed Forces. Thank you, God, for our brave warriors!

©Copyright — Gayle Joplin Hall, PhD. All rights reserved worldwide. None of this material may be downloaded or reproduced without written permission from the author.

Domestic Violence: The Downfall of Domestic Violence – Part Five, in a Series of Six

“I am a survivor of domestic violence.  Three of my closest and dearest friends never knew the hell I lived through during my battlefield.  Victims are the best at hiding our secrets from the world.  Our shame and blame defines us, strips our souls, and masks our identities.” — Dr. Gayle J. Hall.

One dear friend in Kansas City who has been with me for over 20 years, had an inkling that something was wrong; however, I was forced to move 13 hours away.   I made two new friends in the small town I moved to and saw each of them during separate venues.  They never suspected one thing was wrong with me, although one of my girlfriends asked me once why I was always leaving class so quickly and could not go for coffee or talk afterwards.  My excuse was that I had to pick up my little boy from his preschool.  I often wondered what might have happened if either of those two friends had known about the domestic violence before I had him arrested the night he tried to kill me.

A battered woman is hesitant to tell anyone about domestic violence because she is ashamed.  The motives behind “not telling the big secret” are numerous and may vary.  One common downfall is the issue of trust and being able to find a therapist, life coach, or counselor who the victim feels she is safe with.  After all, the victim's partner was supposed to be the one person in the world she could turn to for providing safety, yet he betrayed her.  Trusting anyone, after being a victim of domestic violence, takes a very long time.  The victim will become withdrawn from friends or family, or both, and as a result of this isolation, the abuse becomes more rampant.  The victim will learn to live without the ability to trust anyone.

Another downfall is that women in chronic abusive relationships blame themselves for the violence.  They feel they deserve the blame because if they were better wives or lovers, their partners or husbands would love them more and attack them less.  When the victim does finally seek help, quite often she will mask the real reason for the visit, due to blaming of self and others.

Chronic illnesses may also be a result and downfall of being a battered woman.  Reports have indicated the victim may suffer prolonged periods of anxiety, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and more.

Labels hurt people and they certainly harm a woman who has survived and conquered domestic violence.  Downfalls from domestic violence can be changed from living with disgrace to “living with grace and dignity.”  I am a survivor of domestic violence.  I suffer from OCD, GAD, and yes, I have PTSD.  I take prescribed medication for these illnesses.  I am not proud of this.  Nevertheless, I am not living in shame, nor am I in hiding.  I am living with grace and dignity.  I paid my price dearly during my years of abuse and now it is my calling to give back to others.

I still cannot sit with my back facing a doorway.  I still cannot put anything over my face or nose, for fear of not being able to breathe.  I still do not like dark rooms, except for when I am sleeping.  I do not like elevators or tunnels.  I am afraid of empty stairwells when I am the only person walking in them.  I do not like parking garages.  I still prefer sleeping alone.  I became an excellent marksman.  I will remember details of your face upon meeting you and be able to tell you what you were wearing.  I can provide distinct descriptions.  You see, once a person is ever attacked, has become a victim of a violent crime, or suffered at the hands of an abuser, any abuser, they learn survival tactics and skills.  I learned them well.  I also took many types of extracurricular classes during my training to help other battered women when I knew this was my calling.

Resiliency is my core and my backbone.  I have many quirks, but I am strong, I am a woman, and I am a survivor of domestic violence.  Watch me now, as I help you become resilient and restore your grace and dignity, also.

Hopefully you read the fourth article titled; “A Few Signs of Domestic Violence You Cannot Ignore – Part Four, in a Series of Six.”

Please read the final article in this series of six on domestic violence titled, “Domestic Violence Prevention.”

©Copyright — Gayle Joplin Hall, PhD.  All rights reserved worldwide.  None of this material may be downloaded or reproduced without written permission from the author.

The Effects of War on the Families of Soldiers

Nate Roberts and wife, Daisy, 2009.

“I'm just trying to be a father, raise a daughter and a son, be a lover to their mother, everything to everyone…yeah, I'm real good under pressure being all that I can be…I just work straight through the holidays, and sometimes all night long…'cause freedom don't come free.. I'm an American, an American Soldier.” — Toby Keith, excerpts from his song, “American Soldier.”

When the soldier receives his or her orders for going to war, this not only impacts the warrior, but also, the family.  As a military spouse, the partner must prepare for being apart from his or her soldier for long periods of time.  If the couple has children, care must be taken to ensure the family understands that “daddy” or “mommy” is coming back home after war.

Quite often, it is more up to spouse of the deployed, than anyone else in the family, as to how well the family unit will adjust during the soldier's deployment period.  It is vital for the soldier to believe he or she has 100% trust and support from their spouse (assuming he or she is married) before, during, and after deployment.

The following are four suggestions for the spouse to make the complete deployment easier for the soldier and the family:

(1). Maintain the same routines (in life, at home, work, or school) before, during, and after deployment as closely as possible.  This is what your soldier is used to, your children are used to, and this provides the soldier comfort knowing all is status quo.

(2). Once the soldier has deployed, join a support group with others, reach out to family members or trusted friends, and just talk about your feelings. There will be some difficult days, but always know people care.

(3). Keep your cell phone on 24/7.  There are times the soldier stands in a line and waits three hours just to hear your voice.  Things we take for granted every day, are important to a soldier who has a spouse. Keep yourself available for those calls, Skype, and the internet as often as possible.  What he or she wants to hear from you are normal, everyday activities. This is comforting to the one who is at war.

(4). Make no major life changes and by no means, vacant the deployment post.  The soldier needs to know their spouse is waiting for them during R&R.  Again, the soldier needs to be assured the family is right there waiting his or her return.

When the soldier returns from war, there will be an adjustment period for the entire family.  If the soldier is married, the spouse has had to maintain the household during the entire deployment period. This has become the norm.  The following are four suggestions for a smooth transition for families when the soldier returns from war:

(1). Understand it may take time for sharing of household duties, such as bill-paying, putting children to bed, preparing dinner, and simple things, such as grocery shopping.  Your soldier has been fighting a war and has not been doing any of these “normal” things.

(2). Psychologically, your soldier may need counseling or therapy.  Your family may also need help in recognizing some of the symptoms from battling in war so you can help cope with your loved one.  Furthermore, the family members may need support, either through reading, therapy, or talking with the VA, about how to handle the issues that may arise from their soldier who has endured war and come back home. There are things that should be said and things that should never be said to a warrior, even when that person is your spouse.  Education is the key.

(3). Give the soldier space.  There is no set time limit on how soon a soldier can reintegrate back into a normal everyday routine, even at home.  Your partner may want to make love with you every night for two weeks straight, and then not want intimacy for the next month.  Try to remember there may be flashbacks, or numbing, especially if they have been in active combat zones, and what used to be “normal” for you as a couple or family, may take time to be “normal” once again.

(4). Possibly, the most difficult adjustment for the family when the soldier returns from war is the social aspect.  If your family is used to attending church services every Sunday, the soldier may not wish to go immediately.  If the company you work for is hosting a large company party, your soldier might not want to attend that. If it is normal for you to go to the mall with your children, this may make the soldier uncomfortable, especially if there are crowds.  Even going to a bowling alley, movie theater, or things we consider to be “normal” may make your soldier feel uncomfortable at first.  Please remember to give your partner some time to readjust to social settings.  The soldier is trained to scan people in crowds, look for differences, and notice what we would never notice.  The social aspect of reintegration back into society is one many would rarely think of.

I personally, have never been a military spouse or even been in the military.  Nonetheless, I have counseled many military wives and numerous soldiers and understand the conflicts faced during war.  War is war.  There is no need for the home to be a battlefield, also.

With these suggestions, a lot of love, and a little bit of work, the families not only can survive the consequences of war, they can become a more closely knit entity than they were before.  It does take work, but who ever said being in the military was easy?

Please feel free to contribute your thoughts to this blog.  I appreciate your input!

©Copyright — Gayle Joplin Hall, PhD.  All rights reserved worldwide.  None of this material may be downloaded or reproduced without written permission from the author.

Reasons Why Soldiers Have Difficulty Adjusting to a Civilian Lifestyle After Serving Their Country

          “The hardest part, by far, is to make the bad pictures go away.  In war time, the world is one big long horror movie, image after image.  If this is anything like Vietnam, I’m in for a lifetime of wee-hour creeps.” — Tim O’Brien, Vietnam Veteran.

Assimilating back into an everyday routine is difficult for anyone who has been absent for a period of time.  Have your ever gone on a long vacation and not driven a car for three weeks, then upon arriving back at the airport, gotten into your car, and noticed how strange it felt to put your car into reverse and pull out of the parking lot?  Think for just a moment about how awkward it must be for soldiers returning from a combat zone to come back to the United States after being at war.

Soldiers returning from active duty in the military serving in the combat arms, especially if they have been in the Infantry or a “Grunt” (meaning someone other than a POG—Personnel other than Grunts), are more likely to experience difficulty regulating back into normal, resident existence than a Fobbit (soldiers who never leave the gates).  Once these men and women are ready to leave the military and enter a civilian lifestyle, there are many adjustments to be made.  I will list three of the Psychological and Social dilemmas faced by Veterans returning to society.

Psychologically, these Veterans are faced with numerous issues.  Three of these issues include:

(1).  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) affects many of the soldiers returning from war.  This is the number one psychological problem.  There are specific ways to assess and diagnose PTSD symptomology for combat Veterans.  Treatment methodology may vary, according to individual needs of the Veteran, as there is no “one cure fits all.”  Cognitive behavioral intervention has proven to be effective over a prolonged period of time, as has psychotherapy.

(2).  Panic attacks can be set off by any reminder of the trauma the soldier endured during their line of duty.  Firework displays may be beautiful to the general public, but to a soldier, this sounds like gunfire and Javelin tank missile.

(3).  Flashbacks are the “trademark” of PTSD.   The terror of war can return months, years, or decades later at the drop of a dime.   A stressful experience can bring back the flashback.

Socially, our Veterans who are returning to civilian life have a challenging time adjusting, as well.  Three of the issues they face are:

(1).  Veterans cannot talk with the normal civilian when they are troubled.  Let’s face it.  You, nor I, have seen, heard, or experienced what a combat soldier has done.  Only those who have “been there, done that” truly understand with empathetic hearts what that soldier has been through.  Do not ask a soldier or Veteran what he or she did or what he or she saw while they were at war.  This would be insulting and one of the most stupid things you can say to a Veteran.  If they want to talk about it, they will.  And if they do, just listen.  You don’t have to say a word, except perhaps suggest they seek professional help if they need it (and trust me, most do).

(2).  Hypervigilance is both psychological (a pattern under PTSD) and a social problem for the warrior upon returning home.  The Veteran is constantly  hypervigilant to the point of noticing all smells, scoping out a crowd for the one who appears to dressed differently  (we may think someone dressed to the nine in a jacket is handsome, whereas the soldier is thinking, “What is underneath that heavy jacket?”), when they do close their eyes, a soldier’s ears begin working overtime because this is what they have been trained to do, and a soldier is always searching for the nearest door and exit route in every room.  A soldier has been trained to be “on guard” at all times, so letting down his or her guard, just because they are back in society, does not mean this will come easy for them.

(3).  Acceptance and integrating, in general, will be difficult for the Veteran upon returning home.  During the Vietnam era, the returning soldiers were hated and loathed because of the war.  Now, with the return of our soldiers, they are welcomed with open arms.  This attitude surely helps, but please remember, the soldier must train himself or herself to go from warrior mode to civilian mode.  What we, as civilians, take for granted and as normal, everyday routine, will not be normal to the Veteran for a long time.  When we are stopped in our car, not moving on six lanes of traffic during rush hour, we know this is because of a wreck up ahead or due to a traffic jam.  The returning soldier is instantly thinking, “How can I get out of here—where is my escape route?”  If you live in a large city and are stopped on an extended bridge due to traffic, you accept the fact you could be in your car for three hours and shut it off while waiting.  The Veteran is wondering where the IED (roadside bomb) is.

Hopefully, those three bullet points each for psychological and social aspects of blending back into society helped you understand what it is like for a soldier to return home and why they may struggle.  As one who cares for Veterans, try to remember that assimilating back into normal, run-of-the-mill routines is not going to be easy for the soldiers who are returning to civilian lives.  We must be sensitive to their needs.  When Veterans say they do not feel like going out into a large crowd or party, please understand they may be having a stint of hypervigilance that day and just do not feel like being in a crowd.

Above all, patience is the key in helping Veterans cope with returning to civilian ways of life.

©Copyright – Gayle Joplin Hall, PhD.  All rights reserved worldwide.  None of this material may be downloaded or reproduced without written permission from the author.

War Effects of Soldiers – Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

“PTSD is the fear controlling you. Exposing your fear is controlling your PTSD!” — Anthony Parsons.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, otherwise known as PTSD, is defined as a condition in which a person experiences enduring physical or psychological symptoms after an extremely stressful event or series of events.

In World War I, this problem was known as Shell Shock.  During World War II, this was called Combat Fatigue.  Now, it is known as PTSD.

Soldiers are trained to believe they must kill or be killed during combat in war.  War may leave deep, psychological scars.Understanding PTSD and the symptoms will help those who welcome home the soldier receive the treatment he or she needs so the soldier may work on regaining their psychological health and freedom.

The following are seven indicators of PTSD:

(1).  Flashbacks are the hallmark of PTSD.  A flashback includes vivid memories, feelings, and images of traumatic experiences.  When I say “hallmark” I  mean this is the most common symptom for those plagued with PTSD.

(2).  Nightmares are the second highest indicator of PTSD.  Many times, soldiers will sleep with the lights on (if lighting is available) or avoid sleep as long as possible so the frequent nightmares will not reappear.

(3).  Sleeplessness.  This goes along with nightmares, mentioned above.  The soldiers know if they fall asleep, they may have nightmares; therefore, a vicious cycle ensues to try to stay awake for extended periods of time.  Soldiers in the war zone have gone for 28 hours regularly with no sleep. Studies have proven that after 28 hours with no sleep, the possibility of making grave errors rises to an all-time high.  This places the soldiers at elevated risks and can get them killed.

(4).  Recurring anxiety is a common denominator for those affected by PTSD, especially soldiers returning from war.  They are anxious about many different things.  Think about it this way.  You, as a civilian, are at home, getting dressed for work and must decide what to wear that day.  As a soldier, the warrior is constantly apprehensive of where his boots, gear, bitch (M-16), and extra ammo are when he is at war.  It takes a while to get past this.

(5).  Intrusive thoughts haunt the soldier, as do certain sounds.  When the soldier is in the war zone, he or she is on high alert at all times.  They see and hear things that we have not seen or heard, such as unpleasant thoughts of shootings the day before, losing their buddies, horrific things we, as civilians, have not had to deal with.  These intrusive thoughts can enter the mind at any time, until they are controlled.  There are instances when they cannot be controlled 100% of the time.

(6).  A soldier has problems with attention when he or she has PTSD.  Soldiers are conditioned to never be relaxed, so when they do have that opportunity of being outside the war zone, there is difficulty in paying attention.  The soldier is thinking about war again and that is where his or her attention is focused.  The mind wanders if PTSD is not treated.

(7).  Social withdrawal is the final sign of PTSD.  Soldiers have a difficult time readjusting to civilian life after coming back from war.  They do not feel they can talk about what they have seen or done because nobody will understand them.  As a result of this, they turn their thoughts inward, this becomes shame, which turns into blame, and one big circle of negative forces drive them deeper into PTSD.

The good news is that there is hope for those who suffer from PTSD.  The first step for soldiers returning from war or any Veteran suffering from PTSD is to go their local Veterans Hospital (VA) and get the diagnosis.  File papers for disability.  Seek out treatment from the VA in support groups, find a good Life Coach who fully understands PTSD, or search for a mental health professional who can treat PTSD.  Many cannot do so.  What is important is that you find a therapist or professional person you can relate to, someone you can work with and feel comfortable with, and develop a relationship with.  Please understand that this is not a quick fix.  There is more than one method of approach for PTSD and it is a partnership to find what works best for you.

Watch for my next article titled, “Reasons Why Soldiers Have Difficulty Adjusting to a Civilian Lifestyle After Serving Their Country.”

©Copyright — Gayle Joplin Hall, PhD.  All rights reserved worldwide.  None of this material may be downloaded or reproduced without written permission from the author.