In this series, Susan has been sharing her story of her marriage of twenty-two years to a man with combat PTSD and the realization that she was the key to fixing her husband. That didn’t mean fixing his brain injuries. It meant fixing herself – she had to stop seeing herself as a victim and recognize that she had a responsibility to take care of herself first. In this last post in the series, Susan reflects on the big picture. Here’s Susan:
I spent many, many years thinking he was the bad guy. He did help with the kids but he probably didn’t even know how the vacuum cleaner turned on or what you did with the dishes beyond putting them in the sink. It just drove me crazy and we’d get in fights. We fought about that much more than about money or anything else. But it was always from the standpoint of,
I’m the victim of this guy. I’m the healthy, functional one and he’s this guy that’s always stressed out and yelling,
rather than taking responsibility and saying,
I either have to stay in this and quit complaining and be responsible for that decision or get me and the kids out of this stressful situation.
I didn’t do that until I realized this was about what I had to do to take care of myself. I had to tell myself,
just cowgirl up a little bit and quit being the victim out of this whole deal. You’re not going to get other people to see, nobody’s coming to rescue you, nobody’s going to see ‘she needs some help.’ You just have to do it. You just have to bite the bullet and be responsible.
Life is a daily adventure now. I wake up and I actually look forward to the day instead of it being all about work and just feeling drained all the time. I still lapse into times when I feel pretty drained but now I can see that I’m lapsing into my old habits, pretty quickly and I can short-circuit it.
When other people, who are on the fence about divorce, ask me for advice I say,
You may be believing that you are the only thing holding that other person together, and that’s why you’re sticking around, but that is an illusion. You have so little to give if you’re constantly giving everything away and not putting anything back in.
You hear about ‘having to put something back’ all the time but it is really, really true. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself. I believe each of us has a responsibility to take care of ourselves. That is really our primary responsibility and then very close after that is other people, like our children. There are times when you have to put your children first and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that but overall you have got to mind the store.
They use the analogy of the oxygen masks on planes. God forbid there’s a plane crash but the masks drop down and they tell you to put yours on first, because your baby is not going to be able to handle things if you’re not there. That’s how it is in life. Put that mask on first and then see what’s next to do.
As for words of wisdom, I’m just taking it day by day. It feels pretty good though.
The Divorce Coach Says
What Susan is talking about here is a lesson that many of us have had to learn. Somehow, we get into our heads that marriage means putting our husband’s needs over ours and then along come the children and we put their needs over all ours. All that piles up and one day we wake up and wonder what happened to our own needs. Well, at least that’s what happened to me and I lost myself in the process.
Anka also discovered that it was OK to make meeting her own needs a priority. That lead to her finding the right partner and what she describes more of a partnership than any relationship she’s been in. So putting your needs first doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship – it means you stand a better chance of sustaining a relationship.
This is the last in Susan’s series and I’d like to thank Susan for sharing her story. With the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s a much greater understanding of PTSD and hopefully stories like Susan’s will help more couples face this challenge.