Seems counter-intuitive, right?
It really isn't and I'm going to explain why so that maybe the lessons we've learned from all of this will help other couples in distress for the same reasons. I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to write about this, but I felt I needed to articulate in writing our thought process - that and blogging always helps me process through my emotions, so...Here we go.
My PTSD headed very quickly into a downward spiral and the depression followed, gleefully riding the coattails of my PTSD on the way down. I withdrew completely from my wife and from my daughter over the course of the next year, leaving my wife to contend with caring for two kids on her own: Our beautiful newborn, and me.
I hit rock bottom in early 2012 when my wife confronted me with my withdrawal and gave me the ultimatum: Get help or we are leaving. This sounds really blunt but my wife had tried every other way of getting my attention and nothing had worked. I was so deeply in the throes of my own despair that I needed the emotional slap in the face to be able to see through the fog of my depression. When I did, I was horrified. I had emotionally abandoned my family. The guilt I felt was crushing - so crushing that I seriously considered committing suicide so that I wouldn't be able to hurt them anymore. That's how insidious depression can be. I couldn't see the forest for the trees and almost deprived my daughter of a father and my wife of a husband - Not because I wanted to selfishly end it all, but because I couldn't see any way of preventing my family from getting hurt again.
To this day, I still don't know what, exactly, pulled me back from the ledge but I'm grateful that I found a way. Just thinking about how close I came still horrifies me and always will. Over the course of the next few days, I started to gain a bit of clarity and was able to make a compact with myself - that I would never, EVER, let things get this bad ever again. I knew that the road ahead of me was going to be long and painful, but I needed desperately to be the Father and Husband I know I can be when the PTSD and the depression haven't taken me hostage.
Over the course of the next two and a half years, I have put in the work. I've gone to therapy, learned how to effectively cope with my PTSD and depression, learned how to watch for warning signs that I may be headed in the wrong direction and also learned that I needed to remove as much unnecessary stress from my life as I possible could.
The end result:
- I left a highly stressful retail job that paid shit money for an unexpected opportunity to actually work in my degree field. My new boss puts family first and supports his employees doing the same. He facilitates work/life balance. For the first time since returning home, work didn't drain my batteries. I came home with enough energy to be actively involved with my wife and daughter.
- I recognized that, while the meds I was on when I first got home from Iraq may have been necessary to keep me stable short term, the VA's strict admonition not to go off the meds no longer held any credibility to me (they hadn't changed my cocktail in years - even though my emotional state had changed drastically over those intervening years). I went off the meds at the beginning of 2014 and it was a revelation. I could think clearly. I could feel the depths of my emotions, good or bad, and processing them didn't send me into a tailspin. I felt truly liberated from the shackles that my medication had become.
- I wholeheartedly wanted to be affectionate and intimate with my wife again. I didn't feel like I was going to hurt her. I was moving past the guilt and was finally able to put my guilt over what I had unintentionally done to my wife and daughter into proper perspective. I found myself eager to be there for every little thing that my daughter did. I felt a need to catch up for lost time and to make sure that I never let it happen again.
Up until a few months ago, I thought that the whole concept of Post Traumatic Growth was a load of crap. I found myself, all of a sudden, full of drive and energy and motivation to live life and live up to the ideals I had always striven for. I finally felt I was WORTH fighting for.
What happened next completely blindsided both my wife and I. It sucks and it hurts, but I think you will see clearly how we got to this point.
I Need Some Time Apart to Clear My Head
Over the course of the past few weeks, things had gotten progressively worse between us and it seemed like the hurt feelings and emotional distance were gaining momentum, regardless of how I tried to reconcile with my wife. The end result: I told my wife that I couldn't live like this anymore - that I felt like I was walking on eggshells because the was angry all of the time and was either unable or unwilling to be intimate or reciprocate my affection.
That's when she said those fateful words: "I think I need some time apart to clear my head". I felt the bottom fall out from under me and I clung desperately to the edge of my sanity.
Over the course of the past week and a half, I've climbed out and things have settled down. Yes, my wife and I are separating but it's a mutual decision and I'm going to take the time to explain why this doesn't mean the end of our marriage.
The Five Stages of Grief
- Denial - I had been reading the writing on the wall for months, but refused to admit it. I denied it all that way up to the day where my wife asked for a trial separation.
- Anger - My initial response was to feel incredibly betrayed. She had stuck with me through everything when my proverbial shit hit the fan. Now, when her shit's in the air on a clear trajectory for the fan, she cuts and runs? What. The. FUCK! What a coward!
- Pleading/Bargaining - After the anger had run its course, I tried desperately to keep our family under one roof and tried every rationale I could think of to convince her to stay and work it out as a whole family. It didn't work. I was trying to cling so tight to my love and wife that it made her dig in her heels.
- Depression - With my current state being that of a renewed sense of purpose, I watched and guarded against this at all costs. I may have felt down about what was happening, but not in an unhealthy way. I allowed myself to feel my true emotions but constantly checked to make sure I wasn't headed back down the rabbit hole I have fought for year to climb out of.
- Acceptance - I knew I had to find a way to reconcile with what was going to happen - my wife wouldn't budge. I just couldn't understand why she wasn't willing to take any intermediate steps in the process. So I turned to the internet and started looking for blogs on the subject and found one that opened my eyes to what was really going on: (For the Full Article Click HERE)
However, rather than a means to an end, separation can be a helpful tool to stay together. This seems counterintuitive when a marriage is troubled and relations are fragile. Most of us believe that when we feel our spouse slipping away from us, we should merge together more, get as close as we can, and do more to "make the marriage work".
The thought of creating distance at such a time instills a great deal of fear of losing control of your spouse and your relationship. This option is especially challenging if the bond between the two of you has been weakened by a betrayed trust. But employed carefully and skillfully (and usually with some type of professional support ), this tool can be quite effective in bringing two people closer together.
---Courtesy of Divorce Magazine - Contemplating Divorce: Separation - By, Susan Pease Gadoua, LCSW
All of a sudden, I understood completely why she needed separation. The emotions she was feeling were so intense that any time she saw me, it triggered her emotions and none of them were particularly happy ones. The only way she could possibly start to work through all of this is by removing the source of the pain: Me. So, a few nights ago, I explained to my wife that I accepted her need for separation and why. Believe it or not, it was a huge relief for both of us. Up until that point, my wife was concerned that I wouldn't be able to find a way to accept her need for space and that the marriage would end before we even had a chance to work on it - not because we wanted it to, but because of irreconcilable differences.
Over the past few days, we've spent a lot of time getting on the same page and laying out the groundwork for separation and what it means for us and for our daughter. By loving my wife and supporting her in her need for space, we have already started down the right road. It may sound weird, but working together to coordinate the separation has been the closest my wife and I have been in years - because we are working together to save our marriage and working together hasn't been in the cards for a while now. In the next blog post, I will detail our Separation Contract, what it entails, and why. I could continue on and make this all one massive blog post, but this seems like a logical place to split it up. I know that there are readers out there that are probably in the same position we are in and can't seem to find a way forward. I hope that the struggle that I've gone through, both with the PTSD and Depression and with coming to terms with my wife's need for separation can help those of you out there that find yourselves facing a similar scenario.
Thank you all for your constant support and continued readership.