Posttraumatic Growth–A Choice

Posttraumatic Growth–A Choice.

Posttraumatic Growth–A Choice

Hey-hey-hey! I got a major paper done today on post trauma growth. I am way ahead on my school work. I suppose there is an upside to being housebound.
By the way, the research is still in the infancy stages, but everything I train about my process of grieving in resiliency training is dead spot on. There is an element of choice and cognitive thought. In other words, those two decisions I made without really thinking about it were pivotal.
The first decision was to fall into my faith. I have frequently spoken of and written of the last conscious thought I had when I was hearing those awful life-changing words. As I fell to my knees keening, one thought crossed my mind. How can I claim to have faith if in my darkest hour I turned. I chose to fall into my faith and that was the first step in my journey of the new Linda.
While faith has been important to me since I was a young child, the faith I fell into is different. Yes, my spiritual faith is blazing, but it may not look the same to others. I do not always go to church. It is hard to sit alone when one spent every day of her life sitting next to someone at church. It is hard to sit alone, to be lonely surrounded by people, and to not fit in. My faith is action. I try to live my values.
While living my values sounds simple it is not. I value my relationship with my child more than I value being right. I have come to realize that my adult child realizes what I think and my opinions, but he needs to know that I love him unconditionally. It isn’t easy because I want to fix him-fix others, but my value is the person. I spent so much of my life trying to fix others that I forgot to fix myself sometimes. With Phil’s death, I struggled to hold it all together and in that loss of my own self-control, I became a better mom and friend.
That decision to fall into my faith, also allowed me to concentrate on being grateful for the 23 years I did have versus the loss of the dream of the future that I wanted. I would give anything to grow old with Phil, but many people spend their whole life looking for a love like that. I am thankful I know what it is to love well and to be loved well. That gratitude also gives me hope that maybe, just maybe it is possible to have that kind of love again. I don’t know if it is possible, but because of that last face to face what if conversation with Phil, I am open to it. It is deeply humbling to remember Phil asking me, “If you died first, would you want me to be happy again?” Why, yes, yes I would. This hope is part of my spiritual resilience.
My humor stands as a further testimony of my spiritual resiliency. I never realized that the Ambard/Short method of laughing at everyone–ourselves most of all—would be so healing. Early on, I got tired of the dark cloud that seemed to press in on every front. Pink, polka dots, bubbles, and sparkles make me smile. For those that have known me for a long time, you can attest to a girl that tended to hide in the shadows and to a girl that stuck with comfortable. I am not her any more. I push the envelope and have stopped wasting time on wondering what people are thinking. I just do what feels right for me. This humor that I carry sparks something in my heart because humor produces optimism and optimism produces hope.
The second decision not to let the assassin have me too is something that has had the biggest impact on my lifework and purpose. When I saw Phil’s autopsy photos which were to horrific to talk about, I broke. In my brokenness, I chose to not let the assassin have me too. I knew that if I quit living that the assassin essentially got two of us. I take time in my relationships now. That isn’t easy either because it is easier to put time with others off, but I have started to respond to those gentle heart nudges
that decision I made not to let the assassin have me too was a critical pivotal point. Who would have thought?
With that decision came a fire that I cannot explain, but it is a need or my breath to speak and write on military issues. Even if I save one person, the assassin doubly lost because he made me stronger and more capable as a response to his choices. For every life he took and for every scar he left, I will spend ever second, every day, living out loud and doing what I can to offer a lifeline to others. That meaning making gets me up in the morning.
PTG does start with that cognitive component of choice. I never thought about it, still don’t, but I do recognize that there were two choices made without a thought that have made all of the difference. I speak and write now not for me, but for those families coming after me. I suppose that is decision three.

Deployment and the Military Spouse

Deployment and the Military Spouse.

Deployment and the Military Spouse

Deployments are part of the military life. The longer a military couple is married, the better they become at navigating the stressors of deployment. Out of necessity, spouses develop skills to carry the family through the forced times apart, yet deployments impact every family long after the deployment is completed. Over 44% of spouses report moderate depressive symptoms during the deployment, but 75% of military spouses think that the first three months after a deployment are more stressful than the actual deployment. The most at risk population are those families who are younger and with less resources are at the highest risk for divorce or family conflict during this time. While the military has a resiliency training requirement for military members, this important skill is often ignored for family members.

Resiliency classes emphasize and promote positive attributes and strategies. One basic skill teaches individuals to identify small things that the individual is grateful for. In the very act of recognizing what is going right, positive emotions are reinforced which helps with adaptation and optimal functioning. The more positive skills that an individual can deploy, the less maladaptive skills an individual will utilize.

Essentially, while the deployments are not going to end, young families or families facing deployment for the first time in a long time, need support. These families would benefit from a resiliency program that emphasizes connections to others, goal setting, ways to eliminate obsessive thinking, positive meaning making, and positive coping strategies. While attendees of formal training report positive changes, only 25% of enlisted spouses attend in-person training. This is the at risk population, thus the time has come to consider other methods of getting the training or support out to our spouses.

Social media in terms of closed support groups can be one avenue. I know that I belong to three such groups of families/spouses or military members who suffered loss. We support one another. Sometimes the activity level or need is low, but holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and stressful times (both good and bad) are a good time to check in and to remind people of the skills they have and of methods to reinforce those skills. It is a good way to connect especially if the family member is isolated out of choice or other factors.

Another option might be to consider a peer mentorship program in which a deployed spouse is connected to another spouse by age, gender, family status, rank, etc. It may be that the deployed spouse does not want to be checked on, but that checks and balances is a good way to remind the individual that they are not alone, that there are resources available, and that someone cares. It can be overwhelming when the commander’s wife calls a young wife, but a personal touch of many on a semi-regular basis creates that caring community the extends beyond the deployment.

Another way to connect is through the mail. Through the use of a handwritten note or card, Everybody likes mail. As part of the note, gentle reminders as to Hearts Apart or squadron functions can be given. Often when the spouse is deployed, the spouse at home is forgotten in unit family activities. When a family is only included when the military member is at home, a message is sent that the family only matters when the military member is present.

When a spouse or when a family is not coping well, it equates to increased severity of posttraumatic stress symptoms, divorce, decreased job satisfaction, and poor mental health in all family members. Resiliency training and positive coping strategies cannot be isolated to the military member, but we as a village need to look for techniques to extend our reach and embed those skills in our military community and families. I welcome your suggestions at any time.

Deployments are part of the military life. The longer a military couple is married, the better they become at navigating the stressors of deployment. Out of necessity, spouses develop skills to carry the family through the forced times apart, yet deployments impact every family long after the deployment is completed. Over 44% of spouses report moderate depressive symptoms during the deployment, but 75% of military spouses think that the first three months after a deployment are more stressful than the actual deployment. The most at risk population are those families who are younger and with less resources are at the highest risk for divorce or family conflict during this time. While the military has a resiliency training requirement for military members, this important skill is often ignored for family members.

Resiliency classes emphasize and promote positive attributes and strategies. One basic skill teaches individuals to identify small things that the individual is grateful for. In the very act of recognizing what is going right, positive emotions are reinforced which helps with adaptation and optimal functioning. The more positive skills that an individual can deploy, the less maladaptive skills an individual will utilize.

Essentially, while the deployments are not going to end, young families or families facing deployment for the first time in a long time, need support. These families would benefit from a resiliency program that emphasizes connections to others, goal setting, ways to eliminate obsessive thinking, positive meaning making, and positive coping strategies. While attendees of formal training report positive changes, only 25% of enlisted spouses attend in-person training. This is the at risk population, thus the time has come to consider other methods of getting the training or support out to our spouses.

Social media in terms of closed support groups can be one avenue. I know that I belong to three such groups of families/spouses or military members who suffered loss. We support one another. Sometimes the activity level or need is low, but holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and stressful times (both good and bad) are a good time to check in and to remind people of the skills they have and of methods to reinforce those skills. It is a good way to connect especially if the family member is isolated out of choice or other factors.

Another option might be to consider a peer mentorship program in which a deployed spouse is connected to another spouse by age, gender, family status, rank, etc. It may be that the deployed spouse does not want to be checked on, but that checks and balances is a good way to remind the individual that they are not alone, that there are resources available, and that someone cares. It can be overwhelming when the commander’s wife calls a young wife, but a personal touch of many on a semi-regular basis creates that caring community the extends beyond the deployment.

Another way to connect is through the mail. Through the use of a handwritten note or card, Everybody likes mail. As part of the note, gentle reminders as to Hearts Apart or squadron functions can be given. Often when the spouse is deployed, the spouse at home is forgotten in unit family activities. When a family is only included when the military member is at home, a message is sent that the family only matters when the military member is present.

When a spouse or when a family is not coping well, it equates to increased severity of posttraumatic stress symptoms, divorce, decreased job satisfaction, and poor mental health in all family members. Resiliency training and positive coping strategies cannot be isolated to the military member, but we as a village need to look for techniques to extend our reach and embed those skills in our military community and families. I welcome your suggestions at any time.

Deployments are part of the military life. The longer a military couple is married, the better they become at navigating the stressors of deployment. Out of necessity, spouses develop skills to carry the family through the forced times apart, yet deployments impact every family long after the deployment is completed. Over 44% of spouses report moderate depressive symptoms during the deployment, but 75% of military spouses think that the first three months after a deployment are more stressful than the actual deployment. The most at risk population are those families who are younger and with less resources are at the highest risk for divorce or family conflict during this time. While the military has a resiliency training requirement for military members, this important skill is often ignored for family members.

Resiliency classes emphasize and promote positive attributes and strategies. One basic skill teaches individuals to identify small things that the individual is grateful for. In the very act of recognizing what is going right, positive emotions are reinforced which helps with adaptation and optimal functioning. The more positive skills that an individual can deploy, the less maladaptive skills an individual will utilize.

Essentially, while the deployments are not going to end, young families or families facing deployment for the first time in a long time, need support. These families would benefit from a resiliency program that emphasizes connections to others, goal setting, ways to eliminate obsessive thinking, positive meaning making, and positive coping strategies. While attendees of formal training report positive changes, only 25% of enlisted spouses attend in-person training. This is the at risk population, thus the time has come to consider other methods of getting the training or support out to our spouses.

Social media in terms of closed support groups can be one avenue. I know that I belong to three such groups of families/spouses or military members who suffered loss. We support one another. Sometimes the activity level or need is low, but holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and stressful times (both good and bad) are a good time to check in and to remind people of the skills they have and of methods to reinforce those skills. It is a good way to connect especially if the family member is isolated out of choice or other factors.

Another option might be to consider a peer mentorship program in which a deployed spouse is connected to another spouse by age, gender, family status, rank, etc. It may be that the deployed spouse does not want to be checked on, but that checks and balances is a good way to remind the individual that they are not alone, that there are resources available, and that someone cares. It can be overwhelming when the commander’s wife calls a young wife, but a personal touch of many on a semi-regular basis creates that caring community the extends beyond the deployment.

Another way to connect is through the mail. Through the use of a handwritten note or card, Everybody likes mail. As part of the note, gentle reminders as to Hearts Apart or squadron functions can be given. Often when the spouse is deployed, the spouse at home is forgotten in unit family activities. When a family is only included when the military member is at home, a message is sent that the family only matters when the military member is present.

When a spouse or when a family is not coping well, it equates to increased severity of posttraumatic stress symptoms, divorce, decreased job satisfaction, and poor mental health in all family members. Resiliency training and positive coping strategies cannot be isolated to the military member, but we as a village need to look for techniques to extend our reach and embed those skills in our military community and families. I welcome your suggestions at any time.

Choices

Choices 

Happiness is a choice. It isn’t always easy to make that choice and certainly life is not always fair, but looking for the blessings and for the small things that spark contentment is easier that the energy it takes to endure a enduring pity party. The choice involves thought and intentionality because people innately fixate on what is going wrong, what is missing, or on what should or could be. When Phil was assassinated, early on I recognized how that if I didn’t have the energy to waste thinking about Phil’s assassin. I recognized that anger or wanting revenge would not bring Phil back, but it would in essence give Phil’s assassin my life, too. Perhaps it would have been different if I was sitting in a room with this man, but I made a choice to use my time, energy, and focus on honoring the man Phil was as a military officer, husband, and a father. He was about so much more than the way he was killed.

 

Like most people, I assumed a lot of things about my life. I thought I knew how my fifties were going to look, and this is not what I saw. The last of our five children had just left the house the year Phil deployed. Since he married me and became dad to Patrick, Josh, and Emily, we never had time without children. We were looking forward to traveling without children, building our dream house, and eventually retiring to WA state. I made assumptions about life in other ways, too. I assumed that if I prayed, and if everyone else prayed, that God would protect Phil from violence. I have had to come to grips with my assumptive world shattering. My thinking has shifted and I have come to recognize that bad things happen to really good people and that life isn’t always fair, thus I must not waste my life’s moments by living in the shadows, cowering, or wishing for what is not possible.

 

Shifting my paradigms to look at what I do have to be thankful for has been key. This gratitude starts with shifting my thinking from feeling cheated with Phil’s death to being thankful for the 23 years we did have together. On my dark days, I force myself to acknowledge three things that I am grateful for. This act is not easy and I have to really think about it on those days, but when I find those nuggets, it sparks something. Those sparks remind me of what I do have, what I have to get up for in the morning, and more than that, it gives me hope. 

The second act that I do on my dark days of my pity parties is that I consciously look for ways to do random acts of kindness or service to others. When my focus is off of me, I am able to act. In giving, my batteries are reset. My focus leaves me and becomes in a bigger world beyond me. I see pain in others and by reaching, we heal together. 

I also force myself to get outside. There is something in moving that brings me sparks of joy. I find myself centering and working through the tears. I run, listen to meaningful music, fall into my faith, and I come home and write those thoughts. Through those simple acts, I am able to purge the darkness most days. Make no mistake, it isn’t easy some days or even weeks, but in the conscious deciding that I cannot give up living because it would mean that the assassin got me too, I am able to act. Phil did not have a choice about his death, but I have a choice about how I want to live. I choose life always–that means I show up and live my life fighting for happiness and meaning.

 

 

 

The Magic of Running Disney Even When Hurting

The Magic of Running Disney Even When Hurting.

The Magic of Running Disney Even When Hurting

Anyone who has ever come to Disney knows the magic of Disney. Maybe there really is pixie dust that wafts supernaturally through the overhead stars, but even adults come to a Disney resort or park with a sense of giddiness. On my journey of grief and discovering who I am as Linda without her Phil, choosing to come to the Dopey Running Challenge last year and this year, was an intentional pursuit of my heart. Disney running is about more than another race, another challenge. These miles represent the magic, hurt, and hope of Disney. These miles represent my belief in myself, the hurt of remembering so much shared laughter and joy, and they are a way to embrace the hope of my future,

Four years ago, I came to Disney to run the Goofy Challenge because it was on my Bucket List and Phil gave it to me as his last Christmas present to me. He wanted me to have something to train for and to be excited for during the first few days of a year long deployment. It was an unexpected gift because I had already completed my Florida marathon, but he wanted to see the spark of surprise and delight when I discovered he had made reservations and signed me up for this race. As a child, I was envious of those that got to go to the Disney parks, and while we had spent magical time at Disney parks, this gift he gave me was different. It was just for me.

Part of the delight was in seeing if my body could do it and if Disney would be as magical without my family. It was different. Part of doing the Goofy, and now the Dopey Challenge, is in training the body to push through pain and to keep one’s heart focused on the prizes at the end. Doing these races teach a person that kindred spirits can have fun even while hurting. My heart aches with loneliness and bittersweet memories when I come back to the Disney resorts, but it is the spark of fun that helps diminish the pain and give a glimpse into a new normal.

Disney is perhaps the place where people in pain can reset their batteries and find laughter and a spark of something. It is hard not to feel a little something seeping in to those dark crevices when every person around you is embracing the experience and behaving out of character. Grown men and women dress in costumes of all kinds. People stand in line for a long time to get photos with the Disney characters or to ride a roller coaster midrace. You see, it isn’t about the times, it is about what this race (s) represent. These races represent a time far from worry, far from pain, and far from responsibility. These races represent a simpler time.

While I am in the middle of doing these races for the third time, I know I will be back because I see something I like when I come here. I see a girl who is unafraid of sparkles, polka dots, roller coasters, travel, and life. I am the girl who with each race is stronger, better able to navigate the pain and miles, and a girl who can do more with each passing independent trip. I see a girl who can push through her fear and a girl who gets as giddy as a child when I get here. I see a girl who can find joy even with a tender hurting heart. I see a girl who can press through the fog of pain to a magical place beyond. I like that girl—I am that girl at Disney.

How I Miss the Laughter

How I Miss the Laughter.

How I Miss the Laughter

When Phil walked into the Mountain Home Air Force Base swimming pool, I was not interested. He was too young, too military, he was flirty with the staff, and, besides, there was that blue hammock swim suit. EW! He was persistent. I couldn’t understand why. I was broken. I had just left a marriage that cost me my family for a time, my church, and my friends. I had spent years being the responsible reliable Linda. I was always the one who made the right choices until I couldn’t hide any more. I walked away from a marriage for valid reasons and the last thing I wanted was to date another military man or someone that young. I didn’t bank on Phil’s persistence or what he brought into my life. He taught me to love my country, how to love well and how to let someone love me well, and he taught me how to laugh.

To understand the laughter, one has to understand that I was always worried and anxious about doing the right thing and never letting anyone down. I was rigid and inflexible in terms of how hard I was on my self. I was a very black and white person. When he asked me out for the 20th time, he told me that he wouldn’t ask me out again if I said no. As I sat there sweaty from a work out, I realized that there was only one answer. I said yes. Yes to the risk . Yes to him. Yes to us. Four months later we ran away to Reno to get married not because we had to, but because we realized from the earliest days of dating that we were better together than apart.

I remember how hard he made me laugh. He would often chase me around the house being the slimy French man or the Pablo, the Venezuelan heartthrob. I still smile when I think of his language skills and how he used them to bring something to me that I had never had. Joy. I sorely miss those moments because we had them so often. I loved watching his eyes light up. After 23 years, he still had it. Things were not always easy because we had so many children, his career choice, and we made the choice for me to stay at home, but I remember that we found a way to connect every single day.

I couldn’t even stay mad at him very long. We hadn’t been married for very long and Phil and I had a minor tiff. I do not even remember it, but I do remember when he waved a white hanky in the bedroom door. As soon as I saw that white hanky being waved, I laughed. From there, communication was restored. For the rest of our days, Phil would sometimes drive up with a white rag tied around the antenna of the car or tied to the door know or waved in a room and I would laugh. Laughter reset everything.

I miss the joy and the laughter. As I leave to run the Dopey Challenge in a few hours, I can’t help some melancholic thoughts. The last gift Phil ever gave me was the Goofy Challenge. The last kiss goodbye was hours (about 3.5 hours) after I got back from the Goofy Challenge because his orders were deployed. I will never forget that I was laughing as he left. You see, we had just finished the what if talk when the cab came. I watched with dread. He kissed me and told me that a year wasn’t a long time and then he was gone. I watched at the cab drove slowly up the road. When the cab stopped and I saw him sprinting back, I was sure he had forgotten something. He had—he wanted one more kiss. He drew me into his arms and passionately kissed me and told me that he loved me. I laughed because it was so out of character and that simple act reset the goodbye—the memory.

As I continue the struggle to find who I am without my Phil, I struggle to find the joy and the laughter. I simply can’t see years of living in darkness. I know that my Phil wouldn’t want me broken and unable to find my footing. I recognize that I need to take control of seeking joy. Happiness is a choice—my choice. This year is my year of believing and as I travel to Disney, I am looking at how I can spark that enthusiasm for life again. It isn’t natural to me, but I took an extra two days to visit the amusement parks this year. I am also going to go out to eat alone this time. My choice, the choice that I know my Phil would want, is for me to hold on the girl who learned to laugh off the minor things and the value of humor in the darker times. What better place to start than where we had so much fun, where the end started, and where my year of hope started. This year? I believe in happiness and I believe in me.

2015–The Year of Believing

2015–The Year of Believing.