In my September released Harlequin Heartwarming novel, SOMEONE LIKE YOU, my main character, Niall Walsh, is an Afghanistan veteran harboring a terrible, classified war secret that keeps him from wanting to live the life he’s been spared. In fact, he tells his concerned sister, Mary Anne, that the wrong man survived the tragic day he lost his battle buddies… namely him. In addition to survivor’s guilt, he’s joined the swelling ranks of our returning warriors with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s an increasingly recognized and diagnosed condition, one families and partners cope with when helping their loved one readjust to civilian life.
Soldiers have witnessed horrors and experienced fears that are beyond our imagining. It affects them on many levels, especially in their ability to give and receive love. Some may no longer feel able or willing to care for another. The lighthearted, generous, open man who was deployed has now come home darker, troubled, and closed off. He may be reluctant to show emotion at all as he learned that it was easier to cope with war’s devastation by not letting himself feel at all. How to bring him back? The man you love.
Patience is key. Love is like energy. It cannot be destroyed. It is there, but is buried under thick layers of pain, fear and anxiety. It will take time, understanding, and treatment to get through them. The more extensive his traumatic experience, the longer the process will take. Kayleigh, the heroine in my novel, is Niall’s longtime childhood friend. She’s persistent about getting him out of his hermit-like existence. She gradually helps him to understand that he has value in this life, that there is a reason he survived and that he owes it to himself and his fallen comrades to appreciate this gift and live… as well as love.
Support your loved one. Love can frighten a PTSD sufferer. It doesn’t make sense when they compare it to the suffering they’ve experienced or witnessed. How can he delight in your lovely smile when horrific images override it? How can he think romantic thoughts when devastating memories cloud his mind? Love and Pain. Joy and Fear. The job is to make them exist together, until the healing process is finished, so that life and love can go on. Be present, every step of the way and when the path to wellness is complete, he’ll remember that you were there through the good times and the tough ones, too.
Understanding. No one can know what your loved one went through except him. Still. You can show him that you are willing to listen and empathize without judgment. War requires soldiers to commit acts that, to civilians, would be hard to accept. Yet you must, for the sake of your relationship, be that person he can turn to when he needs to vent. He doesn’t want your pity. He needs your understanding and by giving it to him, he will be better equipped to understand himself and what happened during the war.
Put together a strong network. Like Niall, my hero, many returning vets find refuge in isolation. Don’t let your partner fall prey to that. Surround him with friends, family and even veterans groups that will support, accept and appreciate him. He needs to rediscover the goodness in his life. Together, with others, you’ll show him the way back to life and love, teaching him to accept what happened and love himself again, too.
Love is possible for those suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. It will take time, support, understanding and a strong network. Most of all, it will take faith. Believe that the wonderful person you love may have changed from his experiences, but he is still there. Like all worthy treasure, you’ll need to dig deep to uncover it again.
As Niall says to Kayleigh at the end of SOMEONE LIKE YOU:
“I see you when I close my eyes,” he murmured, touching his forehead to hers. “I can’t stop thinking about you, wondering where you are and what you're doing. Things in my past made me closed off. You were right about that. But I’m not anymore. My heart is open, and it belongs to you.”
Kayleigh and Niall have their happily-ever-after and so will you. Like them, it’s not an easy road, but believe that it will end in love.