We all see the world based on past experiences. Those experiences have shaped our character and how we handle certain situations. In good and bad ways.
My past experiences have definitely shaped who I am today. Serving 11 years in the U.S. Army and two combat deployments took a once idealistic and young boy and shaped him into a man who saw the realities of what the world was at a young age. I learned to appreciate life and I also knew that my life could be taken in the blink of an eye.
The military was a regimented and easy to fit into lifestyle for me. Everything was based on a time system of being here or there in a punctual way and being able to accomplish the mission. To say that soldiering was easy for me would be an understatement. The military was a sub-culture that definitely was a character builder.
With that culture came problems from past deployments, problems with leadership and biases from childhood that were reinforced by military service.
It took me hitting rock bottom to finally realize that I needed help. With the help of the local Vet Center and the Veterans Administration (VA), it took six years of tele-health to get me to a place where I had the coping tools necessary to have quality social relationships with people, handle public gatherings or places and to put some of the past biases to rest and realize that not everyone fits into a “box” based on past experiences.
Now, fast-forward to the civilian world of marriage, kids, finishing a History Degree and working in an office. It took me years after military service to know that by being alive and coming out of war without a physical scratch is a gift, but all the stresses of daily life can be taxing for a veteran.
Now, I love my wife and kids dearly, but I struggle with reminding myself that my children are small. I know that a 3-year old shouldn’t know what a 10-year old may know, but I find myself using some of the same accountability I used on my soldiers and myself on my children, and that’s not fair to them. Things such as cleanliness, spills and getting hurt are some of the very things I struggle with giving empathy towards. I usually knee-jerk and say, “Don’t do that again” instead of showing compassion. It is a struggle, but I know I can still learn and grow as a father to improve on this.
My wife and children are a gift. I try to remind myself every day that we can all grow and learn from each other. The experiences I can help shape with my kids will be their stepping stone and that I need to remind myself that I am a big stepping stone for them.
As much as I know there exists a stigma around PTSD, I also know that it’s not an excuse for bad behavior. Becoming a parent is an adjustment, but if I can survive two deployments, then I know I won’t be a failure as a father. My kids don’t see me as a failure, they see me as, “Daddy.”