Part One: Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Spouses of Combat Veterans
It’s a dreary winter day, the kind of day when it’s tempting to sleep in. I was fortunate to be able to do just that this morning.
And when I woke up, thoughts came back to me of my other life. During my nineteen-year marriage to a Marine Corps Vietnam combat veteran (who I’ll refer to as Matt, for reasons of privacy) sleep was often in short supply.
He was never the type of husband-father to get up with our babies during the night. That was always left up to me. Before our first child was born, I worked as a hairdresser. Shortly after his birth, I went back to that job. It’s a hard, physical job, being on your feet for hours on end, as well as bending over a shampoo bowl. It’s even harder to maintain your energy when you’ve had a night of interrupted sleep.
In the early years, after his return from Nam, Matt drank a lot. I had ascribed his excessive drinking to habit, and to his macho attitude. He loved to go out with his buddies, drink and raise hell.
At the time, I believed it was relatively harmless, and that he needed to “blow off steam” as a way to deal with his Nam experience, and as a means to try and ease back into civilian life.
But then the heavy drinking evolved to three to four nights a week. He would generally roll into bed in the wee hours. Rarely could I sleep, always worried where he was, unsure of his safety and wondering if he’d run over anybody while inebriated.
On some rare nights I’d fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. But inevitably, he would make his entrance to our bedroom, immediately flip on the harsh overhead light, and shout at me to wake up. Then I was in for hours of listening to his stories of the evening, or his berating of me for my many inadequacies.
As I’ve now learned from study and experience, this behavior is not uncommon in those suffering the harmful effects of combat-related, untreated, unhealed PTSD.
I’ll be exploring this topic further in upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned.