Author’s Notice: This is a part of a series of articles on dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) related to Sexual Assault (SA) from a spouse’s personal viewpoint. These articles are meant to help the friends, families, and others who are or will have to deal with victims of SA. This is an extreme case and not everyone will exhibit all of these behaviors. Since an estimated 1 in 5 women in the military experience SA, I thought it would be beneficial to have a first-hand account. All articles in this series will start with PTSD (SA).
My late wife, Sue, was brutally raped and anally sodomized between the ages of 7 to 14. Every summer, her parents would send her and her younger brother, Doug, to her aunt and uncle’s farm where a farm hand would abuse her. He would threaten to abuse her brother if she did not surrender. She submitted to being bound and gagged and sexually assaulted. Her aunt was a diabetic. When she told her aunt about the initial attempted abuse, her aunt threatened to give her a shot of her insulin warning her to keep her mouth shut because good farm hands are hard to find. Sue’s mother perceived her story as just trying to get out of going to the farm for the summer, and her mother handled her father’s concerns. Sue, Doug, Sue’s mother, father, aunt, uncle, and the farm hand have all died so there are no issues of liable with this recount of events.
I did not know anything about the SA until 10 years into our relationship. Looking back over our time together, and with what I now know of PTSD and SA, I can see all the signs. At that time, it was all very confusing because I did not have a basis from which to deal with the situation.
Sue’s drug abuse started in her mid-teen years. This was during the era where one could telephone the family doctor, cough a few time, and he would prescribe medicine with codeine over the phone, and the local pharmacy would deliver it. That was her drug of choice. Both her parents worked, so for much of the time she was unsupervised, and she was able to self-medicate without their knowledge. As the years passed, the family doctor retired, and restrictions on pharmaceuticals became more stringent, she turned to alcohol to self-medicate.
I do not believe Sue was an alcoholic, and I would be hard pressed to give a reasonable explanation as to why. Her alcohol abuse was all about self-medication. As the years progress, she had built a tolerance to the alcohol she drank, so it would take greater and greater quantities to achieve the same results.
She never drank until she returned home from work, but after work, until bedtime, all bets were off. She progressed from one fifth per week to almost three 1.75 liter bottles a week. At that point in our relationship, I would awake in the middle of the night and pour a third to half a bottle down the kitchen sink drain knowing she would not remember how much she actually drank. When she realized she was up to three 1.75 liter bottles, she started to cut back on her own, but never stopped drinking. I was never much of a drinker, so I would refuse to participate. I did not want her to think I approved of her heavy drinking.
The only thing alcohol did was to confuse the whole situation. I was dealing with a never ending set of rules governing our lives. I was dealing with her argumentative nature which was compounded by the alcohol abuse. I had to deal with the flashbacks and regressions. The periods of melancholy or depression which she would feed by playing soulful songs for hours on end, would make me feel as if I was locked out of some part of her life. Then, there was the radical mood swings that would make Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde look tame by comparison.
A prime scenario of one of her mood swings would occur in this manner. I needed to telephone her before leaving work. It was one of the rules. She would sound so happy on the phone. We told each other how we missed being together, and the call always ended with the phase, “I love you.” I would walk to my car, drive home, walk into the house (total time elapsed seven minutes), and I would be greeted with, “You SOB. How could you?!”
“How could I what?” I would respond.
“You know what you did! Now, you’ve ruined our life!” she would scream.
There were many times I just wanted to turn around and walk out, but I could not. What if she went into a regression? What if she went into a full blown flashback? I would not be able to forgive myself if something happened. I felt trapped in her nightmare, and I resented it. I was exhausted from being her crutch. I was exhausted from being the target of her ire. I was totally spent, emotionally and physically. I was on my last leg, and did not know how much more I could take.
That is when she went into another regression. Only this time, she threatened to telephone the police to tell them she was kidnapped. I wanted her to make that phone call. I wanted the police to take her away, or tell me to leave, or arrest me. I chided her into making that call. I even offered to dial the number for her. I dared her, and as the 14 year old to which she had regressed, the challenge was all that was needed.
The ultimate result of that telephone call was that the police told her, if they had to come to our house again, and she was not under the care of doctor, then they would take her away to a mental health facility. It forced her into seeking help.
Many times drugs and alcohol are used by victims of SA. It is a means of self-medication. It kills the pain. The victim thinks it will prevent the terror and the horror from invading their life. It does not. PTSD (SA) in combination with drugs and alcohol oftentimes makes it extremely difficult to delineate what is the real root of the problem. It is a veil that has to be pierced.
Treatment was the best thing that could have happened for Sue. The drinking stopped. The mood swings stopped. Her argumentative nature abated. The flashbacks and regressions disappeared. It all took time, before life started to seek normalcy.
I hope these articles have helped people recognize some of the signs of PTSD (SA). We need to help our Veterans when we can. By becoming aware of potential problems, maybe one can provide the guidance needed to direct the victims of Sexual Assault and PTSD into acquiring professional help.