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.
As a spouse of an individual suffering from PTSD due to Sexual Assault (SA), you will find your life turned upside down, and you will be totally confused most of the time. You must keep your wits about you. Above all else, the one thing you must tell yourself again and again is, “IT IS NOT YOUR SPOUSE’S FAULT.” You were not there. You did not live it. You cannot judge. You are just left with the mess to clean-up. “IT IS NOT YOUR SPOUSE’S FAULT.” As a reference to identify different symptoms, see my article on Signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Vets, you will find the URL at the bottom of this article.
Skewed Value System
These are the avoidance and numbing symptoms, and the arousal symptoms. The symptoms will be all mixed together and difficult to distinguish one from another. If you suspect Sexual Assault has occurred, start a journal. It will help the Mental Health Professionals when your spouse finally seeks help.
Sue’s life was about rules; rules and routines. From the time she woke up in the morning, to how the clothes were washed and pressed (including sheets and undergarments), to the manner in which the lawn was mowed, there were rule about everything. The division of labor of household chores was specific and absolute with neither ever recruiting help from the other. Initially, I found her organizational skill to be admirable, but they quickly became tiresome. These rules and routines were not necessarily created to give order to her life as they were created to control the environment and others around her.
The core value upon which all of these behaviors and rules were based was trust. After she finished a telephone conversation, you could never ask, “Who was that?” ; however, if the roles were reversed the first thing out of your mouth needed to be, “That was Bob and we talked about….” On one side of this equation, it was all about trusting her; and. on the other side, it was all about spouses should never have secrets from each other, and she needed to trust me. Turn her rules, back on her, and that was grounds for an argument.
In her mind, things were pretty much either black or white with no room for gray. To tell a lie was considered a serious offense and a breach of trust. To omit telling her something was considered a lie of omission. It was also a breach of trust.
Having feelings of jealousy, because of her flirting at a party, was a breach of trust however, if I had a conversation with another female, in her immediate presence or not, resulted in her becoming more flirtatious or an argument or both. Generally, the consumption of alcohol was involved and only seemed to make the situation worse.
The evening meal was ruined between two to three times per week. Time was taken to prepare the meal, set the table, and place everything into serving dished. It was at that time, Sue was compelled to call her girlfriend, and she would “just be a minute.” The call would last anywhere from one to six hours. If I ate without her, it would create an argument because I did not wait for her. If I waited for her, the food would be cold and it was my fault, again it would result in an argument. All of this was a control mechanism. I am not sure what it proved in her mind, but it fulfilled a void and gave her a feeling of power within her life.
Arguments were harsh and severe. It did not take much to set her off. Yes, there were even rules about arguing. Break the rules of arguing and it would automatically end the relationship. She was very clear about that. The rules of arguing were: 1) no name calling, 2) stay on subject until concluded; once concluded, you cannot go back to it later, and 3) never go to bed angry with each other (one argument lasted three days and two nights). There did not need to be any rules about laying hands on one another because we both considered that as strictly taboo. On the surface the rules seem very civilized, but there were always ways around the rules; example, you could not say, “You’re an a-hole.” but, you could say, “You’re acting like an a-hole.” Arguments were full of double meaning statements, or statements of innuendos. In many cases, I found it more hurtful then outright name calling. I am not a person who likes to argue. In Sue’s world, arguments meant you cared. In some sense, it was an expression of love, so I played the game. I would have rather said it with flowers.
There were a host of other behaviors exhibited by Sue that were clues that I did not understand at the time, but see it clearly now. Some were: Kleptomania; playing the songs I am a Rock or I Will Survive over and over again for two or three hours, at a time, in the middle of the night; falling asleep in the middle of a dinner party; and, locking herself in the bathroom for three to four hours at a time.
This was an extreme case of PTSD (SA). Sue’s behaviors were extreme. What you may observe will probably be more subtle. The point of all of this is: if the behaviors, you see, do not make sense in the real world, then something is wrong. There were a whole host of other behaviors that I will address in future articles that ultimately led to Sue getting treatment. When Sue finally agreed to get treatment, almost all of these behaviors disappeared over time.
Signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Vets
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