How long can you hold your breath? I’ve been holding mine for ten days now, and counting. It’s gripping my stomach, it’s gripping my mind. But I can’t let it out. Not just yet.
I’ve had many confronting conversations with my husband over the years since PTSD joined our fold. And the fact that we’re usually fairly good communicators doesn’t make them any easier. I have my agenda. He will have his. We talk. We cry. Sometimes our conversations can be a trigger for him. Sometimes they’re a trigger for me.
But this one was unlike all the rest. I took my time getting my head straight first, untangling the mess of thoughts in my mind well before allowing them to form into spoken words. This conversation didn’t involve any pleading. It didn’t talk about any long-held wishes. And it didn’t bring up any requests. This time it was going to be different. It had to be different.*
He sat and he listened to the language of my distress. He patiently held my gaze when I described how his self-destructive behaviour can hurt me too. And our children. He calmly accepted my plain explanation about how my actions were going to change from enabling to supportive in response to his conduct. Not as punishment, but purely as a way to safeguard my emotional wellbeing, and that of our children.
I can’t fight this battle for him. I can’t hand him the tools. I can’t even try to nudge him in the right direction. Because to do any of this can spark an opposite effect. I finally have to accept – and understand – that to involve myself in his struggle is to our detriment. Instead of holding him up, I now have to use my strength to hold myself back, and just watch. Hold back, and just wait.
It’s really hard to acknowledge this truth. And it’s even harder to live it.
But my cards had been played. They were out on the table for him to see, face up. Nothing cryptic, no surprises. And then he began to play his. Ten days ago. I held my breath, hardly believing what I was seeing.
He cooked dinner four nights last week. It’s not that I thought he’d forgotten how, it was his commitment to being an active part of our family that I believed might be all but dead. And that commitment continued to reappear regularly throughout the week. Being around to help out with the children. Staying home to help with the hectic bedtime routine.
I watched him embark on long morning walks in the crisp winter air. I watched him get enthusiastic about the short jogs our 5-year-old son would instigate for the two of them. I watched him seek out connections with me instead of the nearest online screen.
But what I was really watching was an attitude shifting right before my eyes. And I smiled to myself when my family began subtly rearranging themselves, wordlessly encouraging him to gently slot himself back into position.
I allowed my mind to relax a little, but I still held my breath. His growing motivation was contagious, and I naturally fell in sync. I handed out responsibilities instead of reprimands. I dished out gratitude instead of grievances.
Is this what normal feels like?
It has been a massive step for me to take down the safety net and pack it away. Until I did, I really had no idea how heavy it had been on my mind. And that weight was dragging me down in so many ways. Wearing me out.
Understandably, there have been a few unexpected waves since I began holding back instead of holding up. But we no longer count on smooth seas – I guess you could call us experienced sailors.
And hopefully one day soon, I’ll feel ready to let out this breath and nurture our new seed of hope. I think it could blossom into something amazing.
(original post published 16th June 2016)