We are learning how to deal with reintegration stress and post combat stress. This past weekend we had an experience that gave me confidence that we are doing okay. We had gone out on a family outing, walking along a row of piers stopping at lovely shops and restaurants, viewing ships and having a lovely time.
At one point in our afternoon we turned a corner and were suddenly in a VERY crowded area, body-to-body crowds. Immediately, my husband said, "I can't do this." In my rush to get everyone to the bathroom I had forgotten who I was dealing with, a recently returned combat veteran. Crowd...not good! So we quickly went to the bathroom and he waited for us in a back walkway where the crowds were not so bad. Then I remembered that we could cross the building and be on a lovely oceanfront walkway on the back side, rather than walking all the way through the shopping center to get to that walkway.
I sprang into action, getting us out of there as quickly as possible. My husband stayed calm, I think he knew I was all over it making sure to get us out STAT. Seconds later we were out of the building and the crowds. Later, back on the street again the crowds continued to grow in the direction we were going. We decided that instead of completing our planned journey we would cut it short and find a shortcut back to our original destination where we could catch the train back to where we were staying.
Even though we cut our day short, it made total sense to get out of there. There was no reason to cause any extra stress on him, which would surely have transferred to us. I told him later I was so glad that he had immediately identified that this was a place he was not going to be able to be in and immediately let me know. That way together we acted immediately, started making team decisions and avoided a disastrous end to our day. I tried to be very sensitive to his situation and keep things as simple as possible. I gave him options for our return route and asked which he would be most comfortable with. Then he was able to call the shots and I knew he was comfortable and that made me comfortable.
Reintegration is a journey. Working together and being sensitive to his needs makes me proud of us and I know it relieves stress on him, me and our family. I am glad we are both getting better at reading warning signs and acting. I could have just said, "Oh you've got to be kidding me. We made a plan and we are sticking with it" and totally overlooked the depth and seriousness of his stress. I am so glad I didn't do that. It's easy to forget what kind of environment he spent the past year in and be very unaware of the realities of post-combat stress. Tuning into our returning warriors needs makes their journey back happier and smoother and that blesses the entire family!