War destroyed my husband

Yugoslavia in the 1990s left him shattered. His treatment for PTSD was laughable. Is there hope?

By Cary Tennis
Published August 24, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I met my European spouse on a fully financed study trip in 2004, when I was the oldest student participant, at 27 years old, and we had a rock 'n' roll fairy-tale courtship. I had never traveled outside of the U.S. before, but had met the guitarist of the band that my now-husband was the sound engineer for at a SXSW party in Austin, Texas. My future husband and I had a wild one-night stand in the attic of a London party. We never thought that the romance would culminate in a long-term partnership, but due to my winning a few study-abroad fellowships (in 2004-2005) and his joining bands for U.S. tours we were able to maintain our relationship for a couple of years until I finally won a scholarship to study in his home country in 2007. We were married in 2008.

Before we lived together, he had warned me that he had dark moments and did not expect to live past 36 (he is now 41). I identified with him all the more when he said this, as I have suffered from depression on and off as long as I can remember. Somehow, at first, I didn't connect these admissions of his with his experience as a soldier in the former Yugoslavia in 1995.

Once we lived together for a few months, however, this connection became increasingly apparent. My dad had served in Vietnam for three tours, and I recognized much of him in my partner. With his parents, I encouraged my partner to seek counseling for PTSD. He received what I consider dismal treatment. In my opinion, they ripped open his chest and exposed all his nerves and then, instead of helping him deal with the emotions that arose, simply threw in massive quantities of numbing meds. He is still, a few years on, trying to recover some of what he lost in the intervening years. He does not work anymore and never hopes to work again. He is easily agitated and cannot go out in public on most occasions. I do almost all the groceries and errands. Occasionally he offers, but he makes me understand that it is a great sacrifice. I never ask him anymore to accompany me to a party or any other social function -- I already know that the answer will always be no.

Here are some of the many problems. Even though I would have been able on my own to qualify for immigration years ago, I am still officially unofficial in his country (due to us having to get on welfare when he first got into treatment, and my being a student at the time). I have been in appeal of the decision against my status for two and a half years now. This is about the same time that he has been unable to work due to PTSD. Since he now considers himself incompetent (and his parents seem to agree) I am supposed to hold any future of ours in my hands.

His veteran friend discourages him from having any hope for the future, is misogynistic, and has an addiction to cocaine, which my husband now shares.  I am no longer his best friend. His veteran friend, whom I would consider a loser whether he was a veteran or not, is now the most important person in his life.

I still am very much in love with my husband, but I seem to be the only one who still believes in the dreams he told me about when we were courting. I found his ambition attractive, and it is difficult for me to accept that he never wants anything else from his life but to play Xbox, and perhaps if we have children (scarier, but still something we talk about now and then) to play with them. Still, none of this scares me as much as the fact that after all we have been through, the second we have a disagreement he calls his veteran friend to pick him up and he just disappears for a day or two, often spending a lot of money that we don't have. I am completely screwed financially after having been denied the right to work for the last year and a half, but I still think that if I went back to the States I could figure out how to scrape something together, no matter how difficult. The worst thing is that I love him, we have now been married for four years (together for eight), and I absolutely want to have a family/future with him.

Married to PTSD

Dear Married to PTSD,

My response is pretty straightforward. I think you have to leave.

If he can be treated expertly for his PTSD and his addiction, if he can show some progress, then you two may have a future. If he cannot get expert treatment and show progress then he will keep spiraling down and it will be a sad and terrible story.

He apparently cannot get the treatment he needs where he is. So the only hope I see is for you to come to the U.S. and make some money and establish a household and then decide if you want to take the risk of bringing him here. You will have to ask yourself a hard question and face the hard truth.

You will have to decide if you truly believe he is capable of coming here and committing to treatment and resuming a functional life. Of course, you cannot know. But you must decide. You could be wrong. But you must decide.

If you honestly believe that he can come here and do treatment and regain the will to live, then by all means bring him here and find treatment, assuming he is eligible to emigrate. But realize that if he is in a cycle of addiction then he will lie to you. If he comes here and resumes his life of addiction then you will be stuck. You will have brought your problem to live with you.

So think carefully. Look at your life. Do you have a history of being involved with addicts? The situation demands pitiless clarity.

Can he do it? Will he? Is he able to make the decision and follow through on it? You don't really know. I have my doubts. War destroys people. Doctors and psychiatrists can try to put them back together but the trauma of moral atrocity may already have done its calamitous work.

Assuming he comes to the U.S., he will not have the same access to services that a U.S. veteran would have. The treatment he needs will cost money.

The whole thing makes me want to throw things at the wall.

I'll bet you are lovely people.

Men start wars. Wars destroy lives. I wish we humans could stop doing this.

Cary Tennis

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