The pandemic of military suicides is something I’ve been well aware of for a long time. My husband, a military veteran, and I together have seen it happen so often. Other military wives I know have had their hearts destroyed when their husbands took their own lives. Guys from my husband’s unit… well, there have been so many who have committed suicide that by now, I can’t even count. But despite all of that, and even despite a PTSD diagnosis, I somehow still never thought that it would be my husband trying to kill himself.
And yet here we are.
It started one particularly stressful weekend. I had definitely noticed that my husband had been more on edge than usual for a few days. He was drinking a lot more heavily, he was losing his temper much more easily and more often, and it hadn’t really been getting any better. One morning, after he was still yelling at the kids a lot, I decided he needed a break. I figured he just needed some time away from all the stress, to relax and unwind, to just have some peace and quiet. I need that all the time — I will literally fall apart if I go too long without getting a few hours to myself! — so I really didn’t think too much of it. But I only got a few minutes down the road before he called me.
“Can you come back? Please hurry.”
He hung up, and my heart was pounding a mile a minute. I think I knew, deep down, what was going on as soon as he said that. It was so out of character, and given his behavior lately, I just had a feeling. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was whether or not I’d be walking into him hanging in the closet, or lying in the tub bleeding out, or… I don’t even know what. I pulled back up to the house, had 911 ready to dial on my phone, and walked back in — and there he was, lying on the bed, perfectly fine. I heaved a huge sigh of relief but was still cautious. I asked him if he was okay, and he said no.
He told me he hated how he had been treating all of us. He said he was going to ruin the kids’ lives, that I didn’t deserve it, and the kids didn’t deserve it, but that he was so torn. He kept repeating that, that he felt “torn,” so I asked him what he meant. And then he handed me his phone, open to a text message conversation. It was with the VA crisis line. He had texted them because he wanted to commit suicide, and he had a plan and everything. He didn’t want to actually die, according to his texts, but felt like there was no other way, because he was a burden on our family and he didn’t want to hurt us anymore. He figured out a way to do it that, in his mind, would work instantly and wouldn’t hurt. (I’ll spare you any more specific details.)
Reading all of that, my mind was racing. I didn’t know what to think or say or do. But before I could react, he was sobbing, begging me not to leave him alone, so I just held him and responded to the text thread, explaining who I was and that I was there with him. Another VA counselor called me, and after I talked to them a bit, I was able to turn my attention back to my husband and try to work through this with him. It was so hard, having to be the rock. Not to discount what he was going through, but I felt like everything was on my shoulders now: I had to keep my husband safe. I had to keep my children from knowing what was going on. I had to keep my own feelings secret, at least for the moment, because if he knew how this was affecting me, it might only add to his feelings of guilt. I wanted to go break down somewhere and cry, but that wasn’t an option.
It’s been a few weeks now, and there are so many things I’m thankful for. First of all, it’s a huge relief that for once in its miserable existence, the VA was actually there when my husband needed them. I already acknowledged that he has PTSD; well, suffice it to say, he’s been asking for help long before it got to this point. He’s called the crisis line before and been hung up on. He’s had doctors cancel his psych appointments literally the morning of the appointment. He gets the run-around constantly, with virtually no actual healthcare provided, despite the urgent need for it. And yet, this time at least, they were there, and they kept him from taking his life in that dark moment.
I also keep thinking of how thankful I am that I actually answered the phone. The “what-ifs” keep running through my mind. What if I didn’t answer the phone? What if I had been pissed off about him losing his shit again and just ignored it? What if I had decided that no, I’d already left with the kids, I’m not turning around now? There is a very real part of me that believes if any of those things had happened, my husband wouldn’t still be here today. I don’t mean that in a congratulatory way, either. It’s more of a scary, “Oh shit, look how close you came to becoming a widow” thought, where if I hadn’t have happened to have done exactly the right thing, God only knows what would have happened. Maybe he wouldn’t have gone through with it, I don’t know. But my gut feeling says that he would have. Feeling like you have someone’s life in your hands is terrifying. I don’t enjoy this newfound responsibility at all.
What I’m most thankful for, however, is that my husband really has seemingly snapped out of it. I don’t mean that in the sense that he’s suddenly decided that no, he’s actually not suicidal, thankyouverymuch, but that he’s taking it seriously. He’s been talking to me about having these feelings now, which is huge. We’ve been talking about him having these suicidal impulses. He’s already begun seeing a counselor about it, one not related to the VA, and I have as well. And it gives me hope that this could be something we’ll both heal from, eventually.
I don’t want my husband to become another statistic. I’m still scared sometimes. I’m still wanting to just collapse on the floor and stop carrying the load for everyone. It’s shameful, really, that this is happening for so many military families. Our veterans are being failed, every single day, because the VA too often looks the other way, or “treats” the problem — the problem being our veterans — by throwing pills at them and expecting them to shut up and go away. The system failed my husband for years. But I won’t.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, or know someone who is, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.