Some Hard Truths About PTS and Suicide

Embedded within the issue of Post-Traumatic Stress are quite a few topics many would rather not discuss. Of those, suicide is probably the most difficult. Uncounted thousands of words have been written about soldier suicide yet we are no closer to understandings, much less solutions.

I’ve spoken with a few who attempted suicide. Most are grateful that the attempt failed, though even in their brave words, the pain and the longing to end the pain are still quite evident. Yet, for a variety of reasons, they have for now at least, chosen to continue their battle for life.

In speaking with these individuals, part of what I searched for was an answer that could apply to others facing that ‘dark place’ as so many veterans euphemistically refer to someone in the clutches of PTS. There are answers, there are clues but I’ve come to understand the reasons for surviving, for choosing life are as much specific to the individual and varied as the dots that make up an Impressionist painting. Still, I will share what hope I have gleaned that can be applied with a wider brush stroke.

I’ve also spoken with those other survivors, the friends and loved ones left to bear the pain created by the choice of suicide. It is a choice made, but not one made with full knowledge or understanding. In every case, if their loved one simply understood the support that was there for them, a different choice would have been made. The harder truth no one talks about is, if their loved one knew the anguish, the life long emotional wreckage, the unanswered questions their choice left in the hearts and minds of those they loved, and who loved them, they would have made a different choice.

Another hard truth is suicide is the ultimate act of selfishness. Not one of the families I’ve spoken to has voiced this opinion and will be aghast that I’ve said it, but that doesn’t make it less true. For the survivors, there is as much pain in the thought that their loved one was in that much pain, despair, had felt that hopeless as there is in the loss the act creates; for this reason, I believe, holding anger in their hearts for their loved one, calling it the ultimate selfish act carries another level of pain, a pain they do all they can to reject. So, they don’t talk about the selfishness that is suicide. Perhaps this should be part of the conversation as well.

Those with whom I’ve spoken who have thought that suicide was the only answer nearly always say something along the lines of, “my family would be better off without me as I am now”; “my wife deserves better, and if I’m gone she will find it. As long as I’m here, she will be loyal and I just can’t do that to her anymore”; “my kids deserve a better life, and with the insurance money, they can have it”; “I can’t face my dad, I can’t let him see me so broken, so helpless”; “how can I kiss my mom, how can I let her look in my eyes after what I’ve seen?”.

There are retorts, real truths that belie every one of these thoughts and feelings, and sometimes they work. But, the simple truth is that often the thought processes are so distorted, so poisoned, frequently in large part by the very drugs prescribed to alleviate these feelings that even if the words are understood, they can’t be sufficiently internalized. And the loved ones, all of them, say the same thing, “as much as I miss him, as much as I wish it weren’t so, as much as I am hurt, the thought that hurts the most is that I am being selfish wishing he had gone on living with that much pain, just so I didn’t feel this pain”. The amount of love in that sentiment is staggering.

The number one reason I’ve heard for not reaching out for help is fear. Fear of being labeled. Fear of being reported to command, if still active duty. Fear of having sought help become a mark that will follow them forever. Fear that their feelings are justified.

Next-The Vet Center is The Best Kept Secret of the VA

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