Friday night my parents took me, Dan, and my younger brother out for dinner to celebrate my birthday. A few days before, we found out that one of his former soldiers committed suicide (Dan talked about it on the blog on July 6). I knew he was upset, I knew he wished someone had been able to stop it….I knew he thought he should have been able to prevent it. What I didn’t know, was how it was going to almost “regress” some of the progress he had made with his PTSD.
That Friday, I spent the day at work; Dan spent the day up on campus. He had class and then a meeting with the student veterans group he is in charge of. Apparently they spent some time talking about the suicide from earlier in the week. Dan came home shortly before I did on Friday and seemed rather upset, despite his efforts to hide it. He says he was okay, I knew better. I also realized he made some choices in the afternoon that would eventually not be conducive to our evening with my parents.
Despite all that was going on, we got ready (and looked pretty nice, if I do say so myself) and met my parents at the restaurant. We walked in, it was packed. A warning bell went off in my head…but I sort of dismissed it and decided he would manage…it was good for him. When I saw the table we were being taken to, I knew there was not a good spot for him to sit. I kind of panicked and just picked a chair. Dan hesitantly sat down next to me.
Things were fine until shortly before our meal was served. I saw a flash of light in the corner of my eye…I turned just in time to see Dan tuck a knife behind his forearm and then cross his arms on the table. I was completely shocked to see him do that. I couldn’t tell you the last time he did it. I quickly went through all the factors that caused him to do it- really busy room, his back was not to a wall, lots of people behind him, and all the other things that had happened earlier in the day. I quietly tried to get him to put the knife back without my parents or brother noticing. He refused me several times. I had to make a decision. Do I let him get away with it and have his “safety blanket” or do I ask him to put the knife back a little louder so my dad, who is sitting next to him, can hear. I decide the latter. I had to ask him several times again- each time he refused- “I’m fine, leave me alone” he would say. Yeah right! Big fat liar. That’s exactly what I told him too. I eventually raised my voice enough that my mom and brother both noticed. Dan did reluctantly relinquish the knife back to the table, but not without some words for me. Playful words, but words. I’m pretty sure he was embarrassed I made somewhat of a scene, especially in front of my parents. Nonetheless, this was behavior he had not exhibited for a long time and I had to stop it quickly.
With all the progress that had been made, I forgot that sometimes taking two steps forward is followed by a step backward. Now, this wasn’t a big step backward, but it was in the opposite direction. I think we, as the not-so-silent ranks, need to remember that this is an ongoing struggle, one that gets better in time, but not without its bumps in the road. Some days are better than others and certain events and happenings can set them off.
What we also forget is how a single event, like seeing the knife go behind his arm, can affect us. I was completely shocked when I saw that behavior. Dan doesn’t know this (well I guess now he does) but it sort of upset me. It made me feel like I hadn’t done enough to prevent that- maybe I should have asked him to tell me more about what was bugging him before dinner and not been so dismissive with his attitude. I even think maybe I should have asked the hostess at the restaurant if we could have sat in a booth or one of the other tables in the back corner, then this maybe could have been prevented.
Sometimes I think we wonder, what if, what if, what if… and all it does is prevent us from saying, I know –
I know that things are getting better as time goes on. I know this will not be easy and there will be difficult days, weeks and months. I know he wants to be back to himself too. I know that a small lapse in forward motion is not that big of a deal, but I know it is not to be ignored. I know how to bring it up and talk about it. I know when to step in and when to stay out. I know I don’t know it all. I know when to ask for help.
We have so many resources as not-so-silent ranks, and we need to remember to use them. Those resources are on the web, in books, our friends and family and most importantly, each other. The one thing that we need to continue to say to each other is…
I know that we can get through it, together.
~Allison (Dan’s not-so-silent rank)