I Don't Know How to Help My Husband

Ms. Vicki
Ms. Vicki

Dear Ms. Vicki,

I am worried about my husband of one year. Before we met, he was enlisted in the Army. He had two tours and then became a recruiter. He has been out of the Army for several years and gets Department of Veterans Affairs benefits.

He now has horrible anxiety. At least once a week, he has nights where he says he feels like he can't breathe or is having a heart attack. We have visited the ER several times, where he is told it's an anxiety attack and given a sedative.

Little things set him off into an angry rage. We have two dogs that we have rescued, and they are taking some time to train. If the dogs bark or have an accident in the house, he screams and yells to the point that I have to leave the room and the dogs are terrified.

He has not been able to hold a job for a long time because of anger issues. He tells me all the time that the best thing he has ever done was serving in the military and nothing in his life will ever measure up to that.

He has not been diagnosed with PTSD, and when I bring up the idea of getting help, he tells me that it is too difficult to go to the VA.

He is still in contact with several other soldiers and recently found out that one had been killed in combat. This really upset him (which I completely understand).

For the past two days, he has been drinking insanely. We rarely have alcohol in the house, but I came home to beer bottles everywhere and a few liquor bottles. He cries and tells me how it should have been him instead.

I guess my question is what can I do to help my husband? This is only a little of what we go through on a daily basis. I am at the point where I try to avoid saying anything that might upset him and constantly keep the dogs quiet.

I feel like a horrible person because I don't know what to say or do to help him. My life has turned into working to support our little family and making sure that things go smoothly so hopefully he will have a good day. I'm honestly scared our marriage is going to fall apart.

--Concerned Wife

Dear Wife,

You have every reason to be concerned. From your report, your husband needs an intervention before something more serious happens.

You said he cannot keep a job because of anger and anxiety. As you know, PTSD is under the umbrella of anxiety disorders. The panic attacks could be due to a panic disorder or coupled with an anxiety disorder like PTSD, Acute Stress Disorder or a generalized anxiety disorder. You both need to know that anxiety disorders are diagnosable and treatable.

But the person has to want treatment. As serious as his symptoms are, we can't make him get treatment.

I'm also concerned about his excessive alcohol use. He may be drinking to help decrease his anxiety symptoms not realizing the alcohol is making it worse. If you think he is in crisis, you can contact the Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255, press 1 (text 838255) or Confidential Veterans Chat to talk with a counselor.

Overall, I think your husband needs an intervention. First, do some research about where he should go for treatment and who he would need to see for an assessment before the intervention takes place. You can get information about getting your husband assessed for PTSD from the Department of Veterans Affairs here.

When staging an intervention, many people include close family members like parents and siblings, close friends, fellow service members and/or a member the clergy. Everyone comes together in a safe place to discuss your husband's behavior in a loving way and encourage him to get treatment.

In the meantime, it's very important for you to receive counseling even though your husband is refusing to talk with someone. If you have health care, I think you should call and check on your eligibility for counseling or therapy services. The therapist will also have helpful information that will assist you in engaging your husband about treatment. You need support, too.

-- Ms. Vicki

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