There I was... knee deep in the sand, out of ammo, radio dead, middle of the night, and I could hear the enemy just over the pile of dirt I was hiding behind. I had to MacGyver up the radio, finally got it working with one of my socks, a paperclip, and the chain from my dog tags. I had to sneak through an enemy camp to get to the spot where I'd be picked up...
...of course, none of that is true. I was a technician. Yes, I was deployed, but there was a Mr. Coffee within arms reach...
War stories can seem crazy, out of touch with reality. Embellished, let's say. When we do tell stories, sometimes we think we have to add a little bit so you'll listen to us. The scene in Jarhead where a bunch of Marines empty their ammo into the air at the end of Desert Storm is a good example- when the war ended for me, I went to work and started packing up all of the equipment I'd spent months setting up and unpacking.
Some of us are trying to deal with the war by putting it into its place in our lives. We try to remember the good, the funny, the things we learned, the people. We want the rest of America to feel proud of us. We want our friends and family to be proud of us, too. If someone questions the memories we have, it feels like a violation of the boundaries we've set for ourselves. "This is how I remember the war. For me, this is the truth. How dare you question that?"
Some of the things that happened in the Desert are just hard to grasp; after months of killing time, suddenly things moved so far, so fast, that we didn't have time to stop and think about them. Then it was over. Suddenly we were back in the States.
Yet, the operations continued, and eventually we went back in. And things got worse before they got better, and that left a big hole in how things were after we got home in 1991.
I think that if you're dealing with a Vet and his or her stories, it's up to you to choose what you believe and what you don't. If it eases a Vet's mind to make that one night in the Desert a little more than what it really was, maybe that's okay. Sometimes, a Vet just needs to talk for a while in order to sort things out, and inaccuracies that pop up aren't so bad. That's better than holding it all in.
Sometimes I think Vets try to make more of certain events as a way to avoid those things; we rewrite history in a way that is easier to deal with and talk about. We're trying to be in control of those memories. It takes a lot of energy to do that, and ultimately it fails. It seems like a good idea at the time.
It is a very big deal for a Vet to tell someone that they have PTSD. It's admitting that you have something wrong with you, and expecting the worst possible reaction. The evening news doesn't usually talk about the guy who overcame PTSD and got a degree, they talk about the guy who pulled out a rifle and shot up the grocery store. It's not fun when you're associated with people who shoot up grocery stores. We worry that someday it could be us on the news. And we worry that no one could ever possibly love us while we have these issues.
Given time and effort, things do get better. I've had that experience in my current relationship... there have been some real rough spots, but communication is the key to working things out. Both sides have to learn to trust each other, and it's often difficult. Try to ask small questions about the Desert. If your Vet doesn't want to talk about it then, that's okay. When the stories come out, let them come out. Listening to our stories helps. We need to know that we can rely on you, that you won't get scared, that you won't leave us because of our PTSD or other injuries.
Side note: Vet Centers are a good place to start with relationship issues. They're free, and available to family and friends who are dealing with Vets, in addition to the Vets themselves. They offer counseling and workshops that might help.
(Note to ____: Hope this helps.)