When I got out of the military in October 2005, I found myself alone and scared, jumping from house to house, staying with friends or sleeping in their cars. Then in December I met a wonderful woman.
Cassondra and I married in July 2007, and soon after, our son was born. Something was wrong with me emotionally. My physical and mental disabilities were affecting me more and more, but I didn’t really think much of it. I was quick to temper and to yell at our puppy. I was having problems at my job as a prison guard.
So I decided to change my career. However, I had no real job skills or trade from the military, and being a prison guard doesn’t set you up to join the white collar job field. With help from some veterans programs and a person willing to take a chance on me, I started to work in Federal HR.
Having a young son now, I realized my mental state needed to change. So I went to the VA and started medication and counseling. Thinking everything was going to be happy go lucky, I took all the medication, pill after pill—which was not the smartest thing I have ever done. After almost being killed by that cocktail of meds, I quit taking them altogether, believing I could beat my problems on my own.
But the roller coaster of hate, anger, and stupidity charged full-speed towards a brick wall. With no meds and no one to talk to about my issues, I started self-medicating, drinking alone every night, sitting on the couch playing video games or just staring at the TV. I spoke to Cassi only when I needed a beer or something to eat, or to yell at or insult her or ask for sex.
She begged me to spend time with our son and new daughter. They sat with me on the couch, and I played with them, or simply sat there and looked at them. Someone would point out that my drinking was getting bad, so I wouldn’t drink for a few days. But I always went back to it—my one crutch I couldn’t cast off.
Some days, I was nice and caring. But the bad days when I started picking fights, yelling at nothing, and screaming because the kids were too close to me started to outweigh the good days. Making fun of my wife and putting her down became my new unhealthy past time. I didn’t care—or want to care. I thought the only emotions I needed were my anger and sexuality, which consumed me and began to consume my family.
There was no love left in our house. No more sweet lovers’ kisses or hugs. Just co-existing in the same place. Until it all blew up one night in the fall of 2012.
I ended up cast out alone, scared, hurt, and confused. I hadn’t noticed what I was doing to my loved ones. Not knowing what else to do, I manned up and started to get help again—the right kind of help. At first I felt strange and off-balance but soon realized that I was feeling love and other positive emotions again. I started speaking to my wife as a real person for the first time in seven years, being truly honest and in a normal voice. We have started to connect on a level we never have before. It is amazing. I haven’t loved her this much ever, to tell the truth.
TBI and PTSD played such a huge role in my life. I let them control me, but now I control them. Getting help is the best thing I have done. I am now working on being a real father, the husband I should have been all along, and friendly to people. I still get mad or upset here and there, but I don’t explode, and when I get mad, I have reasons.
I married Matthew in July 2007. The day seemed to go perfectly. It was complete with fireworks and shotguns. It wasn’t at all your typical wedding, but “typical” just wouldn’t fit us.
Once Xander was born in December, Matthew started working day shift. He left for work in the morning, then came home early in the evening and cracked open a beer. He barely acknowledged me or Xander. This pattern slowly grew worse over the next couple of years, even after our daughter, Xylaih, was born.
In the spring of 2012, things got even worse. Matthew began to drink more, one or two beers a night turning into six or seven. The silence between us was replaced by constant tension and fear. I felt like I was constantly walking on egg shells. Matthew more frequently exploded in anger. Anything seemed to push him from sitting quietly drinking to yelling at the top of his lungs and stomping around. He started making frequent hurtful, rude comments to me, such as, “Do I look like I care? Why are you still talking?”
I began to feel I could do nothing right and that I was only good for sex. Always on edge around him, I didn’t know what would make him mad. The only form of attention he ever gave me were constant attempts at sex or showing anger. He ignored me if I needed to talk or vent about something bothering me, even if it didn’t involve us. Other times he made me feel stupid for feeling the way I did. I felt completely alone, isolated, and hated.
He didn’t just ignore me; he also ignored our kids. Many times I saw the kids do everything to get his attention, and he either ignored them completely or told them to go away. He just couldn’t be bothered with any of us.
By October 2012 I had reached my breaking point. The kids were even beginning to mimic the way he treated them and me. That was the final straw. I asked him to leave, and we signed separation paperwork.
I thought this was truly the end of our marriage and attempted to move on. But Matthew was determined to make things right. He turned to the local VetCenter for help and immediately started therapy. He also stopped drinking.
Through our phone conversations and texts, I could tell he was making amazing strides in the right direction. He was opening up and expressing his feelings, and he actually listened to me and showed concern for my feelings. I saw a whole different side to him. With his guard down, he let himself be exposed and vulnerable. For the first time in a very, very long time I could tell that he did truly love the kids and me. He just hadn’t known how to show it. Then we started to hang out at the house after the kids went to sleep at night, and he actually started to show in person how much he cared. It was the little things that meant the most.
After a week or so of this, he started coming over during the day and spending time with the kids and letting me have a little time to myself, something he had never done before. By mid-December he had more than proven his determination to maintain these positive changes and keep working to get better, and he moved back in. With the help of counseling he has come a long way. We actually talk now about everything, anything, and sometimes nothing. We enjoy each other’s company.
About the Authors
Cassondra Brown is the wife and caregiver of retired Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Brown. She is a stay-at-home mom who aspires to help other spouses through the struggles of living with someone with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.
Lance Corporal Matthew J Brown USMC RET is an aspiring military author who has overcome many of the struggles of living daily life with PTSD and a traumatic brain injury and now has now made it his life goal to help others through these same struggles with his writing.