“This I believe …”
I believe in unconditional love.
Why? Simple: Because I’ve seen what it can do. I’ve LIVED what it can do. I still do.
For over nine years, I’ve lived with a hero: an unlikely one, a completely unsung one, but a hero nonetheless.
Joe was 17 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served for nearly 2 years at the very end of Viet Nam before what’s now known as “PTSD” along with several back-to-back tragedies unhinged him from his sanity.
The military hospital called his family to travel 900 miles to pick him up, heavily sedated, medically discharged.
Fast-forward 20 years later to July 4th, 1998: the day I meet Joe on a blind date. It took 24 hours for us to fall in love. Little did I know the boatload of baggage I netted when I melted into those hazel eyes on a boat ride in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
I soon discovered that the 20 years since Joe’s discharge from the Army were full ones: full of failed families, failed jobs, and far too many failed attempts to self-medicate the untreated mental health issues with street drugs. The drugs succeeded for brief periods to quell the night sweats and terrors, the waking nightmares, the manic-depressive mood swings, the paralyzing paranoia, the self-destructive behaviors, all symptoms of PTSD. But self-medicating became, in itself a tragic diagnosis: drug addiction.
Last year, Joe was accepted into the Lancaster County Drug Court Program. After 28 years, he finally had access to social service resources to help him succeed in addictions recovery. One of those resources was the mental health workup which diagnosed “primary post traumatic stress disorder with secondary substance addiction. “
Until that diagnosis, no social service resources and no VA resources took seriously the depth of Joe’s mental health issues on his ability to live a “normal” life.
This past June, Joe was admitted to the Coatesville VA to begin dual diagnosis treatment for PTSD and substance addiction, the two disabilities that he’s lived with his entire adult life.
He focused on healing the traumas, on recovering from addiction, on finally, after almost 30 years, of living a “normal” life. His mantra was, “Whatever it takes for as long as it takes.” I believe in his power to survive. I know his stories … I know he’s survived much, much worse.
Today, Joe is working, we’re saving for our dream to own a bit of land, do a bit of fishing, visit out-of-state family whenever possible … to hold tight to the small, normal things of everyday life.
What I haven’t said much about yet is what made the difference, what finally focused Joe’s life to this point of welcoming the excruciating transformation from surviving to thriving: For the past 9+ years, Joe has been loved. Beyond his ability to comprehend, beyond my ability to explain … beyond all reason … Joe has been loved every day, and he didn’t have to do a thing to earn it: Simply be who he is underneath the PTSD, underneath the substance addiction.
I didn’t set out over 9 years ago to love this man through the most challenging years I’ve ever known. I didn’t set out to make him the love of my life … but I did, and I do, and now, after over 9 years, he finally believes he is the hero I’ve believed him to be from the day we met.
Just ask Joe if HE believes in the healing power of unconditional love …
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