**Bouhammer Note- Maj. Ted contacted me a while back asking if he could contribute some posts to this blog as part of my open invitiation to guest bloggers. He is doing this as part of the great program started by LTG Caldwell to have students at Command and General Staff College to blog while they are in the Army-required school. As you will read, this is a very sensitve subject and something I am sure was not easy to share or talk about. **
For any Soldier who has deployed for extended and multiple operations in the many hot spots festering across the globe, it is strikingly clear just how important the love and support of your family can be to make the months away more tolerable. One thing that has also become apparent after my three deployments is as that any personal or family issues that are a source of conflict at home tend to only get worse once the stressors of the actual deployment kick in. This is especially true when you are dealing with drug or alcohol addiction within your family.
The purpose of this blog is to relate a very personal and painful learning experience I encountered as a Company Commander after returning from Iraq and then re-deploying to Afghanistan. My hope is that my ordeals will be helpful to both NCOs and fellow Officers at all levels as well as the Soldiers and families of our great country.
Prior to deploying to Iraq in 2007, I felt like I was at the top of the world with a great wife of seven years and two wonderful kids. It was our first deployment as a family and I felt like I had adequately prepared my loved ones for the challenges they would be facing with me being gone for a year. For all appearances the deployment seemed to go fairly well for my wife although she did encounter issues with depression and began to see a counselor partway through the year. Our homecoming was great but looking back now I can see how oblivious I was to the warning signs that my wife was sending. Its not uncommon for Soldiers (especially coming off their first deployment) to have trouble adjusting from their deployed mindset to being an active member of their family once they return. In my case, I became very withdrawn from my family and when I did try to become involved as a parent I unwittingly just contradicted the ground rules my wife had established during the deployment with my kids.
At this point everything I had done (or failed to do) could have likely been resolved by sitting down with my wife and discussing our individual frustrations and problems we were dealing with. Instead of asking for help or trying to get to the source of the problem, I assumed that we could go on as we had before, and everything would work out on its own. What I didn’t know at the time was that my wife’s depression had crossed over into alcoholism and she had begun several friendships with women who were involved in cocaine and other illegal drugs (anyone who has lived in Fayetteville knows the groups I’m talking about).
A few months after returning from Iraq I took command of my first company and became even more focused on my professional life – especially since we were preparing for another deployment to Afghanistan after a 6-month train-up. It was during this time that my wife began using cocaine and the signs of her addiction became harder for her to mask. A month after I took command my wife admitted her addiction and claimed that she was ready to quit but just needed some time with me to work through her problems.
If you or anyone you know is dealing with a family member or friend with a substance abuse addiction then this is the key lesson I would hope to convey in this blog: There are no half measures when it comes to beating drug addiction. Marital counseling, twice a week counseling sessions or sending them home to spend a week with mom will not make the addiction go away. These are all things I tried so I could attempt to help my wife stay clean and manage my responsibilities as a commander. When I asked her to enter a rehab program she used every excuse in the book as to why she really didn’t need to go and be away from her family for a month, and how she was strong enough to stay clean on her own. When I finally forced her into a rehab program she completed two-thirds of the 30-day program and then begged me to check her out so she could spend additional time with me prior to my deployment. I reluctantly agreed.
When I did deploy that following January I had asked her sister to stay with my family to help with the kids and hopefully keep my wife out of trouble. In retrospect all of these actions were merely stopgaps and Band-Aids to maintain some level of stability with my family so I could deploy with my Soldiers. Not surprisingly after six months down-range, my wife was maintaining a $500.00 a day cocaine habit and my sister-in-law had assumed all responsibilities with my kid’s welfare. Shortly thereafter I was sent home when she was arrested by the police and hospitalized for putting a gun to her head and threatening to kill herself.
Three years later I am now divorced with full custody of my kids and preparing for my next job as a Battalion S3 or Executive Officer. My ex-wife was able to beat her addiction, but only after the divorce, two additional stints in rehab and the very real threat of not seeing her kids again. I am by no means an expert in addiction but I do have some very real-world understanding of how insidious addiction can be and what you should expect if you are a family member or friend of an addict.
First, when someone is an addict there is very little they won’t do to get their next fix. The physical and mental agony they experience when they are going through withdrawal will encourage them to take advantage of any leeway you allow them. This means that anything short of the 24-hour care, counseling and monitoring available in a full 30-90 day rehab program will (short of some miracle) not be sufficient. The worst thing you can do in this situation is to enable your loved one to continue to use. In my case I was so pre-occupied in trying to be a commander, a father and a husband that there was no way I could have set the conditions for my wife to make a true recovery.
Secondly, understand that your loved one will never truly beat their addiction until they are resolved 100% that there is no other alternative. We’ve all witnessed the seemingly never-ending cycles of the Lindsay Lohans and Charlie Sheens of the world as they go from rehab to relapse multiple times. Successfully completing a rehab program is just the first step in a life-long process of recovery.
Finally I would like to point out the importance of approaching this problem with a very pragmatic and realistic approach. Some of the steps that must be accomplished if you are faced with this situation include (not necessarily in this order):
1) Take the individual off any bank accounts and tear up any powers of attorney (especially General Powers of Attorney). Also contact the credit monitoring agencies (Equifax etc) and place a credit lock on your identity to prevent any new forms of credit being opened. My failure to do this cost me over $100,000 in credit card and other charges.
2) If you have children make alternate arrangements for their care in case they need to be removed from the situation.
3) Contact your Commander and get their buy-in on your plan of action.
4) Contact the Army Substance Abuse Program (ASAP) at your post and get they’re input on the best rehab facilities in the area that accept Tricare.
5) Contact the rehab facility and coordinate for an intake date and time for your family member.
6) Conduct an intervention with the family member (having other family and friends present is highly recommended) and inform the family member of how you are going to help them heal. Offer them love and support. Inform them that they need to pack a suitcase and that they will be attending (as a first step) a rehab program. If they refuse then inform them that you will be filing an emergency court order for temporary custody of the children (if applicable) and that you will be filing for divorce.
This may sound harsh but the alternative in my case was two years of enabling, pure hell for the kids, my credit and savings destroyed, and in the end – divorce. Additionally I think it’s important to note the importance of staying connected with your family members before, during and after a deployment. My wife had become depressed and frustrated and I wasn’t prepared mentally when I got back to address her needs. Hopefully this hasn’t been too depressing to read, but I can only hope that it might help someone facing a similar circumstance from making the same mistakes.