Brian is a husband, a dad, a veteran, and a dab hand in the garden. He’s also lived with post-traumatic stress disorder for ten years.
Brian, an infantryman of 13 years, was medically discharged due to an injury sustained in active service. In an attempt to cope with PTSD linked to his military service, he turned to alcohol. Drinking took its toll on Brian’s health when he developed cirrhosis of the liver and it impacted horribly on his family life, marriage and friendships. “I’d drink to forget, end up letting someone down, and then drink to forget the shame of having let them down. It was a vicious circle.”
When Brian contacted services to get help for his PTSD, he was turned away because of his alcoholism. That’s when he heard about Thistle.
“I was hesitant about going. I wasn’t sure it was for me. But I needed to do something so I went, and it was like a breath of fresh air. I was in a room of like-minded people who I could talk to about what was going on inside my head.
“As I found my feet on the course at Thistle, I referred myself to an emergency detox program. Not having the alcohol to lean on anymore was tough. I would feel frustrated and focus on the negatives, feeling like nothing was going right. But talking to the group at Thistle, I’d start to see that no matter how bad a week I felt I’d had – I’d always managed to achieve something. Even if it was something small – I had achieved something. Realising this made a huge difference to me. It was a new way of looking at things."
“In the army, you’re trained to deliver a solution to a problem as quickly as possible. When I got the diagnosis of PTSD my reaction was ‘how do I solve this?’ I’ve realised now that there isn’t a solution, it doesn’t just go away. But it is something that I could learn to manage, and that’s what Thistle helped me do. I learned to prioritise, I became more content with myself and I realised I’m not an isolated case – there are a lot of people going through similar things.
“The course helped with practical things too. I used to hate going to sleep. I had night tremors and night terrors: I’d start sweating and flailing and shouting in my sleep. But people on the course gave me suggestions – making sure my environment was comfortable, fresh linen, candles. I tried different things and found what worked for me. Now I’ll sleep through anything.”
Life is different for Brian today.
“I’ve managed to see my laddies grow up and go on to do great, successful things. And I’m still married. I went on to volunteer as a course facilitator at Thistle to help other people.
“One of the hardest things to do as a man is to put your hand up and say, ‘something’s not right here’. Even more so coming from the military where you’re trained to be the best and then suddenly you aren’t the best anymore. But speaking out is one of the best things you’ll ever do. I feel I’m one of the fortunate ones; I’ve lost military friends to suicide and I sometimes wonder what did I get that they didn’t? I had a great support network – and right in the middle of that network was Thistle.
More recently, Brian has been drawing on the coping strategies introduced at Thistle to help cope with the challenge of the coronavirus lockdown. “I had to shield because of my liver, and it’s no good being cooped up in the house when I’m used to being out and about. So I thought back to what I’d learned on the Thistle course, got myself and the family into a routine and focussed on positive, active things. I re-did the garden, painted the decking, did up the benches, and made a new table. I’d have struggled much more if I didn’t have the strategies I learned at Thistle to draw on.”
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