For most of their 28 years as a married couple, Chris and Kathryn Linford have suffered the effects of PTSD.
A retired lieutenant-colonel, Chris’ life changed for the worse during his 100-day deployment to Rwanda in 1994 after the genocide.
“We saw so much that was out of our control,” said Chris, 54, describing his feelings of helplessness while in Rwanda. “I felt sort of like my Canadian bubble burst, where you really think people are deep down good people. I’d never met evil before.”
Upon his return home to Canada, Chris was angry all the time.
Kathryn, 53, said the whole family had to walk on eggshells around him.
“You never really [knew] what was going to throw [him] off,” she said. “You’re constantly on guard, trying to react to what might happen.”
The negative effects of the PTSD were getting the best of them.
“It got to the point where we were just almost giving up on each other,” said Chris.
Chris and his family suffered for 10 years before he sought his own PTSD counselling in 2004.
“I was going to kill myself,” said Chris, of his reason for seeking help. “I was 10 years after Rwanda, and I was going mad.”
To Chris’ surprise, he got the help he needed without judgement, and he was able to continue with his military career for another 10 years.
But Kathryn silently suffered for six years beyond that.
“Most of the time I felt very much alone,” she said.
In 2010, Chris and Kathryn moved from Edmonton to Sooke. Their kids, Victor, Jeffrey and Jennifer, then in their 20s, stayed behind in Edmonton. With no more children to focus her attention on, it was time for Kathryn to deal with her own problems.
“I kind of had to stop and look at myself and realize that I was hurting and I needed to seek some help,” she said.
She then started going to solo counselling to deal with the effects of her husband’s PTSD.
Despite each getting help separately, Chris did not realize the degree to which his actions were affecting his wife or his kids until 2012 while working as a facilitator on the veterans transition program.
“Through conversations and exposure to various stories [from] other veterans, I learned that along with them, their PTSD impacted their families; and it became very very clear to me during that time that I also had done the same thing.”
It was Chris’ first time considering that although he was the one who had gone oversees and experienced trauma, Kathryn too had been injured.
“Once I figured that out, it just sort of gave me new life to start to deal with Kathryn in a much different way,” said Chris. “Much more compassion came into my heart and into my day.”
At that time, Chris and Kathryn began working on their relationship together. Learning to be slow to anger and take the time to be kind and loving was a good start for them.
It was not until a year later, in 2013, when Chris and Kathryn discovered the power of getting help in a group setting from other couples. As national ambassadors for Wounded Warriors Canada, they went to the Can Praxis Equine Therapy program to see what it was like. There, they were connected with couples with similar problems, and they began learning from each other by sharing their experiences.
“We actually came away with some new lessons learned that I try to use every day,” said Chris. “It just goes to show that the learning never stops.”
Last week, in an effort to provide support for other military couples going through the same trauma and hurt, Chris and Kathryn officially launched COPE, Couples Overcoming PTSD Everyday, at CFB Esquimalt. It is a two-phase program designed to support Canadian Armed Forces members and their families.
Kathryn said she wants to teach others not to wait as long as she did to seek help.
“We realized if it worked for us, it would likely work for others,” said Chris.
Five couples from Vancouver Island and the Mainland are a part of the pilot program at Bear Mountain Resort, along with two therapists and Chris and Kathryn as the model couple.
“Couples will learn about PTSD together as a group, and will be expected to mutually support each other,” said Chris.
After completing the five-day phase one period, each couple will be assigned a coach who will assist them in staying on track with the coping skills and goals they set during phase one. This second phase lasts for six months.
“The COPE program premise of creating a community approach to healing will let families know that they are not alone,” said Chris, who clearly remembers his feelings of solitude prior to seeking help.
“We can learn from each other and heal together as a community.”