Not long after Nicky met Keith in 2013, she started to notice something wasn’t right.
“It was hard because he didn’t recognize it at first, but I started to see things,” Nicky recalled. “He got angry very easily. …I noticed when we would go to a restaurant, he’d have his back to the wall in a corner so he’d be able to see all the exits and his head would constantly be on a swivel, always looking around.
“If we were in Walmart, he wouldn’t go down the aisles if there were too many people,” she continued. “And he’d get really tense in the car if there was something he saw on the side of the road or if a car was coming out on a side street.”
An Army combat veteran who served two tours in Iraq, one in 2003 and another in 2009, Keith suffered from PTSD, but didn’t realize it at the time. That eventually changed when Keith started counseling through the VA in early 2017. “That was when it all started,” Keith explained. “It showed me I needed some help. …Because I got into the VA, we’re in a much better spot than we were then.”
Around that same time, the pair discovered Heroes In Transition (HIT). Their first event was a Couples Retreat. Not knowing anyone, Keith sat behind a pole, closing himself off to others.
At HIT’s two couples retreats last year, it was a much different picture. Keith and Nicky kicked off the spring retreat in June by sharing their story with other military couples. And in the fall, they frequently spoke up during the two-day retreat, interacting with couples who have experienced similar challenges to them.
“To see him grow as a person, to go from hiding behind a pole and not talking to anyone and going back to the room right after dinner at the first retreat, to being willing to get up in front of everybody and talk in June, is amazing,” Nicky said of her husband.
Since attending their first retreat, the pair have traveled all the way from their home in Rhode Island to participate in several of our couples’ outings, including a Valentine’s dinner, a friendly game of mini-golf, and our Fall Gala in November.
For Nicky, HIT’s programs have “given me the knowledge that I’m not alone in the issues we experience. There are people here who have been through the same things we have.”
There is a comfort in knowing they have others – HIT staff, veterans, military spouses, and military couples – they can lean on when they need it. It’s why they travel over two hours to participate in our events. And it’s why they continue to attend our Couples Retreats on an annual basis.
“We really feel like we’re part of a family which is especially important for my husband,” Nicky said. “Heroes is really his blood family. He is accepted here. He is not shy anymore. He’s not shy about talking and he is comfortable. That is hard for him to feel comfortable. It takes a lot.”
Getting to this point hasn’t been easy for Keith. Admittedly, he didn’t know he needed the type of help that Heroes provides. “It is huge that an organization like this exists for the simple purpose of giving us the tools to be able to continue with whatever life has to offer,” Keith said.
It’s those tools that have allowed Keith and Nicky to improve their communication and strengthen their relationship. “We use a lot of the techniques in the couples retreats in our relationship,” he said. They return year after year to hone those techniques, continually working on their relationship and on themselves as individuals.
Although “I’ve come very, very far with her,” Keith acknowledged, “I definitely have work to do.” He still is uncomfortable attending events alone, without his wife.
He is confident that one day he will get there. It’s because he has developed such strong bonds with other veterans and military couples. “It is good to rebuild the camaraderie we lost coming home – to be able to really trust people and have somebody out there who has your best interest in mind,” Keith said. “It’s important because we need it. There are not many channels out there to approach this type of positive camaraderie with military families and couples. Seeing other people here who are going through the same things you are definitely makes a huge difference.”
If you’re a military couple interested in learning more about our work or attending a future outing or Couples Retreat, email us at email@example.com.