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“If It Wasn’t for My Wife, I Wouldn’t Be Here”

OCTOBER 29, 2019 | 4-minute read

Jeff and Cora met in a haunted house.

It was a charity event, and unbeknownst to the two of them, a mutual friend was setting them up. She had told them both separately that she needed help preparing for the event — and then, later, that something had come up and she could no longer make it.

So there they were, together. 

“She played us like a bunch of puppets,” Cora says. “It was awesome,” remembers Jeff, who showed up with ripped clothing, fake blood, and a Freddy Krueger mask. “We met at a haunted house scaring kids — and never looked back.”

This meeting was a couple of months after Jeff had returned home from the Army. The moment would prove life-changing: a night of make believe, which eventually led to marriage, then kids.

And together, they took on Jeff’s challenges that had persisted since his service. “If it wasn’t for my wife,” he says now, “I wouldn’t be here.”

It was Cora who encouraged Jeff to seek out mental health support — to talk to someone about his anger, his quick fuse, and how jumpy he had become. It was Cora who — at a particularly dark moment when Jeff had thoughts of suicide — took away his weapons and car keys and told him to call his therapist.

Jeff was diagnosed with PTSD, a traumatic brain injury, and general anxiety disorder.

“I’ve been shot at,” he says. “I’ve been blown up. We’ve been mortared, rocketed. … I didn’t have a grenade thrown at us, but yes, everything else.” He’d been knocked unconscious. He’d also experienced horrific moments in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, serving in the National Guard. He’d survived a particularly tough childhood.

It had all taken a toll. “I was always looking for the enemy, still, for like two years afterwards,” he says of his return from the service. “There was a lot of anger, a lot of mistrust.”

But through counseling, and seeking support, Jeff now has tools to confront the challenges.

I wanted to better myself so that my daughter didn’t have to live with the person that was so explosive. That was the main reason. Once it was pointed out, I was like, ‘Oh, I don’t want my daughter to grow up around that.’ Jeff, U.S. Army Veteran

Perhaps nothing has helped as much as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. “It activates both sides of your brain while you talk about your trauma to help you work through it,” Jeff says. “And it helps so much. I stopped being as jumpy.”

It’s also helped him learn to communicate better. “He’s been able to verbalize his feelings more,” Cora says. “The mole hills are a little bit less of a mountain.”

In one form of EMDR, a counselor holds something in front of him, then moves it side to side. Jeff follows it with his eyes as he discusses something stressful. He’s also found it helpful to cross his arms over his chest, and then tap his sides to a rhythm. “People just think I’m pissed off,” he says with a laugh as he describes the stance, with arms folded in front of him. “But that's how I deal with troubling situations.”

Another tool is recreational therapy. Jeff has gone snowshoeing, joined a hip-hop dance class, and rediscovered a childhood love for gymnastics. He’s now teaching at a nearby gym. “I found out through my therapist that anything that works both sides of your brain, like gymnastics and dance … it has helped a lot,” he says.

One of the main reasons Jeff sought out counseling was to be less explosive around his daughters, and it has provided outlets and avenues to grow closer with his children and Cora. “We still have our ups and downs,” he acknowledges. He can still shut down sometimes. “But we’re moving along. We love each other, and we have the willpower to push through and be together.”

On this day, they’re all together at a trampoline park. Jeff bounces once, then twice, and then soars high in the air like a superhero — right up to the top of a nearby wall. He helps one daughter grab hold of a gymnastics bar and then flip around underneath it. She sticks the landing and gives him five.

“My advice is: Go for it. Take that first step,” Jeff says. “Go see someone if you’re even semi-worried about how you’ve been acting around other people. If you think you have to rein yourself in for any reason, go talk to someone.

“It’s just going to build strength later on.”


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