Shawn and Justin’s Story
It has been a long hard road to get to this point. We have endured the hell PTSD unexpectedly unleashed on our lives, and at times I really didn’t think we would make it because of PTSD. But we have, we are still here, and we aren’t giving up. Our marriage vow renewal was our declaration that PTSD will not destroy us. We are a team, and we will continue to work together for the rest of our lives. Please don’t give up on your relationship because of PTSD. Don’t let your marriage become another victim of this war. It took us 11 years to get here; it can be done! – Justin and Shawn Gourley
Justin Gourley and his wife, Shawn, have been dealing with the highs and lows brought on by his post-traumatic stress disorder since Justin’s return from his last deployment in 2004, and they are trying to give hope to other couples by showing that PTSD doesn’t end all relationships.
Shawn kept a journal from the time Justin returned home from his military deployment in the Middle East, writing down what was happening to her family and how she was dealing with it. Shawn had no idea when she started the Facebook group “Military With PTSD” that it would grow into a nationwide support group for more than 100,000 people.
Military With PTSD started on Facebook in August 2010 as a place to launch Shawn’s book “The War At Home: One Family’s Fight Against PTSD.” Shawn started out trying to help spouses who live with PTSD by writing a 28-page booklet about her experiences, using her journal as the basis for the booklet. She wanted to help spouses prepare for when the veterans came home and give them an understanding of what could really happen. But soon the Gourley’s realized the spouses needed the veterans there to help explain their view, and as the page grew it has turned into a support group for everyone who is affected by PTSD.
When the Gourley’s started talking about adding veterans to the Facebook page and expanding on Justin’s side to the book, he was nervous. Some parts of the book are very personal, but he knew it was going to help other couples and families dealing with PTSD so of course he was on board. Justin and Shawn believe one of the best ways to help veterans battling PTSD when they return home is to educate and empower the spouses. Their motto is simple, “Seeing it from both sides,” because to change a situation you have to understand it first.
Shawn’s vision is to raise awareness and help support veterans, spouses, and family members with PTSD through education materials and providing peer-to-peer support. Shawn’s approach to helping families connect despite PTSD is something she developed through analyzing her own situation with Justin, her interactions with the thousands of community members on the Military with PTSD Facebook page, and discussions with professionals in the PTSD field. Teaching family members to understand PTSD, how it changes the brain, learning new communication techniques, and changing your perception are all part of Shawn’s approach. Since its beginning, the Facebook page has helped service members, veterans, spouses, and family members to overcome the stigma of PTSD.
Now that Military with PTSD Inc. has officially become a 501c3 nonprofit, the Military with PTSD Board of Directors are helping the Gourleys bring their ideas to full realization. Shawn and some dedicated volunteers are developing programs and launching them as soon as they are completed. They have an interactive website Strength of a Warrior to help veterans learn and understand PTSD along with links to find professional help and the much-anticipated Caregiver Warm-Line has launched alongside the Resolve of a Caregiver website that has educational videos for caregivers. They are working on launching local support groups as well as a publishing program for veterans and family called Ashes to Phoenix.
Through it all the Gourleys have experienced the same ups and downs that most families have when PTSD is in the home, but they remain positive, turn toward each other instead of on each other, try to see things from both sides, and remain open about their story as a way to continue to help others.