Stolen Memories

I met my husband on New Year’s Eve 2000. We fell in love immediately. 9 months later we married and already had a baby on the way. It shouldn’t have worked for a number of reasons, but we had the most amazing, fairy-tale marriage. We adored each other and our two wonderful children only added to the perfection of our lives.

In October 2009 my husband went off for his first operational tour of Afghanistan. I held my breath from the moment he left and dared to hope for his safe return. The next may, I stood on the cold streets cheering at his home coming parade. I clapped with pride at the medals parade. My children were featured on a TV news bulletin wearing their ‘My Dads a Hero’ T-shirts. The public watched and shared those proud moments with me. Our perfect lives seemed to be back on track.

But there was no more fairy-tale. I sent away a gentle, amazing man, who was the love of my life and I was sent back a monster.

What followed was 18 months of hell; 18 months of mental, emotional and physical abuse at his hands. The strong, independent woman I had always been was destroyed and broken in every way. When the abuse turned towards my children, I realized I had the courage to walk away.

Only after hearing of my decision, did he finally open up. He had an emotional breakdown and finally told us the horrors he had been experiencing as a result of his tour in Afghanistan. He had nightmares, day mares, hallucinations, voices, anger, suicidal thoughts, guilt, hatred…. For him the only way to fight his demons and keep us safe was to push us away, to protect us from the monster he knew he had become.

It was only then that I realized he was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My lovely husband had been injured, but I hadn’t seen it. I begged him to get help, but he wouldn’t. His worst fear was to be considered weak by the military if he owned up.

I cried out the military for help, but all they could offer was advice on how to get a divorce. So I went against his wishes and told his family, but they called me a liar and told me he just didn’t want me anymore. My family were supportive, but ultimately could do nothing. I was alone, fighting a battle I could not win.

I began researching PTSD. Only when I started to understand the disorder could I start to make sense of it all. I knew the man I loved was still in there and I fought long and hard for him and to keep our family together. Ultimately I had to let him go and we divorced.

The man I loved died in Afghanistan. It would have been so much easier had he been killed by an IED or sniper’s bullet. The emotions I would have faced would have been far less than the living nightmare I endured for 18 months. I would have been left with my happy memories of my husband, but instead I have only memories of tears, fear, and abuse.

I wanted a way to share my story – to help others suffering from the disorder to realize the pain they inflict on their loved ones and prompt them to seek help. I wanted to help others going through what I did to realize that PTSD is no excuse for domestic violence, and to find the strength to let go. But most importantly, for my children, I wanted a record of the wonderful daddy he once was and not the monster he became that they now only remember. So I wrote my story and called it Stolen Memories – just as my memories of my soul mate and love of my life were stolen. My children’s memories of their hero were stolen.

My story is one of overcoming abuse. Of ultimately taking back control of my life and fighting my way back to normality. It’s the story of a mother fighting to keep her children safe. It is one of courage, bravery and self-respect and not one of letting my love for a man overpower my sense of self-worth. To this day I remain extremely proud to have been part of the military family, but I paid a heavy price for Afghanistan and the lack of support I received on my husband’s return.

Writing my book was the best therapy I could have had. Though I shed many tears, through writing my story I was able to reclaim my happy memories. I am now able to look back on the happy times with a smile on my face. No longer do I have tears in my eyes.

My life is now back on track.

Kathryn Fox


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About the Author | Kelly McNelis, LLC

Women’s advocate and bestselling author of Your Messy Brilliance.

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3 comments to "Stolen Memories"

  • Elizabeth Board

    Oh Kathryn, may continued healing be with you and your family. Often it seems the family is forgotten when our troops go into and come home from tours of war. This war claimed the heart of the man you once loved, I am so sorry for your loss in that.
    War conquers and sinks the hearts of many families, yet government and/or society doesn’t want to recognize it. It is more comfortable to hush those who hurt, then to heal them.
    May peace and joy be once again yours.

  • Kathryn Fox

    Thank you Elizabeth for those lovely and kind words. I was indeed hushed in my hour of need and continue to be by those that could make changes to stop this happening to other families. I will however be forever grateful to sites like this that are listening to and sharing my story so that my pain and loss will not have been in vain if it helps one other person.

  • Barbara

    I’m so glad you had the strength to walk away! My fiancé went to Yugoslavia as it was breaking up into Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia and came back a completely changed man. We struggled for a long time, began a family, and he went back to the place his nightmares began eight years later. I hadn’t realized that I had been walking on eggshells for so long when it sank in that he had left the country again. I felt free, but guilty. He returned and manifested all 13 criteria for PTSD, and most of them severely. We struggled again, but this time we both knew it was a losing battle for our marriage.

    The good news is that the prospect of being jailed for assault and not being able to see his son without supervision awoke something in him. At that point, he began to let go of the denial (even though he had been medically released from the military two years earlier) and seriously pursue therapy. Now, a decade later, he and I are best friends, co-parent our son better than some married couples, and he feels more like himself than he has in twenty years. Please don’t ever lose hope!