Fighting PTSD: Charleston mom talks about soldier's return from combat

Sharon Brown.

By Ava Wilhite

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - Sharon Brown often finds herself looking back at childhood photos of her youngest son, Jonathan who's now 24 years old.{}

"We really thought this was going to be a career for him," said Brown.

In 2009, Brown agreed to let her son leave his full academic scholarship at the College of Charleston to enlist in the United States Army. Shortly after boot camp, Jonathan was sent to Iraq in his first deployment.

"Jonathan did a really good job of telling me things that he wanted, as a mom, wanted me to hear. Things like, 'Oh no, I'm very safe here. I never go outside of the area,' which later on I found was not exactly true," said Brown.{}

Brown says when her son returned from Iraq there were subtle changes in his behavior.

"There were things like, he seemed very anxious, which was not really his personality. If we'd go out to restaurant, he would have to be sitting facing forward he would not let anyone sit behind him. Kind of always vigilant looking around," said Brown.{}

Brown also noticed her son began to drink heavily and a once outgoing Jonathan Brown was now withdrawn from family and friends.

"Instead of kind of being able to talk to anybody about it, I think it just welled up inside of him, so he had kind of an episode of feeling that, you know he was not happy being here," said Brown.

Three months after returning from his tour in Iraq, Jonathan Brown attempted suicide. His mother was notified by a late night phone call.

"That's a call no mother, well no one ever wants to get, but totally sidelined me. I did not expect that at all," said Brown.{}

Brown says her son was admitted and spent 30 days in a recovery unit where he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.{} But as a mom, Brown was struggling, too.

"It seemed like I was, you know, in a nightmare that I couldn't wake up from. Really it started affecting my physical health and that's when I realized you know, I need someone I could talk to about it," said Brown.

That's where a Summerville-based PTSD support group stepped in.{}{}

"We believe our injury is also an injury to ones spirit. We are not a therapy group, but we do have one purpose," says group organizer Frank Ruse.

Every Monday night, Frank leads the group at a Summerville church where they meet and talk openly about what it's like living with PTSD.

"The great thing about this group is that it's completely anonymous," said Michelle Knight.

Knight's partner is currently serving overseas, but like Sharon Brown, she came to the meetings to learn what's going on inside the mind of her soldier.

"Just to hear both sides of the stories, because a lot of times spouses and partners and parents don't understand what that soldier has gone through, and on the flip side the soldier doesn't understand what the family has gone through. So it really does help to open the lines of communication for both sides," said Knight.

For Brown, the meetings are life-changing for her family and her son approves of her attendance.

"I think it gave me a much greater not only sense of understanding but calm and reassurance as a mother that, you know, this is normal; that this is the natural progression of working through this process of PTSD," said Brown.{}

Brown says her son is in what's called a warrior transition unit where he has decided to leave the life of military combat. Brown says he's made it clear he never wants to go to war again.

"He has a new zest for living. You know, it was quite a deep depression - he's picking up things like fishing and golfing instead of sitting in his room, you know, kind of having flashbacks," said Brown.

Brown says she shared her family's journey so other PTSD families will understand.

"You don't have to suffer alone," said Brown.

The group, Veterans, Families and Friends, meets at 7 p.m. every Monday inside fellowship of Oakbrook Church in Summerville at 1400 Old Trolley Road.

To come to the meetings people don't have to have any ties to the VA, they can be a friend, significant other, family member, active duty or retired military who needs to talk.{}

The group has no religious affiliation and visitors don't have to give their name.