For Meg Hawkins and Eric Provow of Haymarket, giving to others comes as naturally as taking a ride on their Harleys on a warm day. The couple makes beauty from their pain by sharing their story of trauma and through their non-profit, Making Everything Good.
To escape a home life riddled with addiction and pain, Eric joined the Marine Corps as soon as he was able. The military – both the Marines and later the Air Force – gave him the opportunity to fulfill all of his dream jobs, from parachute rigger school to reconnaissance in the Marines to combat controller in the Air Force and in between.
But those 20 years in the military included multiple traumatic incidents and left lifelong emotional scars, including a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002 that gave him a glimpse into his own mortality. When he retired from the military in 2007, he went straight into a job as a firefighter-paramedic.
All along, Eric knew he was suffering but didn’t know what it was. He wasn’t sleeping more than two to three hours a night. And when he did sleep, he suffered night terrors. He was difficult to work with and kept everyone at arm’s length because he thought they wouldn’t be able to understand him and the things he had been through.
“Meg was the first one to call me out on it,” says Eric of his wife of five years.
Eric’s daily symptoms included irritability, especially when driving, hypervigilance, insomnia, and anxiety. His anger flipped like a switch and usually was triggered by situations that didn’t warrant such an extreme reaction. From her training as a police officer, Meg realized he was suffering from PTSD.
Even as Meg urged him to seek treatment, there were so many things holding Eric back, things he was deathly afraid of, like the stigma attached to those who seek therapy and fear that others would see him in a different light. “I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin,” Eric said.
He brushed everything off until he heard another veteran speaking of his own experience with PTSD. When he finally agreed to get counseling, the therapist wasn’t trained for his situation; she tried to “reprogram him” and his symptoms worsened.
It all came to a head on January 7, 2017 when Eric disappeared for about 10 hours. Meg was frantic, asking friends to check their home in fear of finding a horrific scene. Eric was tired of fighting his demons, tired of how he had been treating his wife, and feeling like it would be best for everyone if he left this world. Thankfully, his thoughts eventually turned around and he came home where he and Meg formulated their plan for addressing his PTSD. They found a PTSD-specific psychologist to treat him, and he began the long road to recovery that included Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Prolonged Exposure Therapy.
One life-changing event for Meg and Eric was attending a Post Critical Incident Seminar hosted by the Virginia Law Enforcement Assistance Program. The first day, attendees and their spouses shared their stories of trauma in their own words. Meg happened to be sitting where she was to speak before Eric. It was the first time that Eric was able to see and hear the situation through Meg’s eyes.
After this seminar said Meg, “It was like a lightbulb that went off for both of us because we both realized how much that night affected me.” Meg emphasizes that the spouses often get overlooked. While they were both in ‘triage mode’ for Eric, Meg was pushing forward while unknowingly deteriorating physically and mentally.
“You see, Eric was doing amazing, he was good mentally and physically. I wasn’t having to be the “helicopter wife” 24/7 that I had nicknamed myself. And, I crashed…”
Meg says when things began to get worse, she went to her therapist and told her something wasn’t right. Getting out of bed in the morning and doing small tasks around the house were becoming difficult. Her anxiety was climbing, depression deepening, and sleep deteriorating. Her outgoing personality was changing into someone who avoided people and situations. Meg and her therapist identified that she was suffering from PTSD symptoms stemming from her own traumatic event – the night she believed her husband was going to kill himself.
Meg has started Prolonged Exposure Therapy and looks forward to being herself again. She says, “We forget ourselves and the world forgets us. We need more awareness about how PTSD affects us and every part of our family and life.”
“I have a new husband” says Meg of Eric. The nightmares are diminished; the anger subsided. Eric smiles more and describes himself as happy and enjoying life. This ‘post-traumatic growth’ has Eric responding instead of reacting, not isolating himself, and sharing his story more and more.
When incidents of police officer suicides were affecting the country on an almost daily basis, and then a local officer died by his own hands, it hit too close to home for Meg and Eric. They decided to do everything they could to help break the stigma. A video of self-told narratives by first responders was produced and shown to officers around the country. That video included Meg and Eric’s story. It was a turning point for Eric, and the two now travel to different agencies, showing the video and opening the lines of communication.
About Making Everything Good
Making Everything Good reaches kids and adults through programs like Color Me Brave, which donates coloring books, crayons, and stickers to Inova Children’s Hospital, Project FACT to help survivors of sexual and physical assault, and Dave’s Christmas Cruise that benefits Santa’s Ride where officers deliver toys to children at local hospitals during the holiday season. In addition to these programs, Making Everything Good has adopted for Christmas the family of a first responder suffering from PTSD after the Pulse nightclub shooting and has helped other veterans get needed treatment.
And recently a new addition to the family has formed such a bond with Eric that he is able to recognize and deter Eric’s anxiety and PTSD symptoms. An 18-month-old pocket yellow lab named Denny was matched to Eric through the foundation This Able Veteran.
A fully trained service dog, Denny can recognize and interrupt Eric’s symptoms of anxiety or emotional distress and nightmares. When Eric taps his foot when he’s anxious, Denny places his paw on top of Eric’s foot. If that is unsuccessful, Denny will paw at Eric’s leg or jump on him with his front paws. Denny will repeat these trained techniques if he notices Eric rubbing his hands together, sighs, or breathes differently. “Denny can read Eric’s mood very well and keys in when he’s starting to get upset or hyped up and will go comfort him,” says Meg.
“I always say, in darkness comes light,” says Meg. The struggles and difficulties both Meg and Eric have been through have created a bond that cannot be broken. They continue to grow closer when they could have easily fallen apart. Although they both recognize no marriage is perfect, they have each other’s backs through sickness and health, the good and the bad. They also know they do not walk this journey alone. The support of their families, friends, and respective departments have made them feel blessed. But maybe most importantly, they remain grateful to be able to share their stories and help others who are suffering to get the help they need.
For more information on M.E.G.’s programs, visit MakingEverythingGood.com.