By Kelsie Hoitomt
Sharlene Prinsen, a Glenwood City graduate from the class of 1990, wrote her first book titled “Blind Devotion: Survival on the Front Lines of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Addiction” which hit the book shelves on September 25. The book shares the painful, real-life details of what it is like living with a person in the military who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addictions.
Sharlene and her husband Sean have been married for eleven years. She has two children, Michael and Katelyn and a step-daughter Amanda.
Prinsen graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1995 with a degree in Broad Field Social Studies and Secondary Education with a minor in Spanish.
After graduating, Prinsen began teaching Spanish at St. Croix Falls High School where she has been now for 17 years.
In the meantime miles away, Sean was 24 years old and decided to join the Army where he served with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York.
Sean was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina in September of 1999 through April of 2000 as part of the NATO S-FOR. This was during the aftermath of the reign of Slobodan Milosevic’s genocide in Yugoslavia.
It was when Sean came home on leave that he and Sharlene met through a mutual acquaintance that introduced the two of them briefly.
Sean left for Fort Drum a few days later and would remain out of the area until he was officially discharged in August of 2000.
The following year, the two would be wed on September 22, 2001.
“As you can see by the math, it was 11 days before our wedding that the terror attacks of September 11 happened and that sent Sean reeling into depression, anxiety and rage. He had a burning desire to re-enlist, but probably due to the timing of our wedding a week and half away, he decided to stay,” shared Sharlene.
During the beginning of their marriage, Sean showed early signs of Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“This issue was not talked about in the media as heavily as it is now and I did not know anything about what Sean did in Bosnia so I was not able to see what was happening for five to six years,” said Sharlene.
Life for the couple improved some as the war in Afghanistan was underway. They had their first child, Michael who was born in January of 2003.
Two months later the war in Iraq began and Sean sank further into depression and his PTSD symptoms kicked into high gear.
“We did get a diagnosis of PTSD a short time later, but neither of us understood what it was or how dangerous it could be if untreated. We also did not know where to find resources to help us,” said Sharlene.
Around this same time, Sean discovered narcotic pain medication, which he had been prescribed for an injury to his neck and back that had happened while he was still enlisted. The pills then became Sean’s means of easing his physical and emotional pain.
“We went through a cycle of addiction to alcohol and pain medications, which included multiple near fatal overdoses,” said Sharlene.
In the midst of all of this struggle, Sharlene gave birth to their second child, Katelyn, in December of 2005.
Every depressed feeling and emotion with Sean’s PTSD came to a head when he decided one day that enough was enough and he wanted to die.
With a gun in hand, the police and SWAT teams were called and a four-hour stand off unfolded.
This event was the catalyst for Sean to finally get some help from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
However, it would take three more years, two stints in jail, another suicide attempt, a life-changing medical crisis and a handful of inpatient and outpatient rehab programs before he would find a lasting sobriety and some ability to manage his depression and PTSD symptoms.
Today, the family is making progress every day on how to manage the challenges that come with PTSD through faith, self-help and the help of others.
“This is a powerful memoir and self-help book that reminds us all that the freedoms we enjoy every day are most certainly not free. It also reassures us of the resilience of the human spirit, the presence of a healing God and the power of a family’s love for one another,” explained Sharlene.
Sharlene had three goals in writing Blind Devotion. The first is to raise awareness about the struggles and sacrifices of our returning veterans and their families.
Second, is to help military families recognize the symptoms of PTSD and depression earlier so they will seek help sooner.
Lastly, to share a powerful testimony of God’s miraculous work in their family.
“As part of our commitment to pay it forward, we will donate 40 percent of our profit from the book to charities that help veterans with PTSD and their families. Another ten percent will be donated to our local church to help families in crisis in the St. Croix Valley,” shared Sharlene.
According to Sharlene, those who wish to follow the family’s journey or anyone who seeks to find hope and encouragement for themselves from a community of people affected by PTSD, depression, addiction or alcoholism can go to her Facebook page, “Sharlene Prinsen Support”.