Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Lessons Learned As A Military Wife

Obviously, being a military spouse is a huge part of my life. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say it is the axis on which my world turns, well, besides God. It dictates and decides so much of my life. Mainly, where we’ll live and when my husband will and won’t be home. Yet, for some reason, I don’t like to write about it much. The truth is I feel so under-qualified to even broach the subject. I’m far from an expert on military life or being married to the military. In fact, I fully admit that I only know about five of the 500 (or more?!) different acronyms, I’m still figuring my way through Family Readiness Group (FRG) stuff, and I am not always the proud and supportive Army wife that I should be.

In fact, I have been such a reluctant Army wife. I’ve drawn lines in the sand. I’ve dug in my heels in resistance. I’ve tried to make other options work. Reluctant is an understatement.

But, here I am, apart of a military family stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. I haven’t driven off into the sunset yet. I guess after beating your fists against the wind enough times, there is a calm peace in submission. Honestly, that is a daily struggle sometimes. So, I’m taking it day by grace-filled day. I can sum it up by saying: it hasn’t been an easy journey for me but I’m learning, and as they say, “the teacher appears when the student is ready.” There have been many lessons learned on this journey.

Despite and because of all that, combined with the reminder that this time seven years ago I watched my husband commission into the Army as an officer, and with the upcoming Memorial Day celebration, it all makes me take a moment to pause and reflect on the lessons I have learned as a military spouse. Here is what I would tell a younger version of myself…

Above all, you have to take care of yourself, especially during deployments. There is so much focus on the soldier and their sacrifice that sometimes the needs of the family back home can go unnoticed. Of course, the person who is putting their life on the line deserves as much support and attention as possible. Still, there is some guilt and/or denial in the fact that it doesn’t matter how awful your day was, you were home and not halfway across the world having things blow up around you. During our first deployment, I didn’t reach out. I didn’t ask for much help. I didn’t hire a babysitter. I didn’t address any issues on the phone or email out of fear of being selfish while my husband was sacrificing so much and also out of the fear that every conversation had the potential to be our last. It was a lot of pressure. And it ended very badly. By the time my husband arrived home from his deployment, the state of my being made the aftermath of Hiroshima look pretty. The moral of the story…reach out. Ask for help. Hire help. Find outlets. Pick up a new hobby. You need a break, too. It’s not selfish. It’s normal.

Sometimes taking care of yourself is as simple as eating well. It’s hard to cook for one person (or one person and two very picky little people) but nobody can survive on chicken nuggets and cereal alone. Make the effort to cook. Mindful eating habits and regular exercise are the easiest and quickest ways to maintain happiness and beat the blues.

Second, whatever you might be feeling or going through, you are not alone. Period. For example, I was recently at a coffee group meeting and a younger military spouse was listing all the reasons why she couldn’t and didn’t want to be a military spouse: “I don’t want to travel around like a gypsy…I want my husband around…I want to pursue my career…I want to be around my family…etc.” The entire time she was talking I was thinking: Yeah, me too!  It’s a simple example of how we all have the same doubts, concerns, problems, wishes, annoyances and hopes. For me, it’s so reassuring to know my concerns and problems are ‘normal’ and we’re not alone. Whatever you’re going through, someone close to you has been through the same thing in the past or is going through it now, too. So don’t be afraid to reach out.

Third, when you move, make that new place home as quickly as possible, despite the amount of time you have (or don’t have) there. It doesn’t matter if you’re only slated to be there for a few months; unpack those boxes, hang up those pictures, make new friends. There is nothing worse than spending chunks of your life waiting to start living somewhere else.

It is vital for me to make new friends…everyone needs a support system for those tough days (and there will be tough days!)…and do it quickly! We don’t have the time to let friendships slowly build over time through pleasantries. I throw myself out there and dive right in. I think I’ve startled a few people in the civilian world with this approach but I have met some amazing people along the way because of my openness and resolve in this area. Unfortunately, many of whom I’m far from now and miss dearly but I’m thankful for the roles they have played in my life and know that we can pick right up again over coffee and dessert should our paths cross again.

Work to make the zaniness of Army life become a new normal. There will be new traditions. Friends will become your new ‘temporary’ family.

Still, sadly, you never, ever stop missing home. I miss home every day. Facebook is a blessing and a curse in that it helps me stay connected on a daily basis but it is also a constant reminder of what I’m missing out on. It’s taken me years to accept that this feeling might not ever go away. The only condolence I can find is in the Bible, thinking of all the mighty characters of the Bible that were far from home - Daniel, Moses, etc. – and the Disciples that gave up everything to follow Jesus. What a great reminder to keep my eyes on my Heavenly home, not my earthly one.

Lastly, never underestimate what you can achieve on your own. I’m so inspired by my friends and fellow military wives. I’ve seen or heard of woman changing car batteries, fixing washing machines, planning and implementing home improvement projects, having babies while husbands are deployed, not to mention running households, working full-time, going to school, etc.…the list goes on and on. The soldiers are the heroes but they are supported by a backbone of steel.

I’m still coming to terms with this hectic lifestyle and looking to God to help me make sense of it all. I feel confident that this is all apart of God’s perfect plan. Of course it is! Moving and starting over so many times has pushed me out of my comfort zone and grown me in ways that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. I really wouldn’t trade all the friendships, experiences, travels and adventures we’ve gained from Army life for anything. 

Finally, just for fun, here are a few photos from that fateful commissioning ceremony. It was so long ago that it was before we had digital photography hence the poor picture quality. Still, it's fun to look at these photos. We were young and pretty clueless as to what the future would hold. I was pregnant with a baby (Little Miss Sienna) and we were both filled with idealistic dreams. Oh yeah, and I had those awful bangs...what was I thinking?! Again, lessons learned.

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