While I was a military spouse, it became apparent to me through some very painful circumstances that there is a gap between the civilian community and the military community. I’d like to see it close.
And so, my thoughts were rallying around how people could support active duty military spouses, especially during deployments. That post, still in my mind, has not yet made it to screen. (It’s coming, I promise.)
But now I’m on the other side. Still a military spouse, so they say (once a milspouse, always a milspouse), and yet a civilian spouse too. And that’s all kinds of weird.
I still feel that gap.
And so, I’d like to share a few things from that perspective.
1. Our choice to leave the military behind was hard and scary. We talked about it for years before it actually happened. We had nothing to hold onto but faith that somehow, God would work out the details.
The military offers security. Job security. Financial security. “Free” healthcare. While soldiers don’t make a ton, it was enough and it was secure and it was safe and dependable. (Well, if you don’t count the mental and physical dangers of deployment, the uncertainty of ever-changing orders, and the million other ways in which the military loves to keep you guessing about everything.)
Leaving behind that security was hard. Really hard.
2. We’re glad to be out, but we still miss it. A lot. I could fill a whole post here on all of the things I miss about the Army. But to name a few:
I miss the military community and friendship, being around people who just get what you’ve been through and what you are going through because they’ve been there done that too. Support groups. PWOC. Coffee with girlfriends. And as rough as a time as he had with his fellow soldiers, Russ misses having soldiers to talk to who understand. Sometimes, we are both really lonely.
I miss the schedule. When Russ was in and stateside he got an hour and a half every day for lunch. This meant we got to spend a lot of time together as a family. There were parks close-by and we could have a picnic anytime the weather was nice.
I miss the services – the free therapy (and our amazing therapist); the perks like military discounts, free tax filing; I miss seeing soldiers everywhere.
3. We are still putting our family back together after two full years apart. Deployments do a number on a family in so many ways. Sometimes I still get resentful of not being in charge of my schedule, no longer having full reign over the computer and TV on evenings and weekends, and having to let him help me with life. As much as I hated it, I got used to being independent and alone. Giving over those reigns is a process that I’m still going through. There are times I act out of that place without even realizing it and then it will hit me: He was gone for two years…that’s why you are struggling.
Russ is still afraid that he’s not being a good enough dad because he was gone for so long. He worries that Ezra won’t love him. He gets frustrated when Ezra won’t cooperate and takes it very personally, thinking it’s all his fault. He’s still learning his own child and how to interact with him and that’s a process of trial and error for any parent, greatly compounded by the year of practice he missed out on. This is the cause of daily stress in our house.
4. The war still touches us every day. I talked about this some last fall in my post, they all gave something. Russ has good days and bad days…and really bad days. Having so much anxiety in the home because of what he’s gone through doesn’t just affect him but it affects me and Ezra too. I have gotten so used to living in a heightened state of panic and anxiety, just trying to anticipate what might bother or trigger him – now I’m anxious even when he’s not around. Russ still has trouble sleeping which also affects me because he will roll around in bed at night or get up in the middle of the night and then come back to bed an hour or two later.
Sometimes I have to be a buffer in the home. Russ sometimes doesn’t realize how anxious he is and how he’s making Ezra and I stressed, so sometimes I have to “force” him to go take a break or calm down. This frustrates him and sometimes he thinks he’s fine and pushes through and ultimately things get worse.
This is exhausting. I’m learning through therapy how to deal with this better, communicate with Russ better, and take care of myself – but some days it’s just really hard and a lot to handle.
Weekends are really hard because everyone is out of routine so we are all a little on edge. Sometimes, the home is a perfect storm. Sunday mornings seem to be the worst. I often don’t have time to fix my hair or do my makeup because Ezra and Russ are both stressed and need my attention and my peacemaking skills just to be able to get out the door relatively close to on time. Sometimes when we get to church I’m just barely holding together because the morning has just been really hard.
5. Sometimes, we need to talk about it. (Ahem, hence this blog post.) We can’t erase six (and in my husband’s case ten) years of our life. When we first got out I was really hesitant to bring up Army life in conversation with new friends because I was really nervous that they would think I was just a drama queen, or wanted extra / special attention because I used to be an Army wife, or like I was trying to one-up their life and prove that mine was harder. I can honestly say that it’s none of those things. I want to, yes, need to, talk about it because it is my reality. I can’t deny what we’ve been through and how it has affected us and continues to affect us every day. So if you hear me saying, “When we were in the Army…” or “When Russ was deployed…” or whatever, please understand that I’m just trying to process stuff and I need a listening ear.
6. We are recovering. This means we go to both individual and couples therapy. This means I cry a lot. This means we all have to practice breathing. This means sometimes my husband will fall asleep in church. This means sometimes we will stay home from church, choir practice, or other church activities. This means that sometimes I’ll be on my phone as away of avoiding people asking me how I’m doing because I’m on the verge of tears. This means we need a lot of family time and sometimes need to shut the world out to just deal with what’s going on within the walls of our homes and our hearts. This means that sometimes Russ will throw Ezra up in the air in the sanctuary and I will just smile because, while it might not be “appropriate” it’s just his way of making up for lost time. This means sometimes we will make mistakes and say the wrong thing at the wrong time. This means that sometimes I’ll forget to schedule playdates with my friends or call or text relatives. This means that sometimes we are selfish with our time and resources.
This means we need community and support and patience and understanding.
I so appreciate all of you readers, supporters, long-distance friends, and church friends. Your comments, shares, hugs, messages, letters, cards, they all mean the world to me. I recognize that it’s not easy to love a veteran and his family so I appreciate all of your attempts to show us you care.