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I’ve always felt like Military Spouse Appreciation Day was a bit of a joke. Why? Because the only people who tell me they appreciate me are my fellow milspouses and so I say, “Back at-cha” and move on with my normal day.
But this year feels different. I’ll be honest, I had no intention of writing today, but now I feel that I must.
First of all, I received an email in my inbox this morning announcing that my friend and favorite military author, Michelle Cuthrell, came back to Facebook and blogging after an extended hiatus. She said this:
How can I encourage military families to embrace their own stories if I’m not even willing to share my own? …How can I let that lonely spouse on the homefront know that he or he is not alone – that I, too, ate a batch of brownies and called it dinner and I, too, even seven deployments in, don’t feel like “choosing joy” in the face of last-minute homecoming changes (where I DON’T feel like singing “God Bless America” as my husband is on the 4th delayed flight of the day and now missing the birth of his second child)?
If I don’t share honestly, vulnerably, in a way that brings LIGHT to topics that are so often kept in the DARK, I lose out on opportunities to love others well. To encourage others in the midst of their own trials. To REDEEM these mistakes (and oh, can I count them) that I’ve made on this military, adoption and parenting road and allow God to USE them to encourage, bless and redirect (oh PLEASE don’t follow me into the ditch!) others.
But He can’t use my failures if I’m not willing to share them. And He can’t use our family’s story if we’re not willing to make it available.
-Stepping Out with a Big, Black Boot
I went to share her post in a Milspouse Blogging Facebook Group I’m a part of and then I saw this photo:
It seems as though this morning has a theme. And how apropos. Because not only is today Military Spouse Appreciation Day, but tomorrow is Freedom Day. Freedom Day, as coined by my combat veteran husband, is the anniversary of the day which he exited the military. May 7th marks three years of freedom in which our family is no longer at the beck and call of the US military.
But there’s more.
My best friend’s husband, who is also a veteran, linked to this post, Why Soldiers Miss War, yesterday on his Facebook page. My husband asked me to read it today to help me understand his struggles as a recovering war vet. IF YOU ARE MILITARY OR VETERAN SPOUSE YOU NEED TO READ THIS POST.
This reached into the deepest places of my soul:
“I feel so alive,” I remember thinking. “I wish I could live my whole life like this.”
That is PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s the inability of normal life to ever match the amplitude of living that you achieved in war. It’s the letdown of survival, and the worry that normal life is just a countdown to a gentle fade-out.
Ask most combat veterans to name the worst experiences of their lives, and they’ll probably tell you it was war.
But here’s the confusing part. When you ask them to choose the best experiences of their lives, they’ll usually say it was war, too.
It touched me because I get it now. I get why, when he was in he couldn’t wait to get out, yet now he feels like his life is so insignificant. I get why sometimes he looks back and only sees how the uniform made him feel important – seemingly forgetting how many times it made him feel small, scared, and abused.
I get why he looks at me and says, “I miss it,” then a few days later will say, “I’m so glad I don’t have to deal with that crap anymore.”
I get why he spends fifteen minutes in the morning slapping on pomade to get his hair to lay right because he wants to grow it out, and yet how he asks me to shave the sides. I get why he thinks it looks “dorky.”
But these words also touched me because my own life started to make a little more sense.
“the inability of normal life to ever match the amplitude of living that you achieved in war”
No, military spouses aren’t hiding in bunkers or hearing rounds screaming overhead, but what they achieve during war heightens their emotions and are achievements all on their own. There’s an adrenaline rush to survival.
I know what it’s like to get that rush of running to the phone to answer it before you miss the call because it might be the only chance you get to talk to him in the next week. I know what it’s like to be awaken suddenly to the DING of Yahoo or AKO IM, heart rushing into your chest from the panic to let him know you’re awake, you’re there.
I know what it’s like to walk around with a pit in your stomach for days, checking your phone and email every few minutes, knowing there’s a blackout – finally receiving the email or the call that it wasn’t him. It was someone else. The relief. Then the guilt about the relief. The sorrow knowing that some other spouse’s life is forever altered.
I know what it’s like to shop for hours or days for the best homecoming outfit, try it on in front of the mirror, and try to imagine seeing his face.
I remember the rush of emotions when I’m Already There or Just A Dream would come on the radio. The tears that would flow. I remember what it felt like to drive 90 MPH on the highway in heels and a cute outfit to pick him up at the Dallas airport, only to sit in the airport for another three hours because the flight was delayed.
I remember what it felt like to live for a year straight in survival mode – the only caregiver for a high-needs baby – alone with no help. To survive car trips, doctors appointments, and severe sleep deprivation without a partner. To look at myself in the mirror and tell myself, “I can do this. I am doing this. I will survive.”
I know what it’s like to have my body physically ache for him, lying alone in an empty bed. And then the rush of being taken by him, becoming one flesh again after nine months apart.
“Ask most combat veterans to name the worst experiences of their lives, and they’ll probably tell you it was war.
But here’s the confusing part. When you ask them to choose the best experiences of their lives, they’ll usually say it was war, too.”
The same holds true for military spouses.
Because nothing matches the deep grief of being separated from the love of your life for two freaking years, yet there is nothing like the amazing bond of milspouse sisters during deployment.
Nothing is so frightening as being scared he would die, yet nothing thrills like the rush of when he comes home safely.
Nothing hurts so deeply watching your son grow up without a father, yet there is nothing that warms the heart so much as seeing that smile on his sweet little face when they are reunited.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
I’ll be honest. I’ve been struggling the past few weeks. Just with everything. Feeling overwhelmed and like I never get any time or space alone.
I told my counselor in frustration yesterday, “I wish he would just go away, and I wouldn’t have to see his face for a month!”
What kind of wife am I?
I told him last night that he needed to stop texting me all day long and give me space to get stuff done while he is at work.
“You don’t give me a chance to miss you…” I said.
Now it all makes sense.
Because I miss the war too.
I miss the rush. I miss the depth of emotion that the average wife will never understand.
I miss what it feels like to miss him.
And that’s why Military Spouse Appreciation Day and Freedom Day matter.
Because you can take the military family out of the war but you can’t take the war out of the military family.
Last night, for the first time, Little Brother sat on Daddy’s lap and took a bottle from him. My husband looked with me with eyes full of grief as he again recounted to me how hard this was because of how much he had missed with Ezra. Little Brother both exposes those deep wounds in his soul and yet somehow heals them too. It’s such a bittersweet, emotional time for him that no one can truly understand. All I could do is sit there and watch, joining him silently in his grief, until his sleep and anxiety meds kicked in and he stumbled to the bed to sleep another restless night. This morning, he has no recollection of the event due to his memory problems and it saddens me.
As we come upon Freedom Day we both celebrate and grieve. We celebrate survival. We celebrate all we have overcome as a couple, in spite of our struggles. We celebrate the fact that we can tell Ezra that Daddy never has to go back to Afghanistan again. We celebrate that we are together, forever.
And yet we grieve. We grieve the loss of a year that Ezra and his Daddy will never get back. We grieve the loss of those who didn’t come home, like our son’s namesake Ezra Dawson and Lt. Frison. We grieve the toll that abusive leadership in the military took upon my husband’s emotional health. We grieve the loss of the friendships we have had to say goodbye to.
I wish I had some sort of conclusion to share, but my thoughts are muddled. A few minutes ago, I sat in the nursery feeding the baby and felt tears press forth from my eyes. I didn’t even really know why.
All I know is that I’m going to keep writing about military and veteran affairs.
Because these two days matter. They matter to me. They matter to my husband. Because we are survivors.