This post reflects my personal views and experience and may not reflect the stance of the organization that I identify in this blog.
This blog is written to those of you searching for purpose, specifically written with military spouses in mind.
Service to the military has always been a component of my relationship with my husband. When we started dating he was already in the early years of his time serving the military. I’d like to tell you that choosing this life was the obvious decision…that I was so madly and irrevocably in love that there was no other choice for me. That wasn’t the case, but in some ways that sounds lovely. I loved my now husband that much, but this life was not a simple or mindless or obvious decision. Even when I was dating my husband I knew I had a lot of options, and my life could go one of several ways. While I believe in divine timing, I do not believe in fate. I was not fated to this life. I fell in love with the man, and I chose this life of sacrifice.
While I chose this life that came with unique demands of me, at first I really struggled with the parameters of this lifestyle. In addition to being far away from home and family and friends, I was struggling to find work, to assimilate into a new culture, to find my place in this life that never asked me what I wanted out of it. I felt like my husband got praised for his sacrifice to the country, and consideration for his needs, while simultaneously feeling my dedication to service was inconsequential and my wants and thoughts disregarded.
But I was just a spouse.
We both live far from family, from friends, from familiarity. We both miss Saturday night barbeques with loved ones and what it feels like to have intimate friendships that don’t require the formalities of meeting new people regularly. We both fear what death could do to this family. While I recognize the major differences in what his sacrifice can look like versus mine (such as his ability to die and experience the emotional and psychological trauma that I will not), I struggled with the fact that I will sacrifice access to good jobs, moving laterally between positions when jobs even exist, while he will continue to move forward in his career. We can sometimes feel irrelevant to the military, while also feeling like our dedication to this lifestyle and mission is causing us to become more irrelevant to the outside world as well. I have always been proud of my role as a crucial and integral form of support to the military, but felt like I was sacrificing for this life while there were very few resources to make me successful in this life. It’s a nasty dichotomy.
But I was just a spouse.
I remember how many times over I said to my husband how frustrating it is that there isn’t more use for my skills, or resources to make me successful, or programs that truly work to help spouses be accomplished in this life. I fundamentally think that our military would be so much stronger of a force if our spouses were a bigger priority because strong leaders marry strong spouses. If a strong spouse cannot find purpose, gainful employment, or even feel validated, the couple is likely to find more success as a team in the civilian world. Fundamentally, no one wants to come home to an unhappy spouse, and a spouse cannot be expected to put their life on hold for the duration of an entire career, when there may be more money and resources for the couple in the civilian world. If we value our leaders we must also value their counterparts.
But I was just a spouse.
What made it worse was that when I expressed my struggles I was met with comments like, “well this is what you wanted,” or “you should have known better,” or my favorite phrase, “you made your bed, now you have to lie in it.” These comments vacillated between feeling invalidating and feeling like a punishment for choosing this life, as if this way of life is a punishment. Heaven forbid I struggle with a choice I made…as if the only people allowed to struggle are the people whose life happens to them…as if that in itself isn’t a choice. Still to this day those comments are hard, but I have never once regretted life with my husband, or my type of service to this country.
But I was just a spouse.
All of these feelings…I remember them well. I remember the struggle, I remember the frustration, I remember wondering if I would manage to make friends yet again, I remember the loneliness in the midst of all of these things, I remember how hard it was to sometimes try to establish myself when I knew my hard work would be uprooted again, and I know the bitter sweetness that comes with every next move. In talking with other spouses, I have come to recognize that what I describe is a shared experience among our community.
It took a lot of maturing in this journey for me to realize that on the other side of this way of life is a world waiting for me that needs all the unique things we can bring to the table. I didn’t realize this until I realigned my thinking. I remember the first time I felt like I was where I was supposed to be – I volunteered with a tutoring organization whose mission was to provide different types of services to underprivileged kids. This 8-year-old boy who could barely read when I first met him had successfully read ‘Pete The Cat’ to me. I remember that triumph, and that night I remember sitting on the porch swing talking about that triumph with a new friend over a bottle of wine, drunk giggling about our successes, our failures, our embarrassing moments that inevitably come with this life until 3 am. I distinctly remember feeling like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
It was when I began to find my place in this ever changing life that I began to think more clearly about my purpose in this way of life.
It was in that moment that I realized what the military had given me that I would get nowhere else but in this way of life. Though life in the military had brought me unparalleled challenges, bouts of self-doubt, confusion, and a several instances of road rage immediately (and temporarily) following arriving at new duty stations, it also brought me to new special people whom are now a part of the fibers of my life story. It brought me friends whom I connect with deeply. It has brought me a community of people with shared values and it has brought me unparalleled support. It has given me family. My attachment to the military and my dedication to learn from my experience also brought me unequivocal inspiration, and I am now excited for what life holds for me during and following our time in the military. I wish everyone could find the courage to do what we are doing because the second and third order effects of being willing to jump into this life with both feet include courage and unwavering confidence and an uninhibited opportunity to get to know ourselves and our potential through challenge.
So military spouses, what I encourage you to remember is this. What we bring to the table in any of our pursuits is invaluable. We are adaptable, able to change multiple times over as needed. We are flexible, able to embrace and work with changing circumstances. We are personable, having practiced getting to know and work with so many different types of people, from so many different walks of life and cultures. We are dynamic thinkers, able to understand so many different perspectives because of our exposure to so many different types of people. We are planners, always capable of being ready for the unexpected. We are innovative and resourceful, able to find and pull from resources we may have never even considered before. We are communal in a way that is and should be an example to others. We know how to lead and follow; an important quality of true leadership is knowing when to lead, and when to let others lead. These are skills and characteristics we unequivocally possess that this life, and this life alone has given us.
And finally, you should know as well as I that our greatest loves are never convenient, our truest potential is never known without challenge, and life’s greatest virtue is to be able to change and change again. That virtue is ours.
Cheers to whatever it is you do, and all the things you bring to the table.
Love & Light,