What I Thought I Had to Think

When it became clear that I was likely going to marry Husband, and Husband was likely going to join the Navy, and that meant that I likely was going to become one of those rare breed “Military Wives” I went searching online everywhere for something that would tell me how to be one.  I searched hoping against hope to find out that the lifestyle was survivable, was rewarding, could even be fun.

And I found several resources written by military spouses, and several online communities comprised of military spouses and significant others, and, Lo, my training began.

Now I guess I was rather impressionable at that point in my life, and I was also as I am still, a bit of a people pleaser, so…  I went along trying to find the ‘right ways’ to be a military spouse.  I took copious notes, and I took everything very seriously.  I began building a prototype in my head of what a ‘good military wife’ was like.

None of those spouses would have advocated for this.  No one would have wanted it.  But I came to believe that to be a ‘good Navy Wife’ I had to think and sound and act in certain ways.  I interpreted these in a very narrow way, and I tried to live them out to a tee.

For example…  I became something that my mother and father never hoped I would become. 

I became a “Righty sympathizer.”

I became a “Commander-in-chief” supporter and defender. 

I became a “Military matters must come first when making decisions at the polls” voter.

And then life happened.  And, well…  current events happened.  And my husband participated in some of those current events, albeit in a less involved way than some, (He says to me…  “This is how we did it when I was in the sh–!”   I say to him, “You mean near the sh–, honey?”).

And through it all I realized I’m more of a lefty than a righty.  And I realized that commanders-in-chief can make poor decisions and messes and may even mislead the public on occasion.

I am still repenting of this diversion on my political path to enlightment.  Incidentally, I’m finding that a good number of military members and spouses don’t fit that ‘mold’ either.  Even, some of the spouses from whom I was taking copious notes. 

Hmmmm….

But that is not the only thing that I swallowed hook line and sinker.

I also bought the ‘complaining is bad’ line.

No military spouse in her right mind would come out and say that it’s not ok to whine, or vent, or cry when a spouse in on deployment or TDY or busy til the wee hours each and every night even when they are working stateside.

But we all…  apologize for it, as though it were a character flaw.  I certainly do as I mentioned in this post.

When our husbands can’t call very often we are bummed out about it.  We miss hearing that voice that belongs to the man that we love.  But if we mention this hurt we add an obligatory, “Of course, I’m grateful to hear from him at all.”  We may or may not also cite the shining example of spouses who came before us in WWII or Vietnam who waited for weeks for only letters.  We shame ourselves for longingly checking our email inboxes 70 times a day withthe thought of, “The wives who came before me didn’t even know what email was.  Who am I to complain about not getting one?!”

We miss our spouses when they are gone for 3 weeks, 3 months, or 13 months.  But if we mention this we apologetically add, “But I know it could be longer, and I’m  lucky to see him at all.”

And of course, there is always the trick of measuring our hardships up next to ‘the ultimate sacrifice.’  Let’s be honest here–who can  beat that one?  No one wants to.  But it doesn’t delegitimize the difficulty of any of the hardships we deal with on the lucky side of those sacrifices. 

I’m realizing all of this because when I say, “It could be worse,” I say it with particular scenarios in mind.  The thing is, I know of folks living those very scenarios who also apologize for ‘complaining, whining, and venting’ as if they have no right.  As I’ve read these words time and time again from people experiencing the whole gamut of military spouse difficulty, a lightbulb came on for me.

We believe that it’s not ok for us to complain.  It’s not ok for us to say how we really feel. 

Indeed, there are times in our lives as military spouses where it’s best to keep all the ick and heartache and annoyance to oneself.  You don’t tell your husband that you are in the depths of despondency and how dare he leave you to deal with all of this crap to go off and play war (yes, I know it’s not a game…), because you know his job is dangerous and requires his attention and his mind needs to be there.  This is true.

You don’t whine and complain to the media or even all that often to the general public because they need to know how important our husbands’ and wives’ jobs are.  And how seriously we take our role of supporting them.  This is true.

But, I think I am coming to deviate from what I thought to be the norm of being ashamed of ‘complaining, whining, and venting’ and all.   I am beginning to feel that it is ok to tell the truth about how I feel…  while still maintaining perspective and keeping the larger picture in mind.  I can realize how small my part of the whole is, while still acknowledging that my part isn’t wine and roses.

In fact, I think it is essential for my survival as a person, and as a military spouse to tell it like it is within those boundaries.   I am a less healthy person when I feel feelings and then feel guilty about those feelings.

I don’t fit the picture of the perfect “Military Spouse” because there is no one right portrait to emulate.  We are all individuals.  We all hold our own beliefs, values, and traditions.  We all deal with stress and anxiety differently. 

We are all human.

And that’s ok.  That’s beautiful.  That’s part of why it’s incredible to be a part of this amazing, steely-strong group of men and women.

This is the lesson I wish I had taken away from the things that I read when I started this journey, as I wouldn’t have to spend so much time unlearning things I thought were essential.  I would give myself more latitude, and know that who I am as a spouse is ok.  It works for me.  It works for my husband.  And together we do our small part in the big picture of serving our country.

So…  I admit it.  I’m a whining, griping, complaining more ‘left’ than ‘right’ kind of girl.

But I’m still a good Navy wife.

Now, if only I can learn the same lesson about being a ‘perfect mother….’

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2 thoughts on “What I Thought I Had to Think

  1. You are a very good Navy wife and mom. Your mom would be very, very proud of you. I am too. Bless you for expressing the feelings in this piece. I know you’re not alone and that what you have written will be a help to others. Susan’s niece, whose husband is Navy and in Iraq, said many of the same things to me just a few days ago. Charlie only has a couple months left in the service (he has 16 years). When he called home the other day, Amy burst into tears when he told her he was going to reenlist. They have three children now and Amy is pregnant with their fourth. She had only found out after he had deployed this time. She had not told him because the connections on the phone had been so bad. When she started crying he immediately guessed the reason. I don’t know what he’ll do when he gets out, but I do know that he’s not going to reenlist now. Amy and Charlie have both been a great example of “steely-strong”, I hope to God he makes it home.

  2. Thank you. Thank you. When my Sweet One told me he’s deploying I began the research, just as you once did. I have notes written and blogs saved of the proper way to be. Being the perfectionist that I am, I thought it was all well and good until my heart defied my mind. Thank you for giving me permission to still FEEL even while being supportive of him and the path we chose to live.

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