There is this weird competition that exists among military spouses. I can’t speak to the military itself, but I can speak to it existing in the spouse world. It’s the ‘who had it worse and therefore deserves more sympathy, respect, and honor for her martydom’ competition.
I have taken part in it without meaning to if only by devaluing my own story and my own struggle by holding it up in comparison to the stories of others that I have perceived as having it harder or worse.
The competition looks like this:
Spouse 1: “My husband is on deployment right now.”
Spouse 2: “Oh yeah? For how long??”
Spout 1: “It’ll be about 7 months before all is said and done.”
Spouse 2: “Oh… My husband was gone for 12 the last time around.”
Spouse 1: *shrinks a little bit* Oh? That sounds really hard. I guess 6 months really isn’t that bad.
Spouse 2 won that round and Spouse 1 slinks away feeling worse about herself because she has really been struggling with the 6 monther on her plate and now on top of those struggles she also has to bear the weight of being compared to the 12 monther spouse. So now she misses her husband AND feels like a weanie. .
Forget the fact that the six monther spouse has a kid with special needs and she argued–without her husband by her side–tooth and nail in IEP meetings for the adaptive equipment he required. Forget the fact that her car’s transmission was shot and she had to buy a new one…. Forget the fact that she needed knee surgery at the beginning of the deployment and she had to figure out how to get her kids and herself taken care until she was back up on her feet.
Similar scenarios can be played out for various things–Hardships during deployments, number of deployments, branch of service, the job of the service member. We’re a competitive bunch.
As a result of this pecking order of martyrdom, I have shrunk back from the sound of my own voice and the power of my own story because I couldn’t bear the pain of being compared and told that I really hadn’t survived all that much. That I was less or weaker because I was having a hard time bearing up under my own ‘easier’ circumstances.
I went to a retreat a week and a half ago that absolutely changed my life. It was a retreat for military spouses. I went into it feeling small and scared because in the deployment comparison game I just knew I was going to come up short and who wants to go to a retreat if you’re going to be told repeatedly that your story is too small to matter?
But I found something out that hit me square between the eyes:
We all have our stories. We all need to know that we have a voice to tell those stories.
And this military spouse deal? It’s only part of the story. Sometimes it takes the forefront. But for each of us married to a service member–it’s not the WHOLE story. Each of us military spouses–husbands and wives of service members–have a unique set of chapters to the story of our lives as milspouses and as women (or men). Not all of those chapters are even all about the military. Often, the military is merely a backdrop to a larger story of strength.
I think I fell into the trap that so many of us–military and civilian–do of thinking that I knew what it meant to be a military spouse. It’s ALL about deployments and reintegration. And war and wounds from war.
I minimized us. I minimized a part of myself.
I got caught up in the competition and the comparison game and felt small… What right did I have to believe that this lifestyle was hard if I haven’t experienced a deployment longer than seven months? If my husband hasn’t been gone for the birth of a child? If he hasn’t been in combat and hasn’t come back with any visible or invisible wounds of war?
What right did I have to feel tired? To feel sad? To hate the sound of my children crying at night for the missing of their Daddy?
Maybe we didn’t serve as well or as hard. Maybe our story isn’t as valuable or important.
I listened to the stories on this retreat and the voices of these women and the commonality between us wasn’t the extremes of our stories or the degree to which we had become martyrs to the cause of American’s wars. The commonality between us was our strength and our resilience. We were not compared to one another. We were valued.
One of my new friends is the wife of a wounded warrior. Several support husbands who have PTSD. Several of us have parented multiple children through multiple deployments. A couple of women have children with special needs. Some of us have tackled health challenges against the backdrop of being in a military family. Some of us have done only one deployment. Some of us have done several. Some of us have husbands who have the front lines, scary, dangerous jobs. Some of us have husbands who support the guys with those jobs.
We all serve. We all struggle with the long lonely nights and the fears that jar us from our sleep.
We all have shown remarkable strength. We’ve all survived something. We all have more obstacles to face head on.
I think many of us felt like our stories were locked up. We felt like our voice had been taken away–by the comparison game or by ‘roles’ that we felt we HAD to uphold and play into. But, to a person, we all longed to be heard. We longed to know that it was ok to say what we needed to say. Without being judged or belittled or held up as other than or less.
We went to this retreat and we were heard and then a mirror was held up to each of us to show us the tremendous strength we’ve been exhibiting all along.
It was empowering. It was beautiful. It brought a freedom and a lightness to each of us that we hadn’t experienced in a long, long time.
If there was one thing I could change about the community of military spouses it would be this tendency to judge one another on some bogus merit badge system of martyrdom instead of jumping in to support one another right where we are.
We all have a story. We all need a voice. We are all steely strong and possess a resilience that is to be admired and marveled at.
This extends further than the milspouse community. As women, we need one another. All of us. Military or civilian. Mother or non-Mother. We could be sisters…. If we’d just spend more time supporting one another and holding up the mirror of strength than we did comparing and making one another feel that we have to be lined up in a pecking order and triaged before we can earn respect and honor.
What’s your story? Can I listen to your beautiful voice? I won’t compare your story to mine or any one else’s. I want to hear YOU. Tell me your story and let me hold the mirror and show you what a remarkable, incredible woman you are.
Because you are.