There is a battle going on in the home. Military spouses fight to keep families together and bills paid, to be strong for their Warriors and strong for their children. Some days it’s just about making it through the day.
Sometimes we want to be invisible. We don’t want people looking at us or judging us. But other times it feels like we could scream and nobody would even glance our way.
This piece is by one of our founders, Melissa Seligman, who also started Her War Her Voice. As a military spouse, she got sick of other military spouses being overlooked.
From the artist: “What do I wait for? I wait for morning, for light, for a break in the clouds, or the calm after the storm.
Without the night, the dark, the clouds, I cannot appreciate and sometimes do not see the calm.
When I wait it out, as I often have and sometimes for ages, I’m rewarded and have never been disappointed.” – Starlett
I am lucky. I am lucky because my Step-Dad killed himself when I was seventeen. I am fairly sure that some people will read my second sentence and automatically make the judgment that I have “issues.” After all, how could someone that has never been abused say they were lucky that a parent killed themselves? Well it is true, I have “issues” and have for almost fifteen years. However, I am lucky because I am alive. I am alive because he shot himself in the head on our back porch.
My “issues” are depression and anxiety. I have been depressed since I was fifteen. Notice I did not say I have “struggled with depression”, because I have not struggled with it since about two days after that shot in June of 1999. The summer between my junior and senior year of high school was supposed to be a memorable summer and it was, but not for the right reasons. But let me back up because that’s where the point of this really lies.
It’s dark, I do not remember the time, but it’s late at night or early in the morning and I am standing in my Mother’s kitchen holding a knife. I am fifteen years old. I am intelligent, a member of several groups at school, but I felt like a bother and a disappointment to my family. I was so sad. It was not a sad like crying. It was a deep down sadness that honestly felt like I had a blankness inside of me. I was alone. I knew if I cut my wrists (mind you, I knew the correct direction) that once I lost enough blood I could just lie there on the floor and smile and float away. I do not know how much time I stood there going back and forth about things in my head. I am sure it wasn’t all that long. I did not do it though. I did not want to “bother” my Mother with having to clean up another of my messes. So, I made just a little scratch to see how it would feel. It didn’t feel bad, I knew if I so chose it was an option.
Distractions came and went. Driver’s license, work, prom, and more school events. Then came that week in June. I was seventeen and spending it in my state’s capital. I had been chosen to represent my school in a weeklong program learning about the government and how it functions. Wednesday comes around and a girl finds me to verify what school I am from. She said her mother called and said my school had burned down. A good deal of practical jokes were going around so I informed her that was not funny. She insisted we find a television because it was on the news. I knew she was serious then. It was true my high school was burning and almost completely gone. There were fire trucks from all over our county trying to save any of it. My Step-Dad was on the ladder truck. Once again, let’s skip forward to Friday of that week. The week was almost over and my boyfriend would be picking me up in a few hours. I guess it was a good thing that my mother had agreed to that. Apparently, as I was meeting with our State Officials my Step-Dad was meeting my Mom. They were separated and he wanted to talk. I now know that within an hour he committed suicide. Right there on the back porch.
For a long time I felt guilty. I thought that because I did not want to kill myself anymore that somehow, he had taken that thought away from me. I had transferred that thought into his brain and he did it for me. People were saying it wasn’t my fault but secretly, on the inside, I thought if they only knew that it was. I had thoughts and somehow projected them onto him. What else could explain it? My Mom and he didn’t exactly get along and it was definitely not a secret that he and I did not get along. Shouldn’t he have been happy to separate?
It took me several years to realize that I did not cause it. It did not matter what I had thought. It actually wasn’t my fault. It took longer than that to even be able to talk about suicide in general. Yet even longer to be able to talk about my Step-Dad.
I have shared bits and parts of this, my story, with different people here and there. I have never shared the whole story with anyone. I have not included even half of it here, but the highlights of it are. I believe in awareness, so I have written this in hopes that reading it will make someone else a lucky one too.
For many that don’t know a war widow recently took her life…she fought a battle of trying to raise her children and move on with life without her soul mate…and that battle was just to much for her…people will judge her, call her selfish, and a bad mother…but really we have no idea what she was feeling, how the hopelessness of her life had consumed her. She was a person that had loved and lost. Her battle was to hard for her to do it alone…
I can from my experience share a bit because I did try to end my life…looking back at it, its still hard to feel the depth of pain and total darkness in my life. Its like having a cold vise around your heart, your body.Most people assume that I wasn’t thinking about my kids, my husband, my life..and that’s not true. I was thinking about them..in a small part of my brain I was but the pain was so horrible it felt like my entire body was falling down a pit and I couldn’t stop it…I would claw at the walls and still slip. I had dealt with so much(deployments, divorces, kids, death) so there wasn’t just 1 thing that drew me to that edge it was a lot of little things compounded on me and I just couldn’t handle it anymore…I just wanted to sleep..to forget the life, the world, the pain…people can judge me and that’s their business they have never walked a mile in my shoes, they’ve never dealt with what I’ve dealt with…I tried to live life like it was normal..I didn’t show any outward signs, I didn’t do what a “typical” suicidal person does, I didn’t give my belongings away, I didn’t cut off friends, I didn’t do any of that..I just stopped caring..I just wanted the pain to stop.
I swallowed a bottle of pain meds, I think it was flexerall, I went into the living room, curled up on the couch and started to sleep but then a small piece of my brain screamed at me and reminded me I have a family, I have kids that need me…and I did reach out and had a friend call 911…I remember my house being full of EMT’s, fireman, and Mp’s and I remember them trying to talk to me and I remember trying to answer them but I couldn’t…the next memory I have was being in the ER having charcoal forced down my throat and a nurse attempting to put an IV into my hand…and then I was back asleep. I woke up to see my friend Amie being at the ER with me and I remember her fussing at me(gotta love Amie) and I remember being transported to another hospital and there I slept for about 24hrs trying to get the rest of the drugs out of my system..I spent a week in the hospital trying to regain myself…the person I had lost. She’s still not completely back but she’s getting there…people can say that they would know to get help and they would know they’d never try suicide but til you are in that position you can’t say what you would do…I know I can’t ever judge a person that has committed suicide…because I’ve been there in their spot, I’ve felt hopeless and cold…
But I kept busy and I got involved – I bowled (yep, that is right) every week in a league on the base with many other spouses – some weeks my kiddo came with me. But for the most part I never missed a week. It was great fun and knocking pins down when you feel like falling over yourself helped a little. I also had a great friend I call her my sanity keeper live with me for this last deployment. I am not sure I would have made it through without her. Also my kiddo – Lauren was 4-5 this last deployment and knowing that I had to get up everyday no matter what because she was counting on me helped too. But really talking and reading blogs with HWHV helped the most – sometimes they made me cry and most of the time they still do – but I am in love with my husband and yeah things are not great right now – but we will get there. No matter what happens I am keeping the hope for the both of us – because somedays that is all I have is the hope of things getting better.
Somedays I have a little more – a glimpse of the man I married and the family that I fight to see everyday. We added every stressor that we could at the end of this last deployment, and honestly, it was mainly because we are sick of waiting for our lives to start. And that sad part is that now we have to go back and make sure that we all feel like we have a part in this new family life. Every day is still a war – it is just a war with friendly fire coming from the people that I love. We have all lost so much and I fight for our family so that we will no lose anymore. I hope that this helps someone realize that the fight is still worth it. It may be hard and you may not see a light at the end of that tunnel yet – but I assure you it is there and I will continue to fight until I see it.
Our soldiers take an oath, we take a vow. The combination of those two events create an Army family. You are bound to each other and to the Army, for better or for worse. When the times are good, we are all smiles. We are loving our soldier and making the best of this life. But when the times get bad, well, they can get pretty bad. We all go through rough spots, times when everything seems to be wrong. The kids, the money, the work schedule, the amount of time with or without your spouse – it all takes a toll. It’s not just one thing that pushes us to the bottom, it’s the additive weight of many things. Sometimes it just gets to be too much to carry.
This is when it’s time to share the load.
This is the time when our eyes must be open – to those looking for help, to those offering help.
When you are in need of help – ASK. There is no weakness in asking for help. There is amazing strength to be found in this sisterhood. Sometimes you are helping to hold someone else up, sometimes you are relying on the strength of others to hold you up. Together we are stronger.
When you hear or see a cry for help – RESPOND. This response may be as simple as a smile, a kind word, a loving deed. This response may be in a moment of crisis, when cool heads prevail, when our mama-bear instinct kicks in. Do not let this moment pass. Our sisters need us, and we need them. Together we are strong.
Together we can beat the tragedies, together we can share the joys.
Together. You are not alone. Ever. All you need to do is reach out, share, call for us – and we, your Army Sisters, will be there. Next to you, ready to hold you up. Together.
The words were there all along.
I kept them chained, my back turned, ears covered, eyes shut tight.
Then hit my stride, began to breathe…let down my guard.
They were waiting, simmering there in the dark
to seize the day and forge the crack in my defense.
Striking furiously, without mercy
they laid me broken, bleeding, prostrate, screaming,
whimpering in anguish and despair.
“I cannot do this anymore.”
I struggled not to hear, to block them out, to flee;
they were relentless, determined to be reckoned,
delighting in their voice; bathing over me with their poison.
“You cannot do this. You have failed.”
Echoing, repeating, a mesmerizing cadence sung
in perfect rhythm with my bounding heart
were seen, and heard, and tasted…felt.
The words have left their mark.
Still clinging to my last reserve I hear
familiar voices pleading through the din.
Four tiny, trusting eyes, my one true love,
my friend…all beckon;
“Stay with me…You have a choice.”
Hearkening to the hopeful voice I choose to stand
and greet the light…however dim.
To rise and dress the wound, replace their chains…and start again.
To live the story to its end.
There’s more beyond the dark.
“God, If you have anything planned for my life, you’ll save me,” I said with a gun pointed to my head on a cold November night in 1998.
I would like to share just a part of my testimony in hopes that someone, even just one person, will be touched and would know that everything shapes us.
I had graduated high school the past spring and I was ready for everything that life threw my way. I wanted to join the Army but I was 17 and my parents wouldn’t sign. I wanted to go to college to work in social services but we couldn’t afford it and I had no idea what scholarships or grants were. Life as I knew it would consist of me being a wife and a mother in this small town with no opportunities. I wanted so badly to go somewhere and do something big; change the world, make a difference. But, how could I be so worthy? Where was my chance at life? How was I ever going to live and be a part of the American Dream?
So here I am…I had recently started beauty college and was paying out of pocket. Then, I lost my job which ended up with me being a beauty school dropout. Drifting in to depression and feeling so worthless, I couldn’t see any light or direction for my life. Late one night, I was sitting it a 1940’s Victorian home, sitting by the fireplace and helping my boyfriend take care of an elderly man. The house is so cold and the emptiness is engulfing me. I picked up the phone to call my mom but someone was on the phone. I eaves drop just long enough to see who was on the phone. I hear my boyfriend talking to his cousin, who was very controlling of us both. She is telling him to drop me because I am a “ball and chain” taking up his time and holding him back. When in fact, it was completely opposite; I had moved from my parent’s home and in with him to be closer to my beauty school and also because he wanted us to get married. I was so unsure for the longest time but this is what was supposed to happen, right? Graduate high school, get married, have kids… that was life for those who didn’t have a way out of this small town.
I was fed up. I was heartbroken and didn’t have a dime to my name. I had no idea where I would go. I heard him agreeing with her and laughing at me. I have always been the dedicated type. I would give and do anything for anybody so why doesn’t he want me?
There were so many things going through my head and those thoughts were turning me farther away from reality. I remember a gun in the first bedroom closet, a Beretta M9, to be exact. I walked in there, took the gun off the top shelf, looked to see if the chambers were loaded… they were. Scared and shaken, I pointed it to my head right above the ear and said, “God, if you have anything planned for me, you’ll save me.” At that time, the door swung open, I saw a bright light of what seemed to be a million angels flooding in at once. I thought I had died! I did it and I’m out of my misery! As I was falling to the floor, I hear my boyfriend’s voice. He grabbed the gun and started yelling. I survived that night. I didn’t pull the trigger but I was in shock. God had a plan…
That plan has led me to be an Army Spouse, proud to be Family Strong. I am to lead other spouses, to be resourceful. Whether it is to help or just to lend an ear, I am Army Strong! Spouses have to be resilient and children have to be when they are part of the Army. It’s really important to be readily prepared and educated.
When my husband deployed last August I wondered how I would take care of our three children, ages four, six and nine, by myself. I worried about his safety and how I was going to stay behind, in a new place, three children. I became the Family Readiness Group Leader 3 months prior with no deployment experience and began to volunteer at Army Community Service.
My number one word during deployment was resiliency.
I had only been at Fort Riley for one and a half years and it’s opened my eyes to the military. The academy training, especially the ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) course, has helped me communicate better with my family.
You can work ASIST into everyday life to make situations a little easier. Everyone should be trained in ASIST because you never know when you are going to need it and it can be applied to other life events as well. Being able to share stories during the suicide prevention training was also a form of healing. It helps you prepare for whatever may happen in life because you share the stories and learn how to help others.
A year ago, I used the training to confront a mother who was being rude to my oldest daughter just to find that the problem wasn’t my daughter. The problem was deeper, this mother who was so depressed and was going through a deployment as well.
My hope is to bring the course to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, where I currently reside, to help the spouses learn how to be more resilient when they go through a separation due to a deployment or even TDY. It’s a really good feeling to know that you can be a resource to find confidence within others and yourself to be more resilient. I am very grateful to be a part of those people who designed and implemented the training and took the time to think about the spouses, about us. And a special Thanks to COL Kevin Brown for sharing “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell. Mr. Gladwell states in his book that “connectors are individuals who have ties in many different realms and act as conduits between them, helping to engender connections, relationships, and “cross-fertilization” that otherwise might not have ever occurred.” That is what RSA is, a connector for spouses.