written word

Kathy

I have been a military spouse for a little over 15 years. We were active duty for the majority of the time. Just in the past three years, we have been with the National Guard.

I have been with my spouse through an active duty deployment (Iraq) and I am currently three months into our second deployment (Afghanistan) with a National Guard unit.

This is my story…

I am a proud Military Spouse. That is what I tell everyone. There are days, that I am extremely proud of who I am. Who WE are. What WE stand for. WE are an exceptional group of individuals. Not too many people can say this about themselves. We support some of THE MOST important people in the world. America’s Hero’s.

But, there are those times that I don’t feel so proud. That I do not feel like I have it in me any more. Times that I am tired and worn down. Times that I don’t want to be strong, put on my game face and “rise to the occassion” one more time.

There are times, I feel like everything and everyone is working against me. The boss at work, the kids, the dishwasher filled with clean dishes. Times that I feel like that there is no hope and no one out there cares or understands what I am going through. Times that it feels like my soul has been sucked out of me, there is a heavy weight on my chest and I just can not breathe anymore.

These are the feelings of deployment and they are extremely difficult feelings for anyone to have to deal with when their spouse is deployed.

My husband is my best friend. He is always there for me to talk to. When I lose this constant in my life, this “rock”, it is very hard for me to find an individual I can confide in.

During our first deployment, we were active duty stationed in Germany. It was the beginning of the war in Iraq. Deployment was new to many of the military people we were with. It was exciting for our guys to get to go off and do what they were trained to do. It was exciting for the spouses to stay back and do all we could to support them.

In Germany, I found I had a great group of spouses around me. Officers wives and enlisted wives, we were all one. I made it a point to surround myself with other spouses who were going through the same thing I was going through.

We got together, we talked about what bothered us, we leaned on each other for support. We kept ourselves busy. We cried together, laughed together, got bitterly angry together and we all survived the year. I emerged from that year with some very good friends. Sisters, if you will.

Sisters who are now miles away from me but, who are there for me if I need them. Sisters who would drop everything to come to me if I needed them to, no questions asked. Sister that I can call at the drop of a hat and talk to if I need to get something off my chest. And they listen. They listen because they have been there. They listen because they will be there, again one day. They listen because I would do the same for them.

After all, isn’t this what being a military spouse is all about? Being there for one another?

This time around my husband is deployed with a National Guard unit so, the spouse situation is very different for me. I do not know one military spouse associated with this deployed. I do not have that crutch to lean on this time. And, it is ok.

So, what am I doing about these feelings? The same feelings we all know too well that surface the same way they always do during a deployment?

I am learning to ask for help. Which is very hard for a seasoned, independent military spouse like myself. But let me tell you, it feels great to take people up on their offers to hel

If your day feels too overwhelming and you need help, ask for it. Turn to all of those people in your life who are constantly asking “what can I do for you” and ask them to help run an errand, watch your kids, make a meal, cut the lawn.

Whatever it takes to make your day a bit easier and less stressful, ask for it.

It may be hard for you to do at first. It was for me. I am of the school that “I don’t need help, I can do this all by myself”. But, once you ask, you will find that they are happy to help in any way that they can. Asking for help is worth it.

I am learning to give myself some “me” time. Ignore the laundry, the dishes, the cleaning. It won’t be going anywhere and you can tackle it when you feel better, tomorrow.

I am learning that although one day might be a really crappy day for me emotionally, the next day will be better.

During these hard times, surround yourself with “helpers”. They can be spouses in your unit that are going through the deployment with you, your civilian neighbor who wants to lend a hand, your immediate family or an old friend who would be more than happy to lend an ear. These helpers will get you through it.

You may even find that if you open up to people, you will learn that they do care and that they do understand. So many of us have our guard up during this time, let it down, get to know people, you may be surprised. You may make a sister for life.

None of us should go unheard during these times. We are all here for each other. We are all experienced with these feelings. We have all been in this situation, some of us, more times than others. Even if we put up a good front, we have all been an emotional mess more than once during a deployment. Remember that. No one is perfect. We all feel the same.

You have to take it day by day, do not ignore your feelings. Take time to miss your spouse , to cry, to get angry and then wake up looking forward to tomorrow. Because by getting to tomorrow, you are one day closer to this being over and getting them back home and out of harms way!

We are the “silent ranks” and we should not be silent any longer! Please speak up, reach out, ask for help! Do not think that you are alone.

Kathy

written word

Karen

It’s the first day of the latest deployment. Number Four. I’m remembering the last three, and dreading every stage that lies ahead. Since he’s going to go to a base down south first for training, this first 2-3 month stage is a “half caf deployed” state. He’s close enough to make a phone call and still be only one hour away from the same time zone. The only danger comes from the snakes, scorpions and spiders at Ft. Polk – not an IED or a disgruntled local national.

After that will be the 12 months downrange. The 24/7 tension; the Blackberry that goes everywhere with me; care package packing; wondering what/where/how/when…

I’ve done this three other times with him, and once with our son. I know the stages, the initial loneliness, the need to fill up the day with “doing” or “going”. Then the nesting stage, the reluctance to leave the house, which can degenerate into refusal to get off the couch or get out of bed, staying in the same comfy clothes or sweat pants and his t-shirt, eating junk food and calling out for delivery pizza.

There’s a dark place there too, the one that is so easy to sink into. The sun doesn’t shine through those tightly closed drapes; it’s so so easy to not pick up the phone if it isn’t him; it’s so easy to not respond to emails, or not to go to a meeting or make an excuse to not have lunch with a friend.

It’s also easy to stick on a smile when it’s necessary, put on a brave face, give that “ I’m just fine” answer to concerned friends and family. It’s easier that way, easier to just deny to everyone else that you are hurting. Easier than admitting it hurts, easier than accepting that smothering sympathy, or answer the constant questions; easier to shove it all down and away; easier to deny the pain.

When a friend sent me the link to Jessica’s suicide note – and after we found out that she was not successful in committing suicide, I read it again, and again. I haven’t gone through the pain of rejection from my spouse, or been treated in the despicable way she was – but I’ve heard this before. The “here take a pill” attitude; the turning a blind eye to the drinking and substance abuse problems by the command; the lack of resources for military spouses.

Each of us hits a point, each of us of us has a limit of what we can handle, each of us has a line that we shouldn’t cross. I haven’t hit it yet, but like many of us, I’ve skirted that line, I’ve circled that point, and come very close to that limit. My friends pulled me out, their love and compassion, their unequivocal support was what kept me from diving into that deep pit during the second deployment, when we found out that their already 18 month deployment was going to be extended and eventually hit 22 months. They didn’t go away, they didn’t listen to me say “I’m fine, go away”.

During that time, I also tried using a counselor. I’m an advocate for counseling, talking it out with a “referee” helped us with family counseling with our teenage son. This counselor, well meaning and trying oh so hard, did nothing for me, other than make me very angry. Angry that I spent my time translating Army for him; angry that he compared his wife’s 3 week trip to the ongoing deployment; angry that his answer for my pain and rage was “you need to talk to your husband more” – when we were grateful for a once a week, half hour phone call. But he did give me a vent, did help me talk to someone who was disconnected (too much) which I needed.

A couple of weeks ago a friend “went dark”. She hid her Facebook page, her email simply said “I’ll be back after I work out something”, she refused to answer her phone. Coming after the Jessica matter, some of us refused to listen. We called, we texted her and told her that until we actually were acknowledged, we would keep it up. She got mad; that’s fine by me, she has to be alive to be mad.

I get angry when I hear directed to a spouse in despair “you knew what you were getting into” or “you volunteered” or “don’t let anyone on the outside see you in pain” or “suck it up” or “pull up your big girl panties”. That’s not helping, that’s not supporting that spouse. Trying to pretend we aren’t in pain, aren’t exhausted from all these years of deployments, is foolish. Worse yet, it’s dangerous. Internalizing our anger, internalizing the pain, internalizing the despair – this doesn’t help anyone deal with these real emotions.

Karen

011

The Words

011

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.

Serena

written word

Jennifer

“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?

Suicide Experience:

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.

Jennifer: RSA Testimony