March 4, 2011

Finding Your Support Team ... and Your Sanity

Life as a military spouse has taught me many things ... some of these lessons are just as easily learned in everyday life, but like many things in military life these are learned faster, are rooted deeper and are shared readily with others because of the nature of our unpredictible nomadic lifestyle.

One very valuable lesson that I learned early on, and has recently been reinstilled as I navigate the uncharted adventures of motherhood, is the importance of finding and holding on to a support group.

Now many of us who live the military life may have a strong family and friends network and they have been our rock and stability as we partake of this journey, but even the most well-meaning family member can garner the wrath of a military spouse who has been seperated from her beloved servicemember by uttering one simple statement ... "I know what you're going through ..."

Personally, I've had family and friends utter this statement ... sometimes in support of a long seperateion, but most irritatingly in terms of their own seperation from a spouse.

Recently, I had a friend whose husband was sent away on a business trip for 10 days ... yes, fellow spouses, 10 day, and you know where I am going with this ...

I called her near the end of the business trip for some unrelated matter and listened to her bemoan the fact that her husband "has been gone for sooo looonnngggg!" I tried to be symphathetic and bite my tongue, but when she utter those words ... "Now, I know what you must go through ..." I couldn't hold my words any longer.

"Do you really know what I go through?" I asked. "Does your husband goes for weeks without a call, only sporatic emails here and there? Is he constantly being placed in harms way as strangers in another land want him dead for no other reason than that he is an American? Do you feel fear and hope course through you body when the phone rings and relief mixed with disappointment when you answer the phone? How often do you hug your children and wipe away their tears when they ask when their parent is going to come home or ask why Mommy/Daddy doesn't want to come to their birthday party, dance recital or school play?"

Now of course, as soon as the words were out of my mouth I was apologizing. Its wasn't my friend's fault. We had made this decision to live this life - it wasn't forced on us. But I knew that despite my momentary lapse in judgement that my family and friends were only tryng to support me, even if they would never understand the daily struggles.

As soon as I was off the phone I called another military spouse and cried as I told her what happened. She undertood ... truly ... she'd been there too. Its like trying to comfort a friend whose lost a child, you don't know how to help, but deperately want to be there for them ... and the reality is sometimes you can't be. They need someone who has truly been there, who has felt the pain, fear, confusion of their situation.

I was lucky that early in my military spouse "life" I had started to find that support group who would always be there for me, even if there couldn't be there for me.

KG, was a co-worker whose husband was deployed at the same time as mine and we bonded over journalism assignment, frustration of not knowing and love for our fur-babies. From there our friendship grew.

ABW and I met through our military life blogs and despite being at different point in our military lives, we still found a common bond.

Brit, was a new military spouse when I met her and was very much in need of some guidance when her husband deployed shortly after they were married. But as the deployment went on I saw her grow from a giggling teenager to a confident adult who show strength beyond her age when she recieved the call that her husband had been injured. Months later when our husband returned home and we prepared to say goodbye and head off in different directions, I knew that both of us had grown up a little bit in those 15 months. Shortly, our sadness of leaving each other was brightened by the fact that we both got pregnant at the same time and were able to share the joys (and pains) of pregnancy and motherhood despite being serveral states away from each other.

There are so many more ... the moms at the baby's weekly playgroup have developed a friendship and bond that I know will continue long after the Army and life seperate us. But the important thing is having people who understand what the hard times are like and who can comfort you. Its having people who can make you laugh in your darkest moments and who know when just being there for you is so much more important than having the right words.

Finding a group of people who "fit" you is very important no matter what you do ... military or "civilian" life. To have poeple there to pick you up when you fall, light the way on your dark days or just laugh at your "not-so-funny" jokes. As my mom always told me ... "You are who you hang with!" Well, Mom I must be a little bit crazy, a little bit crafty and a whole lot of happy!

Until our next cup of tea ...

3 Tea Party Guest:

Sue said...

I loved this post.
You know that I am the mom of two soldiers - our daughter Laurie and her husband Stephen. After 12 years of enlisted service, Laurie was just commissioned as a 1LT, and Stephen just became eligible for E-8. They have been married for 8+ years, and have been separated for nearly half of those. Ron and I have watched it all unfold - the happiness, the ache of separations (which is, I am sure, triple of the ache Ron and I feel), and the joy of having Kasey. Their little family has been separated by war, by Laurie's (and Stephen's)training, and various TDYs, etc. As Stephen returns soon from his deployment, Laurie prepares for hers after she completes her officer training. They chose Ron and I to be their family care care choice for Kasey - he is 6 this weekend and mommy and daddy can only attend his party by phone calls or emailed pictures.
But through it all, they are steadfast because they UNDERSTAND this is required of them. It's not easy, but they do. It's what they chose - and it's a good life, with many benefits.
But for those families who are not dual military, it must be a lot more difficult. But that you understood it - and CHOSE it as well, is such a testimony to the love you have in your marriage.
I am not a military spouse, no. But it does sometimes bother me when people tell me they understand what it's like. No they don't. They don't see the sheer joy on Kasey's face when they hug him when they return, or the fun he has when they are all together, and they don't feel the pain I SEE in the tears when he says good bye to them. Most of all, they don't understand what it's like to have so much of your heart in Iraq or Afghanistan. They have sympathy, but not understanding. They WANT to understand and we feel and appreciate their prayers and their heartfelt thoughts for our family, but understand is not something they can actually do. Please forgive the length of this comment. "Understand" is a very misunderstood word.
And so, my friend, I kind of live it, but I don't understand.
Hugs to you and George and Jamie,

Sue said...

And in all of those words, :( I failed to mention the wonderful, wonderful military families we have been blessed to know and love along the way. I have watched them and experienced them being part of Laurie's and Stephen's and Kasey's lives - knowing that they are life lines for them. Like your friend Brit, and yourself, friendships last regardless of the miles between the friends.
Such blessings, aren't they?

Meari said...

I can't begin to know how it is for you, however I do read your blogs and feel your struggles and joys. I feel like I know you. Thanks for sharing all that with your readers.