I am not going to say that I am a profoundly emotionally deep person, because g-d knows I have my absolutely shallow moments, but I wanted to share what I’ve been pondering for the past four months.
In past years, I have written a number of published letters to the editor expounding on why civilians should be grateful for the sacrifices servicemembers and their families make and have made on a day to day basis for over a decade of war. But lately, I have found myself profoundly grateful for the opportunity I have had to share those sacrifices, because they have taught me a great deal about being grateful for what I have and finding peace amidst the noise.
I wake up most mornings profoundly grateful that my husband is safe, even if I don’t hear from him as much now that he is back on the ship. I am grateful that I won the husband lottery and found someone who is so good in the core of his being and who works so hard to take care of the people around him. I am perpetually awed by his capacity for sacrifice on others behalves.
I am grateful that with a decade of marriage under our belts, we have managed to grow together through all the separations and deployments, instead of apart. I am grateful to see this in many of my military friends’ marriages as well, particularly as so many of my civilian friends marriages have recently fallen apart. It took me a while to see how blessed I truly am. Last year, I was struck by how innocent many of civilian friends weddings seemed. I remember there being a distinct seriousness, at least in my mind, over my own wedding. We got married shortly before a deployment, so to me making that commitment was incredibly serious business to me. I felt the change my life course was going to take, even if I couldn’t quantify it at the time. I am grateful to our service members for providing the security blanket that allows our citizens to think about nothing more on their wedding days than of a perfect future unfolding for them. It is a beautiful and fascinating, if emotionally overwhelming, experience.
I am extremely grateful for the broad diversity of friends that I have made as a military spouse. I don’t think I could have collected a more eclectic group if I had set out with that purpose in mind. I am grateful they are true friends, the kind of people I can call or text in the middle of the night and they don’t begrudge me needing the help. Whatever I have achieved and will achieve is due in part to their friendship and support. They have taught me how to step back and gain perspective when confronting life’s inevitable difficulties and helped me to pick myself up when I have fallen and do fall down.
I am profoundly grateful for bittersweet moments as well. It’s never easy to lose someone we care about. Nor is it easy to watch friends adapt to new ways of living as a result of being wounded. I’ve learned the whole family is wounded and has to adapt when these losses occur. I’ve also learned a profound gratitude for each day and all that it brings me and the resiliency I have to address life’s little difficulties. This is in part due to my wounded friends and their families perennially positive attitudes through what I find to be unfathomable circumstances. They are amazing. They find solutions to problems I cannot comprehend and walk calmly and purposefully toward the uncertainty the future holds. I am grateful that I have people in my life who remind me how truly precious each day and each life is. I am grateful to families who have made the ultimate sacrifice of a loved one and find the strength, courage, and love to bring goodness out of the darkness these sacrifices require.
I hope that as Memorial Day approaches, we can all find the capacity to be a little more grateful, more loving, more compassionate, and more kind in our daily actions. I won’t be perfect at this and neither will anyone else, but I feel that it is the best way we can honor, each and every day, those who offer so much of themselves for all of us.
Four Years ago, a group of women met on the internet, got together, and started this nifty little blog. LeftFace has been a home to many over the years, and we all truly love this space & what it has done for others!
With that said, it’s time for some clean-up. LF is in desperate need of a facelift, as well as some house cleaning. We have shut down things temporarily & things may get wonky for a little bit! So bear with us & make sure you check back frequently over the next few days so see the new look!
Happy Birthday, LeftFace!
This week, we’ve seen a lot of attention paid to the issue of suicide in military families. An article on NBC from Bill Briggs, quoting my friend Kristy Kaufmann, and discussing the very real issues we are facing was met with a frankly perplexing SpouseBuzz piece. That piece was brilliantly refuted by Military Families Count (a new site set up by an MSOY candidate, whose platform and expertise are in the mental health field) and since this is the focus of my schooling and I am currently coordinating a suicide awareness seminar on my post, I felt I needed to say something too.
The idea that because a military spouse or family member is an anchor ( or in my parlance the linchpin) of a family around which the rest of the family revolves and that keeps the family firmly rooted, means that spouse or family member won’t crack is, at least to me, ridiculous. I’d laugh if it wasn’t so scary, so important. Our family members are stretched thin after all these years of war, multiple deployments and the stress and strain. Yeah, we keep hearing “pull up your big girl panties and quit whining” – well in many of the men and women I talk to – the elastic is around their necks! You can only hold up/hold on for so long.
What I worry about even more is how this “anchor” perception makes a spouse who is in the situation of having a crisis, who is stressed to that breaking point, feel about their situation. Adding another layer of responsibility, another layer of guilt at not being able to bear up, keep that lip stiff… adding that weight is unhealthy.
The idea that the approaching storm (or as Sheila Casey said “the tip of the iceberg”) is a “theory” – is frankly blindly ignoring what we have been hearing and seeing for years. No, I cannot give you numbers. That’s because we keep being told that DoD can’t keep track of our population’s suicide attempts or deaths by suicide – and the excuses I have heard range from privacy issues to being told that DoD doesn’t control military families in the same way they do the service member. There are many ways this could be done… but I understand that trying to get them to change this is a longterm project. BUT – just because we don’t have numbers doesn’t mean that the stories we keep hearing aren’t true. That kid who killed himself or that spouse who tried to commit suicide – because they aren’t in a database doesn’t mean that he isn’t dead, or that she doesn’t need help.
As Alisha said in her piece – let’s stop being Ostriches. Let’s start with this. Let’s admit that there IS a problem. Let’s admit that our families are stressed. Let’s admit that there isn’t enough mental health support or treatment available FOR family members (and in many places, not enough for service members either). Let’s admit that even with all the examples from senior officers and lots of pamphlets telling us that asking for help means strength – that there is still a stigma with seeking help. Let’s admit that even when we ask for help, we can get treated badly by the unit or the command. Let’s admit that we NEED help.
Yes, I will agree with Spouse Buzz that we are strong, that we help each other. But that’s not enough! Talking to your friend Joyce (when she might be going through her own crisis) can either help, or can exacerbate it – misery doesn’t love company and sitting together and falling down the drain with another person – isn’t healthy for either of you! The advice to contact Military OneSource or contact Tricare again? Really? Those avenues are so over stretched that it is often hit or miss if you can actually speak to someone. And just because you get an answer, doesn’t mean it is the right answer for YOU! There are wonderful groups to help out there. We need to make sure that when a hand goes out – there is a trained hand there to hold onto.
Here are some sites. And if you have a place to go to, and want to share it, please do so in the comments (either here or on Facebook) We will add them to our list, which will be a permanent part of Left Face.
Give an Hour http://www.giveanhour.org/
Jason Foundation http://jasonfoundation.com/
THIS is the national suicide prevention directory – organized by state. http://www.themereproject.org/nspd1.html
Veterans crisis line/Red Cross/USO; this is NOT just for servicemembers and vets, families are welcome http://veteranscrisisline.net/
Earlier this week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the 1994 ban on women serving in combat positions! Yay! Right after that many
military spouses and some service members crazy wingnuts began clutching their pearls and crying foul for some of the most idiotic reasons I have ever heard, such as:
1) “Women won’t be able to keep clean in the field without a shower.” To this, almost every female scientist, certainly every one that has done an 8-12 week field camp without a shower, laughed hysterically. That’s right, we civilian scientists routinely go without showering for long periods of time in the field and we don’t find ourselves to be stronger than female service members, so this is a non-issue.
2) Related to #1 above, “What about getting your period in the field.” As stated above, you just deal. I have had to backpack my blood soaked tampons with me through the Alaskan Wilderness and I am still alive to tell the tale. This is a non-issue.
3) “Men and women will have to do their business together….eeewww.” As stated above, been there, done that at a religious school where women and men being naked together was a serious deal. We were on a playa with no bushes or topography for miles, I asked the guys to turn around for a sec so I could do my thing, there in the dirt. Was no problem, so let’s move on.
4) “Women are not as strong as men.” Correction, some women are not as strong as men and those women won’t make it through the training to get into the toughest jobs, making this a non-issue. But I know you think women are weak creatures, so I will refer you to a woman I work with now, who while PREGNANT was doing field work with me on a volcano in Costa Rica. She could out hike even the men in our group (who were all in great shape themselves), leaving them panting along the trail. So if a pregnant woman can lap a man with a full pack of gear on the side of a volcano, I am pretty sure we can have faith in our sisters in arms.
5) Which brings us to: OMG, Pregnancy: “The women will just get pregnant to get out of deployment, which will weaken mission readiness and…” Maybe it is just because my husband has been in the service for eternity and a half, in two different branches, maybe it’s because I have been a milspouse for a long time now, but I find this one hard to believe. I have only ever met one woman who got pregnant before a deployment. My husband has met 2, in his whole career both officer and enlisted. In neither of the cases mentioned was it a nefarious plot to destroy unit readiness and secure an easy job. Believe it or not most women who want to be in the military, just like most women who want to be scientists or engineers, choose their jobs because they love their jobs…LOVE THEM. It is what they are passionate about and what they dream about. They want to do their job and they want to be the best at it, for the same reasons men do. The women who are going to pursue the training and be successful at it and the combat jobs it qualifies them for are fierce women who are going after their jobs because they love them. They are not the kind of people who are going to get pregnant to get out of deployment, assuming those people actually exist (I haven’t ever observed them and neither has my service member). So get a grip.
And honestly, it’s called an IUD, Depo, or any of the hundred other birth control items you can use that make sure you don’t even have a period, let alone that you are able to get pregnant.
6) Oh, let’s not forget: Protection. According to some military spouses, women have an innate desire to protect women. This will weaken mission readiness because they will be more worried about their female comrades being blown to bits. This seems like arm chair quarterbacking to me. Believe it or not, when you are getting shot at (spoiler alert I have been), you are not thinking. Your body and brain are completely tied up with how you are responding to the danger. Get low. Get to a “safer” position. Deal with the threat. Is everyone okay? You aren’t thinking about a penis or vagina at all.
Plus women have been in combat for a while now. Grown men actually have the capability of treating all of their compatriots as equals, stop selling them short by saying they don’t.
7) Finally: SEX. Rather than worrying about whether these women are going to get their claws into your infantryman, how about we address RAPE? It is entirely possible that women in these positions may be raped by rapists who are in the military. Should this bar them from these positions? Only if you think rapists belong anywhere in the military. I don’t. But I do think that if 30% of all senior officer firings are due to sexual misconduct issues, including RAPE, then we need to open up jobs that will allow women to get into senior leadership positions where they can change the culture. Because it is better for male and female rape victims in the military if sexual misconduct, including rape, is seen for what it is and stopped. We have observed these shifts in culture begin to take hold as women moved up though the power structures in many different communities.
Ladies and gentlemen, let go of your pearls. I assure you that just as people of color and gays were and are integrated into the military, the flag still flies high over the Nation today. After all, women have been in combat for a long time and now they are finally going to get recognition for the things they’ve been already doing. It’s not the end of the world. It’s a good thing.
This will actually probably improve the military, because women who wouldn’t join an organization that banned them from full participation will probably join now. God knows, I told the recruiter that called me that I wouldn’t join an organization that treated me as a second class citizen and the military’s policies toward women gave me pause about dating my husband. I was worried he was a misogynist prick like the men and women who are against hiring the best person regardless of gender for the job. Thankfully, he turned out to be otherwise.
Oh and just remember, we’re not breaking new ground here: Australia, Canada, Ceylon, Israel, New Zealand, and Norway all allow women in combat. And they’re still around too. I think we will be okay.
Our number has finally come up again, which means we’re headed for another deployment. My milfolk friends all understand what this means for us. I will pull away to a degree to focus on my spouse more in an effort to drink in what time we have together. These moments are precious and will be a relationship reserve I draw from while my spouse is gone. It also means that there will be times when I get stressed out and need their support more than ever. Military spouses get the tidal ebb and flow of friendships with milfolk, because we have all lived it.
My civilian friends have had a harder time with the changes in me and my family as we prepare for deployment. I hope that maybe this post will help clarify some of those changes and help them understand where I am coming from as we move toward him leaving. So, my dear friends, this is what I would like to say:
1) Every deployment is different, but none of them are a cake walk. Sure, my spouse is not going to be running convoys in Afghanistan, but that does not mean that it’s just like having my spouse at home. So please don’t assume that just because my spouse isn’t a member of Seal Team 6, we’re on easy street. And if you do feel the need to make that assumption, please don’t say it. Every service member serves whether it’s front-line combat or not.
During deployment communication, contrary to the Apple Facetime Commercial, will not be a click away. Internet is unreliable and often crappy. It’s difficult to Skype or Facetime someone when the connection is so terrible you get garbled audio and no video. Email is also semi-reliable and sometimes there are communications black-outs. Military spouses may go weeks or more (ask a submariner’s wife about communication issues- Oi!) without contact with their partner.
Communication issues up the stress level of the relationship and can up even the most seasoned spouses’ anxiety for their service member’s safety. So while I am glad he isn’t doing some of the jobs my friends spouses have, deployment still sucks. Please don’t minimize an experience you haven’t had and don’t understand. It will make it harder for me to talk to you about what I feel later and that is isolating.
2) Ebb and flow in friendships is just part of military life. I told you up front I wouldn’t be as available for the next few months because he was getting these orders and I wanted to focus on my marriage a bit more ahead of deployment. This doesn’t mean you’re not important to me. You are. My family has to come first. I don’t want, if -god forbid- the worst should happen, to regret not spending more time with him. But he’ll be gone soon and then if you want, we can focus on you.
3) Military families are incredibly self-reliant, perhaps even to a fault. As a result, I am sometimes bad at asking for help when I need it. I’ve gotten so used to trying to function with one-too-many plates spinning that sometime I don’t realize when I am not doing a great job at it. Please don’t ask me “do I need help?” I am way too overwhelmed to spend the time analyzing all the things I need and what I could reasonably hand off to someone. It’s much better for you and for me if you offer specific help you’re comfortable with. If you ask could I use help with shoveling the driveway, I know it’s something you feel comfortable offering and whether or not it’s something I could use help with. Specific offers of help are a huge help in and of themselves. FYI, offering a bottle of wine and movie time with you is always a win in my book. Sometimes the hardest thing for me to do is to take a night off from keeping it all together.
4) No, I cannot tell you when he is leaving, where exactly he is, or when exactly he will be home. Operational security demands that even if I have more information I do not share it. This doesn’t mean I don’t trust you. The truth is all dates and locations change at least once, so I don’t take them too seriously until things actually happen.
5) I get that the whole deployment thing is a giant elephant in the room. You feel like you have to mention it, but you don’t know what to say. That’s honest. I get it. Once, not too terribly long ago, I didn’t know what to say either. You don’t have to say anything. Just be the same awesome friend you’ve always been and include me in all the reindeer shenanigans we’ve always done. That’s really enough for me. And if I need to talk and bring it up, please be there to listen. I know you can’t fix it and sometimes I will need to vent, just like you need to vent about your crazy boss or issues with your in-laws. Talking is how we cope with the stressors in our lives, even if they are different stressors.
This past week my inbox has exploded with email from every company with whom I have ever done online business or to whom I have given my email address. The barrage is constant and overpowering…save here, buy this, only X hours left. This coupled with the incessant TV commercials about Black Friday deals has made me ill and pretty peevish.
For me, the holidays are always a bittersweet time. I enjoy the opportunity to spend time with the wonderful family and friends I have been so blessed to have in my life. I suffer with the all too real knowledge of how many people are not as blessed as I am and who are largely forgotten this holiday season (often on top of being forgotten the rest of the year).
My last Christmas before my parents divorced is emblazoned on my memory. I had waited up, laying as still as possible in my bed, listening for Santa. I reasoned that since we had no chimney, he must have to use the front door. I should hear a telltale creaking sound from it’s rusty hinges. At some point I fell asleep and when I rose there was a beautiful pink huffy next to the tree for me. Oh, how I had dreamed of that bicycle! It was the best Christmas ever, I thought, as the carpet was rapidly covered by scraps of colorful paper.
The following year, Christmas didn’t come, at least not like that. The day wasn’t marked with oodles of presents but by cookies my grandmother made so that we would have something on this special day. Cookies in myriad colors and shapes were laid out over every counter in the kitchen to be accompanied by a Turkey dinner she also made and all the soda pop we could drink. It was a wonderful Christmas and yet, I was sad that Santa had forgotten us. Was I that bad? I brushed it off and enjoyed the holidays until I returned to school and the teacher made us go around the room and tell the class about our best present. I lied. The kids called me out on it and I was humiliated in front of the whole class for being poor.
Two years later, our circumstances had only deteriorated. My mother announced there would be no Christmas this year. Oh, the tree would go up, but there would be no Christmas feast. It was simply too extravagant for our budget. Somehow the feast had made the lack of toys, colored paper, and stocking stuffers bearable. The days ’til Christmas ticked by and I was hit by a double whammy. My birthday, which landed right before Christmas would also be affected by budget cuts. There would be no birthday party this year, no cake, no present. I finally understood how far down the ladder we had fallen. I tried to put on my brave face for my younger sister who was too little to understand what was going on. Our church had a holiday program four nights before my birthday and my mom took us hoping it would be enough to make up for what she felt we were missing. I don’t remember it. What I remember is coming home exhausted, trying to choke back my sorrow and sense of injustice.
As we rounded the corner in the stairwell to reach our door, I spied a huge bright red box encased in ribbon with a card addressed to my family. My mother is disabled and couldn’t lift the box and my sister was too small to help, so I dragged the box through the front door and we perched around it in our cramped living room, totally stunned. I carefully undid the wrapping paper, making sure not to tear it and opened the box. Inside was all the fixings for a holiday feast including a turkey and everything we would need to make cookies. Also inside were six smaller wrapped boxes- two each for myself and my sister for Christmas, one for my mother, and one for my birthday- and a plate of iced heart-shaped cookies with a note indicating they were for my birthday. As it near midnight, and therefore almost my birthday, my mother let me open the birthday gift. It was a beautiful gold necklace with my first initial on it (I wore it everywhere, even long after the gold plating had worn off). I was shocked and overwhelmed. Who would do this? Who had known? It was family policy to never discuss our situation, so I couldn’t imagine how anyone knew this was just what we needed.
Five days later, we opened the rest of our presents. I don’t remember what my mom was given. My sister and I both got exceptionally well-made, warm winter coats, which were sorely needed. We each got a board game as well. Mine was a career game for girls. We stuffed ourselves with Turkey and cookies and played together as a family. It was the best Christmas I have ever had.
Financially, things didn’t really improve for me until after I got married. As a result, I guess I have never developed a passion for the holiday spirit of buying just the right gift for each and every person. Maybe I’ve just come to realize that as much as I loved that Huffy, which was exactly the gift I wanted, it was not the best gift I’ve ever received. A feast, a winter coat and a game will always take that prize, not because it meant the difference between getting gifts and not, but because someone took the time to think of two little girls who felt alone and left out. They cared enough to not only buy us each warm coats we needed and toys for us to enjoy, but to also provide our Christmas dinner that in my mind was the benchmark for whether or not we would be okay. For years I fantasized about our guardian angels that Christmas. Were they a young family with kids? Friends of ours? People from church? Or was it really just a miraculous occurrence? I’ll never know. But the lesson they taught me so many years ago is emblazoned on my heart forever.
This holiday season isn’t about whether you get the best deals, or whether or not kids have toys to play with, no matter what the incessant media barrage says. The perfect toy won’t be emblazoned on your child’s memory for all eternity. Family and community, these are the things that matter.
That first holiday season after my husband I married, was the first time I could pay forward the Christmas someone graciously gave me all those years ago. Every year, we find a needy family in our community and give them Christmas. Some years it’s been smaller than others. Some years when we PCSed during the holidays, it’s meant simply donating to Toys for Tots or adopting an Angel from the Angel Tree. But every year, when I wake up to a tree with no presents under it, I think about the family who is having their Christmas miracle this year and it brings me more peace and joy than all the things we could possibly buy with the money we spent. I hope that whomever my guardian angels were so many years ago, they know what a profound and lasting impact they made on my life. It’s a tradition we hope to continue as we start a family, so that our children can be blessed with the spirit of charity that is the real reason for this season.