Our soldiers carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Their burden is shared by us, the people who love them. The act of taking on this kind of stress is taxing. Our ability to live fully ourselves is more important than ever.
My husband, James, serves in the Army National Guard. For a few years, I was only beginning to learn what it was like to be a military spouse. It wasn’t our “full-time” thing (as if our life isn’t controlled by the Army full-time…), and since we didn’t live on a military base, I would describe myself as relatively disconnected from military families. 2018 was our first deployment, but we learned about it’s coming in 2017.
When conversations about the deployment began…
When James left for his three week training in the summer about eight months before they deployed, that’s when I began to struggle with coping with his impending deployment. A few months after that, I became connected through the Family Readiness Group (FRG) with other military spouses. Moreover, I began to pay attention for any opportunity to connect with other military family members. It wasn’t long before I had a multitude of opportunities to have conversations about the sacrifice of military families.
I learned very quickly of what I call the “knowingness” that exists between military families. Families know of the sacrifice, and they know deeply the challenges of separation. Similarly to most things in life, you can’t know what you don’t know. Talking to civilians who did not have an immediate family member in the service could not understand the full extent of what this sacrifice meant on a daily basis.
But here’s what’s interesting: as I began to describe my feelings and experience to both military families and others, people became uncomfortable.
It was as if people wanted to hear the optimism of being “strong” and “facing adversity,” but they either didn’t know how to or didn’t want to hear about my struggle. Why was this? Why did it create discomfort to talk about the deeper struggle of deployment as a military spouse? Why was it easier to say, “I can’t even imagine” than having a conversation about what it’s like to actually be struggling?
Why were others uncomfortable talking about the struggle?
The military signifies strength. It shows steadfast stamina and hard work. In order for the military to perform its duties, vulnerability of any emotion can be a risk. We can see where our culture gets the idea that military families are the strongest people in the room.
But in life, we have seasons where we don’t know our next step. We may have zero clue about what to do to move forward. We don’t have assurance or clarity, and instead we have fear. These are real and honest things we experience, and I want to come here and say it’s OK to struggle.
We live in a culture that praises sharing, but scrutinizes vulnerability that shows failure or struggle. Especially for today’s service members. So for military spouses, it would make complete sense that people (both military and civilian) will expect us to power through—steady. Share the story of sacrifice, but don’t share the hardship.
Where is the room for those of us who are struggling to be our fullest selves? Where is the space in conversation to talk about grief, loneliness, or discouragement?
Yes. Be your full and honest self.
Here’s a question I would ask myself at the time: Will it do any good for me to describe to my friend how I laid on my couch binging television and needed to hit pause because I was crying too hard? And here’s my answer in hindsight after a 13 month deployment and separation—yes.
Yes—it’s time for you to be your full and honest self, whatever that looks like. Each deployment is different. How each family member copes with said deployments will be different from the next. It’s time to give yourself permission to tell your story as it really is, struggle or not.
If you’re like me, you might have concerns about sharing too much, or “being” too much, or perhaps apologizing for sharing your truth. Again, in hindsight, when I stopped worrying about being “too much” and leaned in to my honest self, I began to see how much support I was gaining. I began to ask for what I needed. How many of us don’t ask for what we need for fear of being too vulnerable?
We are carrying a gigantic weight of the stress of a deployment at home, and in many cases (if not all), it requires us to ask for help. We deserve the opportunity to tell our truths, whatever that looks like.
So, Army wives (and Navy, and Marines, and Air Force, and Coast Guard…), it’s OK to struggle. In a time when we, too, are serving our nation, we can at least take the pressure off of ourselves, so that we don’t have to be the “strongest person” in the room at all times. You are not alone.
Written By: Newell Dickerman