Today’s post is the first in a new series I am doing called Letters to Myself. I was inspired to do this series, after listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert.
In episode 8 of season 2, she charges one of her students to write herself a letter, but to do it creatively in the voices of both her ancestors in the past and then another from her grandchildren in the future. This was a fascinating assignment to hear about and the letters the student ends up creating are truly beautiful. Magic Lessons are always a great podcast to listen to if you are looking for some creative coaching and inspiration.
So now, for me this series is all about getting some of the looping thoughts in my head out on to paper in a new way. For me that means writing myself some letters, after simply asking the question: If I could get a letter on this topic, what would I want it to say?Today's post is the letter I wish someone wrote me, on the day I became a military spouse. Click To Tweet
Dear Military Spouse,
First, you are in for some awesome photographic moments. Get a camera and learn to use it. Also, find those spouses around you who are amazing photographers and buy some of their time. They will give you the gift of taking your best memories and moments, and capturing them forever.
Next, there will be many days and moments in between those pictures that you will never feel prepared for.
This life is going to change you. It will do this by forcing you to learn flexibility with so much unexpected change in your life that you will eventually learn to get bored without it or scared to death of what may be coming next when your life starts to even look a little bit predictable.
It is going to be the beast you find yourself going round and round with.
On our best days we learn how to embrace it for the growth and beauty it can bring, and on our worst days—all of us curse it! If you find yourself curled up on your bed or the bathroom floor or hiding in the closet sobbing your guts out—well actually trust me dear—you will on more than one occasion and you just breathe because I promise, this moment is not the end. I know it will feel like it, but it is actually just another new beginning.
Next, and this is really important—military social life is pretty much like the rest of the outside world.
You are going to be pushed from every direction to identify as anything else but your own, true self.
If being your true self looks like being a working spouse with no kids, than military circles more often than not are going to make you feel like an outsider. This often is because establishing and keeping a career alongside an active duty military member is incredibly hard. More often than not, the odds feel against you because the demands for a spouse to be full-time caregiver and play an active, supportive role to the active-duty member make the typical stay-at-home mom/spouse life more convenient, if not the only option. For the few who manage to keep finding a job and building a career, lets just say that anytime you go against the mainstream current you tend to get noticed and you sometimes get pushback.
If being your true self looks like a spouse with no kids, but no viable career established yet either than you find yourself encouraged to be the volunteer addict with nothing but free time to give to everyone around you. You will find yourself having lots of fun being that person, but then struggle as you know its only one role you enjoy and it can feel intimidating to think about trying on some different ones—like a full-time job or gasp, joining the mama crowd and having a baby.
If being your true self, looks like being the stay-at-home mom and spouse, you are going to find yourself struggling with feeling like you have to justify and defend that choice just as much as you will also feel the same need when you go back to work. Basically you will feel like you can never win–if comparison is the name of the game.
No matter how similar or different, the pull to compare yourself and your family and your marriage and how you all handle military life to all the other friends and families doing it around you too is going to be like a vortex that sucks you in. That voice of comparison is going to scream at you to conform, to hide, to numb, to mask, to do anything but be different or stand out. When you feel that pull to hide and run, try your best to stop and remind yourself that cultivating qualities such as contentment, self-esteem, honesty, and gratitude are going to always serve you so much better than comparison, competition, or insecurity ever will. Any time you choose to be vulnerable and find more ways to be yourself, the more windows you will open for everyone around you to do the same too.
My next point goes hand in hand with gratitude and contentment.
If you are happy with where military life has you right now—whether it be the rank your spouse has, the job, the assignment, the location, whatever—you will find yourself encountering people who are miserably unhappy about the same exact thing.
All they will see is the negative and all they will want to do is have you share in that misery. These same people will often be drowning in homesickness for family or the last place they loved or felt comfortable.
You will find that when you and so many friends feel this way (trust me you will) that the first instinct will be to pick up and leave for weeks and months to spend time with family or friends just because the new place is too hard. You will do it, all of us do—but when you find yourself doing it, learn to ask yourself, “Are the reasons I am visiting and the length I am staying coincide at all with hiding or running?” If they do, change the date or length of your visit because running never brings you peace or contentment.
Choose instead to embrace where you are at and look for the treasures you can’t see when all you are doing is looking backwards for what you used to have or too far forward wishing already for what might be next.
Find the people who encourage you to look up, look out, find new places, try new things, find the positive, find reasons and experiences and people to be grateful for, make new memories, and make holidays feel like the best new tradition you ever thought to try. Don’t leave somewhere, even an assignment that you feel can only be described as crappy, without something worth looking back on and missing—even if it’s merely the people who got you through it.
This leads to my last point.
Military spouses have a way of bonding and forging friendships like few else I have ever seen. Click To Tweet
You are going to find friends that you find yourself pouring your guts out to over a glass of wine, and you only just met them the day before. You are going to find yourself becoming instafriends, as one of my friends quipped, with so many spouses because when you are assigned somewhere new the first place you start, is by finding the spouses Facebook page and asking friends for introductions to anyone they know in your new location. Those instafriends will be your lifeline to getting established in the new place. They were after all, new at one time too. Some of them will remain mere acquaintances; others will become even closer.
You will also find that as you continue to move that friendships ebb and flow like the tide. The ones you thought were so close in one place, may not hold out to be the same long distance. Some that you write off as not good for long distance though, once you see them again you realize little has changed and you can pick up right where you left off.
Rachel Starnes, another military spouse, could not have said it better when she wrote in her book War at Home,
Every one of these friendships, no matter how dear they are, no matter how essential they feel to making it through a particular posting, can also feel like pouring your heart into building an elaborate sand castle. You know, at the end of the day, that the odds are excellent that you will lose this beautiful thing. It’s not a reason not to build one—in fact, when they are at their best, friendships among military wives are so intimate and intense precisely because the tide is so reliable. We build fast and we take risks in how much we reveal and how deeply we trust, risks a normal friendship would take years to earn. While it’s still standing, what we have built is wonderfully strong.
And I would add to that, that you will find a few who last even beyond the tide.
A rare few will become your people. They will be with you for big events and small; they will be the ones checking on you when your spouse is deployed; they will be the ones who even after you move keep up like nothing has changed through texting, phone calls, voicemail, fb, skype, facetime, or mail; they are the ones that you will plan your holidays and vacations around because they aren’t just friends anymore—they are your family. These are the people that your grandparents who served tell you about as they refer to their own military family—the ones they spent their whole life making memories with too.
Finally, I just have to tell you, in case this all seems overwhelming, you are going to learn to love this life and this tribe more than you ever dreamed you would.
Know that on your best days you are going to take everything this life entails in stride and on your worst, in spite of it all, you are going to grow stronger.
It is a life built around service, sacrifice, honor, hard work, family, friends, loyalty, and the uncanny belief that no matter the hardship or unexpected challenge around the corner that somehow we will be better and stronger for it.
Always remember that no one chooses who they fall in love with, but when that person just so happens to be a military member–this life chooses you.
Yourself a Few Years Down the Road.
Join me next week for my next Letter to Myself: Dear Newborn Mama