“How do you do it?”
“I couldn’t handle the separations from my spouse like you do.”
“You must love getting free housing.”
“It must be wonderful marrying for the money.”
“Sacrifice? What sacrifices are you making? You aren’t the one serving and laying your life on the line!”
I’ve heard it all, not that I claim to speak for all military spouses and their experiences. Many have been around this life much longer than I have of course. Many of the wives of my acquaintance can definitely be described as “salty” at this point–they’ve been everywhere, seen it all, done it all, and now they’re tough and hardened by the experience. I am not that salty sailor’s wife (yet) and I haven’t done half the things my compatriots have. There are still many things though, that I still deal with that baffle my friends in the civilian world.
Recently, we had a scare in my household. A medical scare. The kind where I experienced my first ambulance ride and subsequent doctors visits and medical tests. I chose to deal with everything first and then tell my family and friends, mostly, after the fact. And then a family member asked me how I deal with it all–all the stress of a deployment while I raise a toddler thousands of miles away from most of my family and then to have this medical emergency occur in the middle. “How do you do it?”
Do you know I never stopped to ask myself that question? I do it because I have to. There isn’t another option, frankly. I succeed as a military spouse because the other option is failure and that simply cannot be allowed. The loneliness I feel without my husband (read: my best friend) is real and not fun at all. This military life is not often glamorous. (I’ll touch on the glamour of the military ball soon.) I very often feel overwhelmed and unsure and unequal to the task required of me. We all do. The wisest most experienced of us spouses still feel the pain and anxiety. That doesn’t ever really go away, so I’ve heard.
So how do I do it? When I married my Sir, I knew that he’d be away from home for a lot of our life together. In fact, my dad knew my then boyfriend would propose to me a few weeks ahead of the fact, and he made sure to have a real conversation with me about what my life might entail. I was already a military kid, so there were some things I did understand. He wanted to make sure that I understood more thoroughly though. More is expected of the spouse than of the child. Could I handle marrying a man who would be required to keep secrets from me, for the good of our national security and defense? Would I be able to hold it all together while my Sir is sent off to work in dangerous conditions for months? Did I think I could cope with the ups and downs of a life where I get to make very few choices? He was testing me. He’s always been open with me when I ask about his experiences in the Marine Corps, as open as one can be while still adhering to OPSEC (operational security, the term used to basically describe how you can’t give up certain information about our service men and women. Think of the phrase loose lips sink ships.) My answer then and now, was and is, YES.
How do I do it? The short answer is that I get by with lots of help from some good friends. I’m lucky that my Sir’s older brother also joined the submarine service and his wife is THE BEST. I’m lucky that my own sister married a man in the submarine service and she understands me and now she understands the military wife life. (Yes, I have two brothers in law in the sub force with my husband; me and my friends get a kick out of this. I have two other brothers in law who did not see themselves in the Navy and I hope they read this and know that I love them just as much as the Navy ones!) I was blessed to be taken under the wings of a few of those salty experienced wives when I first married my Sir. They taught me so much, introduced me to people and places, and very patiently answered my questions when I was a newb. (They STILL answer my questions!) And I’m fortunate to have
good excellent AMAZING friends here in Hawaii. I chose to put myself out of my comfort zone and join a moms group in my area even though I know I’m not terribly good at making new friends. I chose to make the best of the time I did have with my husband and make sure that we were as close to being on the same page in all things as possible, to prepare for the inevitable day when I’d be the one making all decisions for the household.
And I think that’s the crux of my point. Choice. It is easy to name all the bad things about military life. It is very easy to get mired down and overwhelmed. I know many military spouses who are seriously depressed and downtrodden by this life. I don’t claim to have sunshiney rainbow thoughts that will drive away the depression that is real and scary for so many of us, male or female. But I do believe that I have a choice in how I deal with this life. Am I OK with my husband missing holidays and birthdays and milestones? Do I enjoy parenting our daughter alone? Do I like missing my friends and family because either I or they had to uplift everything and move again and again and again? Honestly, of course I don’t like any of that. Is it worth it though?
It isn’t glamorous, even if we do get to dress up fancy for a ball here and there. It isn’t fun, even though we do sometimes make the best friends we’ll ever meet who become our family. It isn’t stable, what with moving around the world so often, even though we get to see sights that inspire awe and quell our wanderlust. It isn’t peaceful, even though we do get a wonderful sense of pride to see the American flag waving on the breeze.
I do it because I have to. Because failure isn’t an option, and I don’t mean to sound like a martyr. I will learn what I need to learn in order to deal with whatever comes my way. And his homecoming will be absolutely amazing, the stuff of legend. A Hawaii submarine homecoming is an awesome thing to behold. More on that later though.