Marriage: Learning Your Language

Relationships don’t always last, especially when you serve in the military.

I didn’t think too much of this reality when I was a kid watching my dad’s relationship with my mom.  He had a failed significant partnership before with the mother of his son and my mother ended her marriage to my biological father despite having three kids to support.  (Her and my dad later had a child together.)  Their partnership was something I always wanted for myself.  It was easy to not focus on their arguments but the playful way they supported each other.

One of my fondest memories is seeing how he wrote “D” on the envelopes of all the cards he gave her; I loved how instead of writing her full name, he left an impact with the simple ‘D’ for Dawn.

As kids we don’t always see the struggles our parents have in their partnerships and certainly, it’s hard to see how military service (and frequent separations) can place greater demands on a married couple.  My mother divorced my biological father who served in the Navy and not surprisingly, she found another sailor who made her happy and became the last love of her life.  I am my mother this way; I wasn’t intentionally drawn to guys in uniform but my proximity to them made them my them my preferred partner options.  That sounds silly, doesn’t it?  However, it’s not like any of us go to great lengths to scour this earth for a partner.

We tend to find people who naturally come across our path.  When I served, I did not set out to ‘find a man’ but to find a purpose in my life following a journey started by my friend, Barton Carroll.  I knew I might find someone to date over time but that was a normal life experience, and I thought I could retain some control and privacy over that area in my life.  I thought anything shared with my work family would be of my choosing, not that my work family would choose what was their business as it related to my personal life.

It was easy to see early on during my short Marine Corps career dating was a tricky area.  I could not date and have my partnership be a private matter.  To this day, it bothers me that my privacy was not respected.  I was eager to separate my dating life from my work life but others would not permit to go unnoticed; it’s funny too because people often thing women are full of drama but I found men are just as bad, sometimes worse.  The transition from dating into exploring marriage was also under scrutiny.

I naively thought my command would be respectful of my decision to get married, but I was subject to stories of their marriage trouble.  These tales were not woven from hearts guided by leadership to encourage me to think wisely about the promises I entered into but instead tales of insecurity spoken without any real purpose.  These men were taking a moment (a really inappropriate moment) to bitch about their wives.

In my opinion, it’s ok that not everyone gets married.  If the “leaders” at my second unit were a bit more mature at the point they decided to get married, I don’t think they would have shared the same stories with me years later in 2006 when I married my husband.  Instead, I think they would have focused on the values to keep in mind for good and bad days because we all have them.

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Not too long ago I was happy to find some important advice as it relates to partnerships in Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  He describes love as a verb and a feeling.  I’ve never hear someone describe it as such before and his poetic explanation is something I hope to remember often.

“Proactive people make love a verb.  Love is something you do…[l]ove is a value that is actualized through loving actions” (p. 80).

Looking back, I was quite frustrated trying to figure out why I was more serious about my relationships than my partners.  Back then, I thought dating could be simple.  I love you, you love me. I thought I could be the perfect partner by not being like the “last girl”, the woman who left and essentially “took it all.”  I recognized we all bring some emotional baggage into our partnerships but I thought that we could treat the baggage as just a conversation piece, like a note you unfold and toss when no longer necessary.  I did not realize how often it was more tangible, like real luggage that occupies physical space and requires energy to move around into a more convenient location in someone’s life.  Like you move luggage from the hallway to the closet so you don’t trip on it all the time.

As a child, I did not see my parents’ emotional baggage.  I didn’t know how hard it was for my dad to not develop a strong relationship with his son because his ex was spurned.  I didn’t know how much my biological father disappointed my mother.  Instead, I saw their marriage dotted with overt sentimentality.  I could see the gifts and hugs but I did not see the difficult conversations, especially those brought on by the difficult landscape of a military career.

My husband and I also traversed similarly difficult landscape.  Early in our marriage, I thought sharing the same branch of service and MOS tidied up the landscape for us.  We could bond over the fun parts of the Corps (seriously, the Marine Corps birthday is the best!) and complain about the same things like how ridiculous it is to have your room inspected EVERY. SINGLE. WEEK.  (We did not yet experience what it was like for both of us to have deployments.)  Unlike many of our peers, we did not come into our relationship with children from past relationships and I also felt this ‘freedom’ provided us an opportunity to take directions in our partnership not always accessible to those who must share custody with former partners.  I speak very much from personal experience when I say it’s not difficult to love someone who bore children with someone else.  It’s just a giant pain in the ass to know there are restrictions when that person must share custody and be less biographically available to take new opportunities.

To people who don’t know me well it will sound strange to say early on in my partnership my husband and I decided it would be best for the longevity of our partnership for me to take the chance and switch units.  Junior personnel took personal offense to our partnership, despite the fact they felt if roles were reversed it would be “no big deal.”    We felt our relationship would be under less scrutiny if we did not work together.  When the opportunity to work elsewhere came along we took decisive steps to guarantee a personal change of duty station and along the way got tugged between the new unit indicating I would and later would not be deploying to Iraq.  (I ended up deploying anyway after we were pretty happy with the notion of not deploying.  C’est la vie!).

Unlike previous relationships, I learned quickly a business-like tenacity was required and he was either onboard or wasn’t and because I had been disappointed before, I was more blunt than I’ve probably been with anyone else.  I wasn’t looking for someone to fulfill me.  That just wasn’t happening in my life.  I would make some over-the-top effort to show someone he was appreciated and each effort ended terribly with me feeling like I wasn’t worth being loved, otherwise why would those people rebuff me the way they had?  Instead, I looked for something else.  I wanted to go out and have a good time.  I looked for something simple.  I wanted us to split the cost of the experiences we shared together.  Maybe it’s weird to say I set ground rules (because I didn’t) but for probably the first time I made sure we approached decision making together.

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Many of the decisions were quite mundane but I wanted to know I would be ok if he left.  I would be ok if it didn’t work out.  I didn’t want the situation to be too risky and then feel blindsided when/if he became risk adverse about the future.  I would still have a path to follow if my ‘business partner’ left the partnership.  Certainly, there is a way that I loved with complete abandon that was part of my past MO that I struggle to bring back, to offer to my husband.

I see that attitude in how I talk with certain girl and guy friends.  It’s often confused for romantic interest or conveys to people a friendship longer than our true investment in each other.  It’s never intentional to exclude my husband from that carefree/barriers down/adventurous spirit I possess but I know with others I don’t have the same responsibilities.  For this reason, there are many times I slip into this mindset without thinking of it at all; I just jump in wherever we last left off until we have to unfortunately say goodbye again.  They can love and hate me all in the same week and we won’t be stuck seeing each other late at night when either one of us is at our ugliest throwing up from the flu and someone needs to buy crackers and ginger ale.  I won’t be sitting across from them waiting for support when my daughter pushes my buttons one too many times and an unfortunate swear word slips too easily off my tongue and I’ve hurt her feelings.  I don’t need my friends to rescue me from those moments but I definitely need them from my spouse.

Tomorrow is my 11th wedding anniversary (Ok, like 10 minutes from right now since it’s 11:50pm) which is why I’ve felt it crucial to talk from a real perspective.  No person is perfect.  No marriage is perfect.  Just because I don’t lay bear every mistake I’ve ever made does not mean I do not make bad decisions or have a carefree life.  Society often crafts a message that marriage should be this blissful experience ALWAYS.  The message gets warped further that the other person should love us and risk everything because that’s what love really is, after all.  Not quite.  These tainted messages make us think that a good marriage is out-of-reach or that marriage is the epitome of happiness.  I know plenty of people who are happy without being married to their partners and others who, in spite of arguing all the time, truly enjoy each other’s company.

My husband’s job is to help me accomplish my goals as my responsibility is to help him accomplish his dreams; it’s not that either person has a greater right to having their needs met but that we equally work towards shared goals, particularly financial stability and personal satisfaction.  We won’t equally bring in the same paycheck nor will be always be on the same success trajectory with our careers, but we can support each other during transition points.  We have a lot of work probably for the duration of our lives based on the deployment stress we encountered but we talk about those things just like we also talk about fun stuff (vacations, extra money, etc.).  To the people who didn’t want to jump in a long term endeavor with me, I am fairly certain they will (or have) found out the same things I did.

Compromise and sacrifice make marriage work and also make work of marriage.

 

 

 

Dreams & Nightmares

Have you ever dreamt about losing teeth?  I mean, really losing teeth?!

For a number of years, I frequently experienced nightmares about losing lots of teeth all at the same time.  It wasn’t just teeth simply falling out but looking at my face seeing bloody gums and teeth coming out in handfuls.  Most of the time, it was like I had rows of  teeth like sharks do; I would freak out in the dream watching these teeth falling into my hands.  Those dreams are a big part of why I am creeped out when little kids lose their teeth.  I am the kind of person who is disgusted seeing kids with big gaping holes where teeth should be.  Blah.  (My daughter’s only lost a few teeth but I am not looking forward to when she is missing two or three teeth in a row.)

After beginning my graduate degree in 2014, my dreams shifted.  I started to experience nightmares around midterms and finals.  This change started my first semester in graduate school and instead of teeth falling out, my nightmares focused on military service.  I am not surprised.  I was working full-time with active duty personnel, veterans, and their family members while studying issues tied to military and veteran communities.  The last nightmare I recall occurred after graduating last spring.  When I am particularly stressed though I still dream about being back in the Marine Corps.

Last night I had one of those dreams.

It wasn’t complicated or anything.  I knew I was back in Iraq and I was showing a fellow Marine how to inspect her gas mask.  The only “conversation” I remember is reminding her (like you have to do with people in general) that the gas mask carrier is not to meant to store other things (extra rounds, food, etc.).  It may sound silly but people will do it.  In the dream I was stressed knowing my daughter was missing me; she’s never been away from me for very long and it was difficult to know my departure caused her grief.

Today has been a difficult day as I’ve had on and off again chest pains.  I find when I dream about being back in the Marine Corps, chest pains often become part of the daily packaged experience.  I struggle at times to stay focused when the chest pains last for a long duration.  Today the pains felt like someone kneeling repeatedly on my chest, like it “normally” does for longer episodes of chest pains.  When I experience the shorter pains, it tends to feel like a stabbing pain.  Those types of pains were more typical the first few years after my chest pains began.  (The pain today didn’t dimish significantly until after lunch today and started shortly after 8 am.)

For the most part, I tend to listen to music to keep my focus when I know the chest pains aren’t going away.  I like listening to music anyways while I am working so it’s nice to be in a position where I am not frowned upon to be “distracted.”  I am also not interrupted in my work the way I was in my past student facing position so it’s becoming easier to listen to multiple playlists throughout my day. (Yeah!!!)

My musical tastes are somewhat sporadic and typically I’ll listen to some country, pop, and rock throughout the day. I’ll jump from country to pop to rock depending on what I’m feeling with the songs.  If I need to calm down I’ll find some good country songs.  When I need some energy I’ll listen to pop songs and when I need to feel like I can accomplish anything, I definitely listen to rock.  Haha.

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Today’s songs included:

Last Call (LeAnn Womack)

The Way I Feel (12 Stones)

I Wonder (Kellie Pickler)

Room to Breathe (You Me At Six)

The Heart Won’t Lie (Reba McEntire and Vince Gill)

Angels Fall (Breaking Benjamin)

We Are Tonight (Billy Currington)

Erase My Scars (Evans Blue)

That Don’t Sound Like You (Lee Brice)

Stories (Trapt)

Beautiful Disaster (Kelly Clarkson)

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I know the likely source of my current stress is upcoming fireworks, namely consumer use of fireworks.  Starting on June 24th, my fellow neighbors are permitted to use fireworks and can use them until July 6th, and I know from past experience plenty will use the illegal mortar tubes ones.  The $1,000 possible fines are not enough of a deterrent to keep people from using them.

The good news is I have another coping tool in my toolbox this year.  While I cannot determine when my neighbors will use fireworks, I now know when permitted public fireworks displays will occur in my local area.  I didn’t know this notification was possible until I was startled by a public display in late May and reached out to the Town of Gilbert’s Fire Department on the matter.  From there, I was connected with the main fireworks company so I could get on their notification list and the Fire Department notifies me when other companies have fireworks displays around my home.

I would encourage other veterans who experience anxiety and panic attacks as a result of fireworks displays to see if their municipality also offers a similar service.

Fingers crossed I don’t have any more chest pains tonight or dreams about being back in the Corps.  That’s all I need for a good Friday night.

~Cheryl

Starting New Chapters: Personal Expression and Confidence

Good morning, everyone.

I was quite eager to do a “2007 versus 2017” series post and I had the fun surprise of looking back into my old journal entries only to discover I didn’t write a single post in June 2007!

I will give you a comparable 2007 versus 2017 substitute.

I have a good entry from May 2007 about my feelings regarding leaving the Marine Corps.  The timing works well because I started my new position in higher education.  I still work serving a military affiliated student population but I made the dramatic shift from being student facing to a non student facing opportunity.  Last week was my first week in my new role and I am just floored by the welcoming company culture.  As a veteran, I do find I get somewhat skittish that I’ll be judged for my visible tattoo (although I frequently wear long sleeves since office environments tend to be colder than I like), my preference for ponytails versus fully done up hair, and my sporadic use of makeup.

Society judges women heavily and it hasn’t seemed to matter at what age or in what industry.  The rules are written and unwritten.  The looks for stepping outside those “norms” feel the same.  Any time I’ve changed my working environment I question what will my peer treatment look like, what will my supervisor’s rules look like, and what infringement will the company place on my personal expression.  My desire to be more myself was a key part of leaving the Marine Corps.  Over the years, I’ve come to see pushing and prodding to adhere to desired female beauty standards and thankfully last week I was rewarded by the visual confirmation my new company permits a lot of personal expression.  Some female peers have full sleeve tattoos, others enjoy wearing shorts and jeans (as permitted by their departments), and makeup is worn from the slight touch of lip color and mascara to a fully done face with false lashes.

I feel more at home than I expected I would as a new employee.  I am quite happy and I feel once I get the hang of my work responsibilities this happiness will only magnify.  I don’t feel like the lost person I felt I was in May 2007.

Below is one of two entries I wrote for May 23, 2007.  I am not sharing the earlier one as I  included some personally identifying information for family friends and I don’t want to worry about anyone having that person’s address.  (By the way, anyone who knows how I feel about fireworks might laugh that back then I still thought I’d enjoy them!)

Take care and have a great weekend.

2007 Entry

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Megan Leavey and War in Film/Television

In the past couple of weeks I’ve thought repeatedly about bringing up the upcoming movie, Megan Leavey.  She is a Marine veteran who served as a dog handler and completed two tours in Iraq.  The Hollywood Reporter has a good article about the film and the “Got Your Six” approval.  As someone who desires to see female service stories elevated, her story being shown on film makes me incredibly happy.  The difficulty of her situation, being injured in Iraq, is a key factor in why I’ve debated mentioning the movie.  I want to see it, but I don’t want to see it in the movie theater.  I feel awkward in mentioning how much I want others to see it when it can be interpreted wrong that I am making the choice to not see it at the same time it comes out in theaters on June 9th.

June 9th already is not a good day for me.  It’s the anniversary of my mother’s death.  I lost her to lung cancer when I was 16 and I know all these years later I still hate this day.  I hate this day because I didn’t know my mother was dying and I was surprised coming home the last day of my sophomore year to be greeted on the front steps of my home by my extended family.  They told me I had to say goodbye to my mom.  As I write this news to you, I am overcome with tears.  I don’t like going back to that moment as a teenager knowing I am powerless to stop her leaving, knowing that now as a grown woman I cannot reach out to her for support and guidance.  It’s been 17 years and yet I can still crawl back into my teenage skin, feeling the warmth of that day break as I crossed the threshold into my home knowing that was the last day we had together.   I cannot bring a second burden into that day for my personal wellbeing.

War movies and shows are difficult for me.  I’ve only attempted to watch Saving Private Ryan once.  I couldn’t get past the beach scene in the beginning.  I’ve never seen Lone Survivor or American Sniper.  After much convincing from my husband that the series was balanced between combat action and Marine Corps culture and relatable experiences, I agreed to watch Generation Kill.  (I am impressed with Generation Kill as an educational tool about the Iraq war although there are scenes which stress me out because I know similar incidents happened in the Al Anbar province during my first Iraq deployment.)  The movie, Fort Bliss, I watched at home and watching the moment where a suicide bomber attack was bound to happen (and did happen in the film) evoked anxiety in me.  I stopped the movie, and waited until I felt comfortable again to finish watching everything afterwards.  In watching The Pacific and Band of Brothers I am comforted by the fact it’s not the same war I was in, but the indirect fire attacks in these bother me the same way as when I watch such attacks featured in more current shows and films.

If I watched that film in the movie theater I think I would find myself to be a mess.  I don’t trust my ability to sit down in a theater and watch and feel an explosion in surround sound.  I don’t want to endure a panic attack, generally speaking. I don’t want to have a panic attack next to a complete stranger and freak that person out. I don’t want to spend $10.50 for a movie ticket to find myself leaving before the film is over.  I don’t care that the film is rated PG-13, versus rated R; the explosion in the film, as I’ve seen in trailer, is something I cannot imagine feeling in the movie theater without finding it upsetting.

I want to see the movie and I want to discuss the valuable elements: female representation, realistic portrayal of military service, construction of the combat theater, and the experience of coming home.  I can do these things, if I watch the movie in an environment that’s comfortable to me.  I will watch the movie at home when it becomes available; this way I can stop the movie when I need to but still have an opportunity to critic the film.

As always, thanks for your patience.

I like sharing what’s going on as it relates to the veteran community.  Please check out the film when it comes out and I’ll join the conversation again after watching it in the privacy of my home.

~Cheryl