Checking In: Prepping for A 3rd Round with the VA

Facebook keeps criticizing me for not writing all the time for my ‘She Wears Dog Tags’ page and while I try not to let it bother me, sometimes it gets under my skin.  I am not a full-time writer.  I do enjoy writing and it is a form of therapy for me when the rest of the world seems to exacerbate my anxiety but I now see the downside to having a business Facebook page.  Ugh.

It is always my goal to write on this blog at least once a month but the constant notifications that “people haven’t heard from me”….that crap gets old.

I don’t write to share superficial sentiments.

I was feeling a little hesitant to share how I’ve been feeling yesterday and today but with the honesty I’ve shared with other trials, I want to reaffirm my stance you will only find vulnerability and camaraderie here.  It’s taken a lot to be open about coping with anxiety and I am not going to skirt around that issue as I’ve done in my earlier writing.

I am stepping out on a limb to have the VA revisit my disability claim for anxiety and the anxiety-induced chest pains.  The approach I am taking is unconventional but I don’t have much of anything valuable, in the VA’s eyes, in my medical record.  I cannot undo the fact I refused medical care in the Marine Corps because I did not trust the people I visited to take me seriously.  Unfortunately, I find myself in the same situation with the VA.

The breadcrumbs they have from my medical records are insufficient for them to make the connections that my chest pains stem from the continued trauma associated with my deployment.  I cannot fully blame them as I recognize fraudulent claims are a real concern and the VA pays out heavily for that type of mistake.

I find myself in a position to educate the VA on an issue they do not see well (and quite potentially, they may not have seen at all.).  I don’t know how likely they’ve seen situations like mine where I was exposed to trauma in the form of constant information regarding the dead and wounded.  The VA, I don’t think, can understand that pain like they might the mortar fire that also provided constant danger where we served at Camp Blue Diamond.

I’ve known for sometime I need to revisit the dead via my work for my applied project and the information I found about my fallen peers from the Military Times Honor the Fallen.  The official records from the Military Times, bolstered by the journal entries I wrote during my deployment, provide what is probably my last chance to explain to the VA a type of deployment experience that I think is still quite foreign to them.

I am quite stressed knowing I have to revisit the deceased again.  This process was difficult and heartbreaking during my Master’s program but I knew it was important to encourage non-veterans to see war in a way that is not discussed in the academic classroom.  I didn’t think I would need to open my trauma this way to discuss my past with the VA.  I thought I could discuss my deployment in a way that’s less painful to talk about but I don’t think I’m getting heard.  Instead I was greeted with a slew of questions poking and prodding about my family life, education, and interactions with friends, looking for other potential sources of trauma.  I don’t think I’d mind that too much if I was equally given the chance to be heard about what my deployment looked like, how I went about my work, and asked why I am adamant about being one of the best at my work.

I had a lot of trouble falling asleep last night.  I know I need to break up the records into more manageable chunks of time but even with that decision made, I know my heart will take it personally to see these stories again.  It’s likely my anxiety will increase again as I sort through this information, something I’ve wanted to avoid, but I don’t know how to separate my feelings from the process.  There are a lot of people who were lost and it’s hard as a Marine to feel like we didn’t do enough to prevent some of these casualties.

As I continue this work for my VA claim, I may not write as much but I will still be in touch.  It’s a huge emotional journey to revisit my past this way and I want you all to be prepared, and hopefully understanding, of why I’m distant with my writing from time to time.  I know that sometimes I cannot continue to pile things on my plate when I feel overburdened because it exacerbates my anxiety and increases the frequency/intensity of my chest pains and having to go back to the VA, for a third time, regarding chest pains since 2005 is the biggest burden on me right now.

Thanks again for the patience and space you afford me in this leg of my journey.

(If I get too far behind in writing and you are bored, just come find me on Instagram. I enjoy ‘talking’ about food a lot.)

 

 

Anxiety Self-Care and Vacationing

I took a trip to Wyoming recently with my family to visit Sheridan and Gillette and as rewarding as vacations are, I am always happy to get back home.

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Flying back into Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport

Home means stability for me and it helps me greatly in managing anxiety.  I don’t over schedule myself when I am at home the way I do on vacation.

This vacation, in particular, was a bit more full than I expected.  I had dreams of lounging around a bit more but now that my daughter is 7 years old, she wants to, naturally, do more.  She wants to explore and visit, and being a young child, she is demanding, hates naps, and will squeeze every ounce of daylight when not impeded by her mother.  Unlike when we lived in Wyoming, she is also old enough now to have a fully fledged opinion.  She was “meeting” people for the first time because she didn’t remember them from years ago and she also was insistent on having as much time with her young cousins as possible.  As an only child, she craves time with other children and summertime is the worst time of year for her.  She is not around her school friends and with high temps here, we spend more time indoors.

My daughter does not yet comprehend the stress I carry on a daily basis.  She knows I don’t like fireworks but she hasn’t caught on how a significant change of routine bothers me.  I look forward to vacations but I also struggle with leaving my comfortable environment.  I worry about what could happen when I leave my home, both to my home and the people in it while we are away.  There’s a lot of history recorded in my journals, photo albums, and scrapbooks that I can lose if something happens.  Additionally, I don’t like the idea of someone’s possessions becoming personal effects, to include mine should something terrible happen while we are away.  I considered writing about these feelings when I took my trip to Albuquerque last year but was quite hesitant to do so; while I am beginning to feel more comfortable talking about my personal struggles and coping, I still tread lightly.

I’m not surprised by my sensitivity to people and possessions, but I’ve had 12 years to wrap my mind around the intense situation that was my first deployment.  After spending 12 hours of nearly every day on deployment knowing people died and others were wounded, I became more aware we don’t all get a fair shake at living (and living the way we choose).  Without knowing the true number of people who died on my deployment, it’s still safe to say I have few peers who will ever understand the human toll of a deployment like I do.  (For any newbies, my alternative view of Operation Iraqi Freedom, as incomplete as it is, is available for viewing here. If you check out the video, please also read the blog entry for clarity purposes.  Thanks. )

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Some of my most precious possessions

For me, this vacation was a beautiful experience and one of the true breaks we’ve taken this summer as we had quite an unexpected–but necessary–financial burden demanding our immediate attention.  My husband’s service dog tore her ACL in June but was (and is) recovering from surgery and was unable to walk more than five minutes shortly before we left for vacation.  Her recovery will still take months but she is starting to show tremendous progress and is happy again, instead of her morose state when we couldn’t let her do any activity except use the bathroom.  If she had been able to walk, she would have flown with us for the first time and yes, there was some anxiety about that issue as well.  As you can see, she’s not a petite girl and even with my husband, daughter, and I all in the same row, she would attract attention.  I have no doubt other passengers would have inquired about her and peppered my husband with questions.

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That happy kid look after surgery was too precious.
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She became quite leery we’d take all the fun out of her day with her surgery recovery restrictions.

I’ve made great strides to significantly reduce my chest pains this year through regular self-care, but I had four of them during the course of this trip.  The additional stress of monitoring my husband because he didn’t have his service dog was a contributing factor. While I can recognize times where my husband needs additional support I notice it much later than she can and I didn’t feel quite as prepared to be his “service person”–yes, that’s what we joked I was doing in my caregiver capacity–because she had to stay behind.  Other things, like not being consistent about my sleep routine, contribute to the frequency of my chest pains.  Normally, I like to be in bed no later than 10pm and  I think most nights we were lucky to be back at our hotel room by 10:30 or 11pm.  Different noises also present challenges when it comes to sleep as I have trouble drowning them out; my bedroom at home, by comparison, is kept very quiet.  I do not have a wall clock and after living in my home for a year, I am used to the sound of the house fan when it’s on during hot evenings.  I am also a big fan of blackout curtains; the darker the room, the easier it is for me to stay asleep.  There are other things I can do like moderating my consumption of coffee and alcohol that also help reduce the frequency of my chest pains.  (I know I drank far too much coffee on this vacation, nearly 3-4 cups a day, but I was pretty good about keeping my alcohol consumption in check.)

In spite of my continuing battle with anxiety induced chest pains, the vacation was successful.  I think one of the things we need to keep at the forefront of conversation about anxiety and coping is resiliency.  I’ve had these annoying things for 12 years–and it’s really only in the last few that good medical professionals have worked with me to control this condition so it doesn’t destroy my quality of life.  Occasionally, they have to remind me not to pass up opportunities because I know they may or will exacerbate the stress I already have in my life. They also remind me I’ve been through the worst so the things that bother me are triggers (fireworks, sudden loud noises, people walking behind me surpising me suddently, etc.) and not actually life threatening events.   The fact that I had four chest pains on this trip is a sign I do need to plan better for my vacations.  I am still learning to say ‘no’ and I think because I’m in my 30’s I still feel silly to say I go to bed so early and in many cases, need the additional sleep.  Not everyone understands this issue and unlike my peer group, I find it harder to forgo time with family and do not wish to come across as being rude.  Next time, I’ll also work on cutting back on coffee.  I’m sure it’s not bad to have a day or two with that much coffee but the others I should probably stick to two or less cups.

I’m only taking you on a partial journey of the trip but below are some of the wonderful things I photographed during my weeklong visit.  If you want to see more things from the trip, feel free to check out my Instagram, she_wears_dogtags.

Like always, thanks for stopping in to visit.

~Cheryl

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The view behind our hotel room
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One of the flowers in my husband’s grandmother’s garden
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My grandmother-in-law has this sign from her late husband’s job working for telephone companies.
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My readers know suicide prevention is important to me and I love how this sign is integrated into community spaces.   
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I got to see inside a home built in 1905 and it had all this gorgeous mahogany on the walls and stairs. 
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I enjoyed sharing a flight of beers at Black Tooth Brewing Company. (I also learned IPA’s are not my thing.)
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My beer of choice at Black Tooth Brewing Company is the seasonal blonde ale.
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I’m a sucker for architecture and I’m glad my husband took me to the old post office in Sheridan to check out the marble staircase.
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I didn’t get donuts from this little place only because it wasn’t open when we walked by.
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This JC Penney’s is where I got clothes after returning stateside from deployment #2 as the only civilian clothes I had were the ones I was wearing.  It was surprising to see the store is closing.
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Clearmont, Wyoming
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The potato oles were one of my favorite foods when we lived in Cody, WY and they are still as good.  I just eat less of them now.

 

 

 

 

 

End of Active Service: 10 Years Later

Seriously, it’s been 10 years.

Ten years ago I left the Marine Corps.  Ten years ago I decided I needed (rather than wanted) to go back to college.  Ten years ago I decided to give up a way of life.  Ten years ago I decided freedom was worth more than a pretty substantial paycheck. Ten years ago I walked away with an honorable discharge (and not much else).

I had acquired very little possessions while I was in.  My wardrobe consisted of a week’s worth of clothing. I owned more Marine Corps uniform shoes than civilian footwear. I left the Marine Corps with only one purse (and it was from Aeropostale).  It wasn’t until I started working again later in 2007 that some coworkers encouraged–ok it was a hard nudge–me to pick up some makeup for myself. I had one ball gown in my possession but nothing else in the way of dress attire.  I lived almost exclusively in my handful of jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies.  The minuscule amount of furniture my husband and I owned came from Walmart; he built those items with one of his friends during the course of my second deployment.  Our bed was the same he used in high school.  (We’ve updated our bed since then because a full size bed does not cut it for two people!)

I felt quite inept picking out a civilian work wardrobe that I went to New York & Company, picking up several of the same style shirt in different colors.  I was equally inept in the kitchen which is why I watched different Food Network shows on a daily basis.  The other side of my ineptness was using the word F*ck ALL.THE.TIME.

My sincerest apologies to everyone who met the post-Marine Corps 2007 ‘Me’.  She was constantly using F*ck as a noun, verb, and adjective.  She could barely cook macaroni and cheese and Hamburger Helper.  She put minimum effort into her clothes and worked out even less.  She got another tattoo, pierced her ears two more times, and got a tongue piercing for the hell out of it.  Rebellion that should best be lived out in the teenage years cropped up in full force.  Yes, she was a little bitchy and indifferent.

2007 is not a year recorded well via photographs.  My computer crashed after we lived in Wyoming and I didn’t have many saved somewhere other than my desktop.  These are a few of the photographs I had saved on Facebook.

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I still stand by my decision to separate from the Marine Corps.  Towards the end especially my journey with the Marine Corps was causing more heartache than sense of achievement and purpose.  I grew quite tired of working with people whose maturity level peaked in early high school.  I didn’t like the way orders for deployment were handled with my second command.  In numerous ways, I felt like my life in the Corps would be like the spin cycle in a washing machine and I would be trapped saying, “What if?” all the time instead of going out there and finding out who I really wanted to be.

I learned a lot about myself by leaving the Marine Corps.  I learned how to talk (more) like an adult should speak.  Now I tend to only use the word F*ck when I stub my toe, run late to appointments, get cut off by someone in traffic, my dog craps in my car and subsequently vomits on the seat…ok I still swear a lot.  But I don’t swear as much at work like I used to and that’s a good thing.  (I swore last week when I dropped my water bottle cap on the floor because that’s seriously the grossest thing ever.)  I now dress in dresses; you can thank Stitch Fix for setting me up with a grownup wardrobe.

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One of my favorite Stitch Fix dresses

I am a self-taught cook and baker, mostly because I cannot imagine dolling out big bucks for culinary school.  If you need any examples of my playful devotion to the good food life, you can always scoop out my Instagram.  While I mostly post about food finds in restaurants and at the grocery store, I share a bit about my home food life as well.

One of the best things I did after leaving the Marine Corps was working on responsibly drinking.  I didn’t take the best care of myself in 2005 after returning home from Iraq of legal drinking age.  I haven’t faltered too much since then and granted, I know I wasn’t quite as bad as other people.  One of the worst things I did though was being that stupid person drinking in the back of a car when the driver is also drinking.  I always knew better but for a while I didn’t care.  Don’t be that person.  Don’t let someone be that driver.  It’s a recipe for disaster and thankfully none of us involved (and others on the road) weren’t injured or killed as a result of our poor decisions.

I am proud, on the other hand, that I stuck to my goal of completing a collegiate education.  I am privileged to have completed two undergraduate degrees and a Master’s degree.  Many veterans do not complete an education after separating from their respective service branches and their benefits go unused.  Other times, veterans squander their benefits away by not applying themselves in the classroom and run out of benefits before they run out of classes for their chosen degree plan.

Unfortunately, along the way not all my decisions ended with my desired results.  If I could have avoided my two periods of unemployment my family would be in a better financial position now.  If we had taken advantaged of the depressed Phoenix housing market in late 2011 to early 2012, we also could be sitting on more equity.  If I had been adamant with the VA back in 2007 my journey to get them to see my chest pains as service connected would be easier and the disability compensation could have helped out during unemployment periods 1 and 2.  At the time I made different decisions, I foresaw certain end results.

I’ve benefitted a lot the last ten years as a result of leaving the Marine Corps and having served when I did.  The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an incredible tool and unfortunately, not everyone utilizes or will utilize it well.  If I had stayed in, I’m not sure how dedicated I would have been with my education; the few times I utilized Department of Defense tuition assistance, I wasn’t applying myself fully to my classes.  I met many great Marines who are still a part of my life now; we all spent a different amount of our lifetime in the Corps and a few are still serving.  It’s good to see the Marine Corps is treating them well and I’m grateful none of them look down on me for leaving.  The freedom we have to stay connected via social media greatly adds value to my life given how scattered we are around the country (and at times, for them, around the globe).  I know social media gets torn apart of lot for being a time suck,etc.  but again, it’s a tool.  Use it wisely.

My life now at the ten year post-separation mark is starting to look pretty good.

My new job lets me work from home occasionally and I’m starting to share that journey on Instagram.  (Don’t worry, not all my lunch breaks include sangria.)

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This year I started a friendship with a former boyfriend’s partner and since February, she and I have developed an unexpectedly supportive bond  We would not have met had my ex and I not served in the Marine Corps meeting at the pivotal point of his return from Iraq.  I might be fortunate to meet her in-person in January if all goes well and I’m very much looking forward to the opportunity as well to take a trip out of Arizona.

I also snuck in more family visits this year than years previous.  I received a surprise visit with my parents in April.  My older sister made it out to Scottsdale for job training and we spent two days visiting.  More recently, my dad came out for two very short trips and he and my stepmom might be out again in the fall.

Hopefully 2017 continues to be a good year for me.

~Cheryl

 

Contending with the Inevitable Fireworks

I’m writing kind of early this Saturday but it’s hard to sleep in with puppies.

An hour and a half ago I was determined I would write about the emotional pain associated with the Fourth of July.  Independence Day was something I celebrated with great joy as a child but the holiday lost its magic when my friend Bart Carroll was murdered on July 4, 2002.  Thankfully I still have strong happy memories associated with the holiday but losing him changed the trajectory of my life.  As one of the first loves of my life he left an impression on my heart that was strong enough to inspire me to serve, to finish his mission.

I’ve experienced so much in the fifteen years he’s been gone but like everyone else he touched we tend to think about what he didn’t experience.  He didn’t get to marry.  He didn’t get the joy of bringing children into his life.  He didn’t get to serve in Iraq, as was his desire.  I don’t know what dreams he had for himself that composed a bucket list that will never be complete.

After he died, I thought I would at least enjoy fireworks as a means to find peace with his loss.  My heart clung to this notion the celebratory fireworks would give me solace and a tiny bit of happiness on a day that was tarnished.

Now that fireworks remind me of mortar attacks and more specifically the day Captain Brock was hit by indirect fire I hate this time of year even more.  I can’t even say it’s just the Fourth that bothers me, certainly it’s not my friend, but the days surrounding the holiday get to be my demons, too.

Consumer use of fireworks is permitted from June 24th to July 6th.  For someone who doesn’t suffer anxiety around fireworks the time period is awesome.  I have thirteen days of wondering and worrying fireworks will disrupt my ability to fall and stay asleep.  It’s that feeling of being back in Iraq the day Captain Brock was hit.  I feel a sense of powerlessness I don’t like and have to work through because it’s not like  I have any guarantee on what days and times my neighbors will use fireworks.  I also don’t feel free to go out at night for a walk or dining out, which is a whole other matter.  My daughter is getting to an age where she likes fireworks, too, and I am not ready to take her to any public display nor do I buy fireworks to use in the neighborhood so she gets this childhood experience.

This year is only the third Fourth of July fireworks season for me in Gilbert.  This season I am (hopefully) a bit more prepared than years past.  In 2015, there was zero preparation; I was thrown into a bit of hell only rivaled by New Year’s Eve fireworks.  I didn’t realize how much people love using fireworks in the neighborhood over checking out public displays.  (Public fireworks displays made life easier in Wyoming and I only experienced a small amount of fireworks with my sister-in-law and her family there.)  Last year on the Fourth of July, my husband and I went out to dinner and walked over afterwards to the movie theater.  I had some fireworks startle me on my walk over so I needed a few minutes to compose myself before rejoining my husband for the movie.  This year will be very different for me.

The Town of Gilbert and a local fireworks company are keeping me notified of different public displays and for the first time here, I am venturing out with my husband to have an outing with friends in Phoenix.  I already warned the group I tend to experience panic attacks around fireworks so they’re prepared as well!  We started discussing a Fourth of July get together during Memorial Day weekend so I’ve had time to wrap my mind around the idea of how to handle the situation if I have a panic attack around new friends.  Up until this point, my husband has been the only person (thankfully) to see me suffer through a panic attack and it’s hard to know other people might see me when I am that vulnerable.

As I tiptoe into social outings, I am taking baby steps (as I would encourage any other person who struggles with fireworks).  I was informed I should be able to see the fireworks where we will be without the overwhelming sound/sensation of the explosions.  I haven’t set up a specific amount of time I’ll stay out.  I don’t know how I’ll feel until I’m out and around everyone while being exposed to fireworks.  However, I’ve planned accordingly to have a safe outing as much as possible within my control.

One last thing.  This time of year as well, I implore my fellow Americans to also be  respectful to our refugee population knowing many of them, like a number of our veterans, have also dealt with explosions that jeopardized their safety and the safety of their loved ones.  Too often these men, women, and children are not seen as also needing social support but we need to empathize with their situations.  A number of them have lived through war and conflict longer than many of our nation’s war veterans and yet their needs are underrepresented in the media.  Fireworks may also remind them of painful experiences in their past.

Ok…so I guess I do have one last thing.  If you are going to use fireworks this time of year, please stay safe.  Use fireworks responsibility to prevent injury to yourself and to others enjoying your celebration.

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Image is from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission Fireworks Information Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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