Why didn’t you tell me that in military life we are responsible for our own happiness--perhaps more than most?
While struggling with the same day to day issues our civilian counterparts encounter, we are blessed with the struggles unique to military families. I was warned of this only days before we left for my husband’s first duty station.
After I asked for a military discount at the hardware store, the cashier thanked me for my service. I blushed and explained that I was not in the military, and instead it was my husband was who should be thanked.
She looked at me hard and said, “My sister is married to a Marine. I know what military families go through; so again, thank you for your service.” I left with tears in my eyes.
Thanks to the civilian media, I knew being married to a soldier would be hard--the numerous moves, an unpredictable lifestyle, and of course the terrifying possibility of deployments. But as we slowly unpacked our boxes and I began experiencing the “real thing," I realized that this life was not as simple as it’s portrayed on television, and it was not at all what I had signed up for expected.
The first indication of this came from my new neighbor, who recommended that I make dinner when I want to, and not to plan it around my husband’s schedule (“The kids and I eat at six, whether he is home or not,” she said).
Amazingly, I was naive enough to believe that my husband would work a 9-5 job when not on deployment. It had never occurred to me that my husband might miss out on our family’s important milestones and events even when his boots were on the same ground as mine.
Soon after it was explained to me that I must have a general and a specialized power of attorney if I want to do just about anything on my own, and I would need to know the last four of his social just to make a doctor’s appointment (and I still haven’t memorized my husband’s phone number, let alone his SSN ).
Later, through arguing, anxiety, and disappointment I learned that my husband has little to no control over his schedule, which means things often don’t work out the way I want them to.
These, and many more lessons like them, trickled in over several weeks and eventually lead me to the biggest revelation of them all – although there are some things I don’t like about my husband’s job, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it!
So I weighed my options. I have met the complainers and it seems the military has no shortage of them. I admit there is something satisfying in allowing yourself to wallow in shared displeasure (misery loves company), but there is an issue – complaining makes me really unhappy. It magnifies my problems and leaves me feeling increasingly unsatisfied with my life. Sitting home alone and feeling sorry for myself generally doesn’t lead to anything good, but in this case it inspired me to take action.
Some of these actions have been to re-exam and re-frame the things that I am unhappy about. Instead of being upset that I am unemployed and unable to enroll in school next semester, I focus on how lucky I am that I get to take care of our family exactly the way I want to, rather than fitting it into a busy work schedule.
Instead of pining for the friends and family that I miss back at home, I am thankful that I have met new women who support me and who can share in the unique struggles of military life.
I let go of old habits, picking up new ones that are more conducive to my happiness; I use them regularly – going on walks, exploring the history of our new post, taking baths, trying new recipes, and writing. I have found that I get to choose; do nothing and be a victim of circumstance, or do something and participate in life.
So simple, right? But easy? Not so much. I am far from perfecting these skills (as my husband can tell you). The point is that the effort I put out always comes back to me in a positive way.
So even though the announcement of our next duty station has received nothing short of grimaces, eyebrow raises, and a many “Ooooh I’m sorry” from our fellows, I can honestly say I’m happy, excited, and ready to enjoy more of what the Army decides to throw at me.
As a wiser Army wife once said to me, “If you get invited, GO!” So I invite you, reader, to be happy.
.Alana Heitzer is a new Army spouse, currently residing in Georgia with her husband and furbaby. She is slowly working on her B.A. in Sociology, and should be done sometime before the turn of the century. Why Didn’t You Tell Me is a weekly feature that gives our readers a space to tell their own story. If you have a story for us, please submit using the contact button above. All stories must be original and unpublished.