For those of you who have been following along, you will now learn that my ex husband and I are no longer together. It was a hard decision and one that was definitely not taken lightly. After being together for 15 years, we decided it would be a good idea for us to go our separate ways and live separate lives. This decision allowed me the chance to shift the focus from being a caregiver and taking care of an unwell husband (who was on the road to recovery) to focusing on myself. The decision allowed me to consider the things that I wanted in life, for me, and me only. A concept that was completely foreign to me and one that I thrived on. I was excited, I was captivated and I was restless to start to delve into who I was and what I wanted.
And damn have I delved in.
I have looked back at my whole life, especially those last fifteen years, with new perspective, hindsight and a new attitude. I have given myself the space, and the counselling, to determine how those years impacted me, how they defined me and who they have made me today. I found myself and although I will fully admit there is a shit ton more work to do, I am happier, healthier and more my true self than I have been in a very long time. Yet, as with most relationship breakdowns, or major life changes, there is also a sense of loss.
This wasn’t any different. I lost a marriage. I lost a husband. I lost an extended family that I had been part of. And the hardest part of all, I felt that I lost a huge part of myself that I felt was a defining factor; being a military spouse. For the last fifteen years, if someone had asked me to describe myself, one of the first things I would tell them was that I was married to an Afghanistan veteran. I would tell them that I was a caregiver, an advocate and a military spouse. I would tell them that I lived here, or I did that, or I fought that battle because I was a military spouse supporting my veteran. It defined our lives; the decisions we made, where we lived, and in later years, it affected every aspect of our lives. It was how my life was defined, and so it was how I defined me.
“People who love and support people who live through traumatic experiences are co-survivors”-Emily Nagoski
And then I split up with my husband.
I was no longer a caregiver. I was no longer a wife. I was no longer a “dependent” in the military eyes and I no longer was a representative of the military lifestyle and the military family. I was no longer acknowledged (although the acknowledgement was minimal at best). I was no longer part of that lifestyle or that community. But, is that really true? Does removing a wedding ring and changing a last name really alter the support, the tears, the heartache that I gave the military and their member? Does moving out on my own and focusing on myself really change the impact that being a military had on me, on my life, and still does to this day? Did not working for years, or being unable to leave my home for long stretches, or spending multiple nights at a hospital bedside not deserve some recognition?
Now, I am not saying that because I actually need anything; I am fully capable of taking care of myself. I am not looking for sympathy, empathy or definitely not pity. I hate pity. I made my choices and can take ownership for where they led me. But sometimes, just sometimes, when the grief is overwhelming or the trauma is impacting my life, or I still feel oh so damn tired, I would like someone, anyone (particularly the military or even Veteran’s Affairs) to acknowledge. Acknowledge the service that I gave my country. Acknowledge the impact that them sending my loved one to war had on my life, in the past and now. And acknowledge that even those I no longer have a MRS. in front of my name, doesn’t mean I am no longer a military spouse.
I was there when he joined the military. I was there when you sent him on training after training leaving me alone for months on end. I was there when you sent him to a war zone and left me behind to support his loved ones. I was there when he came back a changed man. I was there when he struggled with addiction, when he attempted to die, when he was hospitalized again and again and again. I was there when he was up all night screaming from nightmares, or unable to attend family events or large gatherings. I was there when he went to appointment after appointment trying to help stabilize him, and I was there when it didn’t work. I was there when he got sober. I was there when he wasn’t.
I was there when he was in the military and I was there when he was released. I was there, mainly the only one there, fighting for years and years with Veteran’s Affairs to get him the support that he needed. I was there when that same agency determined I was not a “caregiver” and didn’t deserve my own benefits. I was there when he got counselling and I could not. I was there when his mom got sick, when his friends died and when we got our first pet. I was there when we moved from place to place, when we bought a house and when we sold a house. I was there. Through it all.
And it impacted me.
It impacted the way in which I see the world and how I understand mental health and addictions. It impacted my view on our military members and the impact their service can have on their lives. It impacted how I defined myself and the skills that I now have. And it impacted my pride. The pride I have in being part of that lifestyle, part of that story and part of the thousands of other family members who have gone through what I have.
So, maybe just maybe, those of you who hear me can take a moment to understand. Even if I chose to no longer be married to that Afghanistan veteran, doesn’t mean that I no longer part of that storyline. I was a military spouse. I did my duty. And in the grand scheme of things, I matter too.
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