What It Means To Be A Military Family

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What It Means To Be Married To Someone In The Military

Kristen Gray

Every morning, I wake up at 6:30 to the sound of “Reveille” being played from the giant loudspeaker just a few houses down. I never knew the actual name of the song before—I’ve just always called it “the bugle song from the summer camp movies.”

There are days when I go to the doctor, the grocery store, or the food court, and I’m surrounded by a sea of green uniforms. Occasionally, I’ll get together with a girlfriend and we’ll chat on her porch with the sound of helicopters in the background. And every night at 10:00 on the dot, I get an eerie feeling in my gut when I hear “Taps” played over those same loudspeakers as a way to close out the day. To some, these descriptions of my everyday life living on a military installation may sound a little bizarre, and years ago, I would have thought the exact same thing.

If I had been told early in my 20s that this would be my reality, I probably would have looked at you the way McAuley Caulkin looked at that picture of Buzz’s girlfriend in Home Alone. You see, I had a “plan” for my life (cute, right?). After stacking a resume with jobs for television giants by the age of 22, I was ready to make the jump to Los Angeles and make something happen for myself. After all, I had to live up to my high school yearbook dream of winning an Oscar by the time I hit age 40, right? Dream big, kids!

But never did I think that I would trade that “plan” of mine in for a blank canvas in the professional world. That soon after my career started, it would come to a screeching halt. I never fathomed the weight I would carry when I felt like I gave up on my professional dreams so young. And the most surprising thing of all: I never realized just how many other military spouses were going through the exact same thing.

But before I dive into that, it’s only fair that I back up and unapologetically tell my entire story:

I was 22 years old and had just left a media job that I loved to move to Germany with my husband. I 100% believed that my professional life would continue on the up-and-up, regardless of where I lived. In my naiveté, I failed to realize that no media company in Germany was going to hire someone who didn’t speak their language. Duh. I then turned to my favorite coping mechanism that seems is all too common amongst us military spouses: distraction.

Kristen Gray

I quickly enrolled in online grad school (which was short-lived), began coaching high school cheerleading, and picked up oodles of volunteer hours. I could feel my media career crumbling, but decided to avoid those thoughts all together by keeping busy. It wasn’t long before I resorted to the ultimate method of flipping life upside down when I looked at my husband and said, “LET’S HAVE A BABY.”

Now, I can confidently say that having a child at 23 wasn’t necessarily on my “vision board” as a 12-year-old, but we could all use a good plot-twist every now and again. Even though we dove into parenthood earlier than we ever expected, we were naturals. After working my way through some serious postpartum blues, I found myself completely living life for this squishy little baby. I had a new purpose, I had a new calling, and I was really freaking fantastic as a mom.

I coasted along on the kumbaya rainbow until one day, a girlfriend that I knew from my time working at ESPN came to visit during a work trip. I squealed from the happiest place when I saw her, and after hugging and gushing about how cute my baby was (because let’s be honest), she asked me something that completely rattled my world. It went a little something like this:

Her: “So what have you been up to? How’s life? Tell me everything!”

Me: “It’s great! Mom life is wild, this baby keeps me busy, and we’re just soaking up all the time before the hubby’s deployment.”

Her: “Ok, so how are you doing? What are you doing for you?”

I felt my heart sink to my stomach. This was my go-to girl when it came to conversations about fulfillment, new ideas, creative ventures, chasing dreams—you name it. And there I was, completely gob smacked. True to her hype-girl spirit, the day quickly became about finding my next big thing. We concluded that I would spill all of my ideas and dreams onto a poster board, I would connect the dots, and life would hand me the answer. Brilliant.

But when I went to start writing, I felt empty. I felt defeated. What could I possibly do to live out my dreams if I was constantly bouncing around the world so my husband could live out his? Tears fell on my poster board as I scribbled down something about starting a blog, how I liked yoga, and how I was an Army wife. If I’m being completely honest, I felt pathetic, I felt lost, and I felt angry. I shoved the poster under my bed and vowed that while my husband was deployed that upcoming summer, I would fly home to my parents house to clear my head and “figure it all out.”

Fast-forward to the fall where I had spent the summer scrapbooking instead of “figuring it out.” My husband was back home and looking for some clothes when I heard him stumble upon something. He walked out of our room holding the poster board that made me feel like a failure earlier that year. With a chipper “hey, what’s this?”, he held up my board, and I felt completely mortified. I snatched it from his hand, threw it by the trash can, and started uncontrollably sobbing—and I mean full-out ugly-cry sobbing.

I told him that I felt stuck. I told him I was lost, I felt powerless, and I was angry. I told him that I loved him and wanted to see him follow his dreams, but what about mine? Being the wonderful husband that I knew he was, he held me and tried his best to understand. I could feel how empathetic he was, and I could feel his heart break for me. He vowed to support me through any and every single wild, far-fetched idea that I would come up with. To this day, he has never gone back on that promise.

He knows that I have felt resentful, he knows that I have ached to re-discover that piece of me, and he knows that I have lain awake crying because I feel like I am standing still. At times, I’ll catch myself wondering what an alternate path would have looked like—where I’d be living, who my friends would be, and what dream job I may be working. I find myself longing for something that I know is never going to be my reality, sending me down the rabbit hole of self-pity. It’s a cycle that I still occasionally struggle with, but one I am determined to shatter. In those moments, I remind myself of one thing:

I didn’t choose that life. I had the option, and I didn’t choose it.

Kristen Gray

I remind myself that my professional road has not ended. Instead, it has just taken on a different appearance. It turns to gravel, dirt, and at times, mud. It has sharp turns, potholes and faded lines that don’t show a clear direction. It’s been slippery, dimly lit, and sometimes split into different directions. But just because it is messy at times doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

The military and my husband’s career didn’t end my road and my journey. After years of struggling to come to that conclusion, I realize that the military and our situation has only forced me to think outside the box and find a new destination for my twisty, slippery, muddy road to self-discovery.

The road blocks, especially for military spouses, pop-up all the time. Trying to figure out your own identity when you’re navigating the ridiculous schedules, deployments, and solo parenting where you just want to hide in the bathroom for 2 minutes of peace (sometimes accompanied by tears) is no easy task. It’s rough, you guys. We put our dreams on the back burner because we sometimes feel like we should. We are a part of something so much bigger than ourselves that speaking up and saying “I have something I want to do!” seems small. But it’s not. You are not.

You are not alone. You are not destined to go through life with a constant sense of emptiness. You are not meant to be unfulfilled. As much as I’d love to give you a clear action plan to finding your dreams, I can’t. But I can tell you that there is absolutely no ticking timer telling you when you have to have “it” figured out—whatever “it” may be.

Time is so unbelievably precious—and it’s the one of the only things in this world that we can never, ever get back. It seems even more delicate when you live day-to-day wondering when your family will be unfolded again. So if it means that your life’s timeline moves at a different pace than you expected, that’s perfectly okay. All I ask is that you wake up each day open to new opportunity, and that you are willing to take a chance on something new and see how it goes.

It’s not an easy conversation to start, but if any of my feelings resonate within you, then it’s a conversation worth having. The boiling pot can only keep its lid on top for so long before it spills over. It’s time to breathe. Put one foot in front of the other, take a few steps, and see where it takes you. You’ve got this, sister—more than you even know!