Often I’m asked a question that sometimes baffles me…”what’s it like being a military spouse?”
You wouldn’t think the question catches me off guard, but it does.
I don’t feel like a normal military spouse. I wasn’t married, engaged, or dating Sam during most of his time in the military. In fact, we met as he was preparing to retire from the military. I didn’t experience any type of deployment, homecoming, reintegration after deployment, or Skype sessions with him. I didn’t get to send packages or write letters to him while he was deployed, and I never met other spouses while living on a military base.
So why don’t I feel normal or grateful that I didn’t endure those moments that could have been filled with heartache, anxiety, worry, and loneliness?
I honestly wish I could have experienced at least one deployment.
I would have loved to welcome Sam home with his family–waiting to see him get off a plane.
I wish we could have experienced life on a military base.
But–my version of military spouse is different. And I am okay with that.
I met Sam during a retirement phase. He was working for the VA, which actually was one of his active duty stations. He was housed on SIU’s campus where he worked with student-veterans transitioning into the academic setting. I think we met for a reason. I was the incoming instructor for the student-veteran composition course that fall, and I had some materials to share with his office. We talked for what seemed like hours to him, but I was happy to drop off some extra books for the Veteran lounge, and put some faces with names for the first time.
I knew Sam was a Veteran. I didn’t know much about his military experiences, but he was friendly and open to helping fill our class with student-veterans and ROTC students.
When we began dating, I noticed what I would now say were signs of PTSD or moments of being socially awkward. Sam didn’t like crowds (but our first date was to a Jake Owen concert). If we went out to eat, we sat near an exit, and Sam sat with his back to a wall where he could see his surroundings. I didn’t ask a lot of questions, and at times there was little to no conversation about his time in the military. I knew he wasn’t big on recognition for Veterans Day, but he enjoyed helping Veterans.
To experience retirement with someone who has spent 12 years of their life in the military is challenging. There are a lot of emotions that surround the retirement phase. It really is the closing of a chapter of one’s life. Sam went to For Knox (one of our adventures) for this process where he was officially retired from the army. This was also an experience where I saw how many different doctors and health care professionals it took to make a decision, check a box on a paper so to speak.
Because we were not married at the time, some of the medical information had to come from Sam–on his terms. I never pressured him to speak about his injuries or tell me about some of his appointments, but I knew there were medications prescribed for various things in addition to therapy. We had a very scary moment when we were on our way to a therapy appointment and we ended up at the ER at the VA.
Sam had surgery to remove a kidney stone. I believe this was a test in our relationship as Sam was not a great patient. He also had to depend on me a little more than he was accustomed to. I knew that I wanted to be there for him no matter what, and while I admire and have the utmost respect for nurses, the recovery process was one that made me appreciate that profession even more. I had to clean and cook in his house, which was “his turf” and he had to trust me more than he’d trusted someone in a very long time.
Understanding trauma is not easy. I read a lot of information in books, but until you experience first hand, you really don’t understand how difficult some situations can be for people who suffer from PTSD. I wanted to know more, I wanted to help, but I never pried or asked questions. I knew in time, and with a gentle, listening ear, Sam would open up when he was ready.
Sam has always said that I’ve been an eternal learner, or eternal student. He’s said that he feels my need for information, more than a basic answer, comes from a desire to educate myself. I want to know everything I can about the medication he takes, in the event that something happens, I know when he gets a certain type of pill and how often. I want to know if there are side effects or other issues if he does not take the pill.
I can now understand some of the triggers for Sam. Triggers could be a variety of things: work, stories that a Veteran shares with him, I’ve watched Memphis take care of Sam during a group (altering him, leaning on him so Sam can pet him), and I realized that sometimes Sam just needs me to help carry the load. The amount of stress and anxiety that comes up in one day for him could be crippling or overwhelming, but we work very well as a team. I know when he needs a break, and I know when he needs some time alone for woodworking, working out, or just a drive.
Sam told me that I have “a willingness to give back to the Veteran community.” I just want to be a support for others who may live with someone who suffers from PTSD, who has TBI, and I want to be a good listener, because Lord knows I’ve had many people who have simply just listened to things I have to say. Veterans, military families, and those who are serving hold special places in my heart.
My name is Cathrine…and I’m a military spouse.