Monday, March 24, 2014

Forgetting Afghanistan

image via AP/Rahmat Gul

A year ago right now my husband was in Afghanistan and we were Skyping or talking to him on the phone from there several times a week. Checking the newswires for stories about anything going on there was a twice daily event, once in the morning and once before going to bed. Because of the twelve hour time difference, if there was any big daytime event happening there the news generally broke between ten and eleven at night our time. Not the best time of day to read scary news!

Now a year later, Afghanistan and news of the war there has slipped away from our daily conversations and my husband and I are not so up on what is happening there. Sometimes I read or hear things and have mixed emotions about telling him about them, knowing he may know the people and places vividly. I envisioned that we would stay as passionate about our commitment to awareness and those still serving there and suffering there, but in reality, life takes over and our energies have to go elsewhere.

That comes with mixed emotions and a little bit of perhaps poorly placed guilt. We cannot possibly continue to live in the heightened state of awareness and anxiety which we lived in while he was deployed. But it feels a little traitorous to move on with life and not agonize and pray every day for the safety of those deployed there and their families just like we did for our own service member and our own family. We've done war zone deployment, we know intimately how hard it is. Moving on and forward with our lives with those thoughts is difficult. How dare I not feel just as worried sick about others as I was about my own.

But somehow that is not possible and perhaps there is a time and a place, a season for everything. Maybe my season is not to agonize over Afghanistan and our deployed there right now. Their families perhaps have taken our spots in that realm. Maybe right now we are taking the spots of others who have moved on from reintegration, post deployment stress and all the transitions and uncertainty that come with that which we are currently experiencing. That is enough for our plates right now, I will say that.

Perhaps my place in all this now is to keep praying for our deployed service members and the people of Afghanistan and to keep praying for my family, all families and our country too. We served and learned great lessons and at times suffered greatly through our deployment. I know many others have before us. There is a kinship there and even if we are not all at the same heightened state of awareness and involvement. I do believe with all my heart, that we are all as one in the place of love and best wishes for our service members, their families and the freedom seeking people of Afghanistan.

We are here for you and for each other in whatever phase we may be, to bless with whatever experiences we may have to offer that may be helpful. We have not forgotten our deployed and their families, yet out of necessity we have moved to new phases. But we are always with you in spirit and in any other way we can step up to serve and offer a watchful, caring eye. I prayed for you today.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

10 Things A Military Spouse Can Control

There are so many things that are part of military life that we can't control. It's a given after a while that it's impossible to make life plans that will always stick because things always change. It's a given that your spouse will be gone a lot. Another that you will worry and sometimes not sleep well when they are in harm's way or you know they are struggling. It's also a given that the military will throw you a lot of curve balls that will turn your life upside down on a regular basis. So what can we control? How do we maintain a sense of control over our own lives and the development and growth of our life, our marriages and our families when so much is out of our control?

Here are 10 things I jotted down on a list one day that we can control. It's good to take back a sense of power and remember that there are super important things we have great influence over.

1. I have influence over my household and how we live in our home. I can help maintain a positive, loving, calm environment. Putting on peaceful music, keeping things as clean and orderly as possible, setting up rules and behavioral expectations that will create a warm, welcoming environment for the family are just a few ideas.

2. I am responsible for how I speak to my husband. I have a big responsibility to my marriage and what I bring to it. My attitude and behavior towards him have a huge impact on the spirit of our home and the well-being of our family. Even if he's in a bad mood, I have the ability to manage myself so that I don't make it worse. Sometimes it may be the reverse and I have to consider how I sound to the family and to my beloved. Taking care of myself so that I am well and sane makes a huge difference in my ability to manage myself.

3. I have 100% control over how I speak about my husband. Do I build him up in my eyes, his eyes and others? Showing disrespect to my husband in conversation with others tears him down and weakens our marriage. It also damages our relationships with others.

4. I have power to control how much time and energy I give to things outside our home. Do I let too many other activities, whether they be phone calls with friends and family or commitments to work, volunteering or anything else take away from the well-being of my family. I have to learn to balance these things so there is as little upheaval as possible for home and family -- and that I do not tire myself out and find myself constantly on empty.

5. I can control what music I listen to. Music can set the tone for calm, motivation or even sadness, darkness, anger and violence. The atmosphere I create or allow around me influences how I feel and act. Choose wisely. Sad country songs during deployment equal instant cry. Peppy pop songs help get the house cleaned faster. Workouts too become more powerful with the right music. I chose the soundtrack for my life.

6. I can control screen time. Spending too much time online or watching TV can steal precious minutes and hours from things that are really enjoyable and important to us. When my husband was on deployment I learned I shouldn't watch military movies. They made me too sad in that moment. Even now I don't enjoy them the way I did before he went to war.

Lone Survivor was tough for me. I found myself in the movie theater sitting next to my husband hyperventilating, shaking and wanting to scream at the screen to tell them NOT to let those people go down the mountain. TV can be a great momentary break from the day or it can be a total brain drain time suck where one can get lost and quickly end of staying in pajamas all day. It's easy to waste a lot of time on screens or allow them to control our moods and mindsets. On a related note, I have GREAT concerns about the damage video game addictions are having on military relationships - but that's a subject for the guys and another day.

7. I can manage my mood. It's totally okay to have a rough or sad day. But in every mood there are things we can do to help ourselves or make things worse. Sometimes a giant cry is just the right thing, other times a kick in the seat of the pants is needed, or a fantastically tough workout. Learning to know ourselves so we can help instead of make things worse is important.

8. I have great influence on how we raise our daughter. Those are decisions made best between mom and dad and when we work together we have a far better chance of success, especially when we face the change and upheaval of military life in the world of our children. When we help them learn to be brave, strong and resilient they see us as the steady shore to hold onto as they grow and while they also deal with the constant change of military life.

9. I can control how we spend our time when my husband is away working. Do I let everything slide or do I use our time to learn, grow and have fun. Sometimes it has to be a little of both and there is a balance to be found, but when I consciously use that time to build our family rather than just fall apart and wait for him to get back we get much greater rewards and build wonderful memories. We can take trips, day adventures, plan activities with other moms and kids, or have a little more downtime than usual. I have a lot of influence over whether those are sad, wasted times or happy, productive times.

10. I can greatly influence how our family feels about military life. Do I complain, nag or disrespect the life we lead and my husband's career path or do I act with dignity, respect and honor towards it? Do I take time to teach my kiddo about all the rich meaning and history of the military, of proper military/base conduct, patriotism and duty and honor? Anyone associated with the military knows that it has it's problems as any organization does, but there is a lot to love and respect and appreciate about the military. We have a great opportunity to build a stronger family and stronger kids through those rich traditions if we take advantage of them.

So, you see, it's easy to feel like the military controls everything and we just run ragged trying to keep up. But when we really look at things, we still maintain the balance of power over the well-being and happiness of our lives, homes and families. When we let the outside disturbances become small ripples (as often as possible) instead of crashing swells we are able to maintain our influence and peace within our own families and stay strong and brave.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Don't Be Afraid Of Therapy

image via mca

I've had the chance to meet and talk with a lot of therapists and counselors this past year both within and outside of the military community. It's been a great introduction to the world of counseling and all the good it can do. This image above might be your vision of therapy. It may sound a little scary, daunting, intrusive or embarrassing. But after meeting so many very competent therapists and counselors inside and outside the military community I am here to say do not hesitate to seek out help if you feel that life has become overwhelmingly stressful or you haven't felt like yourself in a long time.

Here's a great article that I very much agree with about what therapy is and isn't called Ten Things I Wish Everyone Knew About Therapy by Megan Hale. This article is full of just the compassion, understanding and encouragement I have seen in conversations with therapists, social workers and chaplains I have enjoyed getting to know over the past year.

This has been my experience as I have entered into therapy sessions for myself in the past few months. I am a pretty strong person and have always had a pretty great attitude about life. But after a string of very challenging events for our family I was worn down and had lost my ability to be my normal sunny, happy, calm self. I found myself shorter tempered, exhausted and frustrated more often than I needed to be and I felt like I was on permanent "crisis mode" after needing to operate in crisis mode for such an extended period of time. Throw in the sleeplessness and stress of my husband's year-long military deployment and boom, I was one tired, worn out woman.

So after deliberating for a while, I decided to meet with a therapist that was recommended to me by someone I met in the FOCUS program. I am glad I did because it's been great for me, but I also am glad I did it because now I can share that encouragement with others. Do it. If you feel it will help, do it. You will feel a HUGE load lifted off your shoulders in an environment where you can say what you feel honestly without worry or shame. Don't wait until things get so bad that your situation becomes a crisis you can no longer manage.

I have seen that there are great things that can happen in counseling for military kids, service members, spouses and as families and couples too. It's great to have an outside party who can point out areas where you should probably give yourself, your spouse, your life or your family a break, things that might be creating more frustration than ease, ways of thinking that may be blocking your success and to help you see the sunny side of life again.

Some of the major issues we've talked about in therapy have to do with how I constructed my mindset in my childhood and things that happened in my life then. Amazing how it flows over into so much of how I do things as as adult. I've caught myself creating beliefs that aren't exactly true or in some cases are totally false. For instance last week I mentioned a situation that I had failed at. When we looked at it, I hadn't failed the situation at all. I had done all I could do. The situation has just not worked out in my favor initially. So I had to backtrack and realize I had not failed but the situation had been a difficult one. Major difference in perspective and how it affects one's sense of self worth and ability to succeed!

I've also learned how often we misuse the words "always" and "never." As in "Things never work out" or "This always happens to me" or "I always am disappointed." Every once in a while I hear myself speak one of these words. There are no absolutes in our life experience. There are good and bad days, things sometimes work out and sometimes they don't. When things are difficult it's easy to feel like only bad things happen or when we have trouble in relationships it's easy to say the other person "always" treats us in a way we don't like. When we think things are always one way or the other we create a situation that isn't real and then we operate as if it were. A recipe for trouble.

Therapy is an opportunity to see ourselves and our lives more clearly. It's a great opportunity to refocus our thoughts and actions for more happiness and greater success in life. It can help kids to adults develop strong souls and learn life-changing skills, it can improve marriages and bring peace. It's a good thing. Be sure to find someone you feel comfortable with and have good chemistry with. Get recommendations. Go through reputable resources. You should always feel it's working for you and if it's not, find someone else who you do feel chemistry with.

But don't wait. It the thought comes to your mind repeatedly go do it. I found myself wanting to go to therapy for a good year before I really did it. I should've gone so much sooner. Why did I need to suffer for another year when I could've lightened my load with less stress so much earlier.  I also found that things would be fine during the week when we were busy and when the weekend hit we'd end up in crisis and I would have nowhere to turn, promise myself I'd call for an appointment on Monday morning and then the week would start, we'd get busy and I'd let the idea go until the next overwhelming moment occurred. Dumb decisions. But I'm glad I finally did it. It's amazing how a few little tweaks to my outlook each week have improved my life. I've learned a lot and appreciate my time to refresh my little soul and focus on my own self-care.

Have you taken advantage of counseling opportunities from the military or other sources. What did you learn and how did it improve things for you?