But this is what you signed up for

Will and I are almost through a deployment. This is our first, so saying it has been an adjustment is slightly an understatement. One day at a time is a great mantra to have in times like these (hey, what worked for widowhood can be applied to other aspects of life too!) It has been difficult, it’s been a struggle, but we’re hanging in there. One day at a time, indeed.

But something has been gnawing at me for a couple of days now and I think I need to vent.

If I hear one more time “but this is what you signed up for” come out of someone’s mouth when it comes to the military lifestyle, I am going to pull at my hair and scream. Why do people think it is okay to dismiss valid feelings a spouse/significant other of a military member may be sharing with them with this curt, cliché string of words? Why is that okay? Imagine if you were sitting down with a friend after a particularly bad day and voicing your concerns, pains, and worries, and that friend just gives you a blank look and says, “Well, this is life. Suck it up. This happens.” Is that helpful? Is that comforting? No? Will you want to vent to that person ever again?

And for the record, I didn’t sign up for the military. At no point did I wake up one morning and decide that you know what, moving every couple of years, never being close to friends or family, being separated constantly, sleeping alone, worrying about never seeing my husband again because he may die, and never putting down roots anywhere sounds so amazing, sign me up! I didn’t go out and actively search for this lifestyle. If you asked me five years ago, I’d have said you were a crazy person to think I would ever do any of this. But you know what happened? I met Will, I fell in love, I wanted a life with him. So I signed up for my husband. That is what I signed up for. He just happens to be in the military and this lifestyle is something that comes with his job. We try to make the best of it.

Does his job and this lifestyle mean that I miss him any less when he’s gone for half a year? Does it mean I’m somehow less lonely? Does it mean I don’t get angry and hate this way of life sometimes? Does it mean my tears aren’t real and honest on night #130 of sleeping without him by my side? Does it mean my feelings are somehow invalid and don’t matter because I “signed up for this”? Because when I hear someone say “but this is what you signed up for”, I feel like they are dismissing everything I am feeling and everything I am experiencing. And it infuriates me.

And maybe this is just me overreacting and feeling some of the old widow triggers swim to the surface. How I feel when I hear those words is very similar to how I felt after Brandon died and someone would tell me that everything happens for a reason, that he’s in a better place, that I’m lucky because I’m so young and we didn’t have kids.

Every military spouse has fears. Every military spouse holds their breath and tries hard to not think about the possibility of never seeing their love again while they’re away. Every military spouse struggles and has bad days. Every military spouse gets lonely and angry. And every military spouse has been shut down at some point with the dismissive “but you signed up for this”. It isn’t right. It isn’t okay.

I don’t know how it is for everyone, but for me, personally, something I worry about every day is getting a knock on the door and seeing a chaplain and a man in uniform standing at my door with somber looks on their faces. This is where my mind jumps to immediately after not getting a text or call from Will when I’m supposed to. It’s where my mind jumps to when I don’t hear from him for days. I feel the cold sweat of panic creep in and it’s all I can do to not curl up into a ball on the floor and cry. I think about the last time I touched him, which was to hug him before he walked away, got on a plane, and flew across the world. I start to panic internally. I feel the panic attack creeping in. But I try to hold it together, because I haven’t heard that knock on the door yet or gotten a phone call from a stranger. So I shove the panic down and I go about the day, the routine, while trying so very hard to not let the fears paralyze me and spin out of control.

For me, these fears of Will dying aren’t abstract, they are very much rooted in reality. I’m a widow, I’ve been down that road, I’ve felt that devastation. I’ve managed to rebuild my life and find joy again, but I’m all too aware that everything that brings me joy can vanish in a second and the devastation can return. So sometimes I like to talk to people about my fears, about my thoughts, about what’s going on internally. Because any therapist will tell you, talking about the things we’d rather keep locked up is actually very helpful. It helps to voice the fears, the concerns. It’s like being a kid again and feeling so convinced and terrified that there’s a big bad monster hiding in the closet. And when your parents turn on the light and open the door, the light chases the dark shadows away and you see that it’s just a closet. Talking about the deep and hidden fears, I’ve found over the years, is like turning on that light. It bathes your soul and you feel better.

It’s not easy to talk to people, to be honest, to open up. And it is especially not easy when you know that someone can just dismiss everything you feel with “but you signed up for this”. This is why I’ve truly come to be amazed and humbled by the military community, by how total strangers immediately have such tremendous things in common, how everyone understands your struggles and are always willing to bring you food or give you a ride or just come over for wine and conversation, how no one will ever judge you for crying or having bad days, and how no one will ever say “but this is what you signed up for”.

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