From Deflate to Relate

The wonderful thing about being relocated for military purposes is that they cater for the pure inconvenience of it.
Your dedicated removals company arrive at the crack of dawn, but not too ‘crack of dawn’ that you can’t indulge in the final slice of toast dripping with whatever needs to be used up in the fridge, generally a condiment accompanied by a gherkin or a pickled onion. They pull up in front of your house with the regulatory joviality and cigarette behind the ear. Having laid protective matting over your cream carpets (They know the score!) they get to work packing. Yes ladies, that is right, you have done nothing in preparation other than hide all your granny knickers and pack an overnight bag. An overnight bag containing fourteen pairs of granny knickers and some eye cream. They pack everything. Just like you would. But better.
The fact that they can bubble wrap, box and seal an expansive four bedroomed home in time for afternoon tea makes you question your role as a woman. And then they make afternoon tea.
You can drive away, the house in a state, knowing that a cleaning company have been provided to scrub and wash and dust and scrape and steam and clean and hoover for you.
A night in a hotel, if required, is paid for. It is also where your overnight bag will come in handy. He will be sent out for magazines and wine. This is a holiday people!

After a six hour drive along a motorway that doesn’t beg me to glorify its scenic capabilities … oh alright, it does. Every fifteen miles there was a Burger King and a petrol pump. The end.
We eventually slide into our new village, Puddle*. It is 19:30 and the deserted high street is enveloped in a darkness thicker than tar, snow is turning to slush as it plonks onto the windscreen as He whispers the car down winding lanes, blinded by thorny hedgerow, eventually pulling up outside a prison block and turning off the ignition. The internal light flashes on in the car and a quick glance confirms that both Baby and Dog are fast asleep on the back seat, hand in paw. I peer out of the window through the wet snow and see the flood lit forecourt outside of our new home. It is not a prison. It looks like a prison. There are five rows of seven identical houses, each with a front door and a window. A window. A.
I am coaxed from the car with the promise of warmth and wine. Before bracing the icy wind whipping around the parking lot I make Him promise that the wine is plural. It is. I get out.

A few hours, wines and curries later we lie in a bed in a neighbouring friends house. I am on my side whimpering silently into my pillow, missing my home with the golden light and the river and the little shops and my fellow Utopian military wives.

He is snoring next to me. Unaware.

I hear a noise that quietens my self-pitying sobs. I hear waves crashing in the deathly silence of the night. I stifle my breathe to make sure that what I am hearing is not the snow falling or the whistling of the naked trees, but no, there are definitely waves crashing. I sit up, still hugging my (read: borrowed) soggy (read: mascara stained!) pillow and listen again. Defiantly (as defiantly you can with a baby in a travel cot at the foot of your bed) I march over to the bedroom window and peek through the curtains, the front of my thighs leaning against the warmth of the radiator. The snow has ceased its descent, the clouds slowly rumbling across the inky blackness leaving in its wake a mass of starlight and as I blink the moon begins to emerge and what starts as a single shard of silver, streaking across the sea, slowly basks an entire bay in a soft white light, catching the breaking waves as they crash majestically along the desolate shore line. Like magic.
It will be ok. It will definitely be ok.

He and I did things very quickly. We had our first date a few days after meeting, became engaged on a frosty Christmas morning a few months later and married whilst pregnant the following year. 

In the first eighteen months of marriage and Baby we relocated with the military three times.
We had also never spent time as a couple, enjoying the post marital haze that allows you to settle into your roles as Mr and Mrs. It had been a whirlwind of wedding, morning sickness, work trips, packing, un-packing, hellos and goodbyes, births, becoming parents and yet more packing and unpacking. Amongst the chaotic frenzy of adjustment I became a stay at home mother. I agreed to this wholeheartedly, wanting only the best for my husband and child. And also because if we were going to be moving every six months no one was going to be hiring me anyway.

In the first couple of months I threw myself into being the best darn housewife you could shake a tin of furniture polish at. The house gleamed and smelt of shake ’n vac, the dog was walked, cakes were baked, meals were prepared and Baby was happy and content, sleeping through the nights allowing He and I to eat dinner together most nights with a glass of wine. I smiled a lot. Because why wouldn’t I? It was all rather pretty on the outside.

What I wasn’t prepared to contend with was the resentment bubbling and fizzing inside me from my chest to the darkest depths of my soul. The finality of leaving MY job, MY city, MY friends, MY lifestyle. Where was MY medal?! Where was MY parade?! The fear of never, ever being able to identify with myself as a financially independent, ambitious, awesome, sexy woman again took my inner breath away.
Practically overnight I had become penniless and dependent. I also had dried cracked hands from all of the tedious housework (aw, bless), only ever wore pumps or trainers, had nipples the size of the rings of saturn and had lost the will to apply lipstick.
Lady of leisure I most certainly was not, I was becoming *shudders* a martyr.

One sweltering late summers day this all came convulsing out, spewing like hot lava from within, frothing with anger and hurt and bitterness and resentment. The fury was unleashed. The injustice I had been feeling let itself known with an almighty roar. I missed having my own money, I missed my friends, I missed my spontaneity, I missed feeling important, I missed my soul feeling full of life, buzzing with excited energy and endless possibilities. The storm thundered through the balmy afternoon until the cool early evening ending in a pile of heaving shoulders and panting, gasping sobs. We spent the night apart.
The following day was one of mourning, for the both of us. I was grieving the death of a picture of perfection that I had been pretending to paint. The masterpiece had fallen, shattering into a million unloved pieces, fracturing any hope of repair.
He was silent, heart broken. It felt like the end. We had lost each other. We had been, in one moment, best friends, giggling, sharing, dreaming, now strangers who followed a daily routine, digging themselves deeper into the dark, musty rut.

When Baby was born I immediately went from loving all of Him to loving all of Baby, shutting him out, assuming he would be there to provide for us and appreciate and admire the dedication I was showing our first born. I thought this was what you were supposed to do. I had turned from the bubbly, sophisticated, funny woman he had fallen so crazily in love with to a pasty, mean, dictating killjoy. The femininity he adored had been replaced by saggy leggings, dark rings around my eyes and my hair scraped back from my face. He wasn’t met at the door each evening with smiles and appreciation. He wasn’t met at all. It didn’t occur to me that he looked forward to coming home to see me. My bitterness and disintegrated self esteem had clouded this.

Divorce was thrown back and forth, becoming the trump card of threats, until one day He and I took a leap of faith in each other, bound by the love for Baby and found our saving grace. Relate Counselling.

Nestled in an arm chair in a cosy room, wrapped tightly into myself I glanced nervously at Him as our therapist popped her head round the door to acknowledge our arrival, reaching out he squeezed my hand and smiled reassuringly.

The hour we spent with our Relate counsellor was the safest I had felt in a long time, my shoulders dropped and my face lost its pinched look. She mediated our conversations so that the end result was that we could both confidently lay bare our souls without getting defensive and flouncing out as had previously happened when we had attempted drunken self counsel.
He agreed with a lot of what I was saying and I was ashamed that I hadn’t seen earlier how isolated and scared he had been feeling.
She prompted with questions and acknowledged when each of us made valid points or contributions. It felt wonderful to have someone acknowledge that we were going through a rough patch and validated our thoughts and that it was so, utterly, completely normal. Our arguments were normal and the topics of arguments were normal. My feelings of inadequateness and anxiety were normal. That His feelings of regret and financial burdens were normal. Our fears and judgement were normal. Most importantly, as a military family, our every day problems were magnified ten fold (but still normal) and were not helped by the constant moving around, finding new friends, saying goodbye to old ones, settling our guilt at settling our children into boarding schools, enduring deployment, rationalising fear and anxiety, maintaining the standards that tradition have set upon us. Becoming a military wife does essentially mean losing a bit of yourself, because your life centres around your husband, his work and his priorities. NORMAL. She reminded us that it was Thursday, not Doomsday! 
What wasn’t normal, was the lack of communication. Talk, people!
Neither of us knew what the other felt, which is strange when you trust that person enough to take their name and create a new life with them, to entrust your future to them, but out of fear of upsetting the boat you cannot have a chat about how you feel … or don’t feel?!

That damp Thursday evening walking away from the therapists office we turned a corner, quite literally into the closest pub for a nerve settling vino blanco. But figuratively too, not only did I feel as if I could see my best friend again, but we also realised that we had to stop blaming each other for the current state of our relationship and more importantly I had to stop blaming Him for my unhappiness. 

I am learning that you cannot rely on another human being for your own happiness, regardless of what you feel that you have sacrificed. To feel fulfilled and content, this is your job and as soon as you start doing that job well the knock on effect will resonate through your husband, your children and your community.
As much as the adjustment to becoming a military wife has been, and will continue to be, epic it has also dawned on me that I have been gifted the freedom and security to become whomever I want. Life is a long, luscious, exciting journey and you don’t have to fulfil all of your dreams immediately. It is a relief when you finally realise that. The anxiety in your soul dissipates.

For now I am working on being content with the fact that for the next few years I want to immerse myself in our Baby’s exploration of this wonderful world and fill our existence with adventures and stories and bubbles in the bath and nourishing our minds and bodies with good news and good food. And most importantly, so much laughter. 

I want to work on becoming the ‘Good Military Wife’ by being the best friend, the rock, the sounding board, the trophy, the safe place to come home to.

I want to work on showing my gratitude for the life that we, as military wives, have been handed.
To stand proudly next to our husbands, who with a quiet dignity, protect our country and fellow country men.
We are afforded easier lifestyles and tremendous adventures, the opportunities as a spouse are endless, no day has to be the same. Our hardships are not tended to alone, there is always help. You just need to ask.

I want a balance.

I want to work on myself and you on yourself. I am creating a space in my head that is solely mine, not as a wife or a mum or a friend or a neighbour or a committee member, but as an independently thinking woman.
Feed your soul with creativity; make a candle, create your own bath oil, paint a picture, write something, read your favourite book, go to bed early and just be, learn how to arrange an exquisite bunch of flowers… pick flowers! Create, allow your mind to wander, meditate, swim, bake, smile, sing (badly and alone if need be), dance (again, badly and alone if need be), have a fresh cup of coffee, ….
Anything. The smallest thing that you do for yourself will show on your face, will show in your ways.

The following morning we awoke to snow laden clouds and the sound of the removal van horn.
Once again, like the day before, only further north, the joviality and ear bound cigarettes jumped off the truck and within hours are new home began filling with familiarity and copious mugs of tea.
It took a few days for us to build, arrange, knock together and shuffle before it resembled cosiness and until then I hadn’t been tempted to leave the house. Neighbours poured in showering us with hot meals, muffins and welcoming hugs, handshakes and advice.
It wasn’t until Dog began gnawing at the stair case that I relinquished the interior decorating role and bundled up and out into the foggy wilderness.
Crunching out of the quiet married patch I turned on to the only main road that ran through the tiny village that was Puddle. It was called, “The End.” Quite.
Dog ran out front, rounding up twigs and sticks, springing on and off the kerb in excitement, his breath silver against the below zero temperatures.
It was so incredibly still, no one was about, the snowy road hadn’t been marked by car tyres or foot prints, it was 10:30 in the morning, where was life?!
A few moments later, an older lady trotted down her drive way. On a horse. “Morning!” She chirped as she bounced towards the only village shop. “Madness!” I exclaimed to myself and Dog, bewildered and highly amused.
Within half an hour and after trudging down a haggard farm road, I came across what I had been looking for, miles upon miles of unspoilt shore line, the sand as soft and as fine as sugar, the waves, calmer than they were a few nights ago, dreamily licking at the dried shelf of blackened, twisted seaweed just out of its reach.
It was desolate. I was very alone. The sea fog swirled around us, my hair salty and windswept. The silence seeped through me, I had never been so quiet before.
A glimpse of sunshine through parted snow clouds leaked down and coloured the beach golden and slowly melted any fear that I had begun to feel at being so obviously cut off from civilisation. Squinting back across the rolling fields you could just about make out our house, a light grey cube against dark grey clouds. We lived in a field.
The only souls that we saw on that first day on the beach were a scruffy herd of cows munching on the dune grass sheltering from the arctic breeze that had begun its descent from across the North sea.
Dog and I walked for miles that morning, amongst rocks and tidal pools, dunes and rivers, excited thoughts tumbling over one another, the biggest, whitest, blank canvas. Dog in heaven. Me too.

TOP TIP: If you need help. Ask. As a part of the military one of the services provided to families and individuals are six free counselling sessions with Relate. Use these. Use them before you marry into the service, to map out expectations and realities. Get a game plan (get a joint bank account). Dating some one in the military and marrying some one in the military is a whole different ball game!
Use it when you are in a bit of a rut like we were, get back on track, remember why you are both on this path together. Create solid foundations for your future together, as individuals, as a couple and as a family.
Use it as an annual MOT. Even if it is just you that goes for your own sanity, to get what is in your head, out. It’s like a spa day … for your mind, treat yourself, your soul, your spirit.
It was one of the proudest moments of my life walking out of that counselling session. Do not be ashamed. You are saving yourself, your marriage and your childrens livelihood, it is an amazing contribution to your life. You cant stop me telling people about the good it did us … much to my very professional, private husbands horror!

United Kingdom: Relate Counselling can be organised directly or through SSAFA (Soldier, Sailor, Airman Families Association)

www.relate.org.uk, 0300 100 1234

www.ssaf.com, 0800 731 4880

United States:

Real Warriors, www.realwarriors.net, 866 966 1020

MINI TOP TIP: At the end of the day if you look like rubbish, you are going to feel like rubbish. This is coming from some one who used to plaster her face with every product going and nowadays is quite happy (read: preoccupied with muddy wellies, nappies and fixing my soul) to forego the primer. Lets combat both evils to create an atmosphere your husband will relish and appreciate. How fifties!!!

Five minutes before He gets home, slap on some lipstick. I’m not saying you need to go the whole hog with bronzer and under eye concealer – you can look tired, it garners sympathy I find. And more wine, less washing up, longer baths, earlier bed times.
This week I am using Maybelline Colour Sensations ‘Stellar Pink”, maybelline.co.uk in a previous life time this colour said, “right, Jaegerbomb anyone?” In my current life it says, “Yes. Yes, I have been cleaning toilets today. How great am I?”

From Mai Tai
From Mai Tai
To Mulled Wine
To Mulled Wine
To Mead
To Mead

Until next time xoxo

*Not its real name.

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16 thoughts on “From Deflate to Relate

  1. I really enjoyed reading that, a really great insight into military life, moving around and relationships. My sister’s a military wife and I’m a doctor, so I’m well versed with moving families around for work and it totally sucks, to put in simply. But you’ve come through the tougher times. And I never knew you got free relate councelling, that’s good to know and like you say, use it as a relationship MOT. #wineandboobs

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  2. I love this post. I have a friend who is more than just a friend who is military and find myself arguing in my own head about whether or not that life would work for us. It obviously is super hard I know, but sadly I don’t hear much good about it. At what point does the love and commitment balance with the toughness of the situation? I really appreciate your candid story about your experience. So glad things are getting better for you both. Good luck moving forward!

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    • Do you know what? I think it’s about acceptance and acclimatisation. The adventures as a family, the time I get to spend with our child and the opportunity for me to grow as a woman on her own personal journey eventually outweigh the rubbish parts. Its all perspective and attitude. It’s getting to that point which is the tough part, especially if you are as stubborn as I am 🙂 Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment.

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