How It Feels
It’s been almost 21 months since our divorce was finalized.
Twenty one months.
I started this blog to document my journey on navigating the world of becoming an Army girlfriend, turned brief fiance, and ultimate military spouse. Flash forward to now, and I’m still picking up the pieces from the disaster that was my marriage.
I’ve decided to open up on this blog, my old blog, and share just how it feels to be “post military wife life” for those who find themselves in the same shoes. Though I notice most of my traffic comes from military girlfriends just starting out on this crazy ride, a lot can be learned from my experience through all stages of this life and more importantly, it’s imperative to me that other women know they aren’t alone when faced with a tough decision like the one I had to make.
I don’t remember what all I shared on “This Army Life” about the reasons for the demise of my marriage to M. It was hard. It was tough. It was emotional. It wasn’t easy. It remains the most difficult decision I have ever made and probably will be for the rest of my life.
It’s not “acceptable” to walk away from a wounded warrior. Sure, wedding vows are meant to be ’til death do you part before God, but when you marry someone in the military, there are a whole lot of other “secret” ones nobody tells you about. Like the one about when they come back from war mentally changed, violent, and abusive…you’re supposed to stick it out. You’re supposed to support them no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you fear your life, if you worry what’s around the corner, if you walk on eggshells around your own husband…waiting for the bomb to explode again. You’re never supposed to leave your warrior. You never leave a comrade behind. Right? Isn’t that the mantra? Your spouse is your ultimate comrade. Well, I failed at that hidden rule & it plays with my mind even almost two years later.
For whatever reason, the past couple months have been really difficult for me in regards to my divorce. I’ve had a lot of transition this year. I heard from him for the first time since March 30th, 2011. I moved back to DC, where I was when we were dating, engaged, and newly married. I moved into a two bedroom apartment, like the one I lived in with him in TX when we were married. It just brought back a flood of memories, coupled with the holidays…it’s been tough. I wonder at times if I gave it enough. If I tried enough. If I fought hard enough. If I should have left. If I should have stayed. What would have happened if I didn’t leave. What would have happened if I fought harder. Then, I remember the reasons why I left. I look back at old e-mails and recount all of the fear I had of this man I loved, still, with all of my being. I fought for his mental health. I fought for answers. I fought for someone, anyone, to pay attention to the fact he wasn’t well. That the man in my house, that I slept next to every single night, wasn’t the man I married. I knew all along, I knew in my heart it was PTSD, yet he didn’t get an official diagnosis until after we had separated. It took over a year for the Army to diagnose him from the time he returned from Iraq. Over one year.
There are so many things I could share about my experience as a divorced military spouse. For one, because I actually left and divorced my husband, I’m in a category that is very “vacant.” Going from being in such a tight knit, loving, “we totally get you” community, to “we’re so sorry that happened to you, but you’re not one of us anymore” is more than difficult. It’s like transitioning from military life to civilian life. Even though I wasn’t in the military community but for a couple years (during our dating, engagement, and marriage), it’s been one of the hardest things and one of the things I long to have again. I have to be honest though, I still keep in touch with some of the wives I knew @ Hood and the military family I made has continued to keep me in their circles and as part of the family as I still can be. Still, I know it’s not the same. I know it’s the unspoken “thing” in the room. The fact of the matter is, I’m not a milspouse anymore but the hardest part of that, is it really wasn’t by choice. I’d give anything to be still married to the man I loved, PTSD or no PTSD, as long as I was safe and able to trust him. There were no guarantees. You don’t get them in this life. You aren’t guaranteed your spouse will survive deployment. You aren’t guaranteed they will come back without missing limbs. You aren’t guaranteed they will come back mentally stable. You aren’t guaranteed your marriage will even survive. One thing you are guaranteed, is once they go to war, they will never be the same again. Ever.
Another part that makes all of this so complex and hard to digest, is knowing the man he became wasn’t by choice. It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t his plan. I know he loved me. I know he didn’t want to hurt me. All he did was step forward, answer a call to serve, protect, and defend his country, and came home a very changed man because of what he saw and did. He put on a uniform, took an oath, and his life forever changed. He lost his marriage too and I know he felt just as helpless, like his mind and body were out of his own control. In a way, they were. Try convincing your family about this. Despite all of the chatter of the legitimacy behind PTSD, people want to believe it’s just someone “acting crazy,” “being abusive,” or being “undeserving” of your devotion, love, and affection. I’m not going to lie, I fell for some of these feelings at moments also. Instead of reminding myself it was the PTSD talking, I told myself my husband was crazy. He was an asshole. He was violent. He was abusive. He was a bad man. That he was one of the just plain abusive guys that are in this world. That makes me sad. At times I was his own worst enemy even though we were on the same team. It was hard to be the strong one when you were being beaten down yourself, by the person who was supposed to love and protect you the most.
The PTSD isn’t just something that the guys carry. It can become a burden you bear as a spouse as well. There is some talk out there about secondary PTSD, but I don’t think it’s given near the attention or understanding it deserves. I’ve never really admitted it before, but I feel strongly I possess some of the symptoms. It was mentioned by several of my therapists over the past few years, but I don’t recall if I was ever officially diagnosed. I can’t watch “Call of Duty” commercials without having nightmares. Loud, unexpected noises ALWAYS make me jump. I have had panic attacks when the heat becomes too much and there are too many large crowds of people around. I went through a solid period of time where I’d have “combat dreams.” I’d be overseas in the desert, fighting for my life, firing my weapon, and bad guys would pop out from around corners, out from bunkers, and from out of buildings. Watching war movies most certainly gives me nightmares. As I type this, I’m watching Hurt Locker and will probably pay the price later. There are times I even have dreams about still being married to my husband. If I think about him, if I think about our marriage right before I lay my head down at night, I have dreams. I wake up and wish they were real. Last night, I had the “happy family” dream. We were married, with a family, and happy. We were whole again. It breaks my heart. It’s dreams like that where I wake up and think for a brief second, they’re real. I believe it could happen again. Then I realize, it’s not real. It can’t happen again. It won’t happen again. If only it would. Maybe it would make it all okay. It would take away the pain I feel and the sorrow I have over all of the hopes and dreams that were lost. We’d start again where we left off and have the marriage we intended to have. We’d have the family we wanted so badly. The one we started but was taken away.
I’ve done some dating. It’s not that I’ve spent my time since my divorce in solitary confinement. I rekindled a romance with an old flame I was certain was going to last. I dated a Marine briefly, which was just good for my soul. Everything felt fine. I very rarely thought of my ex husband, my divorce, and all that came with it. It was there, but I had plenty of distractions. In a time I feel I should be most healed, I feel like I’m back to near square one. Maybe not square one, but from 90% okay with it all back to just half okay. It just goes to show, in my opinion, it can come back to “haunt” you at any time. I wrote a post on my other blog, “15th & Madison” a few weeks ago about my feelings on divorce and how I feel it’s something you never truly get over. It’s something that never truly leaves you. Add the military factor, the PTSD factor, and it’s a devastating combination. It’s not that I’ll never be able to move on. It’s not that I’ll never be able to let go. It’s not that I’ll never love again. It’s just that it seems it’s going to take much longer than I anticipated. Maybe it truly takes some time alone but also time with someone new to make the memories fade. Truthfully, there are times though when I feel I never will love again. Times I feel I will never re-marry. Times where I feel like I had my one chance and lost it. I remind myself, this isn’t true. It can’t be. God has bigger and greater plans for me. Plans I cannot imagine. Plans I can’t see.
My point of this entry wasn’t to sound like a drag, but to be brutally honest on what military divorce has been like for me. My experience certainly isn’t everyone’s experience. I’m also not saying every military marriage results in divorce. I’m not saying military life isn’t worth it, because it is. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I’m forever changed as a human being for all I experienced and continue to experience. If anything, I hope this blog entry helps other women going through a military divorce and lets them know they aren’t alone. It can feel like one of the most isolating experiences in life. You have no idea where to turn and losing your benefits, doesn’t help. Know you aren’t alone. It will be tough. It will hurt like hell, but you’ll pick up the pieces and learn to live with your new normal.
This has become my life’s purpose. My mission. I hope to someday make an impact on this little niche of the world. The wives who have been through hell and back, right along side their service member, but are forced to flee to survive. It’s a lonely place, but it doesn’t have to be.
It will get better. It has. It will continue to, despite any momentary lapses. It will get better.