Develda Edgington here, military disabled veteran and spouse to the same for more than 18 years. I have the unique privilege and pleasure to speak about military life from both perspectives…the servicemember and the spouse. While each one came with its own set of challenges, they both started the same way: saying these two BIG words, “I DO”!
When I made the decision to serve my country, I didn’t even know who I was as a person…let alone who I was as a service member. This problem was soon solved, because the military told me who I was, and I agreed to take on that role. A year into my military service, I took on another role…the military spouse. Again, I was JUST figuring out how to be a young lady, now I’m a service member…AND a spouse! (Talk about a wild ride!)
Imagine being 18 years old, fresh out of high school, being asked to take on some of the same powerful duties and responsibilities as people 2 and 3 times your age and experience. Now try to imagine doing that yourself, and being a spouse to someone going through the same thing! (Yikes!) No one sits you down and has the conversation with you about identity, self-love, reflection, emotional intelligence, expression and choice. No one ask you about your “story” and what things matter most to you. You simply take on the identity assigned to you…and slowly but surely you become the person you need to be, moment by moment. You learn how to blend in, and be the person that is required to fulfill the task at hand.
All of a sudden you realize…I don’t really know who I AM! I know what I’ve been told, I know what I’ve been trained to be, I know who I should be in order to fit in, but in the midst of all of that…WHO AM I? I understand that my duty as a military spouse is to support my service member…but WHO AM I? It’s in that moment the journey to discover your story, your TRUTH, begins!
The information I’m about to share with you was my process, and while it may work for you…it may not. I encourage you to take what works and leave or adjust what doesn’t. This is not something I consciously sat down and wrote out, and then checked it off my list as it was happening. The acknowledgement of this process was hindsight; I didn’t see it happening while it was happening. The most important thing I want you to gain from my experience is to know that you have a story, it matters, and you get to tell it to the world!
1. Start Building Genuine Connections
This was critical for me; when you don’t know who you are, you tend to form superficial relationships with people then never move beyond the surface. When I shifted from feeling the need to be “connected” to having the desire to make connections, I slowly became aware that who I was connected to had a lot to do with who I was — my story! The more honest and transparent I was with the people around me, the closer I came to being honest and transparent with myself. Because let’s face it, sometimes it’s easier to connect with the outside than with the inside. The saying, “It starts within” isn’t always true…sometimes, it starts outside and transfers within!
2. Practice Authenticity
Being authentic requires being honest about your values and ideas. When it comes to discovering your story, understand that it will require action…not just words. Often times we feel a sense of accomplishment and euphoria simply by saying, “I have a story, and it matters.” However, if those words aren’t backed by action, they will soon fade away. Seek out opportunities to practice authenticity, promote causes that are important to you, speak up for someone that you feel is being wronged, choose to support causes that align with your core. You won’t have it all figured out in the beginning, but the staircase will reveal itself over time.
3. See Yourself as the Star of Your Own Reality
Now this may sound weird, but stay with me for a second. We watch television, read books, listen to music, etc., why? We listen and watch because they are all telling a story of some sort. But, we often forget that we carry our own story as well! We miss it because we are too busy living it…and sometime feeling like we are barley surviving it! However, as a military spouse, the rich history of your experiences can’t be compared to that of the typical civilian spouse. It’s not comparing hardships. It’s a reality…one you live with and live through every day. Your experience as a spouse alone is a story, one that tells of your strength, courage, wisdom, temperance, emotional regulation, etc. Don’t discount your inner reality star status!
I will tell you, in the beginning the process will be scary because you are forced to strip down and bare your truth (the good, bad and ugly of it all). I want you to know that’s normal and it will pass. You will start to view some of the relationships you have formed over the years have reached their “shelf life” and it’s time for you to transition away from them. People won’t like it, and will say that “you’ve changed” and yes…you certainly have. If we aren’t growing, we’re dying…that’s the order of the universe.
So as you set out on the journey of tapping into your story…don’t be afraid to shed old dead skins. Because putting new wine (experiences) in old skin (mindset) will ruin the wine…and shame on you if you choose to waste GOOD WINE!Subscribe to Military Spouse's Weekly Newsletter