Before my husband joined the service, we had a lot of sweepingly idealistic ideas of what Navy life would be like. We loved imagining exotic locales where we could be stationed; the idea of our children being world travelers before they were grown thrilled us; and we looked forward to constantly meeting new people from all walks of life. We decided moving every few years would be ‘exciting’; that being on our own would only make us stronger as a family; and then of course there were the undeniable ‘financial benefits’ like Tricare. In short, we were riding the Optimism Express as far as it would take us.
When experienced military members and spouses hinted at the more difficult aspects of military life, we shook our heads and swore that those things wouldn’t happen to us, or in the very least they wouldn’t affect us the same way. Now as I write this, I can’t help but laugh at how many of the ‘warnings’ I heard from other military wives have come true for us in the last three years.
Here are four things Navy life brings that I was ‘warned about’ by other wives (but didn’t believe until they happened to me):
1. “You will never see your sailor during a sea tour.”
I heard this repeatedly after my husband first got his orders to a DDG home-ported in San Diego, and I can’t even express how much it bothered me back then. Wife after wife would warn me about the difficulty of sea tours, but I couldn’t get myself to embrace the sense of negativity surrounding the topic of ship life and its effect on families. I had already mentally prepared myself for the fact that he would deploy during that time, so I figured I had it handled.
We are now two years into LTJG’s first sea tour and all I can say is ohmygoshtheyweresoright. The months leading up to my husband’s first deployment, he was at sea constantly for work ups and random underways. We were already burned out on goodbyes and transitions before we even reached the first deployment! When that six month deployment was followed by another three months at sea just a few weeks after they returned, we were hardly even phased (though you never really get ‘used to it’ because it stays so darn unpredictable). Today I got news of more upcoming underways, followed up by a call a few hours later telling me he wouldn’t be able to come home again tonight since he needs to be in so early for an inventory tomorrow (This happens all the time, by the way). Oiiii vey!
Long story short: Everything you hear about sea tours is true. Deployments are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how many separations you will go through, not to mention the insane work hours and duty schedules that go along with ship life. Just because the ship is home, does not mean your sailor is home (something very few of your civilian friends/family members will understand). I personally wish I would have listened more closely to those wives that tried to warn me, so that maybe I could have prepared myself by soaking up some of their wisdom on how to handle this insanity. Instead, I chose to exist in blissful denial, waiting for that first sea tour to slap me in the face. #stillhurts
2. “Your dreams will go on hold.”
All the rapid changes Navy life brings has made me feel like my life is being fast-forwarded. I find myself yearning for a wall where I can mark my children’s heights as they grow and know I can still touch that wall in two/ ten/ twenty years. I crave land to dig my hands into, to plant things that won’t reach maturity for a decade, knowing I’ll still get to see them, pick things from them, eat the work of my hands. I want to paint the walls any color I want. I want my kids to remember a home, not a blurry melange of places we called ‘home’ for a little while at a time.
Some people are okay with not having those things, and I honestly thought I was one of them until I lived it. Other wives have put other things on hold for this life: careers, having kids, pursuing other personal dreams, living near family. Some people still do everything they want to do in spite of it, which amazes and impresses me, but feels so far beyond the madhouse that is our life in the Navy right now. I often wonder if I had really understood what those wives in the beginning were saying to me about their lives being on hold, if I would somehow feel less of a sense of loss when it became my turn to live it.
3. “Even non-combat positions change them.”
I naively assumed that because my husband was a Supply Officer that military life wouldn’t change him. It’s not like he was seeing combat, right? I assumed he’d stay the same genuinely optimistic, upbeat, endlessly energetic, loving, and hilarious man I knew. Now, I know that inside he is still that guy; but give the Navy enough time and I wonder how long I’ll be able to say that.
The combination of the daily high stress atmosphere, nights of 5 hours sleep or less, ship food, and separations have taken a visible toll on LTJG Hubs. Most nights after work he is so stressed that there is nothing more he’d like to do than to fall asleep at seven, and his threshold for hearing about anything else stressful is significantly lowered. Since joining the ship, his hair has gone from dark brown to what can affectionally be called “salt and pepper,” despite the fact that he is in his late twenties. It breaks my heart to see how chronically exhausted and on edge he is, yet he still tries so hard to be the best dad he can to our two boys so I don’t feel like I am parenting alone all of the time. Sometimes I have to ask myself: Is this really worth it for the toll its taking on him? Will he ever be “himself” again?
4. “The other wives you will meet are amazing.”
I didn’t doubt this one when I heard it so much as I wondered whether it would actually matter to me. After all, I already had some of the best friends a girl could hope for; friendships that had been tried and tested by distance and survived. I am so thankful, however, that I have gotten the opportunity to discover just how true this one is. I don’t know if I would have sought out the military community that I have if it weren’t for how hard the points above above are, and that means I wouldn’t have met the incredible, strong, inspiring and loyal women that I have met since we began this military journey.
My fellow military wives are a constant source of strength and encouragement to me, and watching them overcome the trials and hurdles that military life throws their way shows me that I can do the same. They “get it” and they know when to commiserate and when to give me a kick in the right direction. Having met them, I have no desire to try and do this Navy life without them.
Now that I’ve come to see how true some of the things I heard were, I think it’s appropriate to share another ‘truth’ I discovered on my own through this Navy journey:
“Even if you sometimes have to fake it, you’ll find yourself making it.”
No, I don’t love military life all the time. Many days it feels like it has already stretched us beyond our limits, and I’ll temporarily lose any motivation to continue making the sacrifices that we do. And yet, the positive posts I’ve written on this blog about our Navy life are not fake, they just reflect another facet than this one. Because for me, it always comes down to this: My husband feels called to the Navy. Even on the days he hates it, he feels like he is where he is supposed to be. I have to trust that he knows what he is doing, and support him as long as I can. I know that if I really asked him to get out, he would. I know that. Instead, I hang on. I hang on for him and I pray when it’s rough and some days I cry and vent to friends/family and then I try to hang on a little longer, because as long as this is his dream I want it to be mine too.
And you know what? I find the more often I try and see the positives of military life, the more they become real for me. If that turns out to be the singular ‘truth’ about Navy life that I actually can control…I’ll take it.