Posts Tagged With: personal story

“Fear” #32

Some time ago, I sat across from my professor and talked about different types of fear.  He was very interested in how I, as a member of the military, processed fear in a deployed environment.  Like most of the things my professors asked me, I hadn’t thought about my fear before.  But I want to try to think about it now, and what I’ve concluded is:  There isn’t much that scares me anymore.

I used to play around with fear. If there was a group going to the haunted houses for Halloween, I was there.  Game of flashlight tag in a cemetery?  Let’s do it.  Scary movie marathon? Can’t wait.  Death-defying roller coaster drop?  Let’s go again.  The charge of electrons that sparked in my brain when it came to being scared was something I sought after as much as I could, in very safe and predictable ways. In all those situations, the thing that I allowed to scare me was controlled. I was secure in the knowledge that the roller coaster would wind its way back to the start, and I would soon find myself safe on the loading platform again.  I knew the scary movie wasn’t real, and the folks in the cemetery were not the same as those from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, waiting to break through their dirt-packed resting places and snatch at my ankles (That video was terrifying when I was a kid!).  Those safe experiences brought a younger type of fear.  It was flimsy and tin-foil thin, and it could be broken through anytime I wanted simply by reminding myself that it wasn’t real.

During my deployments, there were times when I was nervous about being harmed; times when I was grateful for the weight of my small bowie-knife bouncing against the outside of my leg as I walked through a darkened compound alone under watchful eyes; times when I was grateful for my M-4 grasped firmly in my semi-steady hands and the ammunition snuggled inside her; and times when I was happy for the heaviness of the helmet and Kevlar vest weighing me down as our aircraft flew low over enemies with high vantage points. There were several moments when I thought violence towards me was a real possibility and life, as I knew it, could be changed forever, but those fears were never allowed to fully materialize.  They were simply breath-catching minutes that passed with little more than a racing heart, brief body shakes, and a mental sense of relief that something I couldn’t fully fathom hadn’t come to pass. That fear was the type of fear that I wouldn’t allow myself to linger in because what would be the point? Nothing happened. I wasn’t shot or raped by the Saudi guard at the checkpoint who was angry to see a woman alone, driving a car, and pointed his weapon at me while yelling for some explanation I could not provide. I didn’t have to fire my weapon at the young men greedily watching us walk across the bridge towards a village of Al Qaeda sympathizers.  My limbs weren’t blown off by an IED (improvised explosive device) as our SUV bounced along the streets of Kabul days after an attack on an American convoy. No good could come of being traumatized by the possibility of terror.  It was all around me when I was deployed, and I would not be able to function in other ways if I was overcome by possibilities rather than realities.

For me, the possible deployment atrocities where more shallow moments when compared to the fears-come-to-life I had already lived through.   I wrapped those realized fears over my shoulders, tattered shreds hanging down my back, slipping over my chest and down my arms, enshrouding my body and everything in it like an invisible, bullet-riddled bed sheet.  As far as I knew, I had already been through the worst sort of trauma, and it had numbed me to everything to follow behind it.  When I was married, I had a fear that he would find someone else. And then he did. And after the divorce, there were the fears about him moving on, falling in love, re-marrying, and my children getting a stepmother whom they loved.  All those things came to pass.  These fears weren’t the same controlled fears of my youth, and they weren’t the distant fears of being killed in a foreign land.  They were the fears of actuality.  They really happened to me, emptying me of all the things that had filled me since I was a little girl.  During those immediate months after the divorce, I was often like a wild animal, unable to control my thoughts or emotions.  I would writhe in pain, sometimes physically rolling around the floor of my bedroom after my children were asleep, grabbing at my chest, begging for release, begging for my breathing to stop and for my heart to quit its insufferable beating.  My fear was embodied within me.  I could touch it, and stare it down in the mirror.  I wrestled with it, and it kicked my ass.  But with each new terror that came true, the struggle began to subside.  I stopped fighting the fear and began to recognize it as a foreshadowing of strength to come.  The fears happened, and I had to experience them fully, undiluted and unchecked by any protection.  And the happenings made me braver and more certain that I was being held by something so much stronger than me because the fear didn’t kill me.

I didn’t die of a broken heart, just as I didn’t die from an IED. I didn’t die at the hands of my enemies, either home or abroad.  Instead, the sun came up every morning and switched places with the moon every night. The trash kept getting picked up from the curb, and the mail kept getting delivered.  My kids kept calling me mom, and the dog continued to need food and water.  So, when one of my friends off-handedly remarked that I didn’t seem to be afraid of anything, I guess he was right.  I may have a moment of panic, but I soon come around to the certainty that things will be better than fine.   I am not afraid of things (most things) because I live in the reality that something much bigger, much greater, much more powerful than me and my capabilities keeps things going. I can take a deep, sometimes ragged, breath and step into the street in Kabul or sit down to a cup of coffee with my sons’ stepmom, because I have met the type of fear that I thought would destroy me and lived to tell the tale.  Things kept going.  Things keep going.  I am one of the lucky ones.

Categories: Military, Military, Personal Story, Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: , ,

“Girlfriends” #28

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Girlfriends

In middle school, high school, and most of college, my girlfriends were my center.  Everything I did, and everything I knew came from them and returned to them.  But, over time, let’s say college age, I became one of those girls who would describe herself as someone who “got along better with guys than with girls.”   Which really just meant I wanted the boys I thought were cute all to myself, but I used the unoriginal excuse that girls seemed to crave drama and guys were just easy going and liked to hang out, not gossip or start trouble.  As time moved on, the girlfriends I had from my younger days, I kept, but I wasn’t interested in making any new ones–really ever.

295293_3379028404535_633336833_nWhen I got married, some woman, I don’t remember who, told me to find good girlfriends and hold them tight.  And whatever-her-name-was was right.  My husband did not like my male friends, not even my old ones.  It was better for him that we made couple friends, and after a few fights, I agreed it was better for our relationship if we made couple friends.  I thought making friends with a couple would mean my husband would get to hang out with the cool half of the couple and I would get stuck with the wife.  But what I didn’t know was that making couple friends would save me by opening up a whole world I hadn’t really explored in my youth:  the world of girlfriends.

3345_1078543849454_1791839_nDuring the early years of my marriage, I met great girlfriends like Rachel who was married to Josh and Jill who was married to Doug.  Luckily, both my husband and I got along with both halves of the couple, and they got along with us—or at least they continued to invite us over for weekend football games, game nights and holidays.  As time went on, my husband became more comfortable with me hanging out with single girlfriends like Rachael who lived with me when my husband was in Korea (man, did we have some fun times!), Courtney who has a firecracker wit and the smarts to match, my supervisor Eliza who was awesome wrapped in a small package sealed with terrificness, or Jilly who was deemed “safe” because she was dating one of my husband’s friends–luckily for me she was also full of energy and had a caring heart.  I started accumulating so many girlfriends; it became hard to see the forest for the trees.  But my early instincts to keep the cute boys all to myself wasn’t wrong, and eventually the drama came, not in the form of any of my girlfriends, but in the form of one of my husband’s.

22731_1348393108090_433644_nWhen my world began imploding, it was my girlfriends who stood by my side, sometimes holding me up and other times, picking me up off the floor.  It was my girlfriends who talked me through the crazy thoughts and allowed me to sharpen my faith on the stones of their experience, grace and compassion.  I didn’t necessarily seek out girlfriends, but they kept coming into my life through my Bible study class, or through work, or friends from my past who reached out to help me, like my girl Meg in Tennessee who spent countless hours on the phone with me, letting me weep and curse, shout and sit silently.  Women opened their arms to me like my sister-in-law-turned-friend, Jen, who put up with more of my whining and crying at the same time she was pushing me to run farther, run faster and pick up the pieces of my perspective.

167341_1840581296886_750572_nDuring my deployment to Afghanistan, I met Peggy, Melissa and Megan, and I deepened my friendship-turned-sisterhood with Tommi.  All these women let me expel the demons of my thoughts, and, like the best girlfriends should, they cried with me sometimes; they made me laugh sometimes; they told me it wasn’t my fault sometimes; they gave me difficult truths sometimes, and they showed up all the times I needed them.

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I continue to receive the gifts of girlfriends as the shadows are starting to dissolve back to where they came from a little more each year.  I meet wonderful women; some of them are introduced to me by their husbands, and some I have the honor of serving alongside like Shelmon and Deb who have shared their faith and never-say-die-attitudes.  Others are in my life just because sisterhood is a beautiful thing that I didn’t understand or appreciate because I was so blind for so long.

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My family, Melissa and Megan

 There is little more precious a gift than sharing your life with someone else.  Each one of my beautiful girlfriends has shared her heart with me in some way, lifted me up and pushed me forward in others, commiserated with my pain and disappointment and my struggles with motherhood and being an ex-wife.  Now, I’m moving into a phase where there are women in my life who are there because they need girlfriends, too, to show them that the girls don’t bring the drama.  When you get older, girlfriends bring the healing and, hopefully, the wine.

Categories: Moving On, Personal Story | Tags: , ,

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