After 15 years of service - including nine deployments and countless schools for my service member - I have made the decision that loneliness coupled with suffering is not a mandatory state for a military spouse. When it comes to engaging with our community and taking care of our mental health, we have a choice to make. It’s not always an easy one, and there may be more than a few setbacks, but there is a different path.
1. The first step to solving any problem is recognizing that a problem exists. Being a military spouse can be a lonely life. Once I was able to admit that the loneliness I was feeling was a real, valid emotion, my life began to change. I felt empowered to tell loneliness to take a hike. Doing so made loneliness feel like more than a default fact of life.
2. Stop bullying yourself. When I was lonely, my inner critic became my own worst enemy. I used to cry myself to sleep, feeling unloved, forgotten, fat, lacking in talent and ambition. It took several very dark weeks to realize that these negative thought patterns were holding me in a damaging, painful place. To stop that self-talk and self-bullying, I had to dig deep to find the source of these thoughts, and what could trigger them--for me, it was isolation and boredom. So, I began replacing my fears and self-talk with meaningful phone calls home to friends and family, intense workouts that challenged me, and more time outdoors. Something as simple as sipping my morning tea on the back porch had the power to change my perspective. When I have negative thoughts, I need to distract them. As it turns out, positive experiences are a great distraction.
3. Reach out and cultivate new friendships. Being a military spouse is, without a doubt, a tough job, and it’s hard to summon the energy to reach out when you know you’re always going to move (again). But our community is supportive, strong and definitely not lacking in numbers. Once I learned that the voice in my head telling me that I would never find the right group of people, that it wasn’t worth trying, was a liar, I hit the internet in search of a group that was right for me (Trust me, they’re out there). My husband’s frequent urging didn’t hurt either. If I could give you one piece of advice, it’s that friendship is the key to surviving long periods of time without your significant other. Best of all, I never needed to break down and tell any of these amazing women what I was going through, because they were going through the same thing. As military spouses, we are always stronger together.
4. Be aware of the needs and feelings of others. If you aren’t in a lonely place right now, great. You are in a place where you can become more aware of the resources available for those who are having a tough time. When you’re in a place where you can give to others, you’re also forging bonds that will be there when you need a helping hand. On those good days when I could help more, I became more resilient and empowered not only by the resources that I found, but also by the people that I met.
5. Do your best to show up, even when it’s hard. Isolation can be destructive during a deployment, and the digital age makes it so very easy. Hello, Netflix? If you’re tempted to cancel plans and stay at home, ask yourself why you’re trying to cancel. Are you really tired, or are you afraid? Do you have a friend you could bring along as a supportive presence? Is this a chance to make a friend who could support you in the future? Yes, sometimes you’re still going to want to cancel--and some days that might be the right choice. In some cases, it may also signal that you need a little more help with where you’re at with your loneliness, like talking to a counselor who can help you make a plan for taking steps outside your comfort zone. It can feel scary to try out a new place of worship, visit a military spouse support group, take the kids to a playgroup, or have a dinner date with new friends. But the more you say “yes,” the easier it becomes (and The Handmaid’s Tale will be waiting for you when you return).
6. Ask for help--even (especially) if you’re afraid to ask for help. This was probably my tallest hurdle when it came to overcoming my lonely days. I have always been terrible at asking for help. I’m not sure when this changed for me, but when I began to find my voice I discovered that my support network had been there all along. Friends and family don’t always know what you need. Sometimes, you have to tell them. And sometimes, you need help beyond what friends and family can provide--there’s no shame in that, and the sooner you reach out, the sooner you’ll feel capable to do more rather than less.
7. Focus on your education, professional development and/or a new career. When your significant other is away, this is valuable time to find new ways to create meaning in your life… and not just as a military spouse. Yes, you are a military spouse, and yes, you are a part of a powerful community, but your status as a spouse is not what defines you. Go back to school. Pursue the dreams you never thought you could. Find some dreams if you find that they’ve grown a little dim over the past few years. Reach for the career of your dreams, and if you find that you need help with that… we’re always here for you.
8. Learn to enjoy your solitude. Once I was out and about, making friends, keeping myself busy and loving life, finding those quiet moments to reflect in a positive and healthy way became so much easier. Take a bubble bath. Have a glass of wine. Read a good book. When you can find joy in the most calm moments, you’ve made it.
Remember: Being a military spouse does not mean your life must be a lonely life. Overcoming loneliness is a battle you can and will win, should you choose to enter the fight.
Story by Kellie Gunn