Hey ya’ll! For anyone not here in sunny South Texas with me, that is Texas for Hi, how are you! 🙂 So this week I’ve been doing a lot of volunteering with Dress for Success here in my area. I absolutely love being involved with that organization! It is so wonderful to see the smile and face light up on a woman when she comes out all dressed up in a suit, and to help her rock her interview! Anywho, we’ve been in the middle of our annual Giving Shoesday campaign in which we collect new and gently worn women’s shoes. Well this year we collected 800 shoes! Holy cow – I’ve never seen so many shoes lol!! Well, me being me, posted about it literally EVERYWHERE! I posted all over Facebook and Twitter, but also on my neighborhood’s social media site. So for the past 2 weeks I’ve been going around picking up shoes from my neighbors homes – which provided me a chance to meet a lot of women. I actually met several women veterans! SCORE!! Of course none had really heard of our women veterans group so of course I had to tell them all about it – which led into lengthy conversations in the doorway or front yard. My hunny gets so irritated because I tell him I’ll be right back and then come home 2 hours later. I can’t help it! I meet a woman veteran and I just want to share all I’ve learned with her and get her connected to our group. Ok, back on topic – so one of the common conversation topics is about how unexpectedly hard transition from military to civilian was (or is) for them. Well many of you know of my transition woes. It SUCKED! I was not prepared for what civilian life had to offer. Why is it so darn difficult? I would say it’s difficult for most. For women veterans, I’d say it’s a little more difficult than their male counterparts. Why? Just is! No, that’s isn’t my answer lol! I’d say the reason is because during transition, you are Tribe-less and you don’t have a Chief or Gunny (or whatever your branch has) to ask where to go or what to do. Inside we have somewhat of a great information sharing system. We know were to go for any issue we have and if we can’t figure it out – ask the Chief! Now here you are, many times in a new town, no longer a part of the military family. You are alone! Even if you are married and/or have kids and other family in the area – you are still alone. All the things they DIDN’T tell you during your TAP class (for those unfamiliar with that term, its the Navy version of the transition class everyone has to go through before being discharged.
Now for us ladies, we no longer have other military women around who understand us or are going through similar issues. I tried joining the PTA in hopes of making some new friends – other moms. Yeah, NO!! That lasted less than a semester!! I had absolutely nothing in common with these moms aside from the single fact that we had children the same age. Nothing about their parenting styles, their complaints (and there were LOTS of them) about their kids or spouses, NOTHING!! Honestly I just wanted to punch all of them but I figured that would be frowned upon. So I just dropped out of PTA for everyone’s safety lol! I did meet a couple of women who were the mom’s of my daughter’s two best friends and I tried to be “friends” with them. It was a struggle the first few years. I just always felt awkward around them because I just felt like I acted or looked different or something. For the past 18 years, I slept on floors in dirty engine rooms, walked perimeter fencing on the Balls to 4 watch (ya’ll know that one!), left my son for 18 months at one point, lived away from my family (parents/siblings) for the entire time, heck I didn’t even live in America for much of that time! What did I have in common with these civilian people? Plus I also had a lot of anxiety. I was diagnosed with having severe anxiety and major depressive disorder. Most social situations would just send my hear rate through the roof and my foot would start tapping and well I would just exit. For almost 2 years I thought something was really wrong with me that I couldn’t make friends like normal people. Then I finally realized that I was the normal one HA! No I finally found that I wasn’t the only one that felt that way. After meeting so many more women veterans, I finally found the normal people I could hang with and feel comfortable and it wasn’t difficult nor was it an effort.
Ok back to transition blues – one moment you are at the top of your game, running things in the military, making rank, whatever but you were on top. Now, you are at the bottom – literally – but there is no one there with you. So you fall into depression. If you are already predisposed to depression like I was – well it sucks to be you! So you just fake it along for your kids or spouse. They don’t understand so you can’t talk to them about it. You just keep in all in and hope for the best. WRONG ANSWER!! Don’t worry, I chose that answer also so don’t fret. I’m here to tell you if you already answered incorrectly – there still time to pass the test. The key to transitioning out of the military is to find a new tribe. Seek out and find other women veterans. They’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt. You don’t have to fall like many of us did. If you say you can’t find any well I’ll tell you that you aren’t looking hard enough because we are everywhere! If you are new to an area, go to your local Vet Center. If there is a group for women vets, the Vet Center should know about it. If not, go online and search for veteran groups and reach out to them. Most of them will be male dominated but they may know of at least a woman vet or two they could connect you to. If that doesn’t work – do like I did and bring them to you! There was nothing here where I live for women veterans. SOOOO – me and a couple of other lady vets that I happened to work with created our own group and you know what? We have over 400 women connected to us through email and/or Facebook throughout the Coastal Bend and some around the State! “But I’m not outgoing like you.” I get that a lot from women veterans. Hey, I wasn’t always this vocal and outgoing as ya’ll see me now. But I’m not saying do exactly as I did. Maybe for you it’s smaller steps. Get a T-shirt made that says something about YOU being a veteran. GET YOUR WOMAN VETERAN license plate (if you state has one – if not then get what they have but maybe get a decal or magnet made that says something about being a woman and a veteran). I have a magnet on both sides of my truck, a decal on my rear bumper, and my WOMAN VETERAN LICENSE plate in front and back. Do you know how many women veterans I have met JUST because of that? I meet them everywhere – McDonalds drive through, stop lights, EVERYWHERE!
Bottom line is this – your transition is really gonna suck if you try to just go at it alone. You need to connect to other women who have gone through the same life experiences as you and who truly understand things like why you act a certain way or why you talk funny (military jargon). Let me tell you something else. For those that may have found this blog a bit late and have maybe picked up some bad habits – you ain’t the only one!! Remember my previous post about transparency? Well among the 400+ women vets here that I now call my friends, we have alcoholics, recovering alcoholics, addicts, recovering addicts, older women, younger women, women with kids, women never married/no kids, formerly promiscuous women, women with multiple failed marriages (hey I have 4 ex-husbands!), women who’ve maybe not been the best parents, women in domestic violence situations, women who’ve escaped domestic violence, women who’ve been sexually assaulted – my point is that we are a melting pot of Jerry Springer or Dr. Phil episodes. You will fit right in – I promise! Everything that you think is wrong with you and no one will understand – well I bet if you just went looking, you’d find a whole mess of us there to support you and make you feel normal again! So if you are in a rut right now – get off your butt and get connected. Stop making excuses. I live by many mottos but the two that keep me going regardless of my depression or motivation or whatever are:
Be like Nike – Just Do It
Be like Dorie – Just keep swimming….