Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Am Here...

The ladies over at Her War, Her Voice did something wonderful this week. They decided to throw back the curtains, yank the covers off, pull open the door on the issue of military spouse suicide. I've talked about it here, and lamented on twitter just how little we, as a whole, talk about this issue. There are numbers each month on veteran suicides, reports, national media attention. There's not enough, but it's a start, it's an issue. There are no numbers on spouse suicides. No reports. No discussion.

I believe spouse suicide is an issue. Every rare now and then, it registers a blip that tells the spouse community that they are not alone. One such blip happened in April. An Army wife posted her suicide note on her blog. The spouse lived and was taken for treatment. The issue was discussed here in the At War blog, . And after this blog, the issue seemed to vanish again.

After HWHV started their "Just Wait" campaign, I began thinking. Thinking about this issue as a whole. Why military spouses feel so alone so often. And I started thinking about my personal frustrations with the Army. In the simplest term, my conclusion was that we have brought the issue on ourselves by using anything we can to drive ourselves apart, instead of using everything we can to unite.

Part of this realization was born of my internal debate over which division causes my frustrations. Is it the Reserve vs. Active Duty division? The girlfriend/fiance vs. wife? The debate raged, and almost reached a conclusion until it finally dawned on me. NEITHER division should matter. When I find another spouse, it shouldn't matter the branch, the MOS, the number of deployments, the ring that is or isn't on my finger. None of it should matter.   But as a community, we give these things intense weight, whether we think we do or not. We drive each little adjective between us until we're standing across the room, arms crossed over our chests, glaring at each other, firmly thinking in our own mind that "I don't care if her husband and my fiance are both in Afghanistan, HE'S Air Force, at Kandahar, and they're married. MY fiance is Army, in Paktika and we're just engaged, SHE won't listen to ME."

And all of sudden, we are alone. Lost. With no one that we can reach out to in a time of need. Because they have judged our differences. Because I have judged our differences. Because, consciously or not, we have judged.    

I've experienced it, and I'm guilty of it. I want every wife, every fiance, every girlfriend, and every other parent, grandparent, sibling, anyone who loves a member of the military, to stand up with me and refuse to judge. Think only of what unites us, and where we can empathize.  Because, I may be just the fiancee of a Reservist, and you may be the wife of an Active Duty soldier, but in the last three years, my fiance has been deployed twice. And your husband is preparing for his first. And that doesn't make me better than you, or stronger, or anything. But I have experience that I can offer, if you can just set aside your prejudices against me for being just a fiancee, of just a Reservist.  I've felt the fear and the pain and the difficulties. And I can empathize. I can offer advice. Or I can just listen. I won't judge you Don't judge me.

That spouses are suffering shouldn't even be a question. Our lives are chaos, and often we don't know where to turn. We prepare for deployment with them. We worry while they are gone, manage the house, worry about the finances, learn to change a tire or fix a leaky sink. And we try to be the rock when they come home, shaken and changed by what they've seen and done, unsure how to relate to their wife again after a year with their fellow soldiers. We have challenges in finding jobs, moving. As Reservists/Guard members, we worry about our spouses job, because many won't keep them, or hire them to begin with, because of their military side. And often, even the military fails to help. The problems seem endless, and I know the burden of current deployment tempo builds these stresses over and over on spouses until it seems too much to bear.

I don't know if we'll ever get someone to count spouse suicides. I don't know if they'll ever report them, or include them. But I believe we can combat them. We, as significant others, can stand up and tell another significant other, "I am here. We are different, but that doesn't matter. What matters is that we are ultimately the same. And I am here for you."

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