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The MilFam Diaries: The Ten Year Lesson

I’m ashamed to say that my most valuable lesson as a military spouse took me 10 years to learn.

I grew up a military kid, so being self-sufficient was drilled into me. I was taught to be strong and independent — not that I needed that much instruction. Even when I was a child, my most-used phrase, according to my mom, was “I will do it myself.”

I have always been pretty stubborn and headstrong. While this idea of independence and self-motivation can be great, it can also make for a very lonely existence.

So here’s where my big lesson came in: As a military spouse, I was making everything so much harder by insisting to myself that I go it alone. I refused help. A lot. Even in desperate times. I thought it was a personal failing, a weakness, to be willing to accept help. I was so wrong. So very wrong.

It was the little things I was struggling with — needing a sitter at the last minute, or trying to find someone to watch my dog. I remember one rainy day in Mobile, Ala. when my kids’ elementary school let out early due to an impending hurricane. I got caught in traffic on my way there and was in an absolute panic. Once I arrived, I sprinted through the parking lot, my eyes darting frantically until I found Joey and Grace. They were holding hands with another Coast Guard spouse. Laughing. They didn’t realize I was late because she made them feel so safe.

That is who we are. That is what we do.

Even recognizing that, and acknowledging the deep relief and gratitude I felt toward that other mom, I was wracked with guilt. And I still wouldn’t reach out for help when I needed it. My husband thought I was crazy. He kept saying that my fellow spouses would want to help. But I couldn’t see past my own idea of weakness to be willing to ask. So when the big things came along and I really needed support, I was all alone.

The real turning point for me was allowing help from other spouses. I forced myself out of my comfort zone to ask others for help, and was gratified when they, in turn, sought my assistance in their time of need.

What my husband said, and what I say to you, is this: Wouldn’t you say yes if another spouse asked you to help? Of course I would. Of course you would. Of course WE would. We will help. But why won’t we ask?

Asking isn’t a weakness. It’s a sign of strength and honesty. We put so much pressure on ourselves to be these strong, resilient military spouses that I think we forget that it’s OK to clasp the helping hand that is offered. And once we are willing to ask for help for the little things, if (God forbid) a big thing comes along, we are connected enough to handle it together.

This is the key to our ultimate strength as military spouses: Our bond can be greater than anything that can come at us. I believe strongly that no spouse should ever feel alone — there is absolutely no reason for it. We know the fears we share, the sacrifices we make, the struggles we shoulder. We know the pride we feel, the honor we live, the joys we experience.

Don’t be as hard-headed as I was. And don’t take a decade to be brave enough to ask for help when you need it.