Leaving the Military? How to Hang up That Hat!

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I’m having a serious identity crisis.

When I said, “I Do”, I proudly took on the title of military wife. I piled it on top of my head, balancing it with all the other hats I wear: sister, neighbor, baker, daughter, friend, teacher, dog owner, traveler, aunt, crafter, photographer… military wife. It looks nice there on the top, it makes me feel like I belong to some elite club, like I’m wearing the appropriate uniform.

I remember when we first started dating I went to a party at the home of one of my boyfriend’s superiors. It was one of those awkward, you’re obligated to attend, kind of things, where spouses are left to fend for themselves while the enlisted go outdoors and talk shop. He deposited me amongst these strange women, reminded me to “be nice” and left me to navigate the waters of military-spouse-land alone.

It was, in a word, terrible. Army wives are a tough bunch. There’s gossip and cattiness mixed in with a determination to fiercely protect their own. These women had survived deployments together, helped to raise each other’s kids, understand the emotions that go along with this lifestyle and had formed tight cliques within the group. It was hard to determine which ladies were friends and who were pseudo-nice to each other. Either way, they seemed a united front on this day, united in the idea that I was an outsider.

I sound dramatic. So let me add that some of these women are great, and many of them have since taken time to help me through this difficult life and I appreciate them. They are strong, smart and caring. Also, I understand that I am drastically stereotyping and generalizing…But on this day, they were terrifying.

A lady came up to me that afternoon. The kind of perfect looking woman that I know I can never be. Her clinically whitened teeth smiled at me and her perfectly manicured hands reached for mine. She was wearing heels and pearls, I was wearing a hoodie. “Oh honey,” she said, “Someday maybe he’ll put a ring on that finger and you can really be one of us.” She then promptly ignored me for the rest of the day… I wandered off in search of something to drink and befriended a woman who was wearing jeans and covered in baby spit-up. (My kind of gal).

The thing is, I was equal parts offended and intrigued. I wanted to be one of them. I wanted to fit in, I wanted to find my niche, I wanted to proudly defend this elite group of diverse and interesting women. I wanted to know the things they knew, I wanted to feel like I belonged.

leaving the military

And then I did. Suddenly and without warning, I found myself knee deep in deployment after deployment. I was earning my stripes while planning an out-of-state wedding. My husband-to-be was virtually unreachable. So, I managed our house, took care of the dogs, worked full time, maintained a solid gym schedule (go me!), paid bills on time and otherwise led a pretty mundane, adult life. But, being a two days drive from my family and spending most days in complete solitude is not really how I imagined my life playing out. I reminded myself this was a hat I was excited to wear. I was ready. I could do this. So, I did, and I did it well.

Fast forward a few years: my now-husband is starting to think about a career change. He wants more stability, he envies those with predictability in their lives, and so do I. He’s frustrated with his current path, unsatisfied with status quo and ready for some change. Simply put, he wants to be home more often.

This is a scary thing. How do you prepare for a career change at 30? Is it a good idea? How do I hang that “Military Spouse” hat back up to become just “Wife”? I’ve never been just, “Wife”.

An article posted at Forbes.com (5 Ways to Tell if You Need a Career Change) explains that if you are chronically worn out, exhausted and depleted then perhaps it is time for a career change. The truth is, this lifestyle, exhausts us both. The constant ups and downs, the never knowing where he will be going and when, the training trips, the changes in plans, the inability to make long-term vacation plans…. All wear me down. There are days when just getting out of bed is a struggle, especially if he is out of town.

There are other days when I love this lifestyle. I love the spontaneity and the solidarity. I love being a part of something great. I love being able to binge watch “Gilmore Girls” because my hubby is out of town and he won’t have to watch it. There are a million reasons why I love this crazy life I lead, but that’s another post.

I’m sure there are also a million good reasons to change careers. I fear though, that we may be focusing on bad reasons. How can you make this decision? It’s scary to think about how this idea will impact our life, or how we will face the prospect of regret. Doesn’t everyone feel unhappy in their work environment sometimes? How to you gauge the value of a steady income versus the idea that you could be so much happier in your work life? How nice would it be to have him home more often, to never miss a holiday together? How quickly would we tire of each other’s company? More importantly, I know that the grass isn’t always greener, but sometimes it feels that way. How do we know that we won’t be leaving one difficult lifestyle and head right into another? Is there something better out there, or just different?

What is doubly hard for me is figuring out how to support my husband while he works through these conflicting emotions. We all know that I struggle with anxiety over simple things like grocery shopping. So, real and scary life changes are a much bigger can of worms. If my anxiety is out of control over leaving the military, then how is he feeling? I wish I could figure out how to help him communicate his fears and his goals to me effectively. We struggle with understanding the other’s feelings about this transition because we cannot walk in each other’s shoes. I don’t know what it is like to be thousands of miles from home for months at a time, just like he doesn’t completely understand what it’s like to keep our household running single-handedly.

I know some people who count down the days until their last day of service. I know some wives who spend every night in prayers hoping that their husband will make the decision to leave. For us, leaving the military feels a lot like jumping naked, into a river, in December… in Alaska. How do you make that choice?

I received lots of advice when I first got married about not letting the military become our identity… I think maybe we failed at that, because I am afraid of who we are without that. What hat will I wear when this one is gone?

But, on the other hand, when he woke up this morning and turned to me he said: “I’m thinking about reenlisting.”

**sigh** I love this crazy life.

mollyI’m Molly. I grew up in a tiny town in Central New York state and now I am proud and excited to be teaching a group of fabulous seventh graders in Colorado. I’m a photographer, aspiring writer, terrible cook, and wife to one infuriating soldier whom I love immensely. When I’m not at work you can usually find me hanging out with a good book and my eleven-pound Rat Terrier, Penny. I blog sometimes, when I remember to, at www.lovetheeveryday.com.


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  1. It’s a roller coaster isn’t it? It seems like I was planning a wedding yesterday and he was promising me he’d get out and we could move to DC. Now, I’m in the middle of our first PCS and I’m about to loose it. LOL. We were a lot of hats, but I’m sure you’ll find a lovely one that meets your needs. Those classic words…”I’m thinking about reenlisting”. I think most of us will hear those words at least once. Wishing you love and light.

  2. Great post!

    My husband is separating from the Army after 10 years in it. He too was ready for a career change and not a lot of his buddies got that, as most of them are in love with the military life. He was doing funeral honors at the time. While he loved that, he was getting worn out by everything else. So now he’s a railroad conductor with Union Pacific….and LOVES it! They love hiring military members, it’s still a crazy schedule at times (being on-call), but if he likes to be outdoors, use his hands, etc. it may be something to look into. It’s great benefits and pay and for the first few years, if he’s a yard conductor, he won’t work a lot and still make guarantee paycheck! You kinda need an “in” with someone who already works for a railroad or has some sort of connection, otherwise chances of getting in are slim.

    If this isn’t the route for him, that’s fine too! I just know my hubs was dealing with the same stuff. And interestingly enough, it was harder for me to hangup the hat than it was for him. Being a military spouse feels like an elite club or wearing special badge…it’s weird knowing we’re not in the thick of it anymore. At the same time, it’s been relaxing. No more drills, AT or deployments. He’s growing a beard (which I hate lol) and able to grow out his hair longer. It takes some time getting used to this new lifestyle, but it’s great when you’re ready for it. Good luck!

  3. *SIGH* is right. It’s been six months since his official retirement….I still cannot believe that it came and went so quickly. Enjoy it while it lasts. It is a VERY difficult lifestyle, but you will be hard pressed to find the kind of support you now find among your fellow wives in the civilian world…it is a very, very different world that doesn’t understand the world you are coming from. They are kind, civilians and say “thank you” but will never “get it”.
    My only piece of advise, plan, plan and then plan some more for the transition, and do not make emotional decisions.
    Good luck & God Bless whatever the decision.

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