I’ll readily admit it: two months into our move here I had no idea what I was doing, and it scared me (see: A Time for Everything). I had just moved to a new country, started an “adult” life, and married. In fact, it had been a pretty crazy year (see: The Last Eighteen Months: A Reflection). One day, sitting in the house by myself on our temporary rubber couch loaned from base, I felt like I had hit rock-bottom. I couldn’t imagine doing this crazy new life, day in and day out for three whole years. How did anyone survive this sort of transition and isolation? Realizing however that some folks had (and I knew some of them already) gave me pause: so people do live through this! But how? I picked up my laptop, flipped it open, and typed in a name on FaceBook of a girl I grew up with. We’d been on the same swim team, debated in the same high-school league, and come from the same Southern state. But most importantly, she was a military spouse too, and she seemed to be thriving where she was. I asked her recently if she would mind if I shared some of the advice she gave me, and she said “anything I can do to help new military wives!” which is a summation of her usual awesome attitude.
I’ll add this as a caveat: I don’t think this advice is helpful just for mil spouses – I think anyone going through a big transition (be it a move, college, career change, etc.) can benefit from some of these strategies.
Kristen started off by telling me something we all need to hear: you’re not alone. “…the question you are asking is one that every military spouse stationed abroad asks.” With that in mind, here are eight things that can be done to help during times of transition.
- Get a job. I’d heard this advice from others, and it did indeed make a huge difference for me. As Kristen said: “If a job is available, and you’re interested, go for it. That will help a lot. I chose not to work while in Japan because I wanted the freedom to travel to Michael’s different port visits, a sacrifice for time together that was absolutely the right choice.” Five months into my new job, it has already brought me an increased sense of purpose and community, and helped me to learn so much more about the area here and the resources on base.
2. Socialize, despite the distance. “Don’t let travel time keep you from social opportunities. We’re South Carolina girls, used to the luxury of everyone/thing within a 20 minute driving distance, so I can see how being 45 minutes away from most Americans seems impractical to drive/train/bus just for coffee or a social meet up. Do it anyway. You won’t regret it.” This is so true! We are at a remote location, so our base is about 40 minutes from everything else American here. I didn’t want to be “that expat” who went to base for everything, but the face remains that sometimes you just have to go somewhere you can understand the language!
3. Spend quality time with your spouse. Even though Aaron leaves for work about an hour and a half before I do, I still get up and have breakfast with him. Kristen emphasized the importance of intentional time with your spouse as well: “In the brief times when Michael was in port, I always drove in with him in the mornings. Sometimes I went home after dropping him off, sometimes I stayed on base for various reasons, but we both loved that time together first thing in the morning, even if we weren’t talking the whole time, just sitting quietly in the car together.”
4. Volunteer. “Look for volunteer opportunity on base. These are a great way to get connected, meet people, and feel like you’ve spent time well. The organizations may be different, but I bet your base(s) have a lot of organizations that would love your talents!” This has proven so true in my case! I have loved becoming part of the great non-profits and spouse groups on base. The Officers and Civilian Spouses Club (OCSC) and the Protestant Women of the Chapel (PWOC) are two groups I’ve enjoyed helping with.
5. Bible Study. Like me. Kristen found some of her closest friends through her base Bible Study. “This past year I also served on the board and that was a good outlet as well. We have a fantastic ministry through Cadence International, a hospitality house that hosts several bible study/teaching services a week.” We have also been blessed with a great Cadence house nearby – what a great outlet that has been! A group of us from the house are even training together for the Athens Marathon and 10k this year!
6. Getting out and about. Whether it is a trip to the store, a walk in the woods, or a day at work, getting out of the house in some shape or form every day is worth more than a change in scenery. It gets you engaged in the world around you, learning new things, and even just getting some good exercise. Kristen added: “I would encourage you to develop some kind of routine, an appointment every day that gets you out of the house.”
7. Exercise. Kristen emphasized this strongly: “Military life often leaves us feeling out of control and sometimes powerless. For me, I decided to challenge myself to see how much progress I could make physically, how much stronger I could become from the beginning of a deployment to the end. It’s fun, and gives a sense of accomplishment I missed when I left the professional setting.” When Aaron decided to run a marathon in November, I decided to sign up for the 10k. Modest in comparison, but it gets me outside and running! There are also lots of exercises classes offered on base, and I have taken advantage of them when time and work schedule allow.
8. Stay connected with home. I expressed my sorrow to Kristen about missing important family moments, and Kristen reminded me that there’s not always much we can do about that, but we can “keep in touch, and Facebook messenger and its voice and video call features, iMessage/FaceTime are gold.” I try to call my mom once a week, and when Aaron is gone for training, I will use my evening time to call and catch up with friends and family members as well.
Unfortunately, there’s no “big secret” to perfectly adjusting through transitions… or at least I haven’t found it yet! If you do, definitely let me know. However, there are things that can be done to help ease into a new life. The eight ideas above have been useful to me, but I’d love to hear from you! If there’s something I missed, or if you have had success by using one of the things above, do let me know!