Identity

who-are-youWhat is your identity? Who are you? These are some of the questions I was asked today. So few words, yet such deep, perplexing answers. Usually my response would be well, I’m a 30’s something female, a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, I do xyz for a living, and I live in Little Town, USA. I enjoy traveling, being crafty, and I love a good deal.

But, think about it. What IS your identity? Who ARE you? What defines you? What drives you every day? Being the spouse of a deployed soldier – I often feel labeled as “M’s wife.” Not Ashley, but “M’s wife.” Yes, I’m a spouse, and yes, I’m his spouse. But – I’m still Ashley.

Who is Ashley? I thought I knew, but when my husband told me of this second deployment, I really started to question what I knew in my life – and realized there was a whole lot about myself that I didn’t know.

When M and I first started dating over 10 years ago, I was into horses (used to have one), I loved to write, and I loved to try new recipes. I loved to surprise him with really romantic gestures, like driving an hour in the wrong direction just to drop off cookies before a ten hour drive in the opposite direction to see family.

I loved to “work” on cars. I put “” around that because I THOUGHT I liked to work on cars – that reality is that I just love classic cars and don’t really have the patience to try and figure out what’s wrong!

Anyway, we started dating and I had just sold my horse. I had been riding since I was three, but I’ve never had a horse since. Heck, I haven’t even been riding in over 10 years.

I stopped writing. Not because I wanted to stop, but because life just got too darn busy. Driving around I’d have all of these thoughts I wanted to write down, poems would start to develop as I was getting ready for the day, but I never wrote them down. Those thoughts were lost.

When we first got married I tried to put on my best show of trying new recipes – but again, life got busy so I stuck with what I knew (which wasn’t a whole lot). I sold my classic car so we could buy our first house. I gave up all those things I love up freely to start this new life with the man that I loved. I never even thought twice about it, it just happened that way.

He never asked me to give up those things, but it just happened.

Well, now we’re here. Years into our marriage, on a second deployment, and I’m left wondering: “Ashley, what is your identity? Who ARE you?”

I’ve learned that I’m strong. Stronger than I ever realized. I am not a push-over. I come from a long-line of strong women, and I’m proud of that. I’ve been “beat down” by a lot of people. I have been so blessed that my husband came into my life – he gave me a sense of security, peace, protection, and love that I had never known before.

I was raised to stand up for what I believe in, yet always try my best to be respectful. I do not judge people. I’m an over-committer. I’m a perfectionist.

I love travel – LOVE it. If I’m not on a plane or traveling at least 3-4 times in a year, I feel closed in and that life is passing me by. I love photography, although I’m totally a novice (I still feel cool with my fancy camera though).

I love a good deal – shopping at garage sales, goodwill, random sale sites on Facebook. I love being in control of my own schedule (note, this one is a HUGE challenge due to our life circumstances – blog to come later about this one).

I love popcorn with so much butter its almost soggy (I can thank my sister for that one).

I have a soft spot in my heart for children – all children. It pains me and angers me to see any injustice for a child. My heart longs to be a foster parent, to give some child a place of refuge and love in a time of fear and unknown.

I still love classic cars. I see them drive by, and my mouth drops open. I will have another by our 20th wedding anniversary. My husband and I are still negotiating the fine details over that one.

I do not have a lot of patience. I’m sporadic, yet a planner. I’m probably the most chaotic organized person you’ll ever meet. Yet, see above – I’m a perfectionist. This causes an endless cycle of self-inflicted stress.

I’m sentimental. I kept the little baby rattle that my sister gave me when she first told me she was pregnant. I kept it for years, like 10 years, just so I could give it back to her and announce I was pregnant. She didn’t even remember what it was from! Then I told her the whole story and we had some GOOD laughs.

I could go on an on – I’m so many things. We all are. I want to be so many more things. Each of us has such a unique set of life experiences. Yet, I find myself searching for answers and resources for me in my current life situation: the PART-TIME military spouse.

What do I mean by this? Yes, I’m a full-time wife alright, but most resources are for full-time military spouses. Those that live on base, who’s spouses career is in the military. I am not disregarding those spouses in any way. My world is just different.

In my world, I’m always pulled between the civilian world and the military world. I don’t live near a base, all the other spouses of my husband’s unit live far away, there’s only really one chance a year to even meet the other families, and I’m surrounded by a bunch of civilians that have NO clue what I’m going through.

I looked for books, for blogs, for anything that could help. Someone who was going through what I was going through. Maybe I didn’t search long enough, but every book, blog, and/or resource seemed geared for the full-time military family.

But hey, I’m part of the military family too. I love my spouse just as much as you do. My heart breaks just like yours when my child cries out for him. I can’t sleep, as I worry for his safety just like you. I eat alone for a year, just like you.

We have so many similarities, yet I feel that we’re this forgotten group of spouses. I’ve even been told, “at least this isn’t your life full-time.” Does that make our deployment any less meaningful? Are our spouses not fighting side by side?

I’ve done two deployments in less than five years. I know there are spouses that have gone through way more than me – I want to get away from the “my level of suck is worse than your level of suck.” I just want people to know that we’re military spouses too. We need support too.

And we live in the civilian word that doesn’t understand an ACU from a BDU or an LES from a MOS. Heck, most of us didn’t even know what these were until the deployment was thrown in our face. We have to constantly explain ourselves to the civilians around us, drain ourselves emotionally.

I hope that you stay with me over the next few months (and maybe years), as I navigate through my second deployment. I’m far from having all the answers, but tonight as I think about when I was asked “What is your identity? Who are you” I have an answer. I AM a mother. I AM the wife of a deployed National Guard soldier. I DO live in Little Town, USA.

But, I am also strong, committed, brave, compassionate, sensitive, emotional, and driven. And, I have a mission: to help my fellow part-time military spouses survive their deployments AND life in the civilian world, and know that they are not alone.

Unpublished work © 2014 Ashley Ella

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