I’m sitting in an airport as I type this – belly full with a warm chocolate croissant that I washed down with a hot chocolate, the theme for this trip back to Nebraska for the holidays being decadence, and “treat yo self” the mantra.
Classic, distinctly airport-y Christmas music is playing over the loud speaker, and occasionally mixed in are Hawaiian songs, being that the specific airport I’m sitting in is on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and music like this can be found everywhere from little tourist shops, elevators, restaurants and yes, in airports.
I’m solo traveling – to quickly reference and get back to what my headline promises I’ll be writing about.
I’ve got all the essentials for this one-woman travel experience (a 7 hour red-eye flight, followed by another few-hour flight to Nebraska), which I’m getting used to by now:
- Iphone plugged into a portable charger. Responsibility for my own ability to communicate is paramount without my ever-reliable husband’s fully charged phone and back-up chargers to rely on
- A backpack carry-on, for ease and convenience during layovers and because there’s way more room for all my other “essentials” (a very use loose of this term)
- A book or three
- Extra woolen socks for when my toes inevitably start to frost over during the long flight
- HEADPHONES (caps lock for major don’t-talk-to-me-please emphasis)
- Eye glasses and sunglasses to be able to read the airport signs since, again, I don’t have my more visually able partner with me, and for anonymity, respectively.
- A laptop for writing; for my insanity. And because it’s my portable ‘real-job’ work station (but less because of this).
- An iPad with every season of Gossip Girl downloaded.
And yes, I know none of that info is really delivering on the headline of this blog either – BUT, it kind of is. A (huge) part of military separation is being able to survive and thrive doing solo things, like traveling home for the holidays.
(Side note: there are lots of hilarious and interesting things you notice when you’re alone and have 4 + spare hours to spend at an airport before your flight takes off. Something about being alone really heightens your awareness to the happenings around you, and makes you invisible to other people. I could write a whole separate post about what I’ve eavesdropped and seen. But I swear I won’t.)
The occasion for my thoughts on military separation, and this particular unaccompanied trip home?
My husband is currently at pre-ranger program, a three-week course he has to pass in order to go to Army Ranger school, which will be at minimum a 61 day school that can take much longer due to the possibility of being recycled.
And though I’ve only, up to this point, dealt with long-distance dating while Christian was at West Point and month-long separations during training exercises since he’s commissioned, there’s the potential for even longer separations than ranger school in our future. And I think these short(ish)-term separations, while they absolutely don’t compare to deployments, teach you how to deal with the same sort of struggles.
I’ve recently realized there are a few very important things that have made me confident I can handle this army lifestyle and the solitude and separation that comes with it. And, true to form, they’re already secretly embedded in my ramblings above.
You have to find someone to drive you to the airport.
AKA, you have to find your people.
The people who will, yes, get you to the airport when you’re going to be traveling alone – because you simply can’t leave your car parked in an airport garage for an undetermined amount of time. But more, you need to find the special kind of people who will help you carry in your luggage because you’re a dreadful over-packer. The people who will be your family when you live on an island and have no family to speak of within an ocean of you. The people who you’ll spend Thanksgiving with, and who will go out to eat often with you when your husband leaves for (insert army reason here) and you just don’t feel motivated to grocery shop.
The people who turn out to be your people will make all the difference in the world.
There’s kind of a process when it comes to finding them, though, because as many of you know (and as I’ve referenced in writing before), adult friendship doesn’t just pop into existence like a genie out of a bottle, especially in a place where you are trying to form a community from scratch. Being on an island was a mental mountain I had to overcome, because I kept thinking about friends as though they were yet another limited resource.
For me, it was important to give myself time and not expect that I’d find my people right away. I know it always takes me a little longer to settle in, and reminding myself that I’m not just an unlikeable weirdo that no one wants to hang out with; that I didn’t need to rush it and could wait for a true connection, helped. And right when I might’ve started to feel the pressure to find friends that would be there for me as holidays, events, and unforeseen favors were needed or emergencies came up, everything started to click. I met my people, the ones I had been waiting for. Now I feel like I’ve truly found a tribe here.
Part of the process is, once you’ve felt a click with a certain person or group, pursuing that friendship in ways I personally never even pursued a relationship with a significant other. As in, it might take even more effort (on your part) than dating. But not the bad kind of effort! For me it’s about saying yes. Saying yes to going out and doing things even when I’m more comfortable self-sabotaging and delivering my safety phrase: “No.” But there’s no time for saying no when time moves as quickly as it does at duty stations in the army. And like one of my close friends recently said when giving me advice for handling Christian being at ranger school: it’s so important to say yes to social activities when they arise if your military significant other is gone, because the other option is being alone, and even if you don’t feel mentally “into it” on a particular day/night, you’ll probably end up regretting saying no that social activity if no one else is available on a day when you mentally and literally are.
And part of the process for finding your people is being there when you can for those friends even when your spouse isn’t away – because the truest friendship is friendship you can count on even when it’s not completely convenient.
I’ve found that it’s also important to be extremely open – there’s a karmic force in the universe, and particularly the military – and the more open and friendly you are to people who need your help, the more I believe you’ll benefit from others’ kindness. This extends to the concept of paying it forward. I met a friend here who I clicked with extremely quickly, and she was going to be PCSing within a few months. Even so, she made sure to introduce me to her entire friend group. And even though she had to leave, once she introduced me to the rest of her tribe, they became mine. That’s the most significant and unselfish kindness I’ve experienced as a young military wife – and a young adult in general – because these strong, beautiful, hilarious, quirky and vivacious women are all already so important to me. And, despite the military’s habit for placing our friends in all different parts of the world, I think the bond goes the distance.
Friendship with people who get it – it being the military life and all the ups and downs that come with – is a game changer. And I truly believe the friendships forged here, in this constant flux that means moving every few years, leaning on each other when we have no one else, the girls’ nights and fun events with each other and our significant others; being each other’s family away from family, are forever.
The friends I’ve made in Hawaii have taught me that another important thing for surviving the distance between you and your spouse or loved one is having personal goals and projects. All of my girlfriends are perfect examples of making the most of the time they have (and the time they make), and doing the things they’re most passionate about. Two of my friends have completed or are in graduate studies programs; one manages a popular North Shore restaurant, and another is a wife, mom, and a stunningly talented photographer. They all work hard and play even harder. And as for me, I’ve written at length about why writing is a good outlet and coping mechanism for me. That’s never more true than when I’m alone. Having something I’m passionate about to pour myself into helps with loneliness and the lack of motivation that often accompanies Christian leaving for a training event.
The cure for a lack of motivation, for me, is creating personal projects that actually require a lot of effort. Because the root cause of that feeling of irrelevance and “so what” attitude toward completing daily tasks is the sense that there’s nothing important or necessary to be doing. But the opposite is true. You can eat as healthy as you want and work out as often as you choose when it’s your preferences and time that are the sole priority. There are as many hours to write as there ever will be. You can focus on cultivating real change and growth during a period of separation from a loved one, rather than focusing on self pity or loneliness. Because the fact of the matter is, becoming the best version of you is often a solo activity.
So far, I’ve found that handling military separation is all about finding a balance between attaining the kind of independence that allows you to feel self-actualized and proud, and leaning on your people, whoever they may be.
I’ve learned I can get by, as the saying goes, with a little help from my friends.
Don’t get me wrong – I still barely know anything at all about surviving time apart from loved ones. There is so much worry and fear that goes on that it becomes difficult to focus on anything else at all at times; I’ll probably laugh at the things I thought I knew by the time I have to go through my first deployment. And you can be sure I’ll still be giving Christian the most over-exaggerated bear hug you can imagine when he flies to Nebraska in a week for his Christmas break – and that I’ll go slightly crazy when I’m without him for a few months or longer if and when he goes to ranger school.
So here’s what I know:
I don’t actually know a whole lot.
But I do believe we all need our people and something that sets our soul on fire to focus our attention on – whether there’s a military separation pending or not.