There’s just something about a permission slip.
I remember my days in school when bringing home a permission slip was a thing of excitement. It usually meant a cool field trip or new experience that was so out-of-the-ordinary that we needed a parent’s permission to participate in said adventure. (The permission slip is not to be confused with a detention slip or the hey-I’m-failing-a-class-so-you-gotta-sign-the-report-card. That was NOT my jam growing up.)
But it’s funny how, as kids, we really have no problem asking permission, but now as adults (and specifically as milspouses) some of us (ahem, HELLO self) really struggle with giving ourselves permission for certain things.
For me, I struggle with giving myself permission to FEEL. I still think that I am supposed to be super tough or resilient 24/7, but you know what—sometimes things are just HARD. It’s OK to struggle. We are right there with you. And we have to learn the secret power behind giving ourselves permission to “feel the feelings.”
This is a difficult lesson for me to learn, as I recently rediscovered. Here’s what went down…
Our little military family is coming up on the timeframe for another military PCS. For the first time in my husband’s 14-year career, we wanted to actually “try” to go somewhere. You know, check requisitions frequently and bother Branch until they were tempted to start screening their calls. We thought we would dream big and try to get our number one duty station. Couldn’t hurt to try, right?
After a year of hoping, dreaming, praying, and trying, it happened—we got OCONUS orders to our number one location! We were over the moon excited! We made an announcement on our social media networks that might rival most baby announcements. We were thrilled!
But, as it is with the military wife life, sometimes we should hold things a bit looser and go by the no-plan-plan. (I’m sure you can guess where I’m going with this.)
Everything was trucking right along: We had told the world, made some travel plans, scheduled household goods, packing/shipping dates…then, BOOM. My husband came home and said we “didn’t get” the duty station we wanted.
I thought he was playing some cruel joke on me. What do you mean we “didn’t get” it? We had it. Plans were made. Jump-hugs of joy were exchanged. Facebook pages for future duty station groups were liked.
I sat there in the chair, with a mouthful of salad (that now tasted like wilted leaves instead of my tasty lunch), as the tears started to fall. I knew I couldn’t be mad at him; it certainly wasn’t his fault. I wanted to be respectful in my words. But I literally didn’t even know how to respond. It felt like my heart cracked right in two. I was so sad and angry and…I didn’t even know. The potential duty station wasn’t just something I was dreaming about for the last year. I had wanted to visit there since I created my bucket list in 2003. Fifteen years of hoping. Poof.
When I say, “I started to cry,” I mean REALLY cry. Ugly cry. Sobbing. Snot rolling. Tearing up a box of Kleenex. We are talking, “All aboard the Hot Mess Express.” So many emotions practically overwhelmed me. My beloved husband tried to comfort me, but he too was at a loss. Thus, I called my counselor, who I had been seeing every other week to help me process my emotions, deal with the stress of life, and set healthy boundaries.
My one question to him: How can I appropriately react to this?
He gave me counsel that literally changed my life. He said for the next 24-48 hours, I needed to give myself permission to grieve this loss and lay the dream to rest. (Recent AWTR Guest Susan shared the same thing about briefly allowing ourselves to grieve when PCS’ing from somewhere we love).
Turns out, a lot of my emotional turmoil was me fighting the feelings, thinking silly things like, This shouldn’t matter so much to me, or Why is this such a big deal? or I should have known better than to get excited, or I should be stronger than this.
Newsflash: It’s ok to be sad or angry. It’s ok to cry. Who knew?
So I took his advice. Once I let myself “feel the feelings” and gave myself permission, the turmoil quieted. Sure, I was still sad and it felt like someone sucker-punched me in the gut, but the chaos had calmed.
The next morning, the ugly crying was gone for good. I had a few silent tears as I completed my morning run, but was soon able to talk about the change of plans with other people without bursting into tears.
A month later, we got orders…again. This time, it was to a duty station that wasn’t on my top 10 list and nearly the complete opposite of our dream duty station.
But, because I gave myself permission to feel the yucky feelings from the original change of plans, I was able to start considering this new path for our military family. I started doing research and digging for all the good things that this next location holds in store for us.
As I searched, I could feel the old wound continue to heal up. And tiny bubbles of excitement start t0 form. Then, that familiar feeling popped up: I shouldn’t be excited. This isn’t my number one. Look at what we had…
Ludicrous! Being excited about the new potential journey is OK. I could rejoice in that, even if it wasn’t originally on our radar. That doesn’t mean I have forgotten the joy and excitement of our number one duty station, but it does mean I can be happy about where we are headed now and cultivate that attitude of gratitude.
Now, as we hit the reset button on our PCS plans, I am keeping that image of the elementary school permission slip in the forefront of my mind. I can give myself permission to find healthy ways to “feel the feelings.” Emotions don’t have to be good or bad, they just are.
And those emotions are part of who we are as military spouses: excitement, grief, hope, discouragement, strength. It’s OK to ugly cry with a mouthful of salad. Because before we know it, those tiny blips of excitement and hope will soon return.
Give yourself permission—then get out there and enjoy the adventure.