NEW DUTY STATION: How to Stop Feeling Lonely and Lost

I’m just over a week into our new duty station. We arrived at Fort Bragg.

It hasn’t been an easy transition for me.

My husband insisted on a DITY move…but he left early, which meant I was responsible for packing up our 3,000 square foot dream house (And garage. And basement. And yard.). Add to that—moving from the area where I grew up, where all our family is—this move was much more emotionally difficult than I expected it to be.

We moved into a 1,100 square foot apartment. I haven’t ever lived in an apartment. So that’s new for me.

We’re about 45 minutes from post, where the community is beautiful. Seriously. Everything is beautiful. The landscape. The houses. The people. The cars. The animals. The children. The dirt. I’m not even joking. I feel like I’m walking through a magazine! Or living in a Hallmark Channel movie. It’s surreal.

Did I stumble onto a Hallmark movie set?

I’m a jeans and T-shirt kind of person on a good day. The people here look like they take showers daily! I’m lucky if I remember to brush my hair…so I’m feeling new. And self conscious. And alone. And completely underdressed. It’s hard.

My husband has been here for a month and already has made multiple friends. They call him to hang out, fish, play racquetball…but it helps when you have a job and coworkers who have similar interests.

My son made a friend in our apartment neighborhood in less than two days. His first day of school he had about eight friends he told me about. That soothes my mama heart considerably, even when I’m still not sure about this place.

I’m just feeling displaced. Floating. Like a fish out of water.

I don’t really know how to find myself here. Maybe you’re in the same boat, so here are some ways that I’ve been trying out to settle in more quickly:

Volunteer

Prior to moving, I was employed part-time. It’s the same here, but even less than what I had before. I do some contract work from home for a few clients.

A job makes it easier to learn the area because you’re interacting with people every day! The next best thing? Volunteer. I have already volunteered at one event which really helped me have something to look forward to.

#milspousefest2018 Ft. Bragg edition. If this comes to you, sign up and go. It’s well worth your time.

I didn’t make the lasting connections like I dreamed that I would at that particular event, so I’ll keep trying. I’ll offer to help at my son’s school and I might even look into the local animal shelter. We lost our dog in August and just aren’t ready for a new one, so that might help fill that big gap in my heart. I’m also hoping to get involved in our church once we find one!

I know I’m not going to meet people unless I’m actively pursuing something. Volunteering is a great start to finding like-minded friends.

Get Outside

I’m really hoping to find a friend to speed-walk regularly with in the mornings. In the meantime, I started checking out local places, exploring downtown, and hiking at local nature preserves to learn the local plant and animal life. Getting outside helps me feel grounded and connected, even when I’m by myself.

Spotted this pair while out for a walk.

I am by no means a fitness fanatic, but even 30 minutes outside (or at the gym if it’s too cold to get out) will do wonders for your mindset. I’ve been picking nice neighborhoods to walk in. It’s fun to see how different the landscapes and homes are in this area. Bonus: Walking neighborhoods will help you learn the streets more quickly.

Be Friendly

Okay, this is obvious. But for real. Smile at people. Say hello.

My husband and son were fishing this past weekend when a woman sat down near me. I could have ignored her and continued to read my magazine; instead, I said hello. We talked for an hour!

I’m super introverted plus super awkward at talking to people…so if I can do it, trust me, you can too. I didn’t become best friends with her, but I did learn more about the local area.

Get Online (But don’t overdo it)

I joined local Facebook groups once we knew where we were headed. I used the search function to look for important info like where to live and where the best schools are. I also began following some location hashtags on Instagram like #ftbragg, #fayettevillenc, #southernpines, and #pinehurst. Before arriving, I knew which local coffee shops I wanted to try, and when my sisters come to visit in a few weeks, I already have some wine and shopping spots in mind for them!

Local spouses here are awesome at posting upcoming events, so within just a few days of arriving, we attended some community events. I would not have known about these things without the Facebook groups giving us some ideas.

Caveat: Don’t get sucked in. Use the online boards as a way to get inspiration, but don’t live your life online. It’s really easy to just sit on the couch and scroll your Instafeed when you don’t have much going on yet. Don’t do it. You’ll feel miserable. If you’re really feeling trapped, pick up a book or magazine and have that ready to read. Better yet—find a free local magazine to peruse. A coffee shop or even your local Chamber of Commerce will likely have extra copies for you to snag.

Give it Time

Honestly, I’m still feeling out of place, so I’m reminding myself that it’s going to take time.

I’m being extra kind to myself. When I feel a little stifled by our apartment, I allow myself to stop doing the dishes, laundry, unpacking, whatever it is, and escape with a book or some exploring.

It’s getting easier every day. It will for you, too.

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About Jolene McNutt

Jolene McNutt is a writer, editor, and graphic designer. She co-owns a business with her retired teacher dad creating hands-on resources for elementary and middle school teachers. Jolene has been married to her extroverted husband, Phil, for nine years. Phil is serving as part of the Active Duty Guard Reserve (AGR) in the Wisconsin Army National Guard - possibly the best kept secret in the Army! They have a six-year-old son, Finn, and a 90-pound lap dog, Odin. Jolene enjoys traveling, reading, and making allergy friendly recipes for Finn. Despite her introverted nature, Jolene loves hosting friends and family. Find her on Instagram @jolenemichelle1.

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