I’d been reading the Her War Her Voice blog and paying attention to postings on the main page. One day an All-call went out for women to sumbit their bios for a retreat for military spouses. Melissa and Chris mentioned that they wanted to hear from people whose husbands were in all branches of the service. Without knowing why completely, I threw my story out there and waited to see if anything would happen. This was my first leap.
Word came that I’d been chosen for the retreat and I had to make what seemed like a far-fetched possibility into a reality and find a place for my kiddos to be while I jumped into the unknown. Even more terrifying, I had to say yes to going.
Then came the leap of leaving the house, having no idea what to expect. There had been chatter leading up to it, but I didn’t have the vaguest idea what I’d gotten myself into. I wasn’t even sure what to tell the people sitting next to me on the plane about where I was going. Leaving home felt like jumping off a cliff.
The plane landed and there were these women. There was the first glimpse of the house and the rooms and the wow factor. Then going to the main house where everyone was gathered. We had awkward conversation that started to bud into fast friendships. I took a lot of deep breaths and continued trying to read everybody. I remember wondering where Melissa and Chris were and when this was really going to start. Would they see me? Did I really fit? Would I be off in the corner of the room trying to squash myself into a box or flatten myself against the wall so they wouldn’t see that I wasn’t really a part of all this--that I had made a mistake thinking that this could be for me too?
The first session we were supposed to locate our anger, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t get that deep. I was afraid to and while I let down a few walls, I phoned part of it in. It was too hard and I couldn’t trust them with my story. It felt other than…. Not enough and too much all at once. I don’t beat myself up for that, now. What strikes me in hindsight is that I noticed it, and dealt with it the next day by talking to Bev, the counselor who was there for us and provided some of our content. I determined that if I was chosen for this incredible opportunity I would not waste it by phoning it in.
And then, somehow, the unfurling began. I listened to how these women talked and how they thought and how they processed. I realized that though I’ve often felt like I speak a foreign language, these women… These people spoke my mother-tongue. They didn’t flinch from the deep places. I started to breathe a little more deeply. I let myself try things that I had always wanted to try, but felt tied up in knots over what others would think and whether or not they would get it or think it was ok for ME to do it.
At some point it hit me what had really happened here: I had come home. For the first time since my Mother had died and the word had lost all meaning for me, I had walked through a slammy-screen door, kicked off my sandals, and come home. I had come to a place where there were arms to hold me and a place where I was completely protected. I’d given up believing that places like that existed until Montana. But I couldn’t deny it. I had come home.
There were more leaps to take. Each activity was a little hop of some sort. Each session was a way to experience in my body the emotions and feelings that had been brewing in my heart and my mind for too long. The words ‘tangible sign of an invisible grace’ kept coming to mind and I knew I was finding personal sacraments. Each leap peeled back a layer and furthered the process of digging into the ways I had curled myself in and around my pain. Each tentative step I took started a halting uncurling that would evolve into an unfurling.
After taking all the leaps to submit a bio, and the leap to actually GO, and the leap to trust in the process of all that happened, one of the most terrifying parts of the journey became going back home. There I had to trust that all I had just gained would still continue to evolve, would even still hold steady. I had to trust that these women who I’d come home to would not abandon me.
I was sure it wouldn’t hold. I was sure it was just a mountaintop experience and I’d go back home to a resounding thud and life would return as it was. I said as much in tones of absolute terror to anyone who had been through this before who would listen. I just knew I would curl back around the pain and into too much and not enough lies and that would be the end of the beautiful weekend in Montana.
But that’s not what happened.
In ways I didn’t even expect…. In places that I’d long since forgotten about that uncurling and peeling back kept happening.
The voice that I didn’t even realize I’d been hiding from—my own voice—started getting stronger.
It wasn’t that I stayed on the mountaintop. No. I came home and my husband returned from deployment and as has happened over and over again in the 10 years of our marriage there was another loss in the middle of all the good. There were medical issues and job changes and a move thrown in to the middle of it all.
Then came a new hard season—this time a season of pain. Even in Montana the back injury I was nursing was getting worse and that progressed until I was at a level of pain that was indescribable.
I lay on the floor and I cried in pain and I had to check out of almost all the rest of my life, but there on the floor were my sisters. There was Sarah cracking me up and making me cry for the love she showed me by turns. There was Chris calling to talk in the middle of her body having an absolute breakdown too. There was Kristina, keeping the same hours I was keeping somehow, talking me through how to breathe into the pain, and calling when the worst of it happened just to let me know she was there. There was Melissa talking me back from the abyss of darkness that was trying to swallow me whole. I was not alone on that floor.
There were major changes and little tweaks and adjustments that were made. There was my typical seasonal depression and an overall feeling of blah. There were ups and downs in my marriage and small course corrections with my life. There were new directions and new opportunities and new passions..
Somehow in the middle of the challenges and the new passions bubbling up, I started to notice that I was standing a little taller. That my feet were strong beneath me. That my back was straighter. I wasn’t so curled up.
A year later this is what I know:
I am NOT ALONE.
My story is not too much or not enough. My story is my story. It has made me who I am. I am defined by the strength and courage and passion that was called out by it, and not by the obstacles, and challenges, and heartaches that were thrown at me.
I have a voice. And people listen to it.
Amazing women. Incredible women—believe in me, choose me, and want me by their side to fight dragons of life…. Shoulder to shoulder swords drawn, we are kicking back the darkness.
I am powerful. I am beautiful. And I can stand up into that.
The ten-year erosion that had whittled me down to a nub doesn’t have to go on any longer. I have the power to feed myself, to nurture myself, and to love myself into a new place. I have new directions to turn and new passions to pursue that will build my banks back up, and shore me up for whatever comes next.
I can only hope and pray that this unfurling will continue. I like the woman who is emerging from this. I like her groundedness, her ability to live from center, and the quiet confidence that is slowly starting to overtake the neurotic guardedness that I lived in before.
In some ways the retreat to Montana only ushered in the beginning of an amazing new chapter of my life. Somehow that new chapter is still lived with the women I came home to. The retreat was a coming home and a jumping off and a calling out. I can’t wait to see what other leaps of faith I can take, and where those free falls will take me.