This is going go to be the hardest part of this project. I’ve been putting it off for the longest time, dreading it. Up until now, the entire thing has been nothing more than relaying the research and facts. You’ve been able to draw upon your own situations and make your own interpretations. Relate the information to your life and use it the best way you know how. I’ve been able to remain detached and cool about it, evaluating my life from the perspective of the research. I’ve grown, had several realizations, and even moved forward. (Please note: I started this project almost 18 months ago; it’s been a long journey.)
But, today, well, today it gets personal for me. Much more vulnerable. This is the part where I have to open up and actually share what I needed to keep going. I have to revisit some of those days I thought I wouldn’t make it. It’s hard. Really hard. It’s easier to celebrate in the success that I didn’t give up. But, that doesn’t help anyone. Especially those that are deep in the throes of wanting to walk away. I know. I’ve been there. Those are the moments when stories of only surviving are not inspiring, they are defeating. It drags us down even further making us wonder why we can’t move through. I can only hope that by sharing my struggle, you won’t feel so alone. You will feel you have a friend that shares your pain, your hurt, and your desire to make it over the hump, no matter what decision you make once you get there. I just hope you know you have my support.
I grew up in a small town outside of Tulsa. I graduated with the same people I went to kindergarten with. I still maintain friendships with a handful of them, even though this year marks our 20th reunion, and I haven’t lived near any of them in at least fifteen years. That’s one of the things about me: I’m loyal, sometimes to a fault. As long as you’ve gained my trust and respect, I will defend you to the end. But, once it’s broken, you might as well be dead, because you no longer exist in my mind. Time and distance do not break my loyalty, so if we were on good terms back then, we are on good terms now. That’s just the way it is with me.
I realize this makes it very hard for me to make friends. I am not one to engage in gossip or small talk. I will stand there, smiling, listening to others, but unless it’s trying to analyze why someone did what they did, or why they said what they said, I have no use for it. I need friends to challenge me, debate me, and keep me interested. I realize that’s a lot to ask of others, but I ask it of myself, too. I’m in constant competition with myself.
Because of this, among other characteristics, I can be socially awkward sometimes. It takes me awhile to process what others are saying, and my comment may be untimely, as the conversation has already moved along to another topic. I can be good at inserting cynical humor though, and that tends to work in my favor with others that appreciate the odd one-liner; which I’ve found much more challenging within our diplomatic community than others.
When I think back to Part One of the case study, I know it reflects an environment that has some severe challenges to the physiological and safety needs of the individual in that situation. And, yes, I agree. There were many days when I felt I couldn’t get past the very bottom of the pyramid. There have been days I’ve never left my home, not feeling up to facing the outside world. As long as I remained in my house, I could be anywhere in the world, even back home in the States. But, once I walked out the door, I knew where I was.
As a young adult, who had hardly spent any time outside of the U.S., the situation on the ground in Uzbekistan was very hard for me to process and feel comfortable in. It was not the situation I’d left back home, the only environment I knew how to operate in. I had to learn a completely new way of life. As a new mother, and still a newlywed. I was overwhelmed, and underprepared. Who wouldn’t be? Even the locals that had lived there and knew nothing else were devastated and trying to figure out what life was going to be like for them after that. The people I met during those two years are the most respected within my circle. We trusted one another, because we were all we had.
I don’t have much to offer about my time in Ghana. I think it’s pretty obvious I never made it past physiological. I spent so much of that tour just fighting for my life, and my unborn child’s life, there wasn’t much else for me to think about. Those took priority. Even though I joke the house we were given was so bad it was rejected by USAID, it was the least of my concerns. Sure, it was a bad house, but my health took priority. I met some great people, but only have one true friend that is still with me.
I found it very surprising that after such a tough situation, the following tour looks so ‘successful’ on paper. I was everywhere! To others, it might give the impression I handled it well. But the truth is, I was distracting myself from facing the affect of the trauma of my complicated pregnancy, and the postpartum depression that was never diagnosed. I tried to overcompensate for the lack of self-worth by seeking worth to the extreme from the outside. It was the exact opposite of my natural state, and so, unfortunately, it didn’t work. And, when I lost my grandmother during that tour, life really sucked. She just might have been the person I loved the most in the world. What appears to be a viable attempt at nearly reaching the top of the pyramid, what I felt on the inside was still living at the bottom, trying to survive and keep Carla around for a little while longer. But, life had thrown me so far outside ‘normal’, I didn’t even know who Carla was anymore. I needed help, someone to confide in. I made an appointment with the regional psychiatrist. I was given fifteen minutes of undivided attention, during which I downplayed my feelings out of self-preservation and pride, and left with a prescription for a low-dose anti-depressant. I ended up not taking them. Instead, I clung to the few friends I made, and drank a lot more wine than I used to. I knew I needed help, but I was too stubborn to accept it. And, determined to ‘tough it out’ and fix it myself.
When my husband approached me with the idea of going to Pakistan, I was hurt. Extremely hurt. I really needed him. I understood his job had demands that required me to sacrifice too, but I had felt I’d reached my limit. I’d been through two pregnancies alone, my grandmother’s funeral alone, and now staring down another year alone. I started wondering why the heck was I married if I had to face life’s toughest challenges without my partner. I think it helps to know that my husband is the extroverted version of me, and one of the few people that relate / understand me on a deeper level. What I felt happening was me losing respect for him, which is not something I wanted or needed. It felt like the beginning of the end. And, that scared me.
Most people go home, to their friends and family, support network to get through an unaccompanied tour. I couldn’t do that. I was so messed up and so confused, I needed time to be alone and think about everything. I knew it was going to be hard enough dealing with my own situation, I couldn’t take on any amount of drama, even small amounts, from being around people that knew me. People that would come face-to-face with me and see me falling apart. Because they knew me, they’d lived with me and loved me for the first 23 years of my life. It would be way too clear to them something was amiss. And, that couldn’t happen. So, I packed up and went to the beach. And framed the decision in such a way that posed the question, “When else in my trailing spouse life will I get the opportunity to live wherever I choose?” I took full advantage of the autonomy and anonymity that came along with that decision. And, I found a peace that passes all understanding. I just lived. Free. I started to feel like Carla was making her way from behind the curtain, or at least peeking her head out. I felt like I could go home.
After me and the kids packed out the house, we made a road trip across half of America — from Charleston, SC to Tulsa, OK to visit family. The day after I arrived, I received a phone call that my husband was being secretly evacuated and his tour was ending a week early. The week I’d planned on spending with my family. The situation around his departure was nothing less than crazy. He arrived within 24 hours of that phone call, and he probably had similar feelings as I did when I made the decision to go to the beach. To protect my image and the truth from my family. We left soon after he arrived. It’s one of the few glimpses of our life my family has witnessed over the fourteen years we’ve been doing this. To quote my sister, “The terrorist is messing up my plans.” Mine, too.
We left Oklahoma in order to give my husband the room he needed to breathe and process what had just happened to him. As many challenges that me and the kids overcame to adjust to him being gone, the following two years took even more effort to get our family in a good place. Home leave was forfeited because he needed to report to language training, and he didn’t receive his decompression session until ten months after his return. I’m not exactly sure where I would be on the pyramid during this time, but it felt like I still hadn’t made it past safety. His whole situation, and the circumstances, brought back feelings of paranoia in myself from our time in Uzbekistan. After all the progress I’d made at the beach, I instantly took a bunch of steps backwards.
Being posted to a small consulate in Germany the last three years has really been the best thing for our family. We’ve become so much closer because of it. It’s a quiet post, in a beautiful city, just far enough from the Embassy to feel like we are on our own. And, I was on my own. I was the only spouse for the first two years. It gave me ample opportunity to think. To experience life in another country, but outside the tight diplomatic community. To stop living for each day and to be able to focus on my future. Which is really good because the past stresses caught up with me. Life slowed down enough my brain finally had time to process all these details of the prior decade. It felt unreal. Back to the bottom of the pyramid I went.
I asked myself, can I continue? It seemed inevitable. Can I leave this post and start at the bottom again and again and again until retirement? It was a lot to ask, and I didn’t know the answer. But, I had an idea and a desire to find out. So, I started this project. And, this project fulfilled the needs that are at the top of that pyramid. I felt a confidence inside me, and a rush of adrenaline, when I would sit and write. I didn’t want to continue my entrepreneurial aspirations. I just wanted to write. And through my words, I realized all the struggles and sacrifices have been worth it. I feel like Carla when I write. The less taken road led me to me. And, my husband showed up sometime in the first year after our arrival to Germany. He had worked through his own issues and we became best friends and partners again. My trust and respect for him were restored; my loyalty intact. Even though I was the only trailing spouse, I was no longer the only spouse at post.