Saturday, August 27, 2016

Thoughts About My Life As A US Marine

I've been participating in a challenge that's been going around on Instagram and other social media and it's got me thinking about my own time spent in the USMC. The challenge is to do 22 push ups for 22 days to raise awareness for veteran's suffering from PTSD. Among our nation's veterans there are, on average, 22 suicides a day. Mental injuries are real.

Thankfully, I was spared being deployed during war time. I was called back for Desert Storm but spent my time "re-training" in North Carolina. By the time I was done the conflict was over. It wasn't easy being pulled away from my son, who was only 9 months old at the time, but I am grateful that I never made it into a combat area. I can't imagine how my 21 year old self would have handled a situation like that.

I enlisted in the Marine Corps because I was looking for a place in the world where I felt a sense of belonging. The idea of the camaraderie that comes with being in the military was very attractive to me at the time. Also, my family has a history of it's men being Marine's and I was most likely looking for approval and acceptance from them, as well.

Not fully knowing what I was getting into, I signed up for the 6 year plan. The advantages this gave me was the option to actually choose my MOS (my job) and I was guaranteed to graduate basic training as an E-2. I choose to be a basic diesel mechanic and after doing so well in basic training, I began my military career in the fleet as an E-3, a Lance Corporal. As a matter of fact, I graduated basic training as the #1 graduate out of about 100 women, or two platoons. That is the one thing I am most proud of in this experience.

I was one of those weird people who actually enjoyed boot camp. Well, after the anxiety and nerves cleared away, of course, which took a little bit. Getting used to being screamed at almost constantly is a bit of a challenge but at some point I finally saw the big picture and just started rolling with it. I am an observer and this was the trait that helped me the most because I would watch others make mistakes and I learned quickly from them.

That camaraderie I was looking for happened for me in boot camp. We were a team. All 50 of us worked together, helped each other, motivated each other and looked after each other. It was one of the most challenging and awesome experiences I've ever had in my life and I don't regret one single moment of it.

Sadly for me, the camaraderie ended when boot camp ended. When I got out into the fleet it was every Marine for her/himself. I attended basic mechanics school in North Carolina. It was myself and about 49 other guys. I worked hard, understood it all fairly easily and graduated #3 in that class. From there, I was stationed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California.

I was sent to the First Maintenance Battalion and looked forward to getting my hands dirty and driving some Humvees. Those things are beasts. I loved learning to drive them through the muck, the mud and the water. Yes, the water. There was about 6 inches of water on the floor board of the one I drove at one point and it didn't even hiccup. Beasts. I loved these machines and couldn't wait to work on them.

Unfortunately, I would never get that chance. As soon as I arrived at the offices of the First Maintenance Battalion to check in, I was directed to a desk with a phone and a computer. Thinking it was just a matter of time before I got to the motor pool, I did what I was told. Several months later, which included several weeks of KP duty (kitchen prep/cleaning at the chow hall) I asked my CO for a meeting. In that meeting I told him about my desire to actually be in the motor pool working on the trucks, in my MOS. I explained how well I did in training and that I was ready.

What he said to me has stuck in my mind all these years. It was the first big disappointment with the military and I was clearly shown where my place was in it. His response to me was, "You don't want to work in the motor pool with all of those guys." I told him that with all due respect if I didn't I wouldn't have trained for it. It went in one ear and out the other.

My idea of the military was shattered. I gave up inside and just did what I needed to do. I ended up choosing to be honorably discharged when I became pregnant with my son. At that point, the thought of leaving him to do a year long tour overseas was just too unbearable and that's exactly what I was facing.

The month spent apart from him when he was 9 months old was heart wrenching. I remember calling home and talking to my then husband (nope, I'm not a gold star), listening to him tell me about my son waiting for me at the front window, clutching my robe. The tears poured down my cheeks. I hated every moment of it. But, I did it.

I'm thankful I had this experience in life. It taught me a lot of things not only about life but about myself. I'm also thankful I didn't have to endure any combat or dangerous situations. I have family members that have. My Grandfather served in World War II and Korea. He was a Marine paratrooper. My other Grandfather was a cook in the Marines. My uncle served 3 tours in Vietnam. I can't even begin to, nor would I want to even try to, understand what it was like for them. Growing up, I watched them try to deal with the aftermath. I heard stories of attempted suicide. One of them involved my toddler self walking in on one of them holding a gun to themselves. Thankfully, I have no recollection of it.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a real thing. Mental injuries are real and our veterans suffer from them day in and day out. Not only are our veterans suffering from it, their families and communities are suffering. It's only been recently that the US Government has finally begun to accept this fact. I wish they could have done it sooner before so many lives were lost.

Please, go check out the challenge and the program that started it all go to Join in on the challenge, as well.

Semper Fi.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Discovering More About Myself Around Relationships

I've been thinking a lot lately about relationships. All of them, really, but mostly the romantic kind. I've been single since somewhere around August of 2014 and I've been so by choice after taking a good hard look at my pattern of serial monogamy so far in my adult life. Well, really since coming out as gay. My straight life didn't work because I wasn't straight. Go figure. But since coming out as gay and since my first girlfriend, I've been in a pattern of serial monogamy. One relationship after another with little time in between to recover or learn any sort of big lessons about myself. So this period of being single has been an incredible growth period for me all around.

I've learned so much about myself and who I am now as a person. I feel more solid and confident in myself than I ever have before. I've forgiven myself for the mistakes I've made in the past and feel like I've learned some really hard lessons from those mistakes. I am much more aware of myself, my thoughts and actions and so much more focused on being real and open with myself and those around me. Real, vulnerable and authentic.

I've also come to accept and embrace the introverted, autonomous part of myself and have finally come to realize that I'm not broken. I'm also at times an extrovert and have embraced that aspect of myself. Really, I'd like to discard the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” altogether because they are so very binary and black and white. I prefer the term a good friend of mine used just a few days ago during one of our conversations around this subject: ambivert. I am an ambivert. Depending on the day or the situation I move along the spectrum of introvert and extrovert. I'm very rarely all the way on one end or the other. Sometimes I recharge around people. Sometimes I recharge in solitude. Ambivert. I love it. I'm claiming it.

A lot of my life has been spent as an observer. I've always been curious about people in the world and how they relate to others. I've watched countless friends and family members move in and out of romantic relationships, as well as myself, of course. For me, each one brought its own lessons, its own gifts. I've learned along the way that I loved too intensely, I wasn't butch enough, I was the love of someone's life but something else was more important, I got lost in my partners (and their lives) and I wasn't real or honest enough with myself or my partners. All very true and valid lessons that I will always carry with me. Plus, the one common denominator in all of those relationships was me. Not that they all failed only because of me (some did yes, but not all) but I was the common denominator through all of them.

I've finally come to realize that, for me, monogamy feels like a whole lot of pressure. It feels heavy and it also feels completely unrealistic to me. We couple up with these expectations of marriage and a house and kids and the white picket fence or something else that society has built for us and pressure ourselves to constantly run after those goals, if you want to call them that. Not everyone wants those things, of course. But, we also seem to want to fit each other into these roles where we pretend like we're not attracted to anyone else on the planet but our partner. Or, we feel that we can't have a close, intimate bond with anyone but our partner because we're part of a couple. Or, we profess our undying love one moment and the next we've fallen out of love. I've seen it happen over and over and over and over again. Not only with the people I know and love but with me. Why have I tried so hard to make something that seems so unrealistic to me work? (I say “we” in a lot of this paragraph. That “we” meaning the people who this sort of stuff doesn't work for. It isn't a generalization about all humans.)

I am a human being who is constantly growing and changing. I was in that space where I wanted to find “the one” that I could marry and grow old with. Someone to be my everything and who wanted me to be their everything. But, now I find myself in this space where that feels completely illogical, unrealistic, unauthentic and, frankly, terrifying.

I've spent time these past couple of years either trying to figure out how I wanted a relationship to look or how to just completely stay out of them. When I thought about how I wanted it to look, what I wanted didn't seem like a possibility within a typical monogamous relationship. I don't want to be someone's everything. I want to be their something and I want to be special to them but not their everything. That absolutely terrifies me and feels like a ton of weight that I just am not interested in carrying. Also, I want to keep a sense of autonomy within a relationship. As in having our own bedrooms if we live together or I would also be perfectly happy not living together. I still want my tiny home, piece of property and dogs. Whether in a relationship or not they are what make me happy and they are important to me.

Even just in explaining those basic things one can see that I don't want a traditional monogamous relationship.

Up until just a few months ago I believed that I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of polyamorous relationships. They clashed with my idea of what love was. How could you 1) love more than one person at a time (in the sense that I knew love, aka “I give you my whole heart”) and 2) share those people with other people without feeling like they were taking something away from their relationship with you? But, as I've explored and read and chatted with friends who are experiencing or have experienced polyamory, I've learned that there are different ways of being poly. I also know that there isn't a set amount of love that we can share and feel. When done with respect, understanding, compassion, honesty and openness polyamory can be an amazingly loving experience where love grows.

I've also learned that there are others like me in the world who want to keep their autonomy within their relationships and don't want to be one person's everything and guess what? They have successful relationships. They're also very real about relationships being a temporary thing. Something we come together to experience, to make a connection, to learn and grow with and sometimes they end and it's not a bad or terrible thing. It just is. They recognize their own humanness and embrace and accept it. Some more fully than others, but still. They go into a relationship without the goal of coupling up, shacking up and struggling to live “happily every after”.

Of course, there are plenty of people in the world for whom monogamy works and lasts. I'm not saying that isn't true. What I am saying is that it's not true for me. Have I “given up” on the fairy tale? No. I just have a much more authentic to me realistic tale.

What's most exciting to me about this realization is that I went from feeling like I was completely shut down and walled off from love and romance to feeling completely open to the possibility of it happening again in my life. Of course, whether or not a relationship does happen again for me remains to be seen, but it feels so good to be open to it. My heart is open, I am confident in myself and who I am, and I am open to more growth and learning. It feels incredibly freeing and really fucking fantastic.

Also, if it doesn't happen, I'll still be happy with me. I have an amazing family and a couple of close friends who fill my life with so much love.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

(Repost) This Path That I'm On

I originally wrote and posted this on May 18, 2015 over on the other blog I started last year. (Original post can be read here.) It was good for me to re-read this morning so I wanted to share it here.

“There’s so much more to life than finding someone who will want you, or being sad over someone who doesn’t. There’s a lot of wonderful time to be spent discovering yourself without hoping someone will fall in love with you along the way, and it doesn’t need to be painful or empty. You need to fill yourself up with love. Not anyone else. Become a whole being on your own. Go on adventures, fall asleep in the woods with friends, wander around the city at night, sit in a coffee shop on your own, write on bathroom stalls, leave notes in library books, dress up for yourself, give to others, smile a lot. Do all things with love, but don’t romanticize life like you can’t survive without it. Live for yourself and be happy on your own. It isn’t any less beautiful, I promise.”
Emery Allen
I found this quote today while reading through some things online. It perfectly sums up the way I’ve been living my life for the past year or so. Prior to that I lived most of my life romanticizing it like I couldn’t survive without it; waiting for that one person to fill me up with love and acceptance. I spent so much time being sad over people who didn’t love me and waiting for someone else to complete me, to tell me I was enough. It was as if my life was incomplete and on hold until that person showed up.

Somewhere along the line over the past year, I turned and faced myself in the clearest of mirrors one could ever find; the relationships in my life, both with those who are in my life currently or had been in my life but are no longer. That’s when everything started to change for me. That’s when I finally came around to that ever important lesson that I am the one I was waiting for all this time. I am the only one who can complete me and the only one who can tell me I am enough.

After embracing this lesson fully, I felt like I finally started to live in this life and “walk the talk”, so to speak by being present in each moment with myself, the world around me and with the people around me; by being completely open and honest with my friends and family; by enjoying each day by taking moments to just breath and be – no phone, no iPad, no computer, no camera, no journal – just me, my breath and my surroundings. I finally began to get to know and accept myself. I’ve discovered that I am already compete and I am enough. My heart and my intentions are good. Every day I live to better myself and to love and support my family and friends.

While researching a bit online about just who Emery Allen is, I came across this next quote of hers.

“Not everything is supposed to become something beautiful and long-lasting. Sometimes people come into your life to show you what is right and what is wrong, to show you who you can be, to teach you to love yourself, to make you feel better for a little while, or to just be someone to walk with at night and spill your life to. Not everyone is going to stay forever, and we still have to keep on going and thank them for what they’ve given us.”
Emery Allen

“….and we still have to keep on going and thank them for what they’ve given us.” I couldn’t agree with her more. There was a time in my life where I wanted everything to become something beautiful and long-lasting. But the reality of it is, life just doesn’t work that way and that’s a good thing. When I think back on all of the lessons I have been gifted by those who are and those who have been in my life, my heart fills with such gratitude. In all honestly, I think about every single one of them every day and with each thought I send them love and gratitude. I also wish them love and happiness in their continued journey in this life.

In Buddhist terms I practice the art of Tonglen in those moments. As Pema Chodron instructs:

“So in the in-breath you breathe in with the wish to take away the suffering, and breathe out with the wish to send comfort and happiness to the same people, animals, nations, or whatever it is you decide.”

These lessons and this practice has done wonders for my thought patterns, my well being and the way I relate to the world and the people in it. There truly are no words to fully express my gratitude to those who have lead me down this path. My life is forever changed by all of you.

Sending you love, comfort and happiness.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Working Out. Again.

One of the things about living in a small town without a car (read about why I am car free here) is that it limits the things to do in the evenings after work. Since moving here last April and my car acting up shortly after that, I noticed that I started gaining some weight and just all around not feeling all that good about myself. Moving three thousand miles away from everyone and everything you've known for the past 13 years is a challenge, to say the least. There's a lot of adjustments to make, a lot of loneliness to sit through and a lot of homesickness to experience. So, I didn't do much physically other than walk to and from work and I didn't eat very well.

This past April I decided I should get another physical. Thankfully, I am generally healthy. I have the normal aches and pains for a 46 year old who's played a lot of sports in her life. The knee I injured playing women's full tackle football still makes a grinding noise when I bend it but I'm told it's in fairly decent shape. (I still don't fully trust that diagnoses, but I'm going with it for now.)

Surprisingly, I hadn't put on as many pounds as I thought, according to the doctor's scale. But, I really wasn't feeling very good in my body and my mind. At the time of the physical I had been debating with myself about spending the money to join the local YMCA and that debate rang louder in my ear that day as I walked past the YMCA to get to my physician's office.

On my way back from the appointment I decided to stop and check out the facilities. I really wanted to see the pool. The idea of swimming again felt really good every time I thought about it. Just seeing the pool again pretty much ended the debate that had been going on in my head. Enough was enough. It was time to spend the money on myself. My health and well being deserved it. I haven't regretted it. I feel a million times better today than I did all those months ago.

I started off swimming three times a week. Nothing major. Just 600 yards for the first couple weeks then worked my way up to 800. Mostly free style (or crawl stroke as they like to call it sometimes) mixed in with breast stroke and back stroke on occasion. It felt amazing to be back in the water. Not all that amazing to be back in a swim suit that was a wee bit tight in some areas, but I powered through knowing I was on the right track.

After returning from my two week West coast vacation this past June, I decided to put the swimming aside for a bit and hit the gym. It had been a while since I'd been in that space. Over the course of the last 7 weeks or so, I've vastly improved my strength and cardio. My visits have been pretty constant. About every other day. Sometimes I'll skip two days but it's usually because I'm taking myself on an adventure somewhere and on those days I end up walking quite a bit anyway.

The only thing I've changed about my eating is I've tried to eliminate as many processed foods as possible. Being a pescatarian, I do still eat tofu and tempeh but for the most part I'm all about the fruits and veggies. I only on occasion eat fish or seafood.

This week I decided to add pea protein drinks to the mix to get a bit more protein onboard. Specially on gym days. I chose pea protein because it's easily digestible. Mistakenly, I bought a jar of the unflavored kind, but it's ok as far as taste goes. I tend to chug those drinks anyway because of the grittiness of them.  So, we'll see how it goes.

My goal with all of this is to just continue to feel better. I have an idea of what I'd like my body to eventually look like, but I also want to keep things very simple. I don't want to diet. Dieting just feels yucky and it's not a long term solution. I want a long term solution. Something that helps with my physical well being as well as my mental well being. So far, this path is working pretty well. I'm happy. I feel healthy. I feel strong. I feel more connected with my body and that, in itself, is pretty amazing.

I haven't been able to fit into these jeans since before the end of last year. Last week I put them on and not only do they fit, I have room! Feels pretty good.