Stronger Together

I finally got to watch the movie Military Wives this week, which I had originally planned to go to the premier in March, but then Lockdown in Australia occured.

The original documentary with Gareth Malone creating the first military wives choir in Britain was very emotional for me, as it was so close to my experiences as a military wife. Nine years later, I unexpectately was hit with waves of emotions and memories I thought I had buried deep down long ago.

The movie made me laugh at the zany things and comradery that were portrayed in the movie, even the layout of the buildings and pad estates had memories flooding back.

You see, I was a military wife for 6 years of my life, as my former husband served in the British Armed Forces. It was during this time, that I had the opportunity to live and work in Germany as part of the British Forces, Germany contingent.

It wasn’t always easy being a military wife as you dealt with getting used to being on your own more times than having your partner by your side. The feeling of isolation and loss of your own identity, especially after I gave up my teaching career to support my then husbands’ military career can without a strong support network really impact on your mental wellbeing. This is where the friendships I forged with other military wives helped me get through some truly challenging, soul search and soul destroying periods of my life during my time as a military wife and afterwards.

These are my friends who I plan to meet up with in Mallorca in 2022, and who have been part of my support network as I have navigated the breakdown of my marriage as well as relocation back to Australia away from my dearest friends.

They are also fully behind and believe in the skills, knowledge and experience I have to offer clients as a Career Practitioner. They know how to cheer me up, and are delighted that I have recently started to rediscover the fun loving side to me that they knew before my life took unexpected turns. It doesn’t matter that we are located in different countries, the bond between us is as strong as ever. We’ve all had serious personal challenges we have had to face, and have been there for each other throughout. This unique bond and understanding of the unique life and experiences a military wife has, is I believe, what the movie was trying to portray.

There were 2 scenes that in particular were very emotional as they could have been plucked stright from my memories, and although I was only affected peripherally by the actual events, the movie opened up raw emotions which took me completely by surprise. I’ve now seen the movie twice, and although these scenes still make me emotional, watching them has been I believe very cathartic for my wellbeing. I’m actually glad now that I didn’t go to the cinema to watch the movie, as the scenes still make me well up and the tears flow freely.

When I gave up teaching I was fortunate to be able to work with the British Royal Engineers at their HQ, which helped ease my transition into life as a Military Wife, and really introduce me to the difficulties miltiary members and their families can face not only during service but also post transition from the armed forces.

It was during this time, that one of my husbands friends, and who lived 2 houses up from us was killed in Afghanistan. I’ll never forget that day. It is etched into my memory.

From the time I arrived at work picking up the NOTICAS, knowing what had happened, but being powerless to go home and support my husband as there were and rightly so, strict protocols for the notification and dissemination of information. Through to being at home comforting my husband whilst watching the welfare team turn up 2 doors down to inform our friends wife of what had happened as she had just got home from work and hadn’t been able to be contacted earlier.

I’ll never forget hearing her raw pain as she discovered that her husband of only a couple of months would not be coming home again, nor will I ever forget the moving funeral that was held for our fallen friend.

My husband didn’t cope well, some might say he had survival guilt, as he was part of the rear party that did not deploy, because at the time he was medically downgraded and, as I had recently suffered a second miscarriage in a short period of time, the decision was made higher up that he would not be sent to Afghanistan.

After our friends death, my husband blamed himself, because in his mind, if he had of gone, it would have been my husband driving the truck that fateful day that drove over an IED explosive device which killed our friend. He struggled with the belief that it should have been him who died that day, leaving our friend to return home to his new wife and children from a previous marriage.

Over several years, my husband refused counselling stating that he was fine, and did not require support. He continued to refuse/ beunable to acknowledge that he had not come to terms with what had happened along with other events he had previously experienced, and this only got worse as he was medically transitioned with very little support from the Army and our subsequent relocation to Australia, as I am an Australian citizen by birth.

Over time, his loss of identity, trying to adjust and settle into life in a new country and 2 new cultures (Australian and civilian) as well as not being able to work whilst waiting for his residency visa to be granted, really took its toll. Even for myself who is an Australian by birth, after 9 years of living overseas in the UK and Germany, I found it a challenge at times to adjust to life back in Australia. Unfortunately in time he came to shift his sense of blame for what had happened to our friend, to it becoming my fault. In his mind by this stage, he had come to think if I hadn’t of had the miscarriage, he would have been deployed, therefore it was my fault our friend had been killed, and it had become my fault he had been medically discharged. To this day, he refuses to believe he needs any additional support, and that in part ultimately led to the breakdown of our marriage. A casuality of the unwillingness to acknowledge and accept the benefits of support.

I don’t normally share these experiences, but watching the movie has been carthatic, and I truly believe that it is important, for people to know that there are support networks and services out there to help especially when times are stressful, or periods of uncertainty and transitions to name just a few examples.

I want to also share 2 songs which for me best represent the emotions and experiences of being a military wife/spouse, including the strength and resilience have. The first one is ‘Wherever You Are’ written by Paul Melor for Gareth Malone for the documentary where Gareth formed the first Miltary Wives Choir in the UK back in 2011. The lyrics were penned from letters that the wives had written to or received from their spouses. The second song is “Home Thoughts From Abroad” from the movie Military Wives which is inspired by the Gareth Malone’s 2011 documentary.

Where Ever You Are

Home Thoughts From Abroad

Open Arms provides mental health and wellbeing support for current and former Australian Defence Force personnel and their families

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