Monday, January 26, 2015

The Most Powerful Verb

The other day I realized the most powerful verb in our language is choose.

Think about it, this one verb dictates our entire life. We choose to get up each morning. We choose our friends. We choose our paths. We choose our future. Our life is made up of a series of choices that mold us into who we are.

Everything good or bad has come from a choice you made at some time. So when will we wake up and choose to stop being a victim? When will we choose to shed the victim mentality and choose to be a victor?

We live in a world full of people making excuses and choosing to sit and whine and talk about how the world has done them wrong. If you sit and think about it for a minute, you will find the world doesn't owe you anything and that the things that have gone wrong are usually because you made bad choices. Reality really does suck sometimes, but a good dose now and then is beneficial.

Here's why this all frustrates me so much. I am surrounded by men and women who chose to serve our country. They knew the consequences and they chose to stay with it. They are now dealing with the consequences of their choices. Yet they are choosing to be so positive about it. These men and women inspire me daily. They are viewed as being medically broken, but I can tell you their attitude certainly is not.

In my own home, my soldier would choose the exact same path if you gave him the chance to do it all over. And if you give me a chance to do it over, I would say "I do," again in a heart beat. Our journey has been tough, but it's ours and we are proud of it.

Then enter a person who whines about everything. "My job was cruel to me." "I have (fill in the blank minor medical) problem." "You don't understand." These are the things I hear from people and they expect me to have sympathy. I have become numb to this. I am numb to the random excuses people create to justify their victim mentality.

I am now seeing a new generation of financial counseling clients. I call them the "easy button crew." They are looking for the easy button to push so they don't have to work hard. They really think that the world is going to hand them their dream job and all the money in the world with little to no effort. They think they shouldn't have to pay any taxes. They really think they are owed things. It is horribly unfortunate that somewhere we, as a society, have gone wrong with this group. And of course they are not all this way, I am just sad to say that I see more than I would like to. They come to me for financial counseling, but none of them want to give up living beyond their income. They just keep piling on the debt and they really do not think they are doing anything wrong at all. They are all having to hit absolute bottom in order to wake up and realize the tough choices that have to be made.

I have learned in my short life that nothing great comes easy. The easy path sure does look tempting, but it does not offer the blessings that comes with the harder path. I found this on pinterest the other day and it truly did inspire this blog.

Building our home is a great example of choices. We initially chose the easy path. Someone was supposed to build our home and they totally failed us. We weren't going to have to lift a finger. It all sounded so amazing and it was what our family needed. We gave the promise makers more than enough time to do anything at all to get our home started and finally said screw it we will figure this out.

No, we are not victims. We made a bad choice. We have zero problems owning up to the fact that we were wooed and we fell for it. Again I reiterate, we are not victims. We chose to trust this person and all of their hot-aired promises. Then reality smacked us and we made the choice to move on.

Yes we are paying for our home to be built. Yes writing those checks is quite painful, even nauseating at times. However, we have already realized the absolute best part of all of this is that person who was supposed to help us and bailed, well they are permanently out of our lives and have no strings over us anymore. As we look back now, we can already see we made a great choice in choosing to move on by ourselves.

Chaz and I could have chosen to have played the victim card. We could have gone to the media and smashed the person who failed us. We have had several offers to do so, but we will continue to choose the high road. The high road has been hard and painful and full of tears, but I know that this year when we move into that new home we will know without any doubt that it was all worth it.

Chaz and I have made all sorts of bad choices in our lives. I am sure we will make more as we move on. That's what we humans do, we mess up and we make mistakes. However if we set down the victim card, then we cannot triumph over our bad choices. We have to choose the victor card in order to win.

I truly pray that we will always remember the spoils of the harder path. And I pray that we will always choose the victor card. I really pray that the "easy button crew" finds reality sooner, than later.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

4 Years after the Bomb

Wow another year has past by. It's so hard for me to believe it's been four years when I can recall so much so quickly. Time sure does fly when you are having fun!

It seems like yesterday I sat at this desk where I am writing now and got the calls that started it all.

We have definitely have embraced our new life and the four of us have grown together in the wonders this new life has given us. We have healed together through the ups and downs and we have really had an amazing journey so far. I have learned my favorite compliment is when someone says they can see how much I love my family when I talk about them. If that is the one impression I leave with someone, then I am beyond thrilled.

Our girls show each day us how much life has moved on since that day. They have grown so much that it's hard to believe four years ago I had to sit our little 8 and 5 year old cuties down and give them the bad news. At any moment, I can close my eyes and see their beautiful faces at the beginning of all this sitting on the couch as I sat in the recliner and gave them all the information I had. I can see their faces as they talked to their dad on the phone just a little over 24 hours after his injury. And perhaps my favorite, I can remember the day they saw him for the first time. Now they're 12 and 9 and are growing into these beautiful young ladies. We are so proud of their resiliency and strength and we learn so much from them everyday.

What a doozy of a year this has been?! I think I have cried more this year than I did four years ago. This year has been full of big ups and big downs. We had huge promises broken and then we were blessed by new angels who came in our lives to help us fix what damage was done by others. I am so thankful for the happy tears and seriously still want to punch someone in the face for the sad/hurt/mad ones. Yes, I have a bit of unresolved anger with a few people. And yes, it is still wise of them to stay in their respective states and not come near me.

Just a few days ago, Chaz and I realized that year 4 was upon us. We know we still have more to learn, but wow have we learned a lot in the past four years. We have learned a lot about people. We have learned a lot about healing. We have learned a lot about medicine. And oh have we learned about the government. Our journey has definitely been a learning experience.

Perhaps the most important thing we have learned is that marriage can be better than you ever believed. I am here to tell you fairy tales do come true and happy ever afters do exist. My Prince Charming just comes with pieces and requires assembly and his white horse is actually a #badassvan. I had no idea that love could heal so much. I had no idea that one person could love you through anything. It is truly beautiful when you think about it and I am so thankful I have lived it. Everyday I give thanks for the marriage Chaz and I have developed over the years and I look forward to so many more years by his side.

We also learned that patience through faith is golden. This journey has taught us a lot about patience and faith. We know you have to have the patience to let things happen as they are supposed to and the faith to know it will all work out in the end just like it is meant to be. God has already blessed us so much and I know He has more great things in store for our family.

We are declaring 2015 to be an amazing year for our family!! We have some really big changes ahead for us! We have some really exciting things coming our way! You'll definitely want to see what God has in store for us this year. I only know a little bit of it and let me tell you it is AWESOME! I cannot wait to see the rest! And yes, I promise to share the great news as it happens! ;)

Cheers to Year Four for Team Allen!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Mighty Moms of Walter Reed

I took me a while, but I was finally able to finish the Might Moms of Walter Reed book. I am sad that I am just now getting around to write about it. If you don't have a copy you should get one today!! I'll make it easy on you, click here. Your purchase supports the families you will be reading about, so make sure you pick one up.

I ordered mine as soon as it came out, but I found myself finding reasons to not read it. Why?! Because I have met all 10 Moms. I have cried with a few of the Moms. I know some of the stories the book did not tell. I know details that go way beyond the pages of this book. At times I had a hard time reading it, because their stories are not just pages in a book to me. These stories are stories about a few of my friends.

Chaz nailed it when he told me that I was just way to close to subject. This book was like Black Hearts for me, except this time I knew the battle from both sides. With Black Hearts, I only knew Chaz's side and what it was like for us back home. With the Mighty Moms, I just knew way too much.

The parents at Walter Reed have always amazed me. The ones I have gotten to know have demonstrated what unconditional love truly is. I feel they have served as some great examples for how I can be a better parent to our girls. During our time there, I was able to develop some amazing bonds. We have been outraged together, laughed together and cried together. We all might be on a different journey but we were all brought to the starting line for the same reason....catastrophic injury.

I can tell you the stories of how these Moms came into our lives. I can tell you stories about some of their sons walking for the first time again. I can tell you stories about visiting their sons in their hospital rooms. I can tell you stories of the pretty darn good laughs we had over some of the ignorance we saw there at Walter Reed. I can tell you about some pretty delicious meals we shared together. I can tell you stories of when we held hands and cried. I can tell you this book only gave you a very, very small glimpse into how mighty these Moms really are.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting to get a little glimpse inside the stories of Walter Reed. The side of the non-spousal caregiver is very rarely seen. The book provides you with ten stories of the rare and unseen. Most of America thinks every soldier is happily married and the spouse is right next to them helping them fight the fight. Sadly this is just not true.

My only problem with the book was at times I felt a divide was being portrayed between the Moms and the wives at Walter Reed. Of course the Moms are going to bond together and of course the wives are going to bond together, but I did not feel excluded from the friendship with the Moms at any time. I actually feel like we were all one family. At one point in the book, it seemed like the Moms were on this side and the wives like myself were on the other, yeah no, that's not how it was for me. I know several other wives that have the same feeling that I have. These Moms are so loving and welcoming. I have had other readers asked me if I picked up on it. Yes I did and no, I did not feel excluded at all from friendship with these ladies.

I am blessed that I still have several of the Moms mentioned in the book still in my life. And yes, a few of them treat me like I am their daughter at times. And yes they even get onto me for things, mainly overdoing it and lack of sleep. I even call some of them Momma (then their name). These Moms are so very mighty. They are beautiful on the inside and out. I feel so blessed that I can call them "friend." You definitely need to add this book to your collection and learn more about them.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Growing Up Through Trauma

It is a bittersweet day for this Momma. Cutie #2 has decided to sleep in her own bed. (Enter criticism of others).
Now some are thinking, they slept with you....yes, yes they did. Why? Because Chaz was gone ALL THE TIME! I was in a house by myself and I hated the idea of our children not being right next to me.

Your next thought? Chaz allowed this? Yup sure did. He and I agreed that time would fly and they would decide on their own to leave. His traumatic incident forced it a little sooner, but it has all worked out.

Your next thought? You must have clingy children? Actually they are just the opposite.They are independent, brilliant young ladies who has zero problems making friends wherever they go.

Yes both girls slept with us (mostly me because Chaz was always gone) for the beginning of their lives. It wasn't until we were forced to move to Maryland that they slept separate. They slept separate simply because they did not have room with us. When we moved home to Tennessee they chose to sleep together in Cutie #1's room. But this week Cutie #2 decided it was time to go to her own room.

All three of us are a little sad, but also happy for her. It's a big step for her little self. The most important part was that she made the decision all on her own. What this tells me is that Chaz and I have been able to give and build her confidence throughout all this crazy.

I will not lie, the three of us have rallied unknowingly together to protect her from everything. Somehow, and not by force, Cutie #1 protected her sister from everything that we have all been through. Somehow together we have protected the innocence of Cutie #2. It's kind of nice when you think of it, but yes I agree it's unfair to Cutie #1. I can assure you and witnesses can testify that she has never been forced to be the protector. I think it has something to do with her being the oldest.

For sure Cutie #2 has had the least amount of trauma from our journey. We haven't had to remind her to "just be a kid" like we have with #1. #1 hardly ever listens to that and I doubt she ever will. #1 has the urge to help others and has a tendency to jump in to help, except when we are talking about chores around the house.

Raising children through a traumatic incident is very interesting. Our girls were 8 and 5 when this all began almost 4 years ago. We have tried our best to give them a great life despite our limitations. We have taken advantage of opportunities that created some amazing memories for us all. We are definitely not wealthy, but we do try to make up for it in love. We have loved them through their tears and anger over everything that has happened to us. I think that love has truly helped them heal.

I will admit dealing with the house has been the most difficult part for us parenting wise. #2 is now with the program and understands everything a little bit better. Both of our girls have had the hardest time dealing with the fact that people came to our home (both current and to the land) and made promises to help our family and then broke those promises. It is a topic of conversation that just fizzed out when we went to write the names on the wood a few months ago. Now our girls understand that we are building with the help and support of others. I think they have more pride in our home because we are building it ourselves. I know Chaz and I do.

I am pleased to say they are finally excited about the house again. They have watched their Dad get hurt again and again in this home and they want the house for him as much as I do.

We are all ready to move on to our next chapter. It's a very exciting time in our home. We are spending time on pinterest getting ideas for what colors we want on the walls and fixtures and things like that. It is so wonderful to have some excitement in our home again. And as a Mom, it is just great to see your kids get excited about something.

We will be moving from a city to the country. We are giving up convenience for peace and quiet. The girls are very much aware of where we are going and the changes that will be made. Of course it hasn't really hit them yet. We do talk about it all the time. What's funny is when we get to our property for a visit, they get to run around in the back yard without a care in the world. They then tell us how ready they are to leave the city. I think our city girls are ready for a change of pace.

Growing up through trauma is definitely interesting. The one thing I have learned as a parent is to go with your gut. So far our decisions have been pretty darn good ones. We can only hope that our decisions help our cuties become courageous adults and great citizens.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My Dark Days

It's time to have a serious conversation about mental health in our country. It seems like we are ashamed to talk about it. Well I am not ashamed of the issues I have had, I just have always chosen to keep them private. I am going to share my two darkest days in the hopes that others will share and get help like I did.

In March 1999, I lost my boyfriend to a car accident and my grandfather just one week later. I was devastated. This was the first time in my life where I knew how to it felt to be numb.

My heart was shattered. I remember feeling as if I could not feel anything. 

I got through those days as a zombie. I had no fight in me. I just went from place to place when really all I wanted to do was hide.

I had no tears left when the thoughts of just letting go entered my head. I even began to sketch it all out. How? When? Where?

At that time, I felt like I really had no one. I felt utterly and completely alone. I thought no one will miss me if I go. So why not just go?

I could see my Mom and Step Dad wanted to help me so badly, but just didn't know how. They didn't know what to say or what to do. I took some time off from college to just deal with everything.

The night I thought of letting go, I decided I had to do something. I had to get off the fence. Either I was going to let go or I was going to go on. It was the pain in my mother's face that made me get off the fence. She loved me so much and wanted to help, but just didn't know how. There was this look on her face. I'll never forget it, the thought of it makes me cry today. Her look reached my heart like an arrow. She needed me to move on. She needed me to be ok again.

So I did move on.  I struggled for a long time with depression. I hid my depression with a smile and by focusing on finishing my degree. I buried myself in my studies. I built many of the walls I still have today because I just didn't want to be hurt anymore.

A few months later, Chaz got through one of those walls. For some reason, he just kept coming around and slowly broke through that wall. And before I knew it, everyone called him my boyfriend and then he became my happily ever after.

Fast forward to 2005-06-the darkest year of our life. Chaz was in Iraq and I had two very sick babies on my hands. I never got to talk with him. I was in the doctor's office every week. Cutie #1 developed asthma and Cutie #2 developed every baby disease on the planet it seemed. Chaz's company was getting hammered. Every time I turned around there was a call, KIA, WIA, it was insane.

Then came the sleep deprivation. At one point I had to give Cutie #1 a breathing treatment every other hour. Cutie #2 was just an infant and she was an infant who seemed to catch everything so she was always on meds. There were a few days that I ran on just minutes of sleep. I later learned that Cutie #2 also brought me postpartum depression. Something I knew nothing about until I was buried inside of it.

I was at my edge again. I was so tired. I was being criticized by family and friends for this and that, all petty BS of course. I was called a hypochondriac for the medical concerns of our girls. I was called a bad mom. And in all this criticism and health issues, I had to find time to attend memorials for my husband's fellow soldiers.

I remember the day I walked out to the back deck of the first home we lived in. I remember thinking it's only a matter of time before I am a widow. I remember thinking I'll just end it all. Then came the How? When? Where?

I was snapped out of those thoughts from 3 year old Cutie #1 needing something. Luckily our days were so busy with meds and treatments that I was just exhausted and would pass out at the end of each day. The days passed quickly for the three Allen girls that year.

I did see my doctor and talk with them about everything. It was my hormones mixed with exhaustion for sure. I was put on a hormone treatment and it did make things better for me. When Chaz came home, I confessed everything to him. He did not understand at all, but he did try. We both had to try to understand each other after that deployment. Neither of us were ever the same.

When my girlfriend's husband committed suicide, I remember a man telling me in anger that I have no idea what it's like. I may not know another person's demons, but I have shaken my own demons' hands. I know what it's like to stare at the end. I know what it's like to be in the dark tunnel and be desperate for a light. I have been there twice. Both of my bouts were brought on by the death of others and exhaustion that carried into hopelessness. The hopelessness and exhaustion spiraled me into the pit of despair.

I do not know what combat feels like. I only know what my husband has shared with me about his tours. I have looked at my husband more than once after he has shared a story with me and asked, "How the hell are you sane?"

When the guys came home from Iraq, you did not talk about the war if you wanted to stay in the Army. Chaz had nowhere to turn. He had to give his guilt to me. His stories are buried in my brain and yes even sometimes wake me up at night. I know he has not shared them all and I doubt he ever will. But the stories he has shared are ours now.

People ask me how does Chaz handle everything so well? I truly believe it's because he given me so much of his guilt and I do not judge him for what he has been through. I know he has killed people. I know some of the things he has seen. I have held him when he has cried and we cried together. I have let him fall apart and together we put the pieces back together. I truly believe he is doing so well because he has no doubts that I love him unconditionally. For him, that is enough. Unfortunately many others need so much more. Everyone's needs are different and it's time we realize mental health treatment is not one size fits all.

We lose 22 veterans per day to suicide, but suicide is not exclusive to the veteran population. Suicide hurts us all. For some odd reason, we as a society do not want to talk about dark feelings and dark places. It's hard and it makes us feel awkward. You know what, it is hard and awkward. I have walked away from typing this several times so I can clear my eyes. This is an extremely hard monster to face, but we have to. We are losing too many people to this monster.

We need to start the dialog. There's nothing wrong with talking about our feelings. What is wrong is that we choose to avoid the elephant in the room. What we need to do is take that elephant down one bite at a time. I do not know how to accomplish that, but we have a lot of medical professionals who do. It is time to listen to them.

It has almost been a decade since I have been on my fence. I truly hope I never see it again. I still battle depression from time to time, but mine is hormonal based. Exhaustion always makes it worse.

How do I cope? I have a few ways. I make sure and get some type of exercise in at least a few times a week. Right now I am training for a half marathon, so I am doing a lot of walking. I also love yoga and I love to turn the music up and dance around the house with our girls. Sometimes I just need a lovely cup of tea and a good book to escape into. But every single day I begin my day by giving thanks for waking up, then that I can see, that I can hear, that I can breathe, that I can walk, that I have another day with my family and my thankful list is very long. Beginning my day in thankfulness is what kicks off my positivity. And yes I have been called Pollyanna, but this Pollyanna is far from perfect and it took me a long time to like looking at her in the mirror. Some days I still don't like her. I am still a work under construction, but I truly believe we all are.

Looking back, I realize that God put me through those tests so I would be able to handle Chaz's injuries and the plan that he had in store for our family. My faith was tested to extreme levels more than once. God and I had lots of bad words back then. I was so angry with the things that had happened to me. I had been faithful to him, yet he allowed this hurt to continue. I did blame him for pretty much everything I had gone through. 

Now I know you have to have tests to have a testimony; you have to have trials to be triumphant. My scars are not out there for everyone to see. They are buried inside and really only a few know about them. There is a lot more hurt to my two stories, but I am just not comfortable enough to share every single detail with the world. And you know what, that is ok.

I am ok with be a part of the dialog in our world and getting the statistics of suicide lower. There is something that can be done, I just don't know what that is. All I know is what worked for Chaz and I and all I can do is share that in the hopes that it helps someone else.

Today is the start of a new year. Let's work together to learn about how we can help others and get those statistics lower. And my media friends....if you can saturate our news with the threat of ebola, you damn sure can start this dialog and help save lives.