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A Military Spouse Owned & Operated Company

My entire life, I have been the person who had a plan. I was determined to have a successful career, then find my husband, maybe kids starting at thirty (four to be exact) and be a working mom. I went to college, earned my Bachelors of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, was scouted by a few companies afterwards and everything was going according to plan. Ever the relationship girl, imagine my surprise when after much urging from my best friend to try online dating, I happened upon the man with whom I would I would give up everything I worked so hard for.

It wasn’t until after we lived together in Austin for two years that Sean decided to join the Air Force. The irony of this was not lost on me, as I had always told my Air Force retired parents that I did not wish to be set up with a military man, let alone marry into military life! I had my own ambitions, my own Graphic Design clients and absolutely no intention of sacrificing everything in my life plan for someone else. Well friends, “Man makes plans and God laughs” is more than a cliché to me now and I would argue a military family’s unspoken way of life.

In our seven years served we have lived in five states, had two children and survived one solo tour deployment which began five days after our daughter was born. Little did I know that our current station would be where I would not only finally embrace my military journey but begin a new path that continues to this day to evolve into my purpose in life. This station represents a new chapter for more reasons than one. It symbolizes the end of the hardest year of my life, we are finally closer to both our families and I have become openly vulnerable in my pursuit of happiness.

For those of you reading this and meeting me for the first time, my name is Anne. I am a wife, mother, mixed media artist and proud Air Force spouse. I know what some in the military community may be thinking: “Girl, why does the Air Force come last in the definition of yourself?” To be honest, that is a recent development. Until this year, I was so focused on the idea of being a “military spouse” that I truly lost my truth. This last deployment, I literally gave everything I had mentally, spiritually and physically to this conspicuous definition in my head of what made the perfect military spouse. Ever feel like you are so consumed with just getting through a period of time that you’ll do anything you can to survive? Of course, you do! That is an example of the basic flight or fight response ingrained in our minds. While this response is somewhat involuntary, I would say that it is exactly what military spouses do on a daily basis.

For example, my anxiety and manic depression surfaced in full force when my husband went on tour and I was left at my parents’ house with an infant and toddler. It didn’t help that I was struggling with Postpartum depression, flooded with family memories I had long pushed away and recovering from knee surgery after I slipped on a red wagon while carrying my son. Ask any military spouse who experiences deployment and I guarantee you, there will be similar stories of chaos. This fact alone made me question: why did it take me seven years to finally open up to those around me literally experiencing the same thing that I was? Why is it so hard to lean on other people in our time of need? Why are we constantly pushing away these emotions?

That is when for the first time I put down my work computer and picked up a paint brush. After feeling saved by my artwork, I began thinking about all of those spouses who consistently go through the crazy ups and down of military life. I thought of that spouse who suffers in silence because being vulnerable in the military community has a stigma of weakness. Most importantly, this reflection ended in my first spark of wanting to change the mental health system of the military community. This spark became a tiny flame that propelled me into graduate school to become a social worker. This flame became a fire within my soul to take the leap to pursue becoming a legitimate artist. This fire became an inferno when I realized my life goal: to create preventative art therapy programs for our military servicemembers and their dependents.

Flashforward to today, when after watching the new movie, Wine Country on Netflix, I was introduced to Brene Brown for the first time. She only had a cameo but for some reason, I wanted to know why these lovable ladies of comedy were so intent on speaking with her. My graduate student self was rather embarrassed by realizing this amazing woman is a leader in social work research as well as an inspiration to embrace the journey I am currently in. After binge watching her infamous Ted talks, there was one quote that really hit home for me:

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Take a second to soak in all of those words. When I heard that, I realized that being truly vulnerable is the only way I can master my life. You may think of mastery in reference to the definition that we all know, “comprehensive knowledge or skill in a subject or accomplishment.” This is the definition that I was familiar with. Little did I know that there was a second part that really struck a deep cord in me: “control or superiority over someone or something.” This one made me pause and reflect on where I am currently at in our military life journey but also where I am on my mental health journey.

Recently, I was very close to a complete mental breakdown—literally. I had to decide: stay struggling for control with anxiety and severe depression in silence for another 30 years or have the courage to own being completely vulnerable in every aspect of my life. Being a self-proclaimed woman warrior, I chose to fight my negative thoughts, work on letting go of control pursue being completely vulnerable. Exhausted by feeling weighted down by my past, present and even the unknowable future, I began creating every single day even if it was just a quick sketch on a napkin. Then, I found a therapist and psychologist that could provide the specific intensive care that I desperately needed. After going through the harrowing process of finding the correct combination of medications that match my unique chemical design, I realized that I have created over thirty paintings. All of these are in different stages of life and represent very personal moments in time that created the person I am today. Reflection on all of these moments in my little kitchen studio reminded me that being an artist takes courage. Seeking help takes courage. Being vulnerable is courageous. Mastering vulnerability takes unflinching courage.

My journey of mastering vulnerability has just begun. Despite the fact that my process of seeking help while having the confidence in myself may waver at times, I can look at my paintings and see a visual representation of my struggles and successes. There is one painting I am working on that has a special place in my heart. This painting represents finding myself within the military, finding peace through the chaos and the strong bond between my servicemember and I. Despite the rain, we have found shelter among the gigantic poppies. Sun is shining through, casting hope directly onto us while have chosen to remain vulnerable. This is my breakthrough piece that has drawn me that much closer to mastering my craft.

Imagine a military community who embraced the idea that courage is not just about bravery in combat but also in the value of vulnerability. Imagine how being vulnerable to one another could create human connection. Imagine that creating human connection could save those who are desperately seeking some way of coping with the very specific threats that come with this career. Through mastering vulnerability, we can better cope with what is presented to us. By being open about our vulnerability to each other and embracing human connection we can create the hope that this world is so desperately crying out for. I challenge you to take a moment to ask yourself: How can I be courageously vulnerable in the season of life I find myself in? For me, this question revealed a passion for helping others through my gift of creation. The answer that surfaces in your mind may be the very thing that helps you break through the wall to discover complete acceptance, confidence and mastery.

About the Author:

Hello there! I am a USAF milspouse artist turned social worker with hopes to create an art therapy program for the military community.

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