Things Not To Say To Veterans

A photo from the day I commissioned into the air force
A photo from the day I commissioned into the Air Force.

I come from a military family. My mom served, I served, and my younger brother is currently Active Duty. I also have a ton of friends and loved ones that serve or have served. Veterans. When people hear this word, they excitedly ask some of the most inappropriate and invasive questions regardless of the environment or setting. I was discussing this with my mom, brother, and a few friends. From those conversations comes this list of what bothered us the most.

1. Did you kill anyone? or How many people did you kill?
Although I never saw combat, I know plenty of people that did. It’s one of the things they won’t (or can’t) speak freely about because of how it affected them. Plus in my experience, a lot of people in Special Operations communities don’t talk about that stuff with just anyone. If you speak to a veteran and they proudly discuss all the people they killed… chances are, they are lying through their teeth. It blows my mind that folks don’t have the common sense to not bring up something that traumatic at the water cooler at work. It’s disrespectful, and absolutely none of your business.

2. Did anyone you know die?
Again, asking a service member to relive their trauma for your entertainment or to satisfy your curiosity is one of the most rude and heartless things veterans encounter. People are changed when life is lost. If you know a service member and they volunteer that information, that is one thing. They have gotten to a point where they have processed their loss, grief, and trauma. But casually asking where it happened and what they were doing at the time is in very poor taste.

3. Do you have PTSD? What happened?
I have PTSD from service, yes. Many veterans do. Why do you need to know how we got it? Would you ask if a man had erectile dysfunction because he rides bulls for a living? Nope, because it’s a really intimate and inappropriate question. If you notice a veteran you know acting differently, it is fine to ask if they are okay or how you can help. They get to choose on their terms if they want to discuss details with you. That lets them take their power back.

4. Do you know anyone that got raped?
Yes, I have been asked this many times. Sometimes people go far enough to ask if it happened to me. It is by far the question that makes me most uncomfortable. Prying into someone’s personal life on such a painful and life changing level as if it did not shake them to their very core is almost unforgivable in my opinion. A simple question can result in night terrors for weeks and flashbacks and upset that you can’t possibly want someone to have. You wouldn’t ask someone about their best sexual experience at work or at the grocery store. So why would you ask about their worst?

5. Do you know [insert name here]? They’re in the Marines.
Y’all. Let’s end this on a humorous note. All military people don’t know everybody else in the military! Especially between branches. That one usually cracks me up. Each service is huge and spread out across the globe. Sure, there’s the off chance we may have crossed paths, but it’s very unlikely unless we’re in the same career field. One of my favorites was when I was stationed in Washington. My cashier at Wal-Mart was like, “Hey, my cousin’s in the Army, too! He’s in Afghanistan right now, do you know him?”

All military people don’t know everybody else in the military!
My reaction. My face tells on me all the time!

I understand that service member’s stories are interesting. They’re unique and unlike what the rest of the population experiences. All veterans need is a little empathy and courtesy, just like anyone else. Remember: every survivor has a story, but not all stories have survivors. Think, before you ask.

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Home

The concept of home has always been a little iffy for me. I’ve been moving every few years since I was one and a half. I was born in New Jersey then moved to Georgia. From there our family went to Texas, Mississippi, Alaska, Germany, and I finished college in San Antonio, TX. When I was active duty, I was stationed in Washington and Florida. Now I’m in Guam with my fiancé, and we’re moving again next year.

When the “Where are you from?” question is posed, most folks understand when I hesitate before answering.

I just got back from Florida, and I realized something. The little beach towns of Fort Walton Beach and Destin are the closest thing I will ever have to home.

Jack and I went back at the beginning of September. I visited my parents, hung out with old friends, and went to my old haunts. It was nice to see how much had changed and how much had stayed the same. Many of my friends’ lives have changed for the better, and I was genuinely happy to see and hear their good news.

When I left two years ago, I was hurt and haunted by memories of things that had happened and the kind of person I became while I was there. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of and regret to myself and others out of pain and pettiness. I wasn’t terrible, but I wasn’t good. I wasn’t someone I was proud of in many ways. While in Guam, slowly but surely I healed. I forgave myself and others for things that I could not change. I changed what I could about myself. I worked through a lot of things in therapy. I became happy and self-aware. I became the person I knew I could be. I loved my simple quiet life.

There’s an old quote that applies:

“To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it.”

Confucius

In the three weeks I spent in Florida, I realized just how much progress I had made. I heard good news about people that I once considered enemies, and I was genuinely happy for them. I heard bad news about some, and didn’t feel any type of way about it. Not glee at their failure or pity at their inability to change. I forgave them. I forgave myself, and hoped that others had forgiven me. Even if they hadn’t, I was still me.

When Jack was driving me to the airport on Friday evening, I was quiet. He asked what was wrong, and I smiled saying, “I don’t have to come back here.” He asked what I meant, and I shrugged.

I’ve gotten everything I needed from there. I got lessons of heart break, shame, loss, pain, and anger during the bad times I had there. But I also got lessons of love, support, and reassurance during the bad and good times. In my last visit, I got closure.

I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to Fort Walton Beach or Destin. My parents are moving away, and many of my close friends there are also making their departures in the coming years. But whenever someone asks me where I’m from, I finally have an answer.

Tales from an Ignorant Introvert

I found out something interesting from school this past week. We had to take a personality quiz to see how we’d fit into an organization. I was shocked at my result. I’m an introvert? More specifically, I have an INTJ (Introvert Intuitive Thinking Judging) personality. I had no clue. I almost didn’t believe the result, so I took it twice. I got the same answer twice. My dad is one of the most extroverted people I know, and I take after him. Surprise surprise, I am actually have a much more similar personality to my mom!

Most of my life has been geared toward chasing success as an extroverted, outgoing person. Most of my life, I’ve been exhausted trying to be someone that I didn’t realize I was not. I’ve done everything from volunteer to give speeches, join various group activities in all levels of school, to arranging surprise parties for friends. I have been a wreck after most, if not all of these things. I’ve been known to come down with the flu after hosting an event. I never understood it, but there it is. I’m an introvert.

The more I think about it, the more it makes sense. Part of the reason I was exhausted at the gym was having to interact with people. I’m not fond of small talk. Meeting new people is a chore. I value alone time more than anything in this world. When I moved to Guam, I chose not to surround myself with lots of people. It was so refreshing. Even this summer, I withdrew and didn’t hang that much. I didn’t have a drained social battery all the time for once.

Since Jack got home and I’m doing more social events and parties, I am drained at the moment. How wonderful it is to finally understand why. That answers my questions about why I don’t have a big group of friends, and why I prefer to be close to one or two people in small doses. Now I know it’s not necessary to continue to force myself to do things that are draining me. I also found a solution for the gym; personal training! It’ll be better for me, in terms of motivation. Not expending social energy while trying to concentrate on workin gout sounds like a winning plan to me.

Navigating Friendships with Women

Every now and then a girl comes along as says the dreaded phrase:
“I don’t hang out with girls, they’re too much drama.”

People scream bloody murder. The streets run red with blood. Baby angels cry. The reactions to such a simple sentence is never small. Some girls nod emphatically. Others smile politely but make a mental note to never hang out again. Like any other millennial, I consulted Google about it. The results were not good for “girls without girl friends”. A vast majority of them said to steer clear of those girls because they are the drama. There’s a reason no one is friends with them. It sounded kind of unfair to me.

I can say that I am one of those girls that doesn’t have many girlfriends, but I can’t say it’s because I consider women to be drama. I feel like that’s a really unfair and toxic generalization. Honestly, I would love a group of gal pals, but it hasn’t happened yet. There’s a lot of little nuances to friendships with women that I don’t think I ever learned to navigate. I feel like the nuances are learned when we’re young. Guess who didn’t have a lot of close girl friendships when she was little? *jazz hands* This gal. I had a group of neighborhood boys, their friends, and my younger brother that were my best friends from first to sixth grade. I also don’t have any sisters. I super missed out on all the nuances of relationships with ladies. Navigating male friendship? Piece of pie. It’s what I know. Except that is kinda sketchy as you get older, though. No guy is looking to be your best friend when you’re thirty unless they want to marry you or reap the benefits of your sudden breakup. It’s a tough spot.

Ordinarily it wouldn’t matter to me. I enjoy hanging out with myself. I think that I’m hilarious. I like me. I’m a little quirky, but who isn’t? When my fiancé mentioned how much fun he had at his friend’s wedding a couple weeks ago, he said he wanted to have one, too. He felt like we kinda owed it to our friends and family. It made sense. We’re joining two families, we should probably party together.

I’ve never wanted to have a wedding, first because I never thought I’d get married, and second, I hid behind the reasoning that they were too expensive. Seriously, they’re ridiculously expensive. The dress, the flowers, the venue, and the endless supply of alcohol… all that stuff. It’s seems like a lot for one day. There’s a lot of pressure for perfection, and I already know that’s impossible for me. I don’t operate on perfection. Eventually I’ll tell our engagement story. It’s pretty goofy and totally us. It’s not perfect, but it’s cute in its own way. On the subject of weddings, I’d deflect saying that having a badass, exotic honeymoon would be cooler. I can’t say how relieved I was when Jack initially agreed with me.

If I’m 100% honest with myself, that’s not the reason. My situation is basically the plot of I Love You, Man but for a woman. I’m Paul(ette) Rudd. It’s an uncomfortable admission, but I don’t know who I’d invite to a bachelorette party. That becomes not knowing who’d be my bridesmaids. I also don’t know how a bridal shower works. The guests are supposed to just give you stuff for getting married? Was I supposed to have an engagement party already? Are hen parties the same thing as bachelorette parties? I know the matron of honor is your mom… okay, that’s actually a guess. What group of girls do I take the picture with where I put my hand out and all the girls pretend gasp at my rings? And my maid of honor…no one comes to mind. Yeah, that’s embarrassing.

There’s a number of plausible reasons for women not to have a lot of close friends. In my case, I move a lot. I’ve moved over a dozen times between the ages of one and a half and thirty. Sure social media made it easier to keep in contact with people, but I don’t use it nearly as much anymore. It’s more of a personal choice after finding out about the Cambridge Analytica stuff from 2016. I also feel like it’s a particularly insidious way for people to just feel crappier about themselves, because they’re trying so hard to keep up with everyone else.

Another reason? Some of us are socially awkward. Going up to new people and putting yourself out there is hard. Anxiety’s a real bitch. I haven’t truly understood if I’m an introvert or extrovert yet. I’m somewhere in between, I think. I never shut up around the people that make me feel comfortable. I do weird things, and try to make people laugh. But in group situations, I’m a total mouse. I withdraw and feel weird the whole time. I used to be a total extrovert, for sure, but I got quiet one day. One exception: When I do karaoke, a drunk cougar of a Cabernet singer takes over. Think Eartha Kitt singing “Santa Baby”. It’s pretty hilarious. I don’t know where it comes from, but I always leave the stage cracking up and super embarrassed.

Let’s think of another reason. Some girls are intimidating as hell. I don’t think I’m alone in that one. There’s girls that are so really fashionable or really passionate about a particular thing, or they just have this girl chill where they don’t give a damn about anything that isn’t about living life to the fullest. Around them I kinda wonder why I’m not more fashionable, passionate or don’t have the chill. Being just a little weird is my calling card. And that’s okay, but I know for sure I’m not the only one that has felt that way.

Another reason? I’m a runner. Not that “I like jogging” type of runner, but the “hm…this person is not really making the kind of life choices I agree with or want to be around” runner. I’ve been through enough during my twenties. A lot of it took years of therapy, processing, and forgiveness to find acceptance with myself and aspects of the past. Currently, I give new people a three red flag minimum before I blow my whistle and announce a fifteen yard penalty. Stability is something that I’ve worked hard to achieve. I’m holding onto it for as long as I can. I’m not giving it up for anyone.

And last but probably most poignant reason? I’ve always been kind of a loner. I didn’t have any close girlfriends in college. I made very few friends in my classes that actually kept in contact after we received our grades. I was also in ROTC, and that whole thing was very clique-oriented. I had a handful of friends, but they were mostly guys. We haven’t kept in touch. I have a few girlfriends from high school that were mostly friends with my younger brother and his friends. I say hey every year or so. I’m not close enough to any to ask to do bridal stuff. I don’t know how I would find anyone’s address to send wedding invitations.

It normally wouldn’t bother me, but these are special circumstances. Having a one person bachelorette brunch would be a letdown. I think finding a wedding dress is supposed to be a group activity. I had planned on ordering one online and getting it tailored if it didn’t fit. Guess that’s not the protocol. Is it still considered a celebration if it’s mostly solo?

So there’s my problem. I am sure there are solutions around the uncomfortable situation of having no one with me on the “big day”. Again, I turned to Google for solutions. I’ve seen around the Internet that small wedding ceremonies or elopements are a thing. It’s like 10 people or fewer. You can have a bigger reception for everyone you invite. I look forward to having a wedding, I guess. I might be a tad stressed already thinking about it. To be continued, I suppose… I gotta go find some girlfriends.

Relationship Lessons Part 1…

Let’s talk… relationships!

I was in a number of relationships in my 20’s. They each were a unique learning experience. I had my first serious relationship about a year after graduating high school. My parents didn’t allow me to date during high school, so other than a few secretive flings that never lasted more than two months… I really had no idea what I wanted or what my expectations were in a partnership. Not knowing and not knowing that I should know really impacted each relationship I jumped in and out of between 2008 and now. I feel like I should share some of the lessons that really stuck. Some were the defining line between happiness and sadness, compatibility and incompatiblity, and reality and fantasy. These are the things I wish I had been taught as teenager/young adult.

  • It’s okay to be single.
    Being single does not equal being broken, worthless, or bad. I had such a hard time with jealousy and feelings of inadequacy when I was younger. Each year around Homecoming, people would pair up like Noah’s Ark was being built on the football field. I was the lone… hm, what didn’t make it onto the Ark? I was the lone Pterodactyl. I always wanted to know what the paired off girls had that I didn’t. Looking back, I understand that I was nowhere near ready or mature enough for a relationship. Fast forward to after graduating and starting college, everyone around me was in relationships, getting engaged, or married. I really thought something was wrong with me. Around that time I had a couple boyfriends, but they were not healthy relationships. I just didn’t want to be alone. I just dated the first person that showed any interest in me, not considering that there were some steps involved in being in a relationship. This led me into some pretty toxic situations, from which I had to heal and recover. It was a very difficult process and ultimately not worth it. Had I known to just enjoy and learn about myself, figure out my wants and needs, and take an interest in what I liked or wanted to learn about, I really think my 20’s might’ve been different. They probably would have been less angsty and more fulfilling. But hey, life’s about learning.

  • Like the person you love.
    Fall in love and in like. I have been in the weird place in a relationship where I didn’t like the person I loved. How does that happen? Sometimes a partner made me mad, but I didn’t stop loving them. That’s normal. But when it came to my partner lying to me, disrespecting me, hurting me, or cheating, I constantly let it slide, because I was nothing without them. That’s not normal. I have loathed past partners entirely for various reasons such as their outlook on life or how they treated others. I once dated a guy that hated minorities. Yeah, there’s a lot to unpack there. But I stayed with him. Why? Because I felt like I could not live without him. I felt like I didn’t exist, because I was defined by another person. Although I was with the wrong people for the wrong reasons, I also feel the need to take some responsibility. I didn’t respect or love myself enough to see that abusive behavior like that is not acceptable. I let several get comfortable with treating me like trash, because I didn’t feel good about myself from the start. Is that okay now? Nope. Lesson learned.

  • Know your goals and dreams and go after them.
    Do things for you. If I had a set goal of becoming a doctor, but met a guy before med school that says he wants a stay-at-home wife and kids, should I give up on my goal? I don’t think so. I don’t think so at all. Luckily I followed my own advice here and decided to go through with finishing my Communications degree and commissioning into the Air Force afterward. The guys that tried to dissuade me from that, because they wanted a wife/ future mother of his kids are no longer in my life, go figure. I always had my misgivings about being completely dependent on someone else, because anything can happen in life. What would I be able to do with an unfinished degree and no job experience if something had happened to them? Thank goodness I listened to myself. A good partner wants to provide, yeah, I get that. However, I’m of the opinion that a great partner wants to be (and is) supportive of my dreams and goals.

  • Have goals and dreams that align.
    Talk about these things before jumping in. In one relationship, I was very clear about my goals to be childfree and travel the world. My partner’s goal was to stay in one place and start a family. We were not compatible. It was really that simple, but we chose to complicate it. Everyone has different motivations in life, and we failed to understand that about each other. I grew up traveling, so that’s what I want to do. Does that make the other person bad? Nope. He was just not the right one for me. Having kids is not a bad goal, it’s just not one of mine. Instead of trying to change my partner, I should have found someone that has similar life plans. He held onto the hope that I would give up on traveling and give in to babies, whereas I thought he’d want to see the world with me and stop harping on having kids. We both failed to see our key differences. Resentment and a host of other relationship killers joined the party. It did not end on a good note.

  • Talk about your expectations.
    I’ll say it again. Talk about things before jumping in! This is up there with discussing goals. I am a neat freak. Messes stress me out. My living space is one of the few things I can control. I like order. I follow organization pages on Pinterest and Instagram. To me, a clean, well organized house is a happy house. I dated a guy once that did not care about messes. He literally did not see them. He could have a piece of paper in his hand, drop it, and pick something else up and fiddle with that until he dropped it and went to the next thing. Our floors were always covered in random stuff. Clothes never made it to the hamper. My car became his trash can. The most infuriating thing? He drank a lot of water, but had to use a new cup every time. He left cups everywhere. It drove me up the wall. I expected to clean up after myself and have an orderly home, not to be his maid or constantly hounding him not to be gross. Did we discuss that before dating? Nope. Should we have? Yep. Many of our arguments revolved around him being a slob, whereas he fought back saying I was too demanding. Needless to say, it ended quickly. Also if someone seems kinda wish washy, where they’re like, “I’m not… messy…” and they come up with excuses… just don’t bother. Learning that folks try to hide things before relationships start was not fun.

Okay, that’s all for now, it’s time to give my hands and brain a break. I have a feeling this subject will be revisited a couple times. I’ve learned a lot in ten years. Part 2 coming up soon!

Acne

Oh my gosh, can we talk about about adult acne??? More specifically hormonal cystic acne?

A good skin day in February (before)

What the actual hell. I have breakouts like crazy. Big zits, little blackheads, small cysts that hide out under the skin until they become angry, red whitehead volcanoes. You name it, I’ve had ’em all. A little bit of stress? Breakout. Trying to save money by switching detergent? Breakout. Period’s coming? Yeah, you guessed it. Breakout. It sucks! I usually avoid taking selfies or pictures in general, because I get self conscious abut my bumps and scars. As you can see in the picture, there’s quite a few dark spots and my skin tone isn’t even. Since this is a good skin day, there aren’t any cysts, but they were always brewing under the surface. The bumps and scars lined my cheekbones, jawline, and chin. I’d even get them on my neck!

Wanna know how I got these scars?

I turned 30 this year and hoped that this would be the year that my skin calmed down. No such luck. I have been to dermatologists on and off since I turned 18, but here’s the kicker. Yes, it was clear I had acne, but it was not serious enough to treat with strong medications like Accutane. The benefit would not outweigh the cost. So I dealt with it as best I could. I tried everything. The list is never ending: Noxema, Cetaphil, Stridex, and numerous Neutrogena products. I was also prescribed Benzoyl Peroxide, Retin-A, and Clindamycin. Sometimes the acne would go away, but when my period came all hell would break loose. I tried managing my hormones with birth control. Still no luck.

I think I may have finally cracked the combination to clearing up my skin. I decided enough was enough in toward the end of April. I wasn’t going into my thirties with uncontrollable breakouts, hyperpigmentation, and painful cysts. It was time to stop complaining and figure it out.

I bought several “natural” products that I had seen around YouTube and Pinterest. My thought process was that not using harsh chemicals would calm instead of inflame.
I use:
1. Aztec Bentonite Clay + Apple Cider Vinegar
2. African Black Soap
3. Witch Hazel
4. Rosehip Oil

Aztec Bentonite Clay

My routine begins with African black soap as soon as I wake up. Then I rub a cotton ball drenched in Witch Hazel all over my face. I put on a light moisturizer and put on sunscreen. In the evening, I put on the Bentonite Clay Mask. I swear by this stuff! It itches like crazy when it’s drying, but holy crap. It’s a miracle worker. I wash my face with the African Black Soap again when I shower for bed, then I moisturize with the Rosehip Oil. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll warm up a damp washcloth in the microwave and leave that on my face for a bit. Every morning, little by little, there was a difference in my skin.

I went to a dermatologist asking about the hyperpigmentation. Although I wanted to go “natural” for my skincare routine, things like aloe vera gel and lemon juice were not really producing results. She listened sympathetically before she prescribed Hydroquinone. She cautioned me to stay out of the sun as much as possible, and to use sunscreen religiously. My scars starting fading in about three weeks.

I also visited a gynecologist. I read online that ladies on the pill can actually skip the last row of pills and get this: NOT have a period. I asked her if this was actually the case and if she thought it would help with my acne. She told me that women with IUDs typically didn’t have a menstrual cycle, and yes, it would help with the hormone fluctuation. I could achieve the same thing by being on the hormonal pills continuously. I can’t describe my disbelief and excitement. No periods and no acne? Absolute heaven.

Last two things on the list? I started drinking a crapload of water every day. I have a little alarm that says “Hey, drink up!” I drink 10 glasses of water a day. I never realized how dehydrated I was all the time. Not only did my skin get smoother, I had more energy. And last but not least? I stopped drinking alcohol. I did a sober 30 days, just to see. My skin became considerably brighter and much less puffy. Now I’m continuing on with not drinking, unless it’s special occasion. I tested out drinking one or two nights, and I had new pimples in the morning.

My skin on June 6!

So, here I am after a month of a grown up skin care routine. Ta-da. Zero acne! I get a few little bumps here and there, but this is such a marked improvement from where I used to be! I’m really amazed that one month and a half would have have such incredible results. I don’t know if it’ll work for every skin type, but it’s worth a shot! I am absolutely glowing, and I feel a lot more confident than before!