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When the military says you have to move

We were moving to Italy.

That’s quite the sentence to type, isn’t it? Equal parts thrilling and exciting, this dream location was quite the score for our first military PCS. We began making plans to head off for the adventure of a lifetime, visions of European travels and more pasta than any one human should consume dancing in our heads.

But then the music came to a screeching halt: our orders had been changed. We weren’t going to Italy and now had to pick a new home.

For those of you unfamiliar with this unique phenomenon, apparently the military regularly likes to tell you you’ll go to one place, allows you to begin preparations and then quickly reverses that decision. It’s incredibly frustrating and, in our case, pretty heartbreaking.

Neither of us realized how attached we’d become to our future Italian lifestyle until it was no longer a possibility. To be honest, a few tears were shed by yours truly over the entire thing. It was such a gut-wrenching choice to pick one place, I couldn’t really wrap my head around picking a second place. And really, how could any place compare with Italy?

Spoiler: it really couldn’t.

But we went back to the drawing board, finally deciding to make D.C. our new home.

That’s when my first true military spouse struggle began. Yes, I’ve been through multiple deployments, spent countless holidays and anniversaries alone and dealt with my husband’s inconsistent and demanding schedule. But through all those things, I still felt grounded. I still had strong tethers and consistency in my life. But even in my naivety, I knew that my first PCS was doing to disrupt all of that.

The excitement and possibility of moving to Italy had allowed me to overlook and underplay the negative parts of leaving my comfortable life in North Carolina. We were going to leave behind the house we’d built and loved so immensely. I was going to say to goodbye to a place I’d lived for well over a decade. I was going to leave a career that I was passionate about and excelling in. I was going to leave friends and family who had been such a strong support system for me over the years. There was a part of me that felt like I was going to leave behind a huge chunk of my identity.

I felt a little lost, to say the least, and the feeling only got worse as the move got closer. Purging our stuff, listing our house for sale, packing up our belongings, booking a moving van…each step was one step closer to a tough transition and even tougher “see you laters”. Even as I went through the motions of preparing to start a new chapter of military life, I actively avoided thinking about how I’d handle the changes ahead. My focus? Just survive.

Survive, I did. I survived watching my husband pull away with all of our stuff, knowing that I wouldn’t join him for at least 6 weeks. I survived a crazy month of trying to tie up a year’s worth of loose ends at work. I survived packing up my desk (where I sat for more than 7 years) and pulling out of a parking lot that was like a second home to me. I survived saying my “see you laters” to family and people who’d become family. I survived a crazy drive to DC and a minor sob session on a bridge during rush hour. I survived.

Lessons Learned From My First PCS

Lesson 1: Never have my husband go ahead of me.
Based on my husband’s report date and the calendar of events for my job, we decided to have him move to DC about 6 weeks before I did. He took all of our stuff and one dog, while I wrapped up selling the house, putting a few items in storage and completed the last few events for my job.

It’s not a choice I’d make again. While it was very nice to come to DC and have the majority of the house unpacked, it honestly made for a very stressful time because I was doing everything solo, including processing some intense emotions.

I recognize that it’s entirely possible to handle all of that solo (so many military spouses have done it time and time again and rocked it!), but I would not choose to do that again. Next time around, we will all go together.

Lesson 2: Explore and do something fun as soon as you can.
We had the ability to plan my arrival in DC to coincide with the weekend which did two important things: it meant my husband would be home to help with the initial adjustment and we could begin exploring our new city together.

Being able to spend two days exploring the city together was huge: my husband had found quite a few spots he knew I’d like and made sure they were the first places we visited. Before I knew it, I was genuinely enjoying being here!

Having the weekend also made the transition to real life so much easier! I felt confident going to the grocery store solo on Monday because we’d already been there together. I felt good walking the dogs mid-day because we’d found a route they liked with plenty of grass.

Lesson 3: The small things can make a huge difference.
Bless my husband’s sweet heart: he was so invested in making our apartment feel like home that he hung many of our pictures before I even got here. But he left some items undone so we could pick where they went together. We spent some time that first weekend hanging pictures and unpacking some of the decor items so the bare walls became homier. We used many of the same items we had on our walls in two previous homes and with them, all the memories they held began to fill our our new home. Having the place look like home definitely made it feel more like home.

Lesson 4: I’m more adaptable than I thought!
This is probably the lesson that took the longest to learn, but each time I conquer something in my new life, it hits home for me. Prior to our move, I would have said I wasn’t the greatest with change. I liked routine, I liked stability and struggled when those were taken away from me. And while I don’t know that I’m ready to live a nomadic existence or anything like that, this has taught me that I’m able to adapt, no matter how much it may scare me.

Lesson 5: Home is where the heart is…and what you make of it.
I know we’ve all heard the first part of that phrase and I truly believe it. Any military spouse can tell you that when your spouse is away, home suddenly seems a little less homey. I’ve experienced it firsthand when my husband was deployed and even when he was in DC without me. Home is, without a doubt, where the heart is and that’s usually where we are together.

The second part of that phrase is one that I’ve added recently, also experiencing it firsthand. At first, I was definitely negative about moving to DC; actually, I was negative about moving period. But I quickly realized that the military was going to make us move no matter what so I could either embrace it or spend the next however many years being miserable.

I consciously choose to embrace it every single day and it’s made a world of difference.

When the military says you have to move, there is definitely a mix of emotions, both positive and negative. It can be overwhelming to leave behind many of the trappings of your life and try to start over. I struggled mightily with my first PCS experience, but am hopeful that the lessons learned this time around will help me when the military comes knocking again.

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