Sunday, October 21, 2012

When Life Hands You Lemons and Other Antiquated Comments

When fate hands us a lemon, let's try to make a lemonade”-Dale Carnegie
1888 – 1955

A while back someone made a comment that somewhat stuck in this ol' brain of mine. Kind of rattling around, nibbling at the inner core and then forgotten about again. Two weeks ago it was brought up again in the remark of "Well I know it must be shitty but, things happen for a reason and well you are proof that life can give you lemons but you ended up making lemonade out of it" in this awful sing song tone. Once again and often I hear "things happen for a reason" which reminded me how many spouses and/or family members/Caregivers must also hear this. So in all this mess, the challenges that have been placed in front of us, and then the fights we must battle....have we really made lemonade from the sour and bitter lemons handed to us? Or are we simply still fumbling around with the right mixture that doesn't purse your lips or make your teeth grind?

The jury is still out on that decision on my part. 

So far, I have been tinkering with that Life's Lemonade recipe people want to remind us of and have yet to succeed in the perfect balance of good and bad. I guess because I am a constant thinker, it came naturally to wonder about who really came up with that comment to begin with and how much lemonade did this person truly make out of their bad situations? Then one has to wonder....were they ever challenged with the obstacles we face that are bad situations within the military and the wounded? More than likely, Mr. Carnegie never encountered war or the service it requires from not just the military member but the families before, during and most definitely not after. I know, I know, its the "half glass full" positive outlook but, often times we can find that after the outside world turns us away we simply don't do anything other than survive. Would surviving and making it day by day count as one of Life's Lessons of Positivity? Do our situations count as one of those lemons or are we simply overlooking something?

Most comments from the general public and civilian communities, don't bother me but save a few. "Well, I feel so bad for you but at least he came home in one piece". "Well he looks fine/normal" really irks the hell out of me. I really love the one where they state "well can't he take his medicine and just go on back to work like everyone else?" which is hard to explain because it makes you feel like they are saying he isn't trying and it becomes quite clear they see nothing wrong. That one particularly crawls under the skin and pricks the nerves just enough to get frustrated and angry. I don't want pity or anyone feeling sorry for us, and as for the portion of the first comment; "one piece" is right but they don't truly see the fragments of what that one piece makes up. They don't understand that yes, one whole piece is here but who the hell does this "piece" belong to? Often finding answers to questions in regards to PTSD and/or TBI is the hardest because you can't see anything. Trying to remain in the middle, it does often catch me by surprise and I must remind myself that my husband isn't "fine" because on good days he does seem like the same man I married many years ago. There have been times in the past five years, I have found that even our own wounded communities can be the harshest of critics against one another. Couple that with the rest of the world, most times you just don't say anything at all.

In the South, the term "Bless your heart" takes on many of the sympathy, empathy and confusion people have. You can have an illness and while they try so hard to out do you on the illnesses they or their friends/family have so they feel like you both are challenged, they throw in the "Bless Your Heart" and well, even that drives me completely insane even though I am a true Southerner myself. Also, Southerners have an unique way of disguising even the most cruelest of comments like "that baby has got to be the ugliest child I have ever seen. Bless his little heart" or "her husband is high falootin' with some waitress he met so she must have done something wrong; bless her heart". "Well I can't tell you what to do but I wouldn't tolerate half near what you been through. Bless yer heart". The nicely and overly sweetened comment of making lemonade out of lemons becomes tiresome and quite bothersome. That and "Bless Your Heart", I think personally, has seriously become an antiquated and overused comment that doesn't even really have anything to do with any of our situations.

When such comments are made, it often creates questioning between myself and the big man upstairs because one has to wonder why. I think that becomes a natural response from a human being. Why did this happen to us? What have we done that was so bad to warrant such issues? Am I doing the right or wrong thing with my husband and family? Is there really a right answer to comments of "things happen for a reason"? There are days where I wonder if I must have been someone else reincarnated; a past life that maybe existed that has done something or someone wrong. Could there have been a herd of black cats that I have crossed or hell, ran over with my car? Perhaps broken a few mirrors in early childhood? I sidestep bad luck but it seems to want to keep waltzing with me and often keeps my dance card full. I figure my fate and our life probably did happen for a reason unbeknownst to us, and we may never understand the true reason for any of this. I am sure many of us in the Wounded Warrior Community have thought this very same thing. An Army Chaplain and a good friend, reminds me always on bad days, that the Lord never puts more on us than we can handle. Well, I am at the maximum weight capacity and he is not letting up. Rather than cave in though...we just grew stronger in some ways.

In the past four years, I think what I did do, was really look at things a little differently than making lemonade from lemons, or concentrate solely on the fact he came home in one piece as I have been constantly reminded of. It's been more of being deserted on some island without a single thing but learning to survive, adjust, and keep my eyes to the sky and high seas for that possible sign of rescue; the endless day and night watch for hope. It's been five years last month of salvaging our past lives, utilizing what resources we did have and learning to use new items washed ashore in the wake of the bad times to build a raft that could keep my family afloat just a little bit longer. I think rather than use the whole lemonade or other idiotic comments, it should be "You all simply survived. You had to choose; sink or swim" and swim we did.

At the beginning of October, I finally fulfilled a promise to myself  that I once made and that was to get to the White House in Washington, D.C. I was chosen to be one of the members of Senator Elizabeth Dole's Foundation for Military Caregivers to advocate for many of us and the issues we are facing and will face in the near future. It was not only an honor but it made me feel like I accomplished a lot in the past four years. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was in the right place with the right people. For the first time in a very long time, someone heard and truly listened to me. So here enters one of life's ever lasting mysteries, "things happen for a reason" although I don't know what those reasons are, but I keep thinking all this must be leading to some point. Who knows what will happen tomorrow as I can only live for today and take it one at a time. It's all I know how to do after this long. Perhaps all those lemons have left me soured?

I didn't make anything into some sweet or bitter concoction to sip on or come up with some positive creative crap because I kept to my promise that I would help in a way that I knew how. I listened to those who needed that sounding board, stayed true to myself without compromising or selling myself out and most importantly.....just being who I am and honest. I think after chewing on the idea of whether I have become optimistic or pessimistic, half glass full or now half glass empty, bitter or jaded from a life that has challenged us; The only conclusion that I can think of is that our experiences from this life wasn't lemonade at all when you look back. We helped by telling out story, standing up for what we believed in, we try to help create awareness and held a flare to those who are still out there lost and looking to the skies as we do. We took what we could salvage and turned it into an S.O.S. We never gave up looking for that hope.

I don't believe that fate turned and Lady Luck gave us a lending hand. I think we fought back and gave fate a good ass whooping. Sometimes in return, it kicked ours. All is fair in love and war, right? I danced when there wasn't any music and I played my best poker hands when I was bluffing all along. I believe we found hope in the smallest of places and learned to look for it in otherwise odd places. We learned to appreciate simple things like a smile, a kiss, and we find joy even in the worst times. We found laughter in sadness. We learned to leave our old hopes and lives behind us and find new ones to seek out. We took chances knowing that we could fail; chances that might otherwise have scared many off and knowing that we had nothing to lose. We found strength in the strangest of places, gained courage from otherwise a hopeless situation, and we learned what we were truly made of when much of the time we didn't know who the hell we were while looking back at our reflections. We were cut down by words and to the bone, turned away from family and friends, but in the process we made new ones and those wounds that hurt so bad healed with scars that merely thickened our skin. Our new friends and people I have met in this journey, I think turned out to be angels in disguise and ones that were more loyal than any of our old friends. Perhaps that is what my Chaplain friend was trying to say. Those new people came along and helped carry the weight.

Most of all though?

We learned the true definition of the Army's Values. Some in the world will never know what the words of Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage truly mean. Some will never understand the Soldier's Creed that my husband vowed to fulfill. I did. My entire family learned. We never accepted defeat, we never quit and we never left a fallen comrade.

Some could argue that I did make lemonade from what otherwise would have been spoiled and soured lemons. I think we made much more. I think the truth of the matter is that next time I hear such a comment? I am going to say..."hand me the lemons, let's grab some salt and tequila so we can have a drink. Afterwards, let me show you what we have made out of this life......A Survival Kit."

Never Accept Defeat,