My Military Family Story: Strength & Resilience
Written by TeLeah Thurston
Though I come from a background of family members who serve, I can’t say that I ever had the thought or desire to follow in their footsteps. When I was a junior in high school, I felt lost in what I wanted out of life, let alone professionally. My childhood was traumatic and lacked stability, I lived in a constant state of worry — not knowing what each day would look like.
That made it difficult for me to consider or dream of what my future would hold, I just knew I wanted a better life. I vividly remember my mother declaring that I had two choices: either enroll in college or I would have to join the military. She was determined to see me operate at my highest potential and not become a teen parent, struggling to make ends meet, which she understood all too well.
Finding My Direction
While I knew my mom was taking online college courses, that wasn’t a process I was shown or walked through…it was expected that I knew what to do. I applied to a few local colleges and universities and dusted my hands. A few weeks later when recruiters were visiting our high school during lunch, I decided to entertain them all and hear what they had to say. I took the brochures and went home, contemplating IF I joined, which direction would I go.
After some time, my mother circled back to our conversation to check my progress. Let’s just say she was quite disappointed that I had only applied to three schools in a month. Out of her own fears of me falling into the traps of our environment, she demanded we were going to the recruiting station. I was active in sports and band throughout high school, so I was used to challenging myself, but not this much! Despite this, I chose to be Army Strong! How I made that decision is a story for another day.
Certainly, I had experienced difficulties growing up in a low income, mostly single-parent household but somehow, I kept a smile no matter where I was or what was happening inside the four walls of our home. My childhood is where my story of strength and resilience began, but the Army is where it was truly cultivated.
Building Strength and Resilience
Week after week, I pushed myself to build my physical and mental resilience to get through basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT). Before I knew it, I was a high school graduate and a Private First Class in the United States Army. Life quickly escalated when just a few months before high school graduation, I found out my assigned unit was deploying to Afghanistan. Surely, they wouldn’t be sending me — a high school graduate — to a war zone! Boy, was I wrong.
The reality set in when I was getting on a plane to California for pre-deployment training. While all my friends were planning graduation parties and hanging out before parting ways to go to college, I was getting ready for war. I knew what the war on a family dynamic was like, but I only knew the wars of America to be what was depicted on TV. I was TERRIFIED, yet I remained brave and prepared for whatever I was about to enter.
Transitioning to a ‘New Normal’
During those uncertain and perilous times, I found a glimpse of peace when I met my now husband at a Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) event. After about three years of dating and learning from each other, we got married. A year later, we had our four children back to back. They are now 2, 4, 5 and 6 years old.
Transitioning from the Army Reserve and working a full time 9-5 to becoming a stay-at-home mom was again something I had not planned for my life, but welcomed with open arms. As the oldest of 6 siblings on my maternal side, I had actually told myself I did not want to have kids. With my mom having to work constantly, I had inherited the role of a parent in many ways. I was excited about being intentional and present with my children in a way that my mom was unable to do with us growing up.
Having four demanding children screaming at me to fulfill their varying needs, many times while my husband was away at multiple trainings, has probably been the most difficult part of my journey. Being an intentional parent is SO hard! But with lots and lots of prayers, therapy and a great military community, we are finally finding our footing.
Choosing to Overcome
During those times, there were many days when I felt lonely, depressed, unseen and unheard. My husband did all he could to support me and make our lives easier when he was home, but I found that what I really needed to do was to take better care of me. Week to week, my self-care routine varied. Whether it was getting a professional massage or just taking 30 minutes for an undisturbed shower, I started prioritizing myself so that I could better show up for my family and others.
Many might perceive that since I was a soldier myself that supporting my husband’s Active-Duty career has come with ease, but this is not always the case. Being a business owner and having a full-time soldier as a husband, I often have to figure out our personal and professional affairs. When his schedule changes, it repeatedly alters my routine as well as the kids’ so it feels we are constantly transitioning.
Between our level of understanding for each other, we can maintain a healthy relationship with the support of our village, but I owe much of our success to therapy as well. Both of us have our own battles with PTSD from both childhood and war, but we choose to push past our internal battles and work together to overcome life’s challenges.
There are many layers to my story that one day I hope to peel back even further. For now, I wish to give hope to those who feel hopeless and faith to those who feel faithless. I believe that if you find someone — whether that be a mentor, a friend, a therapist, a significant other, or a higher power who will support you during your darkest days — you will eventually see the light.
Supporting Military Families
The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) understands the unique challenges that military spouses face day-to-day caring for their family while their service member is fulfilling their duty. ASYMCA provides military spouses access to support networks that help them navigate the struggles and joys of military life. Your gift today could help support military spouses and families because when their service member serves our country, they serve, too.