Unpacking the boxes

We’ve moved five times in our 13 years of military life. Some moves were easier than others. This last one was rotten. We were coming from a place we LOVED and had been for six years to a place we weren’t so sure of. Leaving our home of six years was rough. Saying goodbye to people with whom we had weathered a deployment, multiple TDYs, a few personal crises, and life was rough. Our children had never really known anywhere other than that location, having moved there when they were 3 and 1, respectively.

Ten months later, we’re still settling in. It doesn’t feel like home and I’m not sure it ever will. We went back to visit friends at our old duty station and a friend of mine gave me the book, “After the Boxes are Unpacked” by Susan Miller. It’s a Christian book but even if you are not a Christian, this book holds some wonderful insights and encouragement into the whole “bloom where you’re planted” mindset.

The book is divided into three parts: “Let Go”, “Start Over”, and “Move Ahead”. Each section and each chapter includes stories about people – mostly women – who have dealt with the trauma that is moving. While this book is not aimed at military spouses (the author’s husband is in the hotel industry), many of the situations are similar to what we, as military spouses, face.

There is a lot of validation in the “Let Go” section. The author recognizes that moving is one of the most traumatic experiences a person endures in life and that it takes time, and EFFORT, to make it through that trauma. Miller delves into the psychology behind the trauma, identifying why it affects us the way it does and how we can counter the effects of leaving all that we know behind.

In the “Start Over” section, Miller encourages the reader to take baby steps toward settling in. For us as military spouses, those baby steps might not happen as slowly as Miller sets out in her book – we all know our time in any one location is quite limited so we tend to hit the ‘fast-forward’ button on that process. She addresses the loneliness factor – something I’m sure most of us have dealt with, even in the best of duty locations. And she offers practical advice on how to strengthen your marriage in the midst of all of the chaos that is a move. I don’t know about you but my marriage can suffer under the strain of all of my emotions following a move, combined with the fact that my husband is now my sole social outlet until I find friends in our new location. It’s tough for him to handle all of that on top of settling into a new work environment.

“Moving Ahead” encourages the reader to look not for ‘happiness’ in their circumstances but contentment instead. Happiness is fleeting but contentment endures. Miller points out that a move is a chance to shed the things that had been weighing us down at our last duty station and focus on the things that make us shine. Toward the end, Miller offers up twenty additional tips from women who have moved. Most are applicable to military spouses but I’m curious to know what tips you would offer if you had been asked to contribute to this book? How would you encourage a military spouse who is in the middle of a PCS or just settling in to her new location?

You can find the book on Amazon.


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