It has been 24 years since the Berlin Wall came down.
November 9th, 1989
I was living in Guam at that time, having moved there the previous month to join my family.
The day before this historic day was the day I officially left military service. I had taken my last oath of enlistment on November 9, 1984.
Celebrating that there was an end to all that the Berlin Wall represented and what I had chosen as my career seemed to crumble for me that day. I had not really wanted to get out of the military. I was five years away from eligibility to retire from the military.
Yet, I chose to leave the military in order to keep my family together. I have a difficult time with that statement as I choke on the words that indicate it was all my choice.
It is true that I made the decision, but I felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. If I would not have left the military, my family would not have been in the same place.
I was in a dual-military marriage. He had just adopted my daughter and it became final a few months earlier. There were struggles that I faced in many aspects of the relationship and in myself.
When he accepted the orders to Guam without a family discussion about what all the possibilities were and the effects on the family and each of our careers, considering also what the military detailers (those who wrote the orders) had to say, I felt pain and disappointment in many aspects of of my life and what I felt important.
My decision to leave the military was so influenced by what I felt I “should” do, rather than what I wanted to do. I did not know how I could do both, and felt vulnerable as I did not feel that I had much support from the Navy, nor my spouse.
It was one of the times in my life I felt most alone. And I felt like everything I had believed in and stood for was crumbling down along with the Berlin Wall.
When everyone else was celebrating as we watched the Germans take pick-axes to the Wall, I was quickly erecting my own emotional wall, which took me another decade or more before I started to take my own chisel to begin chipping away at what I erected.
I denied (for nearly eight years) that I had ever served in the military. I threw myself into work, becoming one of the top sales people and recruiters in the nation for Tupperware from this tiny island in the Pacific Ocean. I became more and more distant from my family and friends, not wanting to get too close or love others so that I denied myself and what I, too, needed to feel important. I stopped trying to communicate because I felt as if what I had to say and share was unimportant. I held on to grief, anger and bitterness that ended up costing me a greater sense of my self and those around me, as well as it cost me a marriage.
Putting up walls did nothing but to give me a false sense of reality, not unlike what the Berlin Wall represented. In tearing them down, there are also growing pains, just as many Europeans experienced in the 1990s. Some even felt that it would have been better to go back to what was before.
But we cannot go back. All we can do is look forward.
Good things came from my decision to leave the military. I will admit that there are times when I feel sad that I ever left, and that so many other things in my life were affected by the emotions that went along with the decision.
But today as a trainer to our service members as they transition to civilian life, I am able to share my story(ies) with many other military members who have no choice to leave the military, many being forced out with 10, 15 or more years due to changes in policy and procedures. Some of these people, like me, made a decision early on in their lives that they were going to serve 20 years or more as their career.
I understand them. I understand the painful disappointments, anger, and hopelessness. So, share I do. The wall, that I erected so quickly when the Cold War was coming to an end in the world, is now crumbling and I let them experience it through my words and my example.
Just as we have learned much from history, I hope that sharing my own stories will help others so that this (my) history will not repeat itself in others.
The walls must come down and stay down.