Imposter Syndrome: Am I a “Real” Military Spouse?

Military spouse

“You should write novels with military themes since you’re a military spouse.”

I cringe every time I hear these words. Not the part about writing novels. No, I fret over the words, “you’re a military wife.” Am I, though? Really?

My first husband joined the Army Reserves in 2003 just after the war in Iraq officially began. I felt like a real Army wife back then. For a while. He went off to Basic Training and AIT and I was determined to be the best Army wife I could be. I took all the Army Family Team Building courses. I wore shirts that boasted how proud I was to be an Army wife. I joined every online forum I could find that would help me understand this new life we’d committed to. And when I found out my husband’s unit didn’t have an FRG, I fought them to start one and I became their new leader.

But all that dwindled.

My ex-husband went from Basic to AIT to more training to more training. Soon I found myself feeling uncomfortable in conversations about deployments and war. Yes, my husband was 1,000 miles away but he could call home anytime he wanted and nobody was shooting at him. I was still living in my own house in my own hometown, having never moved anywhere. Was I still a real Army wife?

Additional training led to a non-combat-related injury which led to surgery and recovery. We finally got our first set of orders to move as a family, but it was only to the nearest Army installation, two hours away. Still, living near Post made me feel like an active part of the military community and I began a ministry to support and encourage military wives in our church. I finally felt legitimate. I was an Army wife.

Then, he left us.

I was a single mom raising four kids in a military town and I no longer belonged. Worse, I didn’t know who I was. I had wrapped up my entire identity in being this man’s wife and a proud military spouse. Now I had no husband, no identity, no ministry.

Ironically, a few years later, I fell in love with a man from my hometown who happened to be in the National Guard. I worried about what people would think. I didn’t want to be labeled a “tag chaser”. But love is love and we added his one child to my four and became a blended family. We no longer lived near a military installation and I eased back into my role as a mostly civilian/sometimes military wife.

Because my husband had recently returned from Iraq with PTSD and a TBI, I had a great deal to learn about his injuries. Soon, I was heavily involved in the “wounded warrior wife” community and found myself advocating for greater understanding as resources for wounded warriors. I was a proud military wife. His battles were my battles.

Then they medically retired him.

Was I still a military wife?

Military spouse

I carry the card for a military dependent. I can shop at the commissary, use TriCare insurance, and get a discount at a variety of stores and restaurants. But does that really make me a military wife? This is when imposter syndrome set in at its worst.

My name is Heather. I’ve been married to two different men who have served in the military. Neither served as Active Duty soldiers but both served periods of time on Active Duty orders. One husband never deployed and the other deployed four times- all before he met me. I don’t live on base. I’ve never PCS’d. I don’t wash uniforms, send care packages, or countdown days until Daddy comes home.

But I’m still a military wife.

Maybe you’re like me and your circumstances don’t look like everyone else’s. Maybe you’re a military husband or a two-service member family. Maybe your service member is in the Reserves or the Guard. Maybe they’ve been injured or retired. Maybe they’ve never deployed or you’ve never left home. Maybe they play in one of the branch bands or teach in one of the academies. Maybe you struggle with imposter syndrome like I do.

Today’s the day we lay it down.

We are military spouses. Our stories read differently but our hearts are the same. Let’s be proud of the commitment to service our families have made, encourage those who have it harder than us, celebrate with those who have it easier than us, and mourn with those who have paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Let’s kick insecurities to the curb and proudly fulfill the roles we were called to. Let’s love our spouses and children as only we can love them and serve our nation as only we can serve.

We are military spouses. And our stories matter, too.