When I transitioned out of the military I actually thought there would be some tears and maybe some ice cream with a confetti cake and some champagne. That is so basic, but the truth. Instead, as I had never gone through something like this before, all of the pain and the tears came during the 6 to 4 month mark when I had to move to Hawaii just to turn around and move back to Pennsylvania; when I was living out of a dingy hotel for 40 days because it was the only one that would accept pets, when I had to come to terms with the process and get it together and do the research to set myself up for success rather than wallow in self pity. You know, just all of the things that come with moving to an island in the Pacific and back again alone with no help. Wow, that sounds super pathetic.

But on the last day when I went into the office, signed all of the paperwork with the security department, turned in my badges, received the final items pending my leaving, and walked out of the office, there was no emotion. Just me, Nancy Mulligan my 1990 Westfalia (this was 2 days before I dropped her off to ship her to Baltimore) and nothing. The turmoil that I had mentally prepared for was questioningly absent. And there have been no tears since. I have been out of the military for 2 months and that’s it, no more and no less. Isn’t it so interesting being human?

When I came home I was prepared to be unemployed with nothing to do stuck back in the small town where I first started. Is this circle complete? After a decade spending time in far flung places on Earth that include some life and death situations, where I feel I have lived valiantly, is the small town game what is meant for me after all? No. The answer to that is no. That version of me, the naive girl that grew up in a small town and bought a passport to leave the country at 18 always searching for that opportunity is a girl of the past. What’s left is a women who learned about culture and diversity, ethnicity and the kindness of strangers. A women who learned how to fight and demand things even if it makes her a complete “bitch”.

In this process I have come full circle but I am not the person I once was and I could never be her again. So I am the person I am now having learned all the things I have learned, having been influenced by all of the things I have encountered, and all of the extravagant humans I have come into contact with; having been tested daily in my job fighting in the arena even when it is a struggle and it is hard, having failed along the way, and as someone who has found her soul and lets it be the guiding principle of her being. This sums it up a bit:

“Many people define who they are, based upon what the world sees when it looks at them. They build themselves with their foundation set upon the perceptions of others. Do others think they are good, kind, smart, loving? But I define who I am, based upon the person who looks back at me in the mirror. If you were the only person on Earth, with nobody to see you, know your name, or ever be aware of your existence; what kind of person would you be? Live for the person who looks back at you in the mirror and be that person even if you are the last human being on Earth. Too many people live for what the world will think and will see; too few people live for their own soul. Are you smart, successful, got lots of super ideas? But those are not important questions. This is the most important question: do you know how to love? I do not care if nobody on Earth were to know my name; do I know my own soul? Do I know how to love? These are the questions I ask myself.”C. Joybell

So what is the way forward? That part is unclear, but I took a step into the past a week ago to see how far I’ve come. I went back to the beginning when I first got commissioned into the Navy and was stationed on a destroyer out of Norfolk Virginia. I have not been back to Norfolk since the day I left to move to Japan in 2012. When I arrived, there were many friends to see from my journey over the past decade. Friends I met in Norfolk, Dubai, Japan, Italy, and probably other places I forget.

On a Wednesday, I borrowed my friends bike and I biked to my first ever apartment on my own, and then to the house where only great memories lie, when I lived with 4 amazing humans: Christopher, Tony, Jeremy, and Andrew + Cassey. The memories were on fire. When I turned off the main road onto the side street next to our lane I was enveloped with memories of the 1450 crew. The small field next to our street where we used to play catch after work, the tennis courts where we would play tennis even though I was absolutely terrible at it. The smells of spring in Norfolk and all of the greenery that I haven’t seen in awhile. It smelled like home. When I moved in with the guys, the house was plenty for all of us and had 5 bedrooms so no one shared a room.

We were all freshly commissioned although Christopher already had 10 years as a prior. Everyone was on a different ship, and we all had a different duty days (how crazy!) where you stay onboard your ship for a full night so the house was never overly crowded and we enjoyed dinners out at places that no longer exist like Tortilla West, when we had a night where everyone would come home. Then there was the matter of Andrew going to Maine for 6 months to Pre-Comision his ship, and three of us deploying together with Bush Strike Group in 2011 for 7 months on different ships leaving the house to 2 of the guys (and I got to meet up with Christopher in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia when both our ships pulled in there on out deployment and gallavant with Jeremy through London when we both pulled into Portsmouth!) There was also the matter of Tony sleeping with a shot gun under his pillow at all times and me walking in to a .45 piston sitting on the coffee table regularly because it just had to be cleaned.

These were some of the best days because I only have fond memories from living in the house. The constant joking amongst ourselves, the fits of laughter, the occasional keg in the living room that we would have to come together to drink on the week nights because of the return date, the long conversations about being a division officer on a ship because we were all going through similar things at the same time and everyone got it, the different styles and amazing foods that everyone was able to cook as we were from all different backgrounds, the hot tub in the back yard that never worked, the good idea to walk the kayak to a pier at midnight and almost tipping it 10 times and getting covered in mud, and the hosting of friends and family because it was just such an amazing place to be and just hang out. It was a place for me that really put an assigned emotion to the word home.

As I rode my bike past in the early morning on a Wednesday 7 years later from the last day I was last there, my heart was bursting. It was another testament to what the Navy has provided me. A network that I will always be a part of and so many friends that are now family. People, that when they found out about my situation who have offered to let me live with them while I am job searching. The days I was able to spend in this house provide me with a flood of positive memories. Then, traveling around Norfolk to all of our old jaunts was just so refreshing because it made me think of the person I was when I that arrived here at the tail end of 2009 with so much to see and do in the world and with no idea what was in store.

Bringing this around to the present, I have realized now that maybe I did not cry or have a meltdown on my last day in the military because it has shaped me into the person I have become. The military has introduced me to the most fascinating people, and has truly provided a stepping stone for my own personal growth and the discovery of my soul and how to live as the authentic person in a world based on preconceived societal cues. Of course I have been told that this authentic person is too extra, too real, and just too much by people along the way. But you know, you can’t please everyone so you must choose how best to handle yourself. It’s just some food for thought as I have finally been able to turn what I first thought was an “end of life as I knew it experience” into a positive attitude that’s headed toward a fresh start.

Has anyone else gone through something like this in their lives?

I thought by now I would be writing on here regularly, but actually I have been involved helping take care of and raise my nephew and a whole slew of things that have kept me busy since coming home. Hopefully this is a turning point and you will see me on here more frequently. This blog is so therapeutic in its own way, after all. Until next time.


This article appeared first on The Cassey Excursion.