By Sarah Dale
In the fall of 2014, thanks in part to a Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship I received from Hope For The Warriors®, I began pursuing my Masters of Fine Art degree at American University. As I began studying how to take my amateur art practice to the next level, building a professional fine art practice, I noticed the artists I admired most were pursuing something they were deeply passionate about. They pushed their ideas to the fullest potential, digging deep into their subject matter because that’s what makes great art.
As I looked around my studio full of trash (yes, it was literally full of trash as I was making art out of discarded materials) I decided to follow a new path. I began exploring a very difficult subject matter for me: being an angry Army wife. As I started to express this to my professors they were very intrigued. One commented, “I don’t even know what that means – what does it mean to be an angry Army wife?” I then posed the same question to myself wondering, what does that mean?
At the time I was angry because there were many factors making my life very difficult and yet I felt I couldn’t do anything about them. What I didn’t know then was that my husband was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and I was developing Secondary Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Secondary PTSD). My husband spent years struggling to receive help from the Veterans Administration (VA) because his injuries, both mental and physical, were invisible. When we couldn’t get the help we needed we were both stuck, feeling powerless, and when you are powerless long enough it starts to make you angry.
I began exploring this subject matter first in painting, which meant I used a lot of red paint, a color that matched my anger as seen in my painting titled, The Pentagon.
|The Pentagon, painting by Sarah Dale|
I also tried a performance titled, Support Our Troops, in which I dressed like a 1950s housewife and carried around my husband’s box of old army gear – everything left from his time in the Army National Guard – a box we will carry around with us our whole lives. I didn’t talk with anyone about the box during the performance because I felt I wasn’t allowed to talk about it in real life.
Support Our Troops, performance by Sarah Dale
At that point I started wondering if there were others like me out there – partners of veterans who felt helpless about their situation. That’s when I developed an ongoing community project online titled by the group Instagram handle, VeteranSpouses.
|VeteranSpouses community project started by Sarah Dale|
I use Instagram to find snapshots of the real-life veteran spouse experience and then repost them to the group feed. I avoid images and text we are all used to seeing, such as happy photos of women welcoming home soldiers, and instead search for images usually hidden from mainstream media like PTSD medication arriving in the mail, signs asking neighbors to be courteous with fireworks, and red night lights used around the house to name a few examples I’ve found thus far.
The more I search for images and text the more I am amazed at the bravery of these fellow veteran partners. It takes guts and vulnerability to share difficult moments with the whole world online, but I can tell you from first-hand experience that two incredible things happen when we do share pieces of our veteran spouse experience.
REBOOT Combat Recovery Leadership Academy, Arlington, VA, 2015
First, we experience healing every time we share our burdens with the world because we are no longer the only one carrying them. Sharing my experience through my art has lifted my burden in ways I didn’t know were possible. Secondly, other loved ones of veterans find out they are not alone. My husband and I didn’t get the help we truly needed until we met some amazing people at REBOOT Combat Recovery who have walked with us through our healing journey in incredible ways.
If you’d like to join the VeteranSpouses community online simply follow us on Instagram and start sharing your content with us using #VeteranSpouse. We’d love for you to join us in sharing your experience. Trust me, it is liberating and can be truly life changing.
You can follow Sarah Dale and her art using the following social media platforms.
Hope For The Warriors® is currently accepting applications for the Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship until October 16th, 2015. The Spouse/Caregiver Scholarship Program identifies, recognizes, and rewards post-9/11 spouses/caregivers for their strength, fidelity, and resolve despite adversity. Scholarships aid in continued education at a reputable, accredited university, college, or trade school for spouses/caregivers as they assume critical roles in the financial well being of their families. Click here to apply for scholarship details and application.