Wellness Spotlight | Caroline Schafer | Courageously Grateful
The Wellness Spotlight Series highlights military spouses and their real world health and wellness journeys in a Facebook Live series. Below is an excerpt of Caroline's feature.
Caroline is an Army wife, mother, producer of Army Wife Talk Radio, and a Business Manager. She can be found reading, cooking, reading about cooking, and PERFORMING when given the opportunity. Caroline’s dream is to be a “Professional” Voice Over Artist.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AS A MILITARY SPOUSE.
My military spouse journey began when my husband came home to recruiting pamphlets on the kitchen table. My husband had always wanted to join the military, but did not have the support from his family. We were both in our mid-twenties at the time and were best friends. We had married other people, but ended up marrying each other and were a ready-made family. I had my two kiddos and he had one. When we married, I had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure the year before and given two to five years to live (just four months after my son was born) and Justin was working in construction jobs. Our marriage was out of a deep friendship and with the idea that if something happened to me, he would raise the children. He went to talk to the recruiter in the summer of 2001 and then went to basic training in January 2002 to Fort Benning, GA. He was 27 at the time and I was 30. Our first duty-station was Fort Campbell, KY. He was a PFC at 28 years old, not the typical age for sure. I jumped right into the military spouse community and started volunteering in order to learn more about this new world we were a part of.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY EXTREME HIGHS/LOWS SINCE BECOMING A MILITARY SPOUSE?
My biggest challenges have been my physical health. I was born with a congenital birth defect on my main aorta. I had three major surgeries by age six. My mother said I had a 10 percent chance of making it through those surgeries. But then the congestive heart failure diagnosis in my late twenties brought along other challenges. Frankly, I was tired of preparing to die. I was tired of my body not keeping up with what my mind wanted it to do. I went back to college and finished my degree in 2013 and realized I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Who was I and what was my purpose? Did I even have a clue? Was I just my kids’ mother and my husband’s wife? Just playing these roles because that’s what I’m supposed to do? Well, I was never one to go with the flow and I wasn’t going to start now.
You see, I lost my father when I was 17 to a massive heart attack and my life spiraled after high school. I had my first child at 21. Her name is Corinne. She’s 27 now and has blessed me with a grandson, Calvin. I met my current husband, Justin when I was 24, but we would just stay friends and marry other people before we realized we were really meant for each other. Fast forward to when I was 27, six months pregnant, and my (ex)husband left me. Here I was with two children, divorced, and 27 years old. Not how I saw my life playing out. Then, after giving birth to my son David, I developed congestive heart failure. I was given two to five years to live and prepared to die. I was exhausted, ashamed, and guilt ridden. I felt unlovable and unworthy. But, there was my friend, Justin, who was also going through a divorce and was a single parent. While we never “loved” each other more than friends, I knew he would be a good father to my children. In October of 1999, just a little over a year after what I call my death sentence, we were married.
Justin was 25 and a hard worker. He found that he could swing a hammer and make some decent money, but it wasn’t his dream and it wasn’t the best way to provide medical for us. He always wanted to join the Army. He was hoping to join a peaceful army, but then 9/11 happened. That didn’t even phase us as a couple. My words to him were, “You only get to live this life once. Do what you love.”
Justin deployed four times in those first eight years. It was rough. Physically and mentally, on all of us. But I am tenacious and as much as I struggle with not being able to do the things my mind would love for my body to do, I hang on. I may cry, I may hurt, I may be frustrated, but I hang on. I find something, anything, to be grateful for. I am courageously grateful.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FORM OF SELF-CARE?
Reading books that promote well-being and mindfulness. I also meditate and write. I absolutely love to be outside!
WHAT IS ONE PERSONAL HABIT THAT CONTRIBUTES TO YOUR SUCCESS?
It’s important to recognize that being in pain or hurting does not mean you cannot be grateful. In fact, there’s a mistaken line of thinking that says weakness is a bad thing. It’s not—especially if you embrace that weakness or pain and acknowledge it. Let it teach you something, because it will. I’m all about positivity, but only when I recognize the negativity or pain first. Don’t wallow in it though, just see it for what it is. You are your greatest ally and asset. No one else can be you, can think like you, can love you like you.
IF YOU COULD SHARE A HEALTH AND WELLNESS RESOURCE WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
I have a therapist I see from time to time. I see her because she’s objective and is honest with me. That’s important to my growth and wellness. I also have learned to establish boundaries with myself and others. And I make sure I visit a friend every once in awhile or just take some me time.
IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND ONE BOOK AND/OR PODCAST TO MILITARY SPOUSES, WHAT WOULD IT BE AND WHY?
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s my always go-to book.
Caroline is the producer of Army Wife Talk Radio and is the business manager at the Gilbert Theater in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She dreams of the day she can call herself an actual “professional” voice over artist and can be found reading, cooking, reading about cooking, and performing when given the opportunity. Caroline loves to live her life with deep, grateful self-awareness, self-reflection, and service to others. External and internal adventure is always calling! There are never-ending life journeys that take her to all sorts of places (okay, sometimes it may be a trip to Disney) and soulful journeys. Soulful journeys are the kind that she has learned to listen to and follow without expectations in order to fully embrace the present moment of what life is giving her. She believes that courage is simply gratitude being acted upon and calls it “courageously grateful.” Her story is of pain, bravery, fortitude, and resilience. She believes military spouses are weaved together within their military lives for a reason.