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Unpacking Your Life

By Capt. Molly Lawlor 2nd Bomb Wing Chaplain

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Part of military life is boxing up your life every few years and moving to a new place. Once there, you try to strike a balance between carrying on with your life and starting from scratch.

When the moving company descends upon your house every item in your home is suddenly labeled with a stamp-sized sticker found underneath the table, inside the dog crate or on a lamp shade.

Hopefully, most of the boxes arrive at your new place in good condition. Then there are the boxes that you packed up long ago and forgot about, but have carted them with you around the world and back through move after move. Sometimes run across an item that you've moved so many times it has a rainbow of moving stickers on it. At some point they cease to be boxes of your belongings and become a sort of time capsule of who you once were and what you once liked.

There are many reasons why we box things up. We pack things we treasure and couldn't bear to lose, things we view as necessities, things we think we're supposed to hold on to even if we don't quite understand why and things we don't want to deal with right now but we just can't bring ourselves to throw out.

Considering the speed with which military movers can pack up our entire households, it's amazing how long we can leave some things boxed up. No matter how organized we are, there are always a few boxes that show up at our new home that we just hide away somewhere, stashed in the garage or pushed under the bed.

Finally opening those boxes can be a mixed experience. Some things we've outgrown since we first packed them away.

Toys that were once prized possessions now no longer entertain us. Some items that we used to be amazed by now seem like junk. Electronics that you were told not to store when you moved overseas, but had spent so much money on you couldn't imagine getting rid of them, seem outdated, if not obsolete.

Some possessions we are thrilled to finally find again. Heirloom Christmas decorations that Grandma made can now finally be returned to their rightful place on the tree next year. Some possessions we wonder why we ever owned in the first place, and can't believe we've been carting them around and losing valuable storage space all this time. It's easy to understand how a singing fish wall plaque got thrown into a box out of sight, but it's harder to understand why it was ever purchased at all!

Possessions aren't the only things that get boxed up as we move through life. Emotional things such as experiences, regrets, failures, frustrations, fears and broken relationships get boxed up, too.

In our professional lives we sometimes refer to this as "compartmentalizing." There are times in our military duties when we have no choice but to box things up in our heads and our hearts so that we can focus on the mission we must complete. What is a necessity in the short term was never meant to be a long-term solution.

For some reason boxing emotional things up almost always seems to be an easier task than unpacking them and sorting things out. If you box up enough things inside you will eventually reach an emotional "weight limit," just like you would with a move, and you are forced to deal with all the things you've been emotionally shoving out of sight, whether you are ready to or not.

We can unpack those things that we've compartmentalized in our lives the same way we unpack from a move. Sometimes we unpack what we have on our own, sometimes we get friends to help and sometimes we bring in professionals.

Every box we finally open may need different strategies of dealing with what's inside, but there are strategies to deal with whatever we've all emotionally boxed away.

As you get ready for a permanent change of station or a spring cleaning, don't just think of the physical boxes taking up space in your garage or closets that you need to go through; think of the emotional boxes that you've hidden away, and what strategies you need to unpack and deal with what's inside.

It's time we all unpack some boxes we've been dragging around.