Welcome back to another installment of MilSpouse Mondays, a weekly series dedicated to tackling some of the biggest challenges today’s military spouses are facing. Join us each Monday to meet a new MilSpouse guest and learn about how they are making a difference for their communities and other military spouses around the world.
This week, we are excited to introduce Tiffany Smiley, an author, public speaker, nurse, activist, mother, and caregiver to her husband, Scotty, a Purple Heart recipient. Tiffany’s strength, courage, and selflessness continues to serve as inspiration to MilSpouses around the world.
Read our interview with Tiffany below:
Tiffany, your experience as a military spouse has been full of challenges and hurdles. Just five months into your marriage, your husband Scotty was on his way to Iraq, where he was severely injured by a suicide bomber, completely losing his sight. How were you able to summon the strength to not only support physically Scotty after his injury, but also support yourself and your family mentally?
I received a phone call on April 6, 2005 which delivered the news of Scotty’s injury and the extent to which he had been injured. I remember the man on the phone weeping, telling me it was “pretty bad.” It was one of those moments where a shock just electrifies your whole being, and you’re sitting there feeling paralyzed.
It’s hard to describe the feelings I experienced in receiving that news. I’m not sure what it was exactly that allowed me to face what had so quickly become my life. I’m sure it was a combination of many things: the leader I was raised to be, my fierce personality, my stubbornness, or how I learned to get back up when I got bucked off a horse on the farm. I am a living testament to the fact that faith is very difficult to have while in the middle of something.
Sure, it’s easy to have at the beginning when looking forward to the road ahead, and it’s easy to have it at the end when it all works out. But somewhere inside me, no matter how far down it was at the time, I expected God to show up in a big way, to help guide me through that, and wow, He showed up. I knew that it was my duty to help Scotty recover.
A lot of circumstances would have been better, and I would have honestly preferred many different scenarios, but it was my road to travel and I knew God was with me. I didn’t expect my wedding vows to hit me upside the head, but they did, and I’ve never looked back.
Since the incident, you’ve gone on to share your story with thousands around the world, even speaking in front of the President of the United States at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast. What’s your favorite part about traveling the world and meeting other military spouses?
There are so many amazing things about traveling and getting to share my story. Not only is it freeing for me, but I have encouraged others to step out of their comfort zone and share their stories and I’ve seen people break free from whatever circumstance is holding them back from living their potential. I love any opportunity to meet other military spouses because it creates community in such a special way. So many of us have dealt with similar circumstances, and it’s wonderful to connect with people on such a real empathetic level.
Caring for others is something that seems to come naturally to you. From being there for your husband during the extremely hard times to working as a nurse helping complete strangers, you’ve consistently made sure the people around you are taken care of. But when you were feeling stressed or overwhelmed with everything going on, how did you go about seeking out support from others?
Seeking support from others was the hardest part, and something I struggled with for a long time! I was so fierce in my love for Scotty and my family, that I felt the need and the responsibility to support them in all ways – to care for Scotty on every level, to make sure I was the one keeping us all together, to ensure that things ran smoothly every day.
For a long time after Scotty had recovered from his injuries I was driving him to and from work each day, making sure that my three babies were with me, and trying to run a business. It was crazy! After many years, all the tireless effort to support my family and try and make everything work without ever saying no, it caught up to me.
I looked around and surely had a small circle of people I could trust in, but I realized I hadn’t let myself truly depend on anyone else. I was trying to be super mom, and I will say, I was totally capable. But at the same time, I needed to treat myself with the care that I did with my family in order to keep going. I started to share my story with others, starting with a waitress at now one of my most favorite Thai Restaurants in NYC. That was truly the most freeing part for me. I had to turn somewhere, so I depended on God and I depended on others to help me accomplish what I needed.
Aside from touring the country as a speaker, you’ve also published a book titled Hope Unseen with your husband on your experience as a military family, performed countless television interviews protecting American veterans, and have worked with key political figures to push for legislation that supports military families. What motivates you to continue to speak up and fight for other military families across the country?
With everything in me, I want to share my experience with people. More than that, I want to show them that it is possible to overcome their circumstances, to live a joyful life and to have purpose and value. So many of us have these hardships descend upon our lives, and it’s really, really hard. No one’s first reaction is that “it’s all going be great, thank God for this!!” No. We all have those moments like I did, sitting on a bathroom floor, paralyzed by shock of news we never anticipated. It’s really easy to get caught up in thinking that there’s no way out.
Our Country has a long way to go in empowering our veterans to live fulfilling lives. In so many ways, we faced a system that almost encourages the opposite. It encourages people to receive its “benefits” but only by being less than, or more injured than someone else. When Scotty began rehab, he was given cassette tapes to listen to books with, meanwhile the iPod had been out for a few years and was a much more effective and efficient way to listen to books. That experience broke my heart. I know we are not the only ones.
From that point on, I vowed to tirelessly attempt to make changes to the VA, not only for Scotty, but for all those who are told they are less than. I challenged Scotty for many years to go and do things that made him feel alive, that proved how capable he was. He’s been able to accomplish so many incredible things. Things the VA told Scotty he could never do. We need to do everything we can as a country to encourage veterans to do the “impossible” because they are fully capable.
What advice would you give to other military spouses experiencing their first deployment, unsure of what the future holds?
Lean into God. He has a plan for each and every one of us. It’s hard to believe this when so many things can alter the course of a person’s life. But truly understanding this concept and believing in it, is what allowed Scotty and I to live a happy, joyful, successful life. It allowed us to have purpose, and for the both of us to share our experiences and attempt to make change in this broken world. It’s never easy to send off your loved one to war or to wake up each day, just praying to get through it without any phone calls.
But let me tell you this, even if you wake up one day and you do get one of those dreaded phone calls, I encourage you to stand up, fight for yourself and your loved one, and believe that whatever happens is in God’s perfect plan for you. He will guide you, protect you, and lead you to happiness, no matter what. Depend on Him and depend on others you can trust to lift you up, support you, and most importantly, love you. Know that there is always someone in the world who has shared and overcome that same experience. There is always a way to overcome and there is always hope.
We at Meditec want to thank Tiffany for taking part in MilSpouse Mondays. You can stay up to date with Tiffany on Twitter, Facebook, and her website. Also, be sure to sign to check back next week for another installment of MilSpouse Mondays, presented by Meditec.
If you missed last week’s installment with certified Military Spouse Coach, Krista Wells, you can read the interview here.
Meditec is a career training site specifically designed to help America’s military spouses succeed professionally, regardless of where life takes them. Our accredited, affordable, MyCAA-approved courses are centered around career opportunities that allow individuals to work from home or on the road. Not only that, but we also guide military spouses throughout the MyCAA process, helping them earn scholarships to put towards career advancement programs.