Our ADF Families: Charlie and Nick

How did you meet?

I had been living and working on the Gold Coast and had just returned back to Sale in 1997 following an injury. I met Nick not long after while he was posted to East Sale as an instructor at the School of Air Traffic Control.

Approximately how many moves/ locations/ countries?

We have had 14 moves since we got together; all in Australia.

What were the challenges you encountered in the beginning of your Defence life?

I’m somewhat of a nomad and enjoy changing locations, so adjusting to Defence life was not such a shock in that regard. I enjoy changing locations and meeting new people. It’s very difficult leaving friends behind when we get posted but we now have friends, many of who are more like family “framily”, all over the country.

How do you look back on this now?

I think Defence life has given me opportunities that I would not have otherwise had. I like to use each posting as an opportunity to try something new and build on previous experience and knowledge.

What has helped you to adapt to change over the years?

A supportive Defence family, an extended network of friends and a supportive husband. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been fun.

What family activities / hobbies do you enjoy?

Walking the dog, bike riding, kayaking, caravanning and motorcycle touring.

Life as a Defence family can have highs and lows, the unique lifestyle and communities can form some amazing bonds. What type of resources has your family needed to draw upon?

I’ve worked in two Defence support roles— one as the Coordinator of the East Sale Family Group, and as a Defence School Transition Aide in Canberra— so I’ve tended to be the one providing the support rather than seeking it. I’ve worked with many of the support agencies to help create supportive environments for Defence families. I’m well aware of the support and resources that are available for Defence families and would not hesitate to use them if I felt it was necessary.

Nick, can you tell us about Dudley and why is he special?

Dudley is a 3-year-old long-haired chihuahua. He came to us around the time I was diagnosed with PTSD. We bonded very quickly, and it soon became apparent that he could tell when I was struggling. He would sit calmly by me and rest his head in my lap which took my focus away from whatever was upsetting me. 

Yoga and meditation have been a significant part of my recovery and Dudley usually sits nearby when I’m doing either of them. When I’m meditating, he usually lies next to me which helps with clearing my mind.

The most significant impact he’s had has been in stopping my nightmares. He would wake me from the dream and help me to calm down and get back to sleep. He then started laying next to me when I went to bed, and I found that the frequency of the nightmares reduced significantly. It’s now unusual for me to have disturbed sleep.

Dudley hasn’t been formally trained as a therapy or assistance animal. He is recognised as an emotional support animal, but this doesn’t afford him the access privileges that are afforded to registered therapy dogs. I’m very interested in getting him trained and registered but have struggled to find details on how I go about doing this.

In terms of advice for others who may be suffering, I would say speak up and seek help early: you are not alone, and help is available. I suffered in silence for years and tried to bury everything I was dealing with which ultimately made the situation worse. I think if I’d sought help sooner, my recovery would have been quicker and possibly less traumatic for both me and my family. 

Is there a funny or amusing story you can think of in your Defence time that other Defence families can relate to?

When my husband was in Baghdad, I was desperate to buy a new lounge suite. Communications were fairly reliable, and he would call quite frequently. On one occasion, he called while I was testing lounges and selecting cushions. Consequently, he had to go through colour selections and style discussion from the other side of the world. He lamented that he’d hoped being deployed would have gotten him out of having to live that experience (he hates shopping). I felt he should be included.

What was your favourite or most rewarding posting and why?

My favourite posting was RAAF Williamtown. We love Nelson Bay and plan to retire there. My most rewarding posting was RAAF East Sale as a result of my role as the Coordinator of the East Sale Family Group.

How do you deal with relocations and housing changes?

I get itchy feet after about three years and start looking forward to a change of location and a new house to decorate. Although, as I’m getting older, I’m looking forward to being able to settle in one location and not have to pack the house up any more.

How you cope during periods when Nick is away?

I’m fairly independent but I try to stay as busy as I can and spend time with friends. I also spend time with my dog, taking him for walks and outings. Not having children in the house, it can become a bit lonely at times which is where the pets are very helpful – there’s always someone to talk to. My husband and I try to stay in touch as much as possible via Skype or email.

Do you have any tips/tricks for young Defence couples?

Try and see the positives in every move. Look at each posting as an opportunity to make new friendships, learn new things and see new places. Communication is key both with your partner and support network: don’t bottle things up and don’t withdraw into yourself. There’s lots of support available if you look for it. Remember that you’re not alone in this— Defence is a big family.

Any plans post Defence life that you wish to share?

We’re planning on taking the caravan around Australia and possibly doing some overseas travel.

Thank you to Charlie and Nick (and Dudley and Floyd) for their time and sharing their experiences.

For 24/7 Defence family assistance please contact:

Defence Family Helpline (DCO) 1800 624 608 or DefenceFamilyHelpline@defence.gov.au

Open Arms (formerly VVCS) 1800 011 046

#OurADFfamilies #DefenceFamilies

With special thanks to Sean Davey Photographer www.seandavey.com.au

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