What Boot Camp Taught Me About Love

I graduated from high school on June 15 and left for boot camp three days later. The U.S. Army was not the high school I had just left. Teachers had always applauded my high scores and honors achievements.  Now, in my strange new world, it was quite a shock to have my best efforts thrown in my face.

Experiencing boot camp taught me something pretty powerful: Words have power.  My instructors could destroy me or empower me based on the words they said. How true for all aspects of life. Could it be that even our most intimate relationships are also made or mangled by our words?

Sonya during her military days

When I stepped off the bus at my Alabama training camp, I was greeted by shouting drill sergeants; I wondered if I had made a mistake. Their yelling was rapid and intense as they told us to get off the bus, grab our gear, and to line up along a wall. They went up and down the line verbally attacking our appearances, facial expressions, and responses to their questions. They were using their words to break us down. And it worked.

Of course, the military has a specific strategy that consists of tearing you down and building you up, as a way to build trust, willingness to follow commands, and leadership. The verbal tearing down the military utilizes is never appropriate in personal relationships.

Yet looking back over my life experiences, I can’t help but realize that so much of our lives are impacted by the words of others. I find it especially true in personal relationships. I have experienced relationships where my knowledge and opinions mattered. I was valued and treated with respect. In other relationships, I was demeaned, disrespected, and called names. My self-worth, morals, and values were attacked.  

Of these two types of contrasting relationships, I much prefer the first.  As I have grown in life, I learned to surround myself with people who make me laugh, care about my wellbeing, hurt when I hurt, and stick around during the good and bad. I choose the relationships characterized by words that build me up, not words that tear me down.  

The words that have come into my life have left me with a choice.  I can let all the negative words of my past destroy me, and leave me in an endless boot camp.  Or I can step up and become a soldier, ready to turn my own words into tools for good.  With those tools I can positively affect not only my own life but those of others too.  

I will never forget the things I learned while in the Army.  Those lessons will follow me through the rest of my life. I learned the importance of being part of a team. I learned how to be mentally and physically strong. And I learned the power of words. I urge you to choose your own words wisely. Your words have the power to build or destroy.

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