Deployment Series: The First Month

Several times in my twin pregnancy, I found myself feeling about 15 different emotions in rapid succession, over the course of about 30 seconds. It’s not a perfect comparison, but that’s a pretty good representation of what the first month of a deployment feels like, after you’ve had the teary airport goodbye.

After the probably tense and anxiety filled time of the lead up to your soldier leaving, it’s totally normal to feel some sense of relief. Weird, right? But it definitely happens. There’s also the overwhelming “what in the world have I gotten myself/my family into?” that comes right about the time you wake up after your first night alone. Or, maybe you feel like Wonder Woman and Rosie the Riveter combined – you’re gonna kick this deployment’s ass! You may just feel bummed out. Or, you’re feeling all of those all at once, which is normally where I’m at. That first month I normally alternate between “I’ve got this” and “oh wait, no, this sucks” pretty rapidly.

Marriage and family doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so add in however you were feeling or dealing with before they left, and it can create more challenges. If you and your spouse were working through some stuff when they left, it’s going to feel pretty amplified during that first month, and possibly throughout the deployment. If your kids were acting out beforehand, that’s going to continue. This is totally normal, and it’s why “they” tell people not to make any big decisions (buying a house, buying a car, getting married, etc) in the 90 days before or after a deployment. Emotions are going haywire.

Because the first month is, well, the beginning – it’s a really good idea for the families behind, and for the ones overseas, to pace yourselves. And be realistic about where you’re all at emotionally. Figuring out the communication situation is generally a little rough at first, depending on the deployment location. It’s so easy to get mad at your soldier during this period – but one thing that helped J and I was for me to remember he’s just as stressed as I am, and he’s trying to figure out a “new” job in a new country, possibly while also dealing with things like lost gear, poor internet connection due to sandstorms (yes, that’s a thing). Between the emotions and the new jobs, taking some breathing room can be really beneficial.

I’m also a big fan of taking the first week to kind of just be sad, or angry, or however you’re feeling, and while you’re doing that surround yourself with your “safe people” who you know have your back and won’t judge if you go on a crying spree over military movies and ice cream (my go-to) or if you need to just be pissed and spew some profanity for a few days. My mom did this for my siblings and I when our dad would deploy, and it was actually an awesome way to teach that 1) your feelings are what they are, and 2) they should be dealt with, not just stifled or shoveled over. But once the predetermined time was over, we all got on with our life and went about our normal rhythms.

Lately, after J leaves, I also like to take my first few days and do something of a clean-sweep. He’s inevitably left some gear in the living room, or laundry not put away on his side of the bed. And in the lead up to the deployment, there’s a little bit of a lag in the housekeeping department. So I tidy up and get myself to something of a “clean slate”. It really helps, especially after the few days to be bummed out, and signals to my brain that it’s time to dust myself off and get moving.

I know that I’m going to sound like a broken record here – but making sure you’re talking to your people throughout all this is huge. Your people can tell whether or not you’re struggling or simply having a bad day. And can remind you that you’re crushing this whole deployment thing. They can help you move to your new place, they can help move furniture, talk to you while you clean, lounge on weekends where you are not wanting to do much of anything, and keep you busy while your soldier can’t talk or has communication issues. The key is making sure they are your safe people. That may not be your husband’s people, and it may look like having different people for specific situations. But the important part is that they’re your safe people.

There’s no magic formula, y’all. I really wish there was. But… the first month can be really hard, and honestly deployments just suck. If there were a formula or some fail safe multi-step plan, I can be sure it would contain a few things. Give yourself grace, and give your spouse grace, and your kids. Allow yourself to have feelings. Good ones, bad ones, big ones, small ones. Have safe community.

Deployment Series : The Lead Up

This is the first part in a series of posts just about deployment and how I’ve learned to adjust to the different challenges and stages (so far)!

I am not a patient person. Shocking, I know. I don’t like surprises and my already higher than average anxiety skyrockets when I know there’s an upcoming event, good or bad. Waiting for things is the worst. Some people thrive on that anticipation. I am most certainly not one of them.

Which makes the fact that I married J even more hilarious. He’s constantly gone, and when he is home his schedule can change from day to day. I can generally handle the back and forth and be mostly okay (which is a success on my book). But it makes the lead up to a deployment the absolute worst, followed quickly by the reintegration period in my ranking of “Things That Make My Anxiety Go Crazy”.

There’s no sense of purpose in the waiting, other than packing and checklists for things you don’t want to have to think about. Once the packing is done, it’s just… sit and wait. Once the deployment actually happens, and I’ve watched him walk away, I can start counting down the time until I get him back. I can give myself a routine. I can have some level of normalcy inside what is a very weird situation. I want Jason home as much as he can be, but in the last 2-4 weeks before a deployment, I almost start wishing he’ll actually go so we can just get on with life.

And then I feel like a jerk. I mean who wishes for their husband to leave?

According to conversations with my other military spouse friends – most of us. It’s not that we want them to leave and be in danger. It’s just that is so incredibly difficult to be in that space of waiting and waiting and waiting. And, it’s no picnic for the one deploying either.

Our first deployment we didn’t really have the lead up – because I was so freaking panicked. Not about the deployment or him leaving. He graduated from training, then one week later we were going to move 10 hours, then another week later he was deploying. I almost didn’t have time to freak out or worry. I was too busy!

Before our second deployment, I’d had a few different schools to help him get ready for, and while not on the same scale, I think it really helped us learn to be intentional with preparing for the actual deployment. Here’s some of the stuff I think helped us tackle the waiting and start his second deployment off on the right foot.

Don’t assume they know how you’re feeling. J is wonderful. Seriously, the man is a rockstar. We’ve spent the last 18 Months kind of rewiring and reworking our marriage, and it’s been so difficult and so amazing. So, I assumed he just knew what was in my head. And I assumed what he had in his. The result? I didn’t know how much he had on his plate. And he didn’t know what I needed to hear from him. After a conversation, we were able to get on the same page and it was so much better.

Make A “To Talk” List. I love lists. Love them. They’re scattered in my apartment and in my phone everywhere. We put that list making to good use, and wrote out a list of what we needed to do, and talk about before he left. Everything from deployment expectations to finances to my deployment goals and bucket lists. It was awesome and it made sure we didn’t have that last minute “oh shit we need to talk about ______” moment.

Go on a date. Don’t talk about the deployment. We got to go out after a particularly intense day of getting ready to leave for him. We didn’t go anywhere fancy – we went to Red Robin and then got ice cream. And we talked about everything BUT the deployment. It was almost like it didn’t exist, and it was amazing. And it gave us some time to be a couple without the looming absence over our head.

Breathe. And call your people. Deployment just sucks, okay? It’s freaking hard even on the best and most well adjusted marriage. More than once I had to realize that all the deployment prep I thought I HAD to do, could totally wait until he was gone (and I had copious amounts of free time). The things that couldn’t wait? Enjoying my time with J, and making sure I talked to my best friends and my community. They reassured me that everything was going to be just fine, and it allowed me to believe that and just enjoy my time with him.

I’d love to hear what you’ve done or what has worked for your marriage and your family!