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.