I am being compensated for this post as part of the Operation In Touch Brand Ambassador Program via MSB New Media. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Often, deployment can feel like driving through a very long tunnel. If you grip the wheel, press your foot on the gas pedal, and ignore everything else by that tiny opening at the other end, you’ll get through it. Everything goes whizzing by you. You don’t take in anything but that opening that slowly gets closer.
When John was in Afghanistan, there was a period of two weeks where I was so convinced that I wasn’t going to see him again alive because there had been multiple rocket attacks on his base within a matter of days. And those were the ones that CNN reported on and I knew about.
I totally lost it. I barely ate anything. I lost more than 10 pounds. At that moment, I was totally looking down the tunnel and asking myself how in the world I was going to make it through 11 1/2 more months.
Coincidentally, it was right around that time that I started Jo, My Gosh!. True story. I came up with a list of 100 things I wanted to do in a year. I eased my foot off the gas pedal. After all, it was a year of deployment. A whole year of my life. I wanted that year to count for something. I didn’t want it just to be a forgettable blur of my phone, my computer, and that sinking, awful feeling in my stomach.
Deployment is hard. It’s tough. It’s a double whammy– not only are you separated from your loved one, but you’re also worried. Every day. Every night.
It takes a toll.
But it is possible to thrive during deployment. I’ve seen a lot of spouses and significant others do it. And I’ve seen them do amazing things during the time their loved one was deployed.
If they can do it, you can too. Here’s how:
Take care of yourself.
Repeat after me: I am important. I am just as important as my soldier/sailor/Marine/airman/Coastie. I deserve to treat myself with respect.
We get a lot of messages that as spouses (or girlfriends or fiances or whatever) that we’re important… we’re just not as important. You know, because we’re not slinging a gun or sailing the Seven Seas. (Need proof of this? There’s that saying: If the [insert branch here] wanted them to have a spouse, they would have issued one. That’s some Grade A, 100% garbage.) And I think because of those subtle (or not-so-subtle) messages, we let ourselves take care of the “mission” before ourselves.
Newsflash: you are just as important as your partner because you’re a human being.
Know what you need to do to take care of yourself, so that you feel like a well-rounded, happy individual. That might mean carving out 20 minutes of reading a book every day, or working on a project, or going for a run, or joining a dance troupe, or going to Bible Study every week. Whatever you need to do for you, do it. Make it a priority. Because when you take care of yourself and are a happy, healthy person, you’re also taking care of your family and your spouse.
Know when you need help.
It sounds basic, but it’s a lot harder than it looks. Often, military spouses are portrayed as stalwart people who can do everything– fix the car, cook nutritious meals, study for a degree part-time, hold down a full-time job, and take care of a menagerie of kids– all while keeping a stiff upper lip and not shedding a tear. If that’s you, my hat’s off to you. But that’s definitely not me. And, I’d guess, if that’s you, you wouldn’t be reading this post, right?
The truth is, military spouses are humans. With emotions. And breaking points. No matter what the movies make us look like. No matter what other people think of us. No matter what our neighbors look like while they’re going through deployment.
That’s why there is absolutely no shame in asking for help. Make it a priority. It can be tough to do this, especially if you’re at a new station or if you’re not an extrovert.
What might that look like? It depends on you. Maybe it means a phone call to your mom when you need to cry. Maybe it’s getting your house professionally cleaned once a month because if you step on one more LEGO you’ll lose it. Maybe it’s taking the kids to the library’s reading time so you can sit in a quiet place for 30 minutes. Maybe it’s having a therapist to talk to on a weekly basis. Maybe it’s having a friend you can dial up for a Chick Fil A run on a moment’s notice (guilty as charged).
Give yourself a break.
I know for many of you with children, giving yourself a break sounds ridiculous. But I’m not talking about the hire-a-sitter-and-go-get-a-manicure kind of break (although, if you can swing that, do it). I’m talking about being kind to yourself.
Cut the self-depreciation and admire yourself a little. You’re kicking butt because you’re dealing with what a very small percentage of the population deals with: deployment. Your partner doesn’t need the world’s most beautiful care package— they need one from you. So send it without feeling guilty that it didn’t look gorgeous. Your kids don’t need a perfectly themed birthday party, but they do need a Mom (or Dad) who is present and happy on their birthday. So don’t worry if the plates don’t match or if you didn’t bake the cake or if you’re taking them to Chuck E. Cheese. They’re going to have a great time because you’re with them.
Deployment feels like a huge obstacle you have to get over for your life to resume. (Seriously, how many of us feel like we need to just survive deployment?) It’s okay to acknowledge those feelings– deployment is hard. It’s tough for a variety of reasons, and all of those reasons are valid.
Have a good cry on your bed a la Scarlet O’Hara (I know I did). Or maybe 2 or 10. And when you’ve gotten over the sting of the orders, challenge yourself to see the possibilities in a deployment. Because (even though I didn’t– and still don’t– want to acknowledge anything good that came out of deployment) possibilities are there.
Let’s start off with the financial possibilities. Deployments come with added financial bonuses. What are you and your spouse going to do with it? Are you going to pad your IRA? Save for that honeymoon you never got to take? Are you putting it in a college fund? Saving for your dream home? Paying off credit cards and loans?
Then there’s the time. What are you going to do with it? Are you going to write a book? Maybe you’ll finish your degree, or take an extra class to get you to the end game faster. Maybe you’ll run a marathon. Or a 5K. Maybe you’ll take time to work on your relationships with your kids.
Finally, there’s that whole distance-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder thing. (It’s true. As long as you and your spouse are committed to fostering it, that is. After all, nothing can grow without soil and a little water and sunlight.) Depending on your circumstances, your communication might not change too much, or it might change drastically. What are the possibilities for your relationship during this time? Are you both going to write letters to each other? Emails? Will you have Skype dates?
So much of life is what we make of it, not what happens to us. The same goes for deployment. No matter the circumstances of the deployment you’re facing, figure out the good in it. It’s there. I promise.