The Very Real Truth About Experiencing Deployment for the First Time

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I spent the day after John’s deployment to Afghanistan eating nothing but a slice of cherry pie, choking back tears, and sleeping on the couch. I missed a dear friend’s visit to my city because I slept through a phone call. I had puffy eyes for at least three days. My heart felt like it was in pieces. My stomach wouldn’t stop churning.

I was a grade-A mess.

Eventually, it got better. I ate more than cherry pie. I ate icing out of a tub, too. (Just kidding, there was sushi and pizza, too. You know, a well-balanced diet.)

I got into a routine. I stopped sleeping so much. I found a groove. But there wasn’t a day during deployment that went by without me feeling… well… incomplete. That little nagging, lonely feeling made me feel like there was something wrong with me. How could I not just power through this like a total bawse? Why was I not a warrior who could crush each day like a bag of potato chips? Why was I not the strong, brave, resilient, strong, steadfast–did I mention strong?– military fiance who could plan a wedding, work a full-time job, wait for her soon-to-be-husband, and never  feel anything other than strong?

When it comes to deployment, here's the absolute truth about your first experience.

Oh yeah. Because I didn’t actually know anyone like that. I made built her out of all of the stereotypes I knew about military spouses.

And I’ve found, over the past four years, that the dirty little secret most of us hide from each other is that we all have this spouse in shining armor stereotype in our head.

And she doesn’t exist.

Still somehow we think that’s the truth– especially during the very first deployment.

Here’s the real truth: deployment hurts.

It just does. It doesn’t matter how long the deployment is or where it is to or what the communication sitch is. Being away from the person you love– whether they’re your spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, son/daughter, friend, or fiance– just hurts.

Deployment (and the time leading up to it) is a weird mishmash of emotions. You’re up, you’re down, you want to spend time with them, you want them to seriously just go already. You’re worried, but trying not to show it, but also kind of want to talk about it… but also don’t want to. There’s the discussion about wills and what happens while they’re gone. What happens if they don’t come back.

And you start wondering how in the love of Captain America you are ever– EVER– going to make it more than a day or two. You look around. You see other people who are coping like champs. You read articles and social media posts dispensing advice that seems really easy to follow— make a list of goals, say goodbye and don’t look back, take time to pray every day, don’t tell your loved one your fears, remember that they’re sacrificing way, way more than you. You wonder why you’re the only loser who is hurting, who can’t seem to keep it together, who has been crying in the shower since you found out the deployment was happening.

Everyone else seems so strong.

Except for you.

It doesn’t matter how you frame it. It doesn’t matter if you say, “It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later.” It doesn’t matter if you go to the dock or the airport or if you stay behind, the covers pulled up over your head.  It doesn’t matter if you have decided to fill every moment from now until the homecoming with weight lifting and clean eating… or if you fill it with pints and pints of ice cream. It doesn’t matter if you cry for hours or if you don’t cry ever.

Deployment just hurts.

Some things make it an easier burden to bear. And you can do things that make you feel better about your situation and your loved one’s situation. But the truth is that that little nagging hole in your heart, the place that feels empty and cold, the space where it feels like tumbleweeds are blowing around, the part that makes you feel a little sad even in your happiest moments will be there. It just will be.

And the truth is, that’s okay.

The truth is, it’s so very, very, very okay to hurt and to acknowledge that hurt. It’s okay to sometimes not pull yourself up, but to let yourself have that cry. It’s okay to talk about your fears with a friend. It’s okay to worry. It’s okay to be less than okay.

And the truth is that you’ll be okay.

Maybe it doesn’t feel that way right now. But you will be. Because the other truth is this: you are strong. You were strong without deployment and you’ll be strong with it now. It doesn’t mean that you can’t cry. Or that you’re always positive. Or that you have a zillion achievements to show for time your loved one has been deployed. Or that every day won’t feel like a fight, like you keep bashing your head against a wall that never moves.

It means that you can walk through today. And tomorrow. And that you’ll walk through the day after that. And after that.

Because you can do that. And you will.

10 Responses

  1. Thank you so much for this post! My boyfriend leaves for deployment in a few months and it’ll be the first one I’ve ever experienced (we started dating shortly after he got back from his last deployment) and am such a cluster of emotions. Feeling like I’m not alone absolutely helps.

  2. Thank you for this! We will be experiencing our first deployment next year and I think I’ll have to bookmark this to read then. I too have the spouse in shining armor vision in my head so it is nice to know I’m not expected to be like that :) great post!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this! My boyfriend left three days ago for an almost 7 month deployment. I can so relate to everything you say!

  4. Thank you so much for this, my boyfriend tomorrow for JRTC for 1 month and then when he gets back 1 week later he is leaving for a 9 month deployment. This is the first deployment I will experience and it is his first as well. Knowing that how I feel is common is a little reassuring

  5. So nice to have an honest portrayal of what deployment life can be like. It’s nice to know these feelings are real and okay. Sometimes it feels like everyone else is so strong and you’re the only one going through these emotions. Thank you for a great post!

  6. Everything you explained here is on point to how exactly i’ve been feeling. My boyfriend deployed for the first time last week for the next 6 months and when I’m not working, I seem to veer off directly to bed which sucks because all I can do is think about moments we’ve had and regret not holding him longer. When I try to talk to my friends, it seems that they feel like i’m over reacting and all I hear is “6 months is not long, you’ll be ok”. In reality, its not, but when you love that person to pieces, every day that passes by feels like an eternity. To all those of you who will experience this in the next couple of months, just remember that its a temporary thing and when he goes to leave, don’t say goodbye, just hug them and hold them and tell them you’ll see them soon. It wont be easy at first, but once he’s settled in, you will both start a routine. Skype a lot and cross out each day in a large calendar. Each day that passes, one more cross on the calendar and it will make you feel good:) Concentrate on yourself, better yourself and don’t forget to do the things you love. He will be proud of you and he will feel better hearing that you’ve got this!

  7. It is so nice to have my feelings validated, no one seems to understand where I’m coming from. Thank you so much for posting this, I feel like I’m not crazy anymore :)

  8. Great article! with my boyfriend serving on a submarine it’s so so different and harder due to lack of communication …. but, the hardest part was the first 2 months. I know it sounds cliché, but finding things to occupy your time is really the best coping mechanism, even if it is binge watching a show or reading books you didn’t have time for before (because you rather have spent that time bonding with your boo). Try new things, recipes, crafts, travel if you can afford it. Be proud to talk about your hunny, he/she are doing a great job and so are you!

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