Life After Deployment
As many of you long-time readers know, I like to devote one post a month to chatting a bit more about being a military family (you can read other installments in this series here!) This series was born not only out of a desire to share more personally about this crazy lifestyle we lead, but I also found that many of you friends either connected to these posts (whether you’re military or not!) and/or enjoyed reading about the unique challenges, opportunities and situations we face as part of the military community. Next week marks one year since my husband returned home from a 9-month deployment, so as we as a family reflect on everything that has happened in the last year, I thought it was a great time to chat a bit about life after deployment…what it’s really like after your loved one returns home after a long time away!
(The picture above was taken by a dear friend and neighbor in the hour after Greg returned home after 9-months of living and sailing around the world on a ship last October. You can read more about that wonderful day here…and yes, that moment still steals my heart!)
Each family endures and experiences a deployment very differently; and as such, life after a deployment plays out very differently for all of us as well. After living apart for many months, adjusting to life back as a family can be quite an adjustment for everyone involved. Thankfully, the military as a whole has many programs, articles, and workshops designed for both the service member and the family to help “deal with” the period after deployment. Whether you yourself are facing (or have faced) the end of a deployment or you are just curious about what this experience is like, here are some thoughts and observations from our personal experiences (and of several spouses I know).
Anxiety Over Excitement
I remember in the weeks and days leading up to Greg’s return, I was more nervous than excited (no offense, honey!). I’m a pretty type-A personality and can be relatively slow to adjust to things (despite what you may think by how much I change up our house!). It took me a good month to adjust to Greg being gone; but after 9 months of living just Henry and I, I had hit my stride. I was in a groove. Yes, I missed my husband like crazy and REALLY wanted a break and some help, but I had things figured out. I was taking care of the house, our finances and everything else in a sufficient and comfortable way. Our days were routined and full, and we had systems in place. Sure, these systems were all designed to help us cope with Greg’s absence, but I was anxious about how these routines would surely be turned upside down and how he would fit into them once he was home. I worried about how Greg would reinsert himself as Henry’s Dad, and how Henry would in turn respond to him. I also fretted about relinquishing ultimate control of the house, our schedule, our plans, our life. Greg and I are married after all, and we got married for a reason: to share our life and all the choices and decisions that happen within it. But I got very used to calling all the shots for myself and for Henry, and I was suddenly going to have to negotiate and share everything again. All good and important things, but difficult to brace for nonetheless!
Back to Normal in an Instant
These and similar anxieties of reintegration are very, very common. But when Greg got off that helicopter and walked into the doors of our “yellow house,” all was right and normal again. Sure, it took a little bit of time to get used to another person in the house, but it was normal and comfortable, almost right away. Like it always was. No effort, no anxiety. That void in our house that felt wide and empty was suddenly filled. Henry took right to Greg; and suddenly I felt like part of a married couple again instead of the single mom I felt like for the past 9 months. It’s the craziest, weirdest thing that I think many military spouses can attest to. In almost a blink of an eye, that thing you so desperately want and need to come to an end (the deployment) finally does. The void and the distance that feels all-consuming simply evaporates. No more counting down days and minutes and crossing boxes off of calendars…in an instant, life is normal again. Just like that (snaps fingers!).
Now, all that said…
It’s Not All Rainbows and Butterflies
This phrase makes me chuckle because it reminds me of an exchange with one of my favorite friends and past neighbors. Her husband had just returned home from deployment, and after a few days, we caught each other outside. I eagerly asked how the homecoming/reunion had been going and she said, “it’s been good, but you know, it’s not all rainbows and butterflies.” And I knowingly smiled and nodded, because yes indeed, it is not ALL warm and fuzzy. Yes, it’s wonderful to have your family back together and your service member home safe and sound. It’s nice to get some relief and help with things around the house and the kids, and it’s amazing to finally feel like a real family again. But while things revert back to normal in (seemingly) an instant, the resentment and exhaustion of being left alone for so long (on our end) and the fatigue and trauma from being gone so long to hard and scary places (on their end) doesn’t fade away over night. We are forced to experience things, both good and bad, separately. And sometimes, the coming back together, sharing those experiences, recovering from the bad ones, and starting to create new ones together can take time and healing. Figuring out how to re-share space and time and duties and obligations and intimacy is tricky. Many of the situations that existed before the deployment, remain afterwards, yet priorities and personalities can also change during such a long time apart. There is a somewhat long period of readjustment, getting to know each other again, and figuring out how the family works again. We have been fortunate to not have to deal with any severe deployment consequences such as injuries or PTSD (and thankfully there are services available to us should we ever need to), so despite our personal challenges, I am fully away that it could be much, much harder. Regardless of the post-deployment challenges, big or small, learning how to to live together again as a family takes time and patience and a heck of a lot of honesty.
Carrying on as a Family
Deployments feel all-consuming when you are in the middle of one, but when it’s over, it’s over. And after the initial honeymoon phase and overcoming those early reintegration challenges, life eventually marches on. Sometimes you know when the next deployment will be, and you start a whole new kind of countdown. Other times, you don’t know when the next one will be…you just know another one will eventually come. Like with our moves, deployments have an uncertainty that we’ve grown used to living within. We’ve been fortunate in that the year Greg has been home, he has been really home. No trips or exercises or other things have taken him away. We have traveled, celebrated birthdays and holidays, moved, and explored our new area together as a family. We know this year in Kansas is about being together as a family since we don’t really know what will come after we leave here next Spring…so we are trying to make the most of it while we can. Admittedly, we’ve gotten so used to life together again, that when the next deployment does come, it will be a whole new shock to the system to adjust, endure, cope and reintegrate all over again. But that’s a good place to be…and adjust, endure, cope and reintegrate we will.