Dear Pre-Post Deployment Me:
Hello, it’s you, after deployment is all over with, and your husband has returned safely from being deployed in Afghanistan. I know the last year (OK, last 2 years) have been probably the worst of your life, so far, what with worrying about deployment before he actually left, and then worrying about him the entire time he was gone, but I want to let you know a few things we learned along the way that will help you out (a sort of “if I knew then what I know now”).
First, it’s OK to feel anything that you are feeling – scared, angry, nervous, excited, happy. OK, it’s not really OK to be happy about your husband deploying, I know you were never happy about that, but it’s OK to be happy with the things that make you happy: happy about an enjoyable and relaxing evening with your husband; happy about the little quirks about your relationship and inside jokes that make you laugh until you cry. And yes, it’s OK to find some things that you’re happy about that come with deployment: the extra money he’ll be making and you’ll be saving; since you’re going home you can be happy about seeing your friends from your childhood whenever you want to; about being out of a state you hate; and about getting your own job so you can make and save even more money. You don’t have to be happy your husband is leaving, but find something that will make you happy during the time he’s gone. I’m so proud of you for pursuing more with your photography career as well! While you’re home, you’ll visit new and familiar places with your camera, and you’ll even be hired to take senior and family portraits!
Also, no one will know what you’re feeling. They will try to understand, sympathize, empathize, with your inner turmoil of your loved one being deployed to a war-zone. They will try to understand what it’s like to not have their spouse home with them for an entire year (save 2 weeks for R&R). You’ll hear a lot of “I can’t imagine what that’s like,” and it’s true, they can’t. Even those who have gone through deployments in the past, while they’ll have a better understand, they won’t know how you feel. Like a line you’ll hear in “The Way We Get By,” when one of the gentlemen is talking about parents who lose their child to the war – he lost his son to an illness when his son was only 10. Every loss is experienced differently, felt differently. And the same idea goes along with saying “good-bye” to your husband, for a future that isn’t guaranteed, that no one can guarantee. Take people’s good intentions to heart, though, because although they can’t understand how you feel, what you feel, most of the time they do have your best interests in mind.
Next, don’t become a shell. I know you will. You will hit a wall, because you’ve tried so hard every day to avoid the feelings and thoughts you don’t want to have, to be the best Army Wife to your husband with every phone call, every letter, every care package… You will burn out if you don’t allow yourself to feel, to have some you-time. Let others be there for you when you need them. You can do this on your own, we both know we’re amazing, but it comes at a cost. You will stop feeling, and at times, you will have no regard for your own safety. Thankfully you don’t get yourself into more harm than you did, or as much as you could have (don’t be stupid when you go to the beach after Hurricane Irene, things could have been a lot worse).
Also, before deployment, make sure you have the important discussions with your husband before he leaves. And I don’t mean about the will or anything official. I mean the talks you need to have as part of the relationship. Make sure the air is clear when he leaves. Any issues you have, hash them out, discuss them. Don’t let him leave with any resentment, from either of you. Be realistic about your relationship, stop pretending everything is perfect when you know it’s not. Fortunately for you, the two of you were able to repair your marriage when he came back, but there was a lot of resentment and anger building up toward the end of the deployment that wasn’t necessary, that could have been avoided.
Don’t take that apartment you think is so wonderful, and move back almost five months early. Anything can look amazing in pictures, and anyone can sound great on the phone. But you will get there, realize the guy’s a little shady and the apartment will not make you feel safe, or clean, and you will be out half of the month’s rent because he’s dishonest. If you do go through with this, which I know you will because you’re stubborn and are sure you can do anything you set your mind to, when you realize that you will not feel comfortable there, that your parents will not feel comfortable leaving you there, do not take it as a reflection upon yourself, personally. You are not a failure. You made the right decision to leave and not keep the apartment. Failing would mean putting your pride before your safety, and staying in a place you did not feel comfortable in, just to prove you were right. I applaud you for not putting your pride first.
Don’t feel guilty about not living as a hermit while your husband is deployed. He wants you to have a life, and while he’ll be a little upset that you got your first tattoo without him, you’ll need it for yourself. Take trips when you can, try something new, have fun. Regain the confidence and sense of self you used to have, that somehow got lost in your life. Let’s face it, even though no one asked or told you to, the year before your husband deployed, you put him first, you made sure he was happy, you sacrificed most things about yourself just to appease him. He fell in love with you for everything you were when you met, when you first started dating. You weren’t a doter then, and no one told you you had to be once you were married. While doing things for him, helping his stress-level not skyrocket before deployment was appreciated, don’t do it all as a sacrifice of yourself. After all, you’re a pretty great person who is always thinking of others anyways, just don’t forget about yourself while you’re at it.
You will have fun during your husband’s deployment, and that’s not a bad thing. Like I said, he wants you to have a life while you’re missing him. You’ll learn how to fire a shot-gun, a rifle, and a pistol, and you’ll love it. You’ll do more with your photography. You’ll ride a four-wheeler with friends for the first time in your life, a couple of times. You’ll finally decide on the dragonfly design you want for your tattoo, and you’ll have it done. (And you’ll love it!) You will enjoy your job, for the most part. You will be sad to leave, mostly because you’ll be leaving a great group of people who you work with. But you will keep in touch, and you can always see them when you come back. You will see and do more things with your best friend, including visiting a lot of maple farms on Maple Sugar Sunday, have some low-key nights playing Mario on Wii, or playing a silly dancing and karaoke game. You’ll even enjoy the weekends you get to yourself.
No one ever told you deployment would be easy, but don’t make it out to be something you can’t overcome. You’ll look forward to every phone call from your husband, because it’s another day you know he’s OK. You’ll love to receive letters from him, as he starts to write more from the heart and you’ll see another side of him he wasn’t ready to let show before. You will mean more to him than probably ever once deployment is over, and he realizes a lot about himself, as you will about yourself. When there are communication black-outs, you will worry when it’s been almost two weeks and you haven’t received a phone call. Even if I tell you it’s OK, nothing will reassure that nagging worry you’ll have. You’ll look out the windows obsessively, hoping that you don’t see a black car pull in and two men in uniform get out. You’ll want to hear the news, but stories out of the Middle East or trouble brewing in countries we haven’t yet officially invaded will cause more stress, and tears. Seeing men in uniform in public will cause the urge to either run up and hug them (you never do), or cry (thankfully, you never did this in public, either).
I hope that deployment goes well for you and your husband. Remember, in retrospect, it wasn’t as hard as you made it out to be in your head, but no one could guarantee the outcome. So it’s OK to worry, it’s OK to be mad, it’s OK to cry, and it’s OK to have fun when you need it. Just don’t put more pressure on yourself than you have to, because you will. In spite of everything, with effort, you both came out OK, you both survived individually and as a couple, and that’s something you two will have that’s only yours, so cherish it. Remember, whatever you set your mind to do, is what you do, so don’t give up.