The after-effects of deployment.

Experiencing the emotional cycle of deploymentWe have all seen the heart-warming pictures: husband returns home from many months away to an emotional and joyful family reunion.  And it is emotional and joyful: months of worry and unrelenting responsibility are eclipsed by anticipation, excitement, relief and sheer, complete joy! But take a moment to imagine the what-happens-after pictures:  the wife, with her freshly-gained independence,  tediously picking up clothes and coffee mugs after her husband; or maybe the wife appreciating and yet taken aback by the fact that after months of being the sole person in charge, she is suddenly superfluous to requirements as the children can’t get enough of daddy; or poignantly, the children who panic every time daddy goes away for a short period of time; ever suspicious and fearful of another 100+ sleeps without cuddling him.

Despite my husband having returned from a four-month tour, three months ago, I still find myself adjusting to his homecoming and recently wondered why I feel a sense of comfort when he goes away for the week.

Am I unusually cold, or is this a normal part of adjusting to deployment?

The answer hit me: I have become so used to doing everything alone, that it has become my normality.  When he is here, my routine is disrupted and when he is away I go back to my normal!  Notice all the I’s and my’s: clearly another effect of enforced separation!

Of course, we all experience things differently and the reason it might be taking me a while to adjust to the homecoming may be because when he was posted a year ago, we decided to not relocate as a family so that we could keep the children in the school they are happy in.  The downside: in the past year, we have only been together at weekends and then not at all for four months.

Are my current feelings here to stay: a permanent effect of so much time alone, or is this just a transition period?

Seeking answers, I sought out a copy of  the emotional cycle of deployment and was relieved to discover that my feelings are apparently normal: I am currently somewhere between stages six and seven.  I was also thrilled to discover this embellished version by Stacy, who resides over the big pond and writes The Flibbertigibbet blog:

Now, looking back, I feel so positive about the recent deployment and time apart.  It fundamentally changes you: you do things that you might have previously left for your husband,  you become more confident by having to do everything in the house and with the cars, you manage your children’s deployment-enduced fragile emotions and constant school commitments and significantly, you feel empowered by the new tasks you take on and the things you learn.   But it takes time, a lot of time, to adjust to your new role and the first few weeks were tough; emotionally and physically:

He’s going away for four months; how can I possibly explain more than 120 sleeps to the children? 

Put it to the back of my mind: don’t think about it, it’s not for a while.

Time to start planning; endless lists of things to learn:how to maintain the cars, how to mend fuses, check out the operations of the water tank, how to contact him in the event of an emergency… and lists on how to occupy the weeks ahead: places to go and people to visit.

It’s getting closer, but I feel strong!  I’ve done this before, many times! I refuse to allow it to get me down this time; or am I deluding myself?

It’s really close; I withdraw from him, I can’t hold him and I don’t want to talk about the time apart: I don’t know why – maybe some basic preservation instinct – but I find myself secretly reading the notes about his accommodation, what he can expect out there…

The day has arrived: it drags.   Just go, get it over and done with!  Daughter, who can understand the timescale, cries herself to sleep.  Tiny son, not really comprehending but still tearful.  The last hour is heart-wrenching, endless and then in the last five minutes, the transport calls to say they have been delayed by an hour.  No, no no, no, no!!!!! The last, last hour is sheer pain: tearful, holding, empty, can’t let go:knowing it will be so long, if ever…

And then the door closes: silence, a sense of utter despair and loneliness descending with the comprehension of the long, lonely nights ahead.  Not knowing when the first contact will be, or how often; but know it will be better than the eblueys-only of a few years ago.   

Routine, routine, routine is the key.  As is supportive friends, time to myself and keeping busy.  Weeks pass, slowly but surely.  Feelings constantly change:

Feeling strong, I really can do this!  

Feeling fed up: its been so long.   Everywhere I look I see children with their dads; on the school run, at the park, at parents evening, in the shops.  

Feeling tired…so very, very tired…need a break, need some help with the chores, with the children.  

Hang on in, just a couple of weeks to go…Feeling excited, relieved, apprehensive… 

You only realise how strong you are, when there is no other choice.