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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Deployment Survivor: Confessions of a Military Spouse

From Far Beyond Designs
After nearly 10 years of active duty service in the Army, my family will exit military life around this time next year. This has been our decision for over 2 years now, and so far we have no second thoughts. As a military wife of 7 years (on Monday!), I know that is taboo. For those in the fray, married to "lifers," (Soldiers who plan to retire after 20+ years) or for those who left military life to face troubles, my optimism may be taken the wrong way. Please be assured that my perspective is only a realization that is right for me, my children, my marriage, my Soldier and my lot in life. I know it's not like that for everyone.

There are a lot of reasons we are leaving but one factor is so large in our decision that it practically eclipses all others. Deployment. Together, my husband and I have weathered 3 deployments to Iraq. Separations up to 15 months at a time, not to mention trips to train "in the field" and away from home for a month or more at least once a year. All told, in our first 5 years of marriage, we spent about 65% of it apart. And I'm here to say today that it was awful.

There was a time when I would have scoffed at the paragraph above. In the midst these separations, I thought these kind of comments were weak. What good did it do to think that way? Man up. Dig in your heels and play the hand that was dealt to you. But in the past 2 years since his last deployment, as we get further and further from the possibility of another year apart, I've begun to see how injured I was (and am) by those thoughts. And I see now how much I, like my husband, carry the emotional and mental scars of war.

I don't say this for pity. That is, I promise, the very last thing I'm after. In fact, I may have held onto these thoughts for too long because I didn't want any sympathy at all. There are too many who lost too much. I will not claim any right to this country's limited sympathy pangs for their sake. Moreover, I don't really want anyone to share in my pain. It's mine - it's one of the only things I got from that experience. I hold onto the pain because it reminds me that I did something great once - something most people won't. I keep it private, safe, and to myself. I bet there's more than one person out there that understands that.

From Far Beyond Designs
So why am I finally writing this? Why have I chosen to write publicly? Because if I had read this 2 years ago, 4 years ago, 7 years ago... Maybe. Maybe I wouldn't struggle with anxiety when someone wants to hug me. Maybe I wouldn't see the stars and stripes as a bittersweet image. Maybe I wouldn't worry that it is only a matter of time before all my husband's good fortune catches up to him. Maybe so much of my life wouldn't be about fear, jaded hopes, and learning to be hard.

The small, high-schoolesque military community where we spent most of our marriage is coming up on a milestone. The same unit that I watched deploy twice with my husband is preparing to go again. We have been in a new duty station for a long time now, but I still have friends there. I see their online photos of farewells, of fathers holding new babies that will be toddlers when they return, of yellow ribbons and combat gear and tears. That's how I know I'm not over all this - because each photo, each military wife's prayer posted on a profile, each family readiness event invitation - it brings every bit of those old feelings back.

I see things so differently now. I said that there was a time when I would have thought that this post was weak. Sentimentality, better left unsaid. Shame on me for thinking that. There are too many people that will have to say goodbye again. There are even some who will say goodbye without the relieving joy of the hello. Do not confuse me. You are the unsung hero, and I can do nothing but say thank you for what you do each day.

But maybe there's someone out there who is growing hard. Maybe there's someone out there who is just now discovering how hard they've become. If there is, you aren't alone. What you're doing is unendingly difficult, and I ask you not to forget that. It's not the kind of difficult that people talk about when they tell you "I don't know how you do it," or "I could never go through that." It's the kind of difficult that you don't have a choice about. But you do have a choice to keep feeling. Keep feeling. Don't make my mistake. Better a year of hurting than a lifetime of numbness.

Are you a deployment survivor? Do you cringe at the sight of a chaplain in dress uniform? Does a flag folded into a triangle cause your stomach to drop? Do you avoid the news, politics, and even the outside world at times, so that you can live without thinking every second about your loved one? I did. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to just take a moment, stop all the noise I filled my life with and breathe.

You, dear Warrior's Bride, are a beautiful creature. You are worth more each day that you suffer. Let your hurt be a song, and let it be in harmony with all those who walk beside you on this road. You aren't alone. Somewhere, I know, there is someone who understands.

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