Saturday, December 1, 2012

How do you cope?

While trying to coordinate schedules with a fellow student for a group project, I mentioned that my husband will be deploying overseas in the very near future. The girl's immediate response was, "How do you cope?"....I have never been asked that in quite those words before, and for whatever the reason it caught me off guard.

Although I spit out a quick answer to her, I found myself pondering that question on and off throughout the evening.  Upon reflecting back at our very first deployment, I realized how horribly I handled the whole thing and what a different place I was at now. Obviously I have learned a thing or two through time.

So does that mean it's any easier? Um....yeah, sure. About like childbirth would I suppose =).  You see, in my opinion it never gets easier. To say that would be like saying childbirth gets easier.  It's not the labor that is easier the more kids you have, it only becomes less scary. Through time most people learn from past experiences of what works for them what doesn't and how to prepare for it, which makes facing it a whole lot more manageable  Same with deployments. They don't get easier, but they do become more manageable.  Really if they got 'easier', I would suggest that might be a cause for concern. I don't want to not miss my husband or his absence to not to significantly impact my life. That means his presence would lack significance also.  In any case, preparation for the rough road to come makes all the difference in the world. It doesn't get easier, but in some ways it will feel like it.


I can't image going through this all by myself. At least not mentally.  My family and my friends have made the world of difference for me.  Sometimes it's been relief for motherhood, sometimes a shoulder to cry on, and sometimes it's just knowing someone loves me.  During our last deployment, finding support meant moving back home for me, which is a great option for many.  I was new to the area and did not really have any friends here yet, so my friends and family back home were crucial. This deployment I am fortunate enough to have tons of support from other military spouses and friends in the area so I'll be staying here.


When preparing for him to leave, I deal with it by not dealing with it! Suppressing one's emotions is generally considered a bad thing. However,  I have found that the best defense for me is to suppress my emotions of him leaving until after he already gone. Only then do I let things sink in. And only to the extent necessary to still live in reality.  I remember when I found out about our first deployment. I was in the Army myself back in those days and it was actually me leaving not him. Either way, we were newly-weds and the thought of separation was flat out tragic. I cried and moped around from months instead of enjoying what time I had left with my soon-to-be husband (We got married two weeks before I left).  So now, I refuse to let myself think about it. It's not like I pretend it's not going to happen, but I don't picture what it's going to be like with him gone. Period.  Dwelling on it puts me into depression and I have a son to take care of. I can't afford to shut down.


It wasn't until our third separation that I finally realized what the major reason being alone was so devastating (besides the obvious).  It was me.  No, literally.  I didn't like who I was. At all. Which makes continuous one-on-one time pretty unbearable.  It was at that moment that I realized that if now was the perfect time to change that.  I figured out what I really bothered me the most about myself and worked on those problems. I started new habits and gave up lots of old ones.  I focused on improving my attitude, enhancing my talents, whatever. That for me was...well, epic.  Not that I think I am God's greatest creation, and there are still many things I want to improve upon.  BUT I needed to get to a point where I say could genuinely say "this is good, for now".  Not only did I find peace within myself, but it strengthened my marriage. You can't love somebody else until you love yourself. That's just reality.


I am a firm believer that deployments do not destroy marriages, they are only a catalyst that speeds up whatever process if it was probably going to happen eventually anyway. When preparing for a deployment, now is not the time to ignore serious issues.  It's rather tricky to work as a team to solve problems from 7,000 miles apart. Whatever issues existed before we separate always multiplied by 10 when we were apart. This especially goes for weakness within the relationship such as weak communication skills and trust issues.  My husband and I have done couples counseling a couple of times as a preventive measure rather than a reparative one. I couldn't recommend this enough!


In the beginning I so desperately lacked the coping skills needed to deal with our separations   The only way I knew how to cope with my husband being away was to fight with him.  It seems silly, but when your mad at someone being apart is a whole lot easier.  Of course this was a subconscious process that took me years to identify, but man it was destructive in the meanwhile. And the worst part is that I witnessed other couples doing it ALL the time. Communication is very limited, more so due to time difference that technology nowadays (we are about 9 hours apart depending on where he is stationed). It's so silly to waste what precious time is available. If it's not absolutely essential, let it go.


Now this is one an area that I am still working on, but I really feel is so important to mention.  Just because we are apart doesn't mean we can't still interact.  Of course, Skype is a common sense solution. But you can do more than just talk. He can read a bedtime story to my son and 'help' tuck him into bed.  I had a friend who joined his family every night for family prayer via Skype. Scripture study would be another great option. We could both read the same book and discuss it over the phone. And I think it's so important to send REAL letters....through the mail. Not just email.  I know they are so much more time consuming, but there is something so intimate about a hand written letter. It's not really so much what we do that matters, as long as its something we both enjoy. It's confirms that we are still a team no matter what!


This is the key to sanity!!  Have you ever noticed when you are excited for something to occur it seems to take for-ev-er to happen? Yet if you are not avoiding something it seems to creep up so fast that is seems to smack you upside the face? That's sort of the principle I work off of.  I set a few major goals that 'have' to get done before he gets home. Usually mine involve something I want to surprise him with  like an organized house or getting in the best shape of my life...something challenging that will take me the whole deployment to accomplish. So as time passes instead of impatiently counting down the days that never seem to come, I look at it from the perspective of not having enough time to X,Y and Z and I'm not ready for him to get home yet.  Of course this requires a little shallow thinking, but it's a mind trick I have managed to make work really well for me.  If nothing else, goal setting keeps me busy, which is vital because it distracts from the situation. In fact, I use this trick well before he even leaves. I always plan out what I "get to do" while he is gone so it gives me something to look forward to even if in reality I would much prefer to have him just stay home. Just making 'lemonade' =)


Again, this sort of goes back to the whole "denial bit".  Nine months. A year. Fifteen months. Whatever the deployment is, is a lot to swallow at I don't!  I swallow a day at a day.  I specifically remember my very first deployment. I would sooth myself by continuously telling myself, "I will not see my husband today." That is the most amount of time I would let myself process back then. A day is pretty do-able for even the inexperienced.  I would tell myself I could deal with the fact that I wasn't going to see him tomorrow either when tomorrow came and that was that. I really do believe that all we have been through together is what makes our marriage strong as it it. If we can conquer this, we can conquer anything!

Do you have any suggestions that you can add?  I'd love to get some more tips on how you or someone you know found ways to interact with each other from overseas. And of course, if you have any more questions please leave them in the comments below! Oh, and don't forget to subscribe to my blog if you want to be alerted of future posts!

"Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it inflames the great" -Roger de Bussy-Rabutin