Dear First-time-Deployment Spouse,
You’re about to embark on a bitter journey, and I’m sorry, so very sorry you’re going through this. Others have done so before you and will long after we are gone. You are in good company. Our fourth deployment is beating down the door this Spring, and I’m hoping that what I’ve learned can ease you. These are the things I wish someone could have told me before OIF 1.
1. Own it. This will suck. Don’t hide under your blankets, don’t pretend it’s not happening. Now is the time to go out and buy your “big girl panties,” and slip those suckers on. Embrace the suckage. Because if you can’t accept that this is going to devour just a bit of your soul, you’re not being honest with yourself. In a deployment, honesty is the best policy.
2. No matter what part of the deployment you’re in, pre-deployment, saying goodbye, the middle, the end, it all feels like the worst. You will get through it, it’s just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and marking each day off the calendar. This will pass, I promise time will not stand still.
3. Wear water-proof mascara to drop him off. Do not go in your sweatpants, unless you’re comfortable with that being the last memory of you he has to hold onto for the next year. Hold your head high. Jason walks me to the car before they lock the soldiers down, about a half-hour before they go. This gives us a private moment to say our “see-you-laters.” I have yet to make it through one of these without tears rolling down my cheeks. You see, saying goodbye is a small sliver of hell, the bitterest taste on your tongue that you can’t get rid of until they’re back in your arms. Be honest in these moments, and do what is best for you, and not what someone else tells you to. This is something we choose not to put our kids through. The atmosphere of a deployment ceremony is anything but reassuring to small people, so we leave them at home, but again, it’s all about what’s best for you.
4. Take care of yourself. Things will inevitably fall apart once or twice, or sometimes more. That means eat right, rest when you can, keep yourself physically and spiritually healthy. This goes double if you have kids, because just like in an airplane, you need to put your oxygen mask on before you can help other people.
5. Prep before so you don’t panic during: Get a POA for every possible thing you could need, including housing. Nothing’s worse than sending a husband bases away to get a POA because you didn’t think of it. (Hangs my head in shame… but we bought a house!). Don’t just prep POA’s, you need to…
6. Live on the budget you agreed on. Our first deployment, my way of coping with loneliness was by seeking out my friends… at the mall. (Yikes.) Luckily, I was working full time, so it didn’t affect us financially, but it would have been really nice to save more money during that deployment. Agree on a budget you can both live with, automatically deduct what he needs to his Eagle Card and then discipline yourself. Pay down debt, make wise decisions, and when you feel like you need to spend money go ahead and write that check… payable to the savings account. You’ll feel better when you can afford that vacation when he comes home as opposed to being embarrassed by your lack of self-control. No, you do not need those Uggs, they will not make you miss him less.
7. Communicate. Write. Letters. Emails. Journals. Carrier Pigeons. Tell him every mundane detail (and maybe what color underwear you’re wearing), and make sure your marriage doesn’t just survive, but thrives. Make care packages with his favorite things and take the time to do it as often as possible (ahem, see budget comment above, those suckers aren’t cheap). And while we communicate…
8. Tell him what’s bothering you. If you expect full disclosure from him, then you’d better give it in return. If the kids have you pulling out your hair with report cards and sports, then tell him! I’m not saying distract him with needless girl-drama, but if you want him to stay your best friend, then treat him as such. You’re still married, just separated by distance, not heart. Share your worries, and share his, but be prepared that some of this sharing might be one-sided. As much as you want to know what’s bothering him and understand what he’s going through, he might just need to escape it when he calls, to feel like he’s there with you. So forgive him this and don’t push, he’ll talk to you about his experiences when he’s ready.
9. Speak kindly. Always. Say “I love you” first thing when he calls, because you don’t know when that line will get cut off, and deployment-speaking, don’t leave yourself with a regret. Word of warning: You will curse the internet, and the phones more than once. They’re kind of like roulette, some times you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not. Don’t fight, if something is annoying you, let it go. If it’s like a thorn in your side, then address it, but if it’s something that doesn’t matter in the over-all scheme of things, just LET IT GO. Never end a conversation on a fight because you don’t know when you’ll get a chance to talk again. I hate to say it, but even “if” you get the chance. Make sure at the end of every time you talk to him, you’re telling him that you love him and assuring him that you’re okay and holding down the fort.
10. Use common sense when it comes to social media. Seriously. Respect a blackout, and don’t be the ignorant girl who lets something slip regarding a KIA, or a return date. Use OPSEC and PERSEC. No seriously. Do it.
11. Lean on other spouses. Not the crazy ones, but the good ones. The crazy ones typically start with “Hi! I hate drama, but did you hear about so-and-so?” Steer clear. Good ones are steady, stable, ready to help. Not only lean on these spouses, but become one of these spouses. One day it will be you helping out a first-timer.
12. Find a hobby, get a job, go back to school… fill your time with things that will better you as a person. You know the whole “watched pot never boils?” Well, a year is going to go even slower if you aren’t finding ways to productively fill it. Be proud of what you learn to accomplish on your own. You are more than just a military spouse, so go discover what makes you “you” so he has an even better “you” to come home to.
13. Don’t cheat. Yup. That’s all I’m going to say about that one. Seriously though. Wait. He’s worth it.
14. Lastly, you’re going to cry. Just accept it. There will be days at the beginning where you feel like you can’t last this long. There will be nights when the worry will weigh upon you and phone calls haven’t come. There will be Christmas songs that send you over the edge, and homecoming videos that have mascara running down your face. There will be memorial ceremonies that wring every last bit of your soul dry, leaving only a paralyzing fear, but hold on. Cry it out when you need to. Watch a chick flick, read a book, give yourself that moment and get it out. But then, you pick yourself up and you stand. You laugh, you sing, you live. This year is not frozen, nor is it wasted. Push past the fear and the loneliness and the sadness, because this is the life we chose and you ARE strong enough.
15. (This is lastly, I promise)… Plan for the future. Plan a post-deployment vacation together while he’s gone. Give each other something to look forward to, a chance to think about something non-deployment related. Plan to dress up when you pick him up. New clothes, new lingerie, the whole nine yards. Make that the best first impression yet, and celebrate the reunion that you’ve both worked so hard for. You will make it.
Oh, and that reunion kiss? It’s almost worth going through that deployment for.
You will get there. You will make it.
A Spouse Who Has Been Where You Are