It’s the first day of the latest deployment. Number Four. I’m remembering the last three, and dreading every stage that lies ahead. Since he’s going to go to a base down south first for training, this first 2-3 month stage is a “half caf deployed” state. He’s close enough to make a phone call and still be only one hour away from the same time zone. The only danger comes from the snakes, scorpions and spiders at Ft. Polk – not an IED or a disgruntled local national.
After that will be the 12 months downrange. The 24/7 tension; the Blackberry that goes everywhere with me; care package packing; wondering what/where/how/when…
I’ve done this three other times with him, and once with our son. I know the stages, the initial loneliness, the need to fill up the day with “doing” or “going”. Then the nesting stage, the reluctance to leave the house, which can degenerate into refusal to get off the couch or get out of bed, staying in the same comfy clothes or sweat pants and his t-shirt, eating junk food and calling out for delivery pizza.
There’s a dark place there too, the one that is so easy to sink into. The sun doesn’t shine through those tightly closed drapes; it’s so so easy to not pick up the phone if it isn’t him; it’s so easy to not respond to emails, or not to go to a meeting or make an excuse to not have lunch with a friend.
It’s also easy to stick on a smile when it’s necessary, put on a brave face, give that “ I’m just fine” answer to concerned friends and family. It’s easier that way, easier to just deny to everyone else that you are hurting. Easier than admitting it hurts, easier than accepting that smothering sympathy, or answer the constant questions; easier to shove it all down and away; easier to deny the pain.
When a friend sent me the link to Jessica’s suicide note – and after we found out that she was not successful in committing suicide, I read it again, and again. I haven’t gone through the pain of rejection from my spouse, or been treated in the despicable way she was – but I’ve heard this before. The “here take a pill” attitude; the turning a blind eye to the drinking and substance abuse problems by the command; the lack of resources for military spouses.
Each of us hits a point, each of us of us has a limit of what we can handle, each of us has a line that we shouldn’t cross. I haven’t hit it yet, but like many of us, I’ve skirted that line, I’ve circled that point, and come very close to that limit. My friends pulled me out, their love and compassion, their unequivocal support was what kept me from diving into that deep pit during the second deployment, when we found out that their already 18 month deployment was going to be extended and eventually hit 22 months. They didn’t go away, they didn’t listen to me say “I’m fine, go away”.
During that time, I also tried using a counselor. I’m an advocate for counseling, talking it out with a “referee” helped us with family counseling with our teenage son. This counselor, well meaning and trying oh so hard, did nothing for me, other than make me very angry. Angry that I spent my time translating Army for him; angry that he compared his wife’s 3 week trip to the ongoing deployment; angry that his answer for my pain and rage was “you need to talk to your husband more” – when we were grateful for a once a week, half hour phone call. But he did give me a vent, did help me talk to someone who was disconnected (too much) which I needed.
A couple of weeks ago a friend “went dark”. She hid her Facebook page, her email simply said “I’ll be back after I work out something”, she refused to answer her phone. Coming after the Jessica matter, some of us refused to listen. We called, we texted her and told her that until we actually were acknowledged, we would keep it up. She got mad; that’s fine by me, she has to be alive to be mad.
I get angry when I hear directed to a spouse in despair “you knew what you were getting into” or “you volunteered” or “don’t let anyone on the outside see you in pain” or “suck it up” or “pull up your big girl panties”. That’s not helping, that’s not supporting that spouse. Trying to pretend we aren’t in pain, aren’t exhausted from all these years of deployments, is foolish. Worse yet, it’s dangerous. Internalizing our anger, internalizing the pain, internalizing the despair – this doesn’t help anyone deal with these real emotions.