About half way through Seth and I’s deployment, I came across a blog post written by an Army wife titled “Why You Will Rock This Deployment” or something similar. And it was absolutely amazing. As a military wife, it is so awesome to meet or connect with someone who is going through the exact same thing as you because, let’s face it, we are living an extremely unique lifestyle that no one really gets unless they are living it. That doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate other peoples’ empathy. It doesn’t mean that we want to be this little exclusive clique of people who “get it.” It doesn’t meant that we think less of other people that aren’t living the same lifestyle that we are. All it means is that when we interact with someone who is going through exactly what we are going through and gets it, it’s really special.
The blog post I stumbled across was that for me. Big time. Every word she said spoke to feelings I had been experiencing the last several months. I laughed while reading it. I cried while reading it. It was huge for me, and I went back and read it probably once a week from that point on. I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but something about reading this girl’s post who felt exactly what I felt, did exactly what I did, and thought exactly what I thought meant so much to me. It was like talking to a friend who was stepping along the deployment right next to me and having the exact same experience.
So that is why I decided to write this post about my deployment experience. But I have to get real with you before I start…I’m nervous about this. It is very important to me, and I’ve been writing it in my head for the last nine months. It will be the most personal thing I have ever posted on here, and it’s out of my comfort zone. But if it makes one person, just one person, feel the way I did as I read that blog post, it will be worth it.
So, to the wives.
Before Seth (my husband) left, I would not have considered myself a very independent person. We have been dating since my freshman year of college and spent basically every second that we could together since then. The longest we had been apart before this deployment was three months, and even that was hard for me. AND it was just for training. This was a deployment…real life. Potentially dangerous. So many things could happen.
The thought of my absolute best friend, my favorite person on this planet, leaving me for close to a year was so overwhelming, I just couldn’t even accept it. As we approached the deployment, and as it got closer and closer and closer, I remember feeling like I was being pushed towards a cliff, dragging my heels into the ground, but being pushed forward despite my efforts. I was being pushed towards this cliff’s edge, and I had no idea what was going to happen when I fell off that ledge. How I was going to handle the distance, how lonely I was going to be, how much I was going to miss him? I just had no idea.
I tried to stay in denial for as long as possible, because there is really no point in thinking about it 24/7 and ruining your last few weeks/months together. But as the few days before the deployment arrived, there was nothing I could do but accept that it was happening. And soon.
The day before he left, I switched between feeling numb and feeling absolutely devastated. During the numb phases, I was able to actually enjoy our time together and still pretend it wasn’t happening. During the devastation phases, we would just hold each other and cry, not even able to comprehend being away from one another for nine months.
The night before he left, I could barely fall asleep, and I was experiencing a depth of sadness that I have never felt in my life. I was absolutely crushed that he was leaving. My heart was just aching; I felt almost physical pain.
The morning he left, I woke up around four am and drove him to his building. I sobbed the entire drive there, holding his hand so tightly I probably left a bruise. The actual goodbye was quick, neither of us wanted to prolong it. He walked away – I got back in the car. Again, I have never felt anything in my life that is equivalent to the devastation I felt at this point. It was like a hole had been ripped through my chest. I felt like I was going to be sick to my stomach. I had to pull over when I was on my way home because I thought I was going to throw up. I finally got home and fell asleep.
When I woke up the next morning, I was still sad, but it wasn’t quite as bad. I took a shower, and when I stepped out, I saw that Seth had written “I Love You” on the mirror from when he showered earlier that morning, hoping I would see it when my shower steamed up the bathroom mirror later that day. This triggered more ugly crying (ugly crying was a pretty significant part of these few days).
These few days were also filled with some pretty pathetic moments…like spraying his cologne on my clothes and my pillows and ugly crying, again. I let myself feel it, I let myself be devastated. I figured it would be good to get it all out of my system and then wake up the next day and move forward.
And that’s pretty much exactly what happened… I woke up the next morning, and I felt SO much better. I felt good. The hardest part was over, the goodbyes were over, the first day was over. This deployment that we had been dreading for a year had finally started, and now the countdown could begin. Now we could stop dreading something and look forward to something instead. I was extremely surprised how quickly I felt okay again.
I went to work, and my amazing students filled my desk with a million little things – pumpkin spice lattes, Starbucks’ gift cards, sweet notes, handmade scarves and hats, candy, and SO many other things. I had a tight support system around me, and they really lifted me up during this difficult time.
Here’s the thing…when your husband deploys, people come out of the woodwork with overwhelming support and love. I developed some extremely deep relationships with people because they were my people when my person was gone. My students, my colleagues – they were my people. And for that reason, they hold a special place in my heart that no one else will ever be able to fill.
The rest of the deployment felt like it was never going to end – it felt like it would last forever. I was okay and happy for most of it – I definitely wasn’t depressed. I had a great year; got to know some amazing people, I loved my job, I worked out a lot, developed my blog a lot – tons of positive things happened. But it still felt like the deployment was going to last forever. I kind of felt like I was on autopilot for the entirety of his deployment. Despite the positive time I had when he was gone, he was still gone.
I had good days and I had bad days. I had WAY more good than bad, but there were still tough days sprinkled in every now and then. And on those bad days, I felt like I couldn’t do it for another four months, six months, two months – whatever it was. I felt like if he didn’t get home that second, I was going to lose my mind. These days came more often when crazy stuff was happening in my personal life that I felt I needed him there for. A hard day at work. Family drama. Boone’s broken foot/surgery experience from hell (uugghhhh). Seth is my rock – he levels me out and makes my life so bright and wonderful. Without his calming and stabilizing presence, the drama in my personal life was exacerbated, and I felt like I needed him more than ever.
But, like I said, the bad days didn’t come nearly as often as the good days. And for the most part, the deployment was way easier than I thought it would be. And it continued to get easier and easier as the months whittled away. I remember when there were four months left, that seemed like nothing to me, and I finally felt like I was on the down hill slope of this year.
That portion of the deployment is kind of fun because you are so freaking excited for them to come home, you can hardy see straight. Imagining the homecoming just plasters a huge smile on your face and puts you in the best mood. It keeps getting closer and closer, and your excitement continues to mount.
Finally, it was almost over! BUT, the week before he got home threw me for a total loop because I was not expecting to feel how I felt. I was expecting to be so excited he was coming home that I was bouncing up and down every minute of the day. I was expecting these days to be some of the best of my life. Instead, they were some of the most confusing days of my life. I have never been more confused by my emotions than I was throughout the several days prior to his homecoming.
Instead of feeling excited beyond belief, I was extremely nervous and anxious. So much so that I didn’t even feel that excited about seeing him again. I was so scared. Once Seth left, I built a new life for myself here. I got used to him being gone, and that was the norm. A lot had changed in my life, and I had changed as a person. I had grown stronger and very independent. I was terrified that we wouldn’t click like we did before, that our marriage wouldn’t be as wonderful as it was.
I was worried about the independence I had built and how I would feel when Seth came back into my world. It wasn’t going to be just me anymore, and I didn’t know what that would mean for my life – that scared me.
And I felt EXTREMELY guilty for feeling these things. I felt like an awful person for feeling anything other than blind excitement. So, to sum it up, I was feeling stressed, nervous, anxious, scared, worried, excited, and guilty. See why it was such an emotionally confusing time? The second I saw his face, all of that went away. The blind excitement was all that was left over. We clicked right back into place for the first few days.
The first few days were paradise. Like a honeymoon on steroids. Hands down the best days of my life. But then, as things started to settle down, I was feeling some hesitation on my part. We already know that Seth is deploying again next year – we already have a tentative date. And because of that, it’s like my mind was trying to self-protect; I wasn’t letting myself get used to him being back or be totally thrilled about it because I knew he was leaving again next year. “Yeah, it’s nice he’s back right now, but remember – he is leaving again next year. Don’t let yourself be as stupid happy as you were before he left the first time or else it will be just as hard when he leaves again.” << That’s what it felt like my mind was saying. It’s almost like how when you go through a breakup, you are very cautious to jump back into things with the same person because you are afraid of being hurt again. I know we have another deployment coming up, and if I keep my distance, it won’t hurt as bad when he leaves again.
We were still having a wonderful time together, and I was still so happy he was home, but there was definitely some significant emotional hesitation on my end. After several days/a week or two of that, I realized that if I didn’t snap out of this frame of mind, I was going to waste the time I did have with him. So I just let it go. I let that hesitation and that trepidation go, and that’s when things really got good. Better than honeymoon good – real life, real marriage, real Annie and Seth good. I felt like we were back to the fun, goofy couple that we were before the deployment. I know that it’s going to be awful when he leaves again next year, but I have to make the most of this year while I have him.
I talked about the beginning, and I talked about the end. But what was the middle like? The big stretch of in-between, where you are just figuring stuff out. The middle for me is more like a bunch of little things than an easy, one paragraph description…
Skyping and choking up when I saw his face. Hearing his voice made me feel homesick, even though he’s the one that’s away from home.
Thinking it will never end. Ever. But, listen – it DOES end. It really does, even though it feels like it never will.
Cathartic ugly crying in the shower and into your pillow. I don’t know what it is about sobbing your eyes out, but I always felt so much better afterwards.
A mix of awful days and amazing days. Sometimes I thought, “I literally cannot do this. I can’t.” But then you do. You get through that day, and you wake up the next morning feeling better. And every single time that happens, every single time, you get a little bit stronger. And by the end you’re tough as nails. Every hard day makes you better in the long run. It makes you stronger, and it makes your marriage stronger.
Days where I honestly didn’t even think about the fact he was gone. I got so used to it and kept myself busy.
Emotional pride when the National Anthem played at sporting events.
The development of my relationships with other military wives who were going through the same thing I was.
SUPER binge watching marathons. Thank you Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon ?.
Popcorn for dinner.
Clean houses and very little laundry. But then one second later missing the mess and the clothes because it means he’s home.
Hearing creepy sounds at night and wishing he was there to keep me safe. (Also…spiders.)
Avoiding the news like the plague.
Avoiding homecoming videos like the plague (until a few weeks before your homecoming).
Counting down the days and thinking that six months sounds the same as six years.
An unbelievable support system that I never realized I had.
Becoming WAY more obsessed with my animals (if that’s even possible).
Learning to do things alone and being totally fine with it – eating out, going to church.
Some days feeling literal, physical pain because I missed him so much, and some days feeling like I could tackle this deployment and five more in the future.
Staying busy, busy, busy, BUSY. Going hard from when I woke up in the morning to 9 o’clock at night so that time flies and I wasn’t just sitting around, thinking.
My biggest rock throughout Seth’s deployment was my relationship with God. When I felt like I was falling, when I felt like I literally couldn’t do it for one more day, He held me up. He pushed me through. When I was sad, I would read Bible verses about casting your anxiety and worries and problems on Him. About Him carrying our burdens and struggles on His shoulders to release the weight from our own. I read about how passionately and intensely He loves us, and my relationship with Him filled the gaping hole that Seth’s absence left in me. He made me so strong when I was at my weakest points.
I met a lady several months ago who was married to a World War II soldier. Not only did he fight in the war, but he was a prisoner of war from soon after he deployed until the War was over. I asked her, “How in the world did you even get out of bed in the morning? How were you strong enough to live your life when you knew the situation he was in?” She said something back to me that I thought of every day for the remainder of Seth’s deployment: “What was I going to do? Sit around and stew in my circumstances, letting my fear cripple me, or trust God? Difficult circumstances like the one I was in give us a chance to practice our faith. Faith doesn’t become real until you practice it. It’s easy to go float along in your easy day-to-day life and say you have “faith.” It’s during times like these that you really know whether or not your faith is real. And the hard times are when your faith grows.” I’ll never forget her words, ever.
So this was my experience, wives. And maybe it is WAY more dramatic than yours. Maybe it is similar to yours. Maybe yours was just totally and completely different…but this was mine. People tell me all the time that I am so strong. That they could never do what I do. But here’s the thing…deployments are what make you strong. I can’t take credit for any of it – it’s not a personal accomplishment that I gained strength while Seth was gone. You HAVE to be strong to get through a deployment – you have no choice. These months shape you into a strong, independent person because you have to be that strong, independent person. Even if you aren’t strong right now, you will be. This experience will bring out that strength in you.
Here’s the thing. As you can probably tell from this post, I am kind of a baby. If I could, I would spend every single waking moment of every day for the rest of my life with my husband – he is so, SO awesome, and we have such a great time together. I’m not saying that to brag about my marriage – my point is this: if I can do this, you definitely can. I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to being away from Seth, and I got through it and was totally fine. Yes, some days are tough, but most days are good. Yes, it feels like it’s going to last forever, but it doesn’t. It ends. And then you get to experience his homecoming, which is literally one of the most exhilarating days of your life. It topped my wedding day by a laaarrggee margin.
If your husband is about to deploy or if you are right at the beginning, you’ve got this. It won’t be as bad as you think – I promise. Stay busy, and it will end. If you are in the last few months, you rock! You are so close to being done. Don’t feel any guilt or confusion about strange emotions you experience the days/weeks before they get home and the days/weeks after they get back. Everything you are feeling is normal. There’s nothing wrong with you or your marriage. Everyone feels weird.
Deployments suck, but there are also huge positives. Your marriage grows so much through the experience. You become so strong as a couple. You are like this team that is working together to push through this really challenging time, and each day you get through, you become stronger and stronger. Once the whole thing is over and you made it through, other problems that the world throws at your marriage seem like nothing. Like a grain of sand compared to a boulder.
You become independent and do awesome things for yourself. I got super involved at work, devoted a lot of time to the blog, changed my lifestyle to eat extra healthy and work out every day, losing almost twenty pounds in the process – the point is, you get time to work on YOU.
On top of all that, on top of the challenging parts and the good parts, you get to be married to your hero. I’m not talking about the little fluffy, “Ohhhh he’s my hero,” thing that people say because it sounds sweet. I mean, legit. He is sacrificing everything he has for you, for his family and friends, for his country. Leaving everything he knows and everything he loves for close to a year, working twelve hour shifts seven days a week because he wants to serve his country, because he is that selfless and wonderful. You get to be married to your hero, and that is one of the coolest things ever. You get the honor of being married to someone who is doing something so meaningful and selfless. And if he is willing to give up everything to serve others, then we can be strong, support them, and stick right by their sides through the tough stuff – the deployments, the training, the cross-country distance from family and friends. We can be strong for them, because they deserve strong, tough wives who will be there no matter what the Army throws at us.
Whatever phase of the deployment you are in right now, you’ve got this. It won’t last forever, and you will come out so much stronger on the other side. If I can do it, you can do it – trust me.