Facing Conflicting Feelings After Deployment

If you read The Top 10 Ways You Know it Has Been a Long Deployment, you might have guessed that I am nearing the end of a 12 month stint of having my husband in Afghanistan.

And, you would probably guess that I am elated at the prospect of having him home soon. You would be almost entirely right.

FacingConflictingFeelingsAfterDeploymentPart of my heart remains in denial so that the walls I have so carefully constructed in the interest of self-preservation won’t come crumbling down before I get to kiss him. Most of you can probably understand, if not relate to that. But, conflicted? It seems nobody ever talks about that. Well, at least not until it is on the verge of being too late.

We both deployed together to Kuwait and then to Iraq in 2003. During his second deployment, I was still working 16+ hour days in the Army and our fist son was only about 8 months old when he returned home. This time around, I am a full-time, stay-at-home Mommy to two busy, young boys and things are very different.

Every deployment is different. They each present unique challenges and opportunities. Click To Tweet

For the last year, I have been the sole parental figure, disciplinarian, gardener, mechanic, chef, chauffeur, cheerleader, maid, shopper, teacher’s aide, counselor and physician’s assistant. I even went by myself to file our Taxes. All while enduring the personal sadness of missing my very best friend and confidant. I have used some of my “free time” to grow spiritually, create lasting friendships with other women going through the same thing, conceive of a business plan, begin a blog, and challenge myself physically. I have also, on occasion, neglected piles of clean laundry and dirty dishes, left crumbs on the table overnight, failed to pick up all the toys before bed, fed my children breakfast for dinner, justified a monthly massage in our health and wellness budget, waited to clean until company was coming, cried, bribed my children for good behavior weekly with Frozen Yogurt Fridays, and probably indulged in more wine and sweets than would be considered advisable.

I’m not proud of every moment of it, but I am proud of the year as a whole. We made it! We developed routines and schedules that work for us. I learned the importance of choosing my battles and managed to prioritize a few things on my to-do list every once in a while. Now, my family is faced with the challenge of undoing some of what was done in order to re-incorporate our Soldier into our daily lives.

Please don’t take this to mean I am anything less than thankful that my husband is coming home. I am all too aware that many wives who would give anything to face the struggles of reintegrating their Soldier to family life. And others whose role of caregiver to their Wounded Warrior will forever overshadow any sense of what was once normal. I thank God every day for keeping my husband safe and will rejoice when I am once again in his loving arms, but I think we do Army families a distinct disservice to assume that it will be all joy once they depart from the reunion ceremony.

That is when the hard work begins. The Army has trained spouses to be their most independent selves for 12 months and praised them for doing so. And we did it all so that our Soldier could stay focused on their dangerous mission and come home safe. Now, the “man of the house” is coming home and the situation could go in so many different directions.

Does he want to take everything back over as soon as he sets foot in the house or will he want a grace period to get acquainted with how things work? Will he understand that I did the best I could under the circumstances? Will that be good enough? Will he leave me to carry the burden indefinitely now that I’ve proven myself? Will the kids play Daddy’s guilty conscience in matters of discipline? Will he respect the bond I formed with my own “battle buddy” who likely knows more about what went on under his roof for the last year than he ever will? Do I need to consult his calendar before scheduling a Girls’ Night Out or signing up for a race? Will I remember how to cook a meal worthy of what his mind has been conjuring up while eating in the mess hall?  Will the things that I let the kids get away with while he was gone set him off? Will I once again resent and fear when he has to work late or our plans change because of last-minute tasking?

And those are just some of the questions from the home-front perspective. His life has been so different for the last 12 months that I wouldn’t even begin to hazard a guess as to what his questions about coming home might be….and I have been a deployed Soldier. A man who has lived under combat conditions for 12 months may have a variety of expectations and opinions on a clean home, a warm meal and a loving wife and children. I can’t imagine what it would be like for a man to return from a successful combat tour and find that his wife no longer needs him in all the same ways she did before he left. I would imagine reactions to the home life to which we have become accustomed could be as varied as the men themselves.

I can’t answer a single one of those questions today, but I’d like to think that my husband and I have chosen the route of opportunity. We have already begun to identify some of these issues and how we can implement the things each of us has learned this last year into a prioritized family plan. Apparently, he doesn’t expect things quite as neat and tidy as I had previously assumed. I now know that he plans to take a slow approach to re-learning his role as a husband and father, so I will not misinterpret his lack of immediate action as apathy. I’d like to think we can use this year of separation to determine what is critical to our happiness and what we can let slide. But I believe that the only way for any of us to get through it is by honest communication and compromise.

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So, yes I am a little conflicted about my Soldier returning home. I will be giving up this life of independence where I have learned to rely on myself and my battle buddy in order for my husband and I to re-learn how to navigate married life. My prayer for us and for all the other Army families preparing to welcome home their Soldier, is that we will come out on the other side of reintegration stronger as a family for having endured this experience.

I would be honored if you would share this with others who might find it beneficial. If you have words of wisdom about this or any other re-deployment advice, please post your comments below for all of us to learn from and enjoy.

10 thoughts on “Facing Conflicting Feelings After Deployment

  1. Very well put. When my hubby first became full-time Army I remember thinking the worst case is he’ll get Korea for a year. BOY was I wrong. September 11 came and now we have been through 4 deployments. Some from stateside bases, some from European bases. Some through the stages of babies, toddlers, school-age, and tweens. My battle buddies also got me through it. Communication has improved going from satelitte phone calls, to emails, to VTC’s, and Skype. We have always had a good relationship and I have found I’m very independent to begin with. I chalk it up to being raised by a strong, single Mom. I think patience. Lots of patience. To find out how to slowly get back into a new routine. The new normal. Listen, don’t just talk. You’ve been the single Mom. He’s been the soldier. It has brought our family VERY close. We now know time is precious. More then the everyday routines. Know you are not alone. Godspeed to our soldiers. Hugs to all those battle buddies.

  2. Very well written and enjoyed every word! it is about time that one of us comes out with the reintegration process and you did a great job putting into words what it really does feel like! Thank you =)

    1. Thanks, Nicole! I hope you will share it with your husband and friends! I feel very strongly about the darker side of redeployment and hope that my words can encourage and empower other spouses to start talking!

  3. You really know how to get to the “meat” of an issue, Liz. I liked this so much. And, as far as the confliction…we all know it’s there, and I think it takes a whole lot of courage to say it “out loud.” I know there are plenty of women who will read this and be very thankful that you wrote it!

  4. WOW!! You were able to put into words every single thing I felt and continue to feel as we are going through our adjustment period of being reunited after 16 long months of deployment to both Iraq and Afghanistan and this was our 4th/ 5th deployment. My soldier has been home for almost 2 weeks now and I just said to him last night that I was sorry – that I am trying to readjust as well! It wasn’t after a fight or anything, but I felt that maybe I let him down because I was scrambling to put a dinner on the table last minute after the kids activities. I didn’t think that pancakes or oatmeal or a hot dog with some fruit and carrots would suffice for a dinner for him like it did for us happily many of nights! I’m learning to adjust to someone sleeping in the bed next to me again, to having to run the dishwasher almost daily now, to two extra loads of laundry a week, to having to make a larger dinner each night, to someone controlling the remote after I put the kids to bed, to going to make the kids lunches for school and seeing that there is only one piece of bread left or barely enough milk for one bowl of cereal instead of two – please don’t get me wrong, I am so incredibly thankful to have my husband and my kids father back at home with us, but there is definately adjustments to make on both sides of the coin, not just the soldier. Communication is key, so it seems like you are on the right track for sure! As many times over the year that we’ve talked about what the kids activities are (gymnastics, acting, sports, etc.), I know he wouldn’t know when we did what so I made up a family calendar/chart and hung up on the fridge with out activities so he could see where we were if we weren’t home and also so he was able to talk with the kids about what we were doing – gymnastics on Mondays at 5:15 and then dinner out afterwards (mommy’s night off!) – had to make sure he knew I wasn’t making dinner that night! The kids and I made him a quiet space upstairs – we just placed a chair in our room – this is him space for when he needs some peace and quiet or time to think or be away from us. The noises of the house (and the rest of the neighborhood kids running in and out) are much different than the ones he’s experienced the last year plus – we know that when he is in this space that he needs a little quiet time. We also have put our chore chart up and included daddy in the chores too – my kids were 3 & 5 when my husband left and they are now 5 & 7 so a lot of change has happened in all of our lives and I know he may feel a type of loss and wondering where he fits in now seeing that we all survived without him, although there were days we were hanging by a thread! The hardest adjustment for us is making time for me still and time for my battle buddies and friends that have become family for me. I’ve included my exercise time on our family chart/calendar and am excited with him back home that I can start running on the weekends now without having to hire a babysitter – I just have to make sure to remind him he’s up on Saturday morning because I am out the door! I didn’t start running until he deployed and was able to run a half-marathon while he was home for his first R&R and he got to be there and bring the kids to cheer me on – it was a great accomplishment for me and I was happy he was there for it! He has always been a runner, me not so much so we have talked about it and worked out a schedule to train for the Honolulu Marathon coming this December – it is something new we can do both together and apart when we need to fit our schedule. We’ve never run together before his second R&R when we ran the Army 10-miler together and it was really nice to have my favorite partner ever!

    The kids will fall into stride much easier – they don’t keep their walls up as much as we do, because we know what the future holds (already scheduled for deployment next summer again!) but the kids live in the moment. Continue to talk, walk, make dates, give space and love and cherish every moment possible! We have to hurt some to make the love that much sweeter and let the walls down even if it means there is hurt in the future. Please don’t ever feel you are alone in your feelings – I think so many of us feel this way, but truly don’t feel it’s right to express it because we feel we should just be happy because our soldier is one of the lucky ones who is coming home and so many never will. It’s ok to feel this way because it means that you are feeling! Good Luck!!

    1. Thanks, Sue! Many blessings to you and your family! Did you read any of my other posts? I have started “running” this year, too. 🙂

      1. A laughed out loud about the remote control. I remember that, too. Great outlet for stress…running. And positive for the kids to see. God bless your soldier and family. Thanks for sharing.

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