Friday, January 28, 2011

Deployment Can Be Tough.

My husband and I have always had a strong, loving marriage.
We've always communicated better than most couples we know, we had to, to maintain our relationship when we so often SO far apart - and we've always treated each other with love, affection and respect.

But this deployment, despite not being our first rodeo, threw a spanner into the works.

This is our first deployment and separation since having Wesley. While he works 48 hours straight once every 2 weeks because of duty, one night alone is not the same as 9 months. And thats 9 months without being able to call when I needed to talk. 9 months without contact on my own terms. It was all on someone else's terms.

Having Wesley changed my coping mechanisms and reactions to things. It changed ME. Obviously.

I'm not the same person I was 5 years ago or even 3 years ago. Heck, I'm not the same person I was 1 year ago, now.

When Tommy and I were in the depths of our long-distance relationship, I'm not proud to admit, I was a needy person. Well, to honest, I think I've always been a needy person.
I was never comfortable in my own company, I always wanted people around me. I was highly social. Rarely alone. And if I was physically alone, I was on the phone talking to someone.

My husband was always understanding of this side of my personality - he indulged it, really - always was there whenever I asked. He gave up a lot to keep me feeling secure and happy. And for that, I'm incredibly grateful.

Anyway, moving along. Back in the day, I spent a lot of a time working myself around his schedule. Waiting for his phone calls, waiting for his emails. Showering him with all the love I had for him. Sending emails, letters and card telling him just how much I loved and missed him and how much I couldn't wait to see him again.

This time? This time I was busy. This time? I was exhausted. This time? It was a steep learning curve.

My mother came over to the States to be with me when Tommy left. She came with me to keep me company, sane and to stop me laying in bed for days on end, just waiting for the phone to ring. She'll never really know how much I appreciate that.

(This is incredibly hard to write. I'm trying so hard to be honest - but there are facets of my personality that I'm not so proud of - but to understand why deployment rips marriages and families apart, I need to be upfront about these not so stellar traits of mine.)

So. I think I got off track there for a second. And now I have to find my way back to my original point.

So, my Mum was there, to help me wade through the cloud of sadness that descends when you wave good bye to your spouse, not knowing what the future really holds. (Because thats a whole other focus point, the doubt, worry and fear that something may happen. I can't even go in to that, because there aren't even words for it.)
She was there to keep me focused on what was important - getting up and putting on a brave face for my son. Making sure he was taken care of, protected and happy.

And she did such a great job of keeping me busy, that she set the tone for the next 8 months.

My sister came to visit for 10 days after Mum left, and then I went home to Australia for 6 weeks.

I was busy, busy, busy. I was seeing people, doing activities and sight seeing with Wesley. Taking care of him, playing with him, preparing his meals, washing his clothes and nappies/diapers. Falling in to bed at the end of the day, exhausted.

And because I kept myself busy and, really, distanced from the emotions that come along with the situation, it set the tone for the rest of the deployment. I didn't allow myself to FEEL what I needed to feel. Which was sadness, loneliness and missing of my husband.

Avoidance. Oh dear. Another one of my not-so-stellar traits.

I started out avoiding the crappy feelings, and really, if I'm honest, avoiding my husband, because it made it easier to avoid the feelings associated with what was happening in my life. I avoided sending him emails, because while I was in Australia, he didn't call, because (I assume) he didn't know where I would be, if I would be home, and I think he had difficulties with keeping track of the time zone differences.

And when I got back to the US, he still didn't call. At least, not enough for me! (I went 11 weeks without a phone call once during this deployment. At the end of the 11 weeks, I was... well, barely sane!)

He was stationed on a small base in Afghanistan that was run by the Romanians. There weren't great resources for the US troops, compared to the bigger bases that the US run.
There were less phones. Much more unreliable internet with a MUCH slower bandwidth.
(Though, I acknowledge I had it a thousand times better than spouses did just 20 years ago, even!)

And, the longer he didn't call, the less I emailed. It turned into a vicious cycle.

I was angry with him for not making more of an effort to call. I was angry with him because I felt like he didn't realise what this was doing to me, and what it was doing to our son.
Our son can't read emails. Our son needed to hear his voice, or see his face on Skype. Neither of which is was doing. (Skype wasn't his fault, if I'm fair. (Though, at the time, I wasn't fair. I blamed him.)
He did try - but the bandwidth issue left us with grainy, frozen images, no sound and then would eventually disconnect us. It never worked out, not one time!)

And, here I go on to another side track - I had to deal with my son's emotions and behavioural problems that came with Tommy's deployment. His sadness and longing for his Daddy. His grief at not understanding. His ANGER. (He would beat his "Daddy Doll on things. He would bite it. He would throw it.)
His night terrors, because really, what 15-24 month old (The age he was while Tommy was gone) can really sort through these kind of emotions.

That morphed into guilt, for me. I felt guilty that I had married Tommy, had a child with him, knowing it was inevitable that he would go away, as long as he was in the Navy. I felt serious guilt, like I had done this to our son. Sure, irrational - but it was there.
I felt guilty I wasn't able to be Mummy AND Daddy as well as I needed to.
I felt guilty that there were times I was short tempered with him, because I was exhausted from doing it all alone for so long.
And then that guilt turned into anger. This isn't how it's supposed to be. I wasn't supposed to be doing it alone. I was suppose to be a part of team. But my other half wasn't there. He wasn't a phone call away. He was an email, when he got the chance to check it, away.

You can see the complexity of it all. And I feel like I haven't even scratched the surface.

There was a period, just over 1/2 way through the deployment, Tommy and I talked and hashed it out. He agreed to try harder, seeing (but not really understanding) that it was something I needed. He felt my disconnect, he felt my anger, but he didn't understand it. But he agreed to try, showing his wonderful, amazing personality again.

Somehow, though, as happens in deployments, and life really, things happen. The phone lines fell, he had to work through the agreed time, he let one of his junior sailors use the phone ahead of him, whatever - the result was, he couldn't call the agreed amount (which was once ever 10 days, for those who are interested.) And the cycle started again.

In my defense, sitting down and writing an email is not easy when you're trying to keep yourself and your toddler sane. (While you're trying to teach your curious toddler not to TOUCH the laptop.)
I was dealing with every single responsibility in life, the money, the bills, the housework, raising a child who is deep in the middle of the terrible twos.
(I'm not going to lie - I called my mother multiple times a week sobbing saying "I can't do it. He's just TOO naughty. He's thrown himself on the floor in a tantrum 15 times today. I can't do it!")

I suppose I could've made more of an effort when Wesley was napping (which was rare, because he went on sleep strikes regularly while Tommy was away) or when he went to bed at night - but I was tired. Emotionally and physically exhausted and I just wanted brain-numbing tv to check out of reality.

I should point out one other thing. I was ALONE. Like, REALLY ALONE.

I live in a country where my family isn't. Where I have a few (really, not many) excellent, high quality, top-notch friends. But, really, they're all military spouses themselves, deep in the depths of this crap themselves. And some of them don't even live in the same state as me. Another one of the challenges, we face, as military families.

You make friends, friends you can lean on in hard times, friends you trust enough to leave your kids with... then the military sends you away, to a new duty station and you have to start over. It's FUCKING hard. Like, you can't even really understand unless you've done it.

My in-laws were... I don't know where. I didn't hear from them at all while my husband was gone. (And, cue anger again. Serious anger and resentment. Family are suppose to be the people you can lean on, and where was my husbands family?? The grandparents of my child?? Where were they?? To this day, I don't have the answer. I'm much too chicken to ask or tell them of my anger over the situation.)

Basically, I had two lovely friends in the area who hung out with me and Wes, and a handful of friends outside Virginia Beach, who I talked to regularly - well, VENTED to, regularly.
But, I was doing this all alone. No baby sitting breaks. Heck, I didn't even get TOILET or SHOWER breaks, unless my kid was sleeping. No one to share the load with. I cooked every meal, I did every bath, I changed every diaper/nappy. I went to every Dr. appointment. I dealt with diarrhea, vomit, night terrors, tantrums, time-zone changes, airplanes, you name it, I did all of it. Alone.

It's fucking hard. SO FUCKING HARD.

I won't deny there were moments where I asked the question "Is love enough? Is it enough to keep me here, where I'm all alone, with no family, no support?" Yeah, not so pleasant. I'm not so proud of some of the less-charming thoughts I had during this time.

Okay. Back to the point.

Tommy came home. Thank GOD. He was unharmed, physically. He came home, on time (rare in the military - people get extended for seemingly no reason at all!) so I counted my blessings, and was thrilled. After all, my love for him never changed. And I had missed him so much.


I was different. He was different.

Nine months is a long time. As people, we are growing and changing all the time. Most married couples grow and change together - in the same direction. They make compromises as they go, they talk to each other, they remain connected.

We'd lost that.

So we grew, we had experiences, we lived life - and we did it apart.
And in turn, grew apart.

You have no idea how hard this is to write down. Well, perhaps it's not the writing down part that's hard, it's the being honest about it all that is hard.

I never, once, even for a second stopped loving my husband. Adoring my husband. Respecting or admiring him.
I need this to be clear.

But when he came home, I was not the same person he left.
Nor was he.
Nor was our son.
All three of us had changed.

For the first time in my life I was TRULY independent.
And, he told me - later on - that I made it very clear I didn't need him.

This war is ugly. Whether or not you agree with it, it's happening, and it's ugly.
My husband is a corpsman, basically meaning he's a medic.
He worked in a hospital in Afghanistan, doing emergency surgery on civilian victims, and coalition forces - stablising them enough to transfer them to bigger facilities either in country - or out of country, depending on their needs.
The next part, is my opinion of how he feels - what I see and what I've understood from the little he's told me. This may not be exactly how he feels, but seeing as he's not writing it, bare with me.

He got angry. He saw children and innocent people blown apart. People just trying to live life, walking down the street, blown apart. Shot. And if they didn't die, they were maimed. Never going to live life "normally" again.
He struggled, he still struggles, to talk to me about this.

He's still angry.

When he came back, he had a temper.
Something I'd never known or seen on my husband.
Tommy is one of the mellowest, patient, calmest people I've EVER met. Nothing ruffles his feathers. He brushes stuff off, and gets on with life like no one I've ever met. Heck, he puts up, and even LOVES me. That's saying something!
He doesn't make snide comments, he doesn't snap at people.
He's... well, pretty impressive, really.
(I have an unfortunate temper that goes well with my red hair, so his lack of one is why we work so well as a couple!)

He also rarely drank. Just a beer or two, now and then.
He began drinking more than what I thought was his normal.
He wasn't sleeping well. He would stay awake late at night, playing xbox, rather than coming to bed with me. He was - and still is - averaging 4-6 hours a night, rather than the 7-8 I enjoy.

He was different and struggling.

And I was emasculating him by shoving it in his face how much I DIDN'T need him.
And his son was frightened of him.
His son was happy to play with him, but when it came down to the real stuff, he wanted NOTHING to do with Tommy.
He wouldn't let Tommy change him, bathe him, put him to bed, soothe him if he was hurt, scared or frustrated.
Because Daddy was a bit of a stranger, and Daddy left him. And Mummy was his security blanket. His constant.

So, his wife didn't need him and his son didn't want him.
Pretty fucking awful welcome home, huh?

I can see that now, but at the time I was... confused? Frustrated. Angry. Tired. Really, really tired.

It's been four months that Tommy has been home.
I finally feel like we're back to "normal" - well, not normal, but our new normal. We're not squabbling, everything feels comfortable, again. Just...Happy. And less stressed. Less trying to figure out and piece together the puzzle that was our family.
We've talked a lot. We've listened a lot. We've spent massive amounts of time together, just the three of us. Getting back in touch with each other. Getting to know each other again.

I understand why some couples just throw in the towel. It's really hard work. It's emotionally draining.

It's been a hard year. Probably the hardest of my life. Probably the most exhausting of my life. The most enlightening. The longest AND shortest.

You get told that coming home is a huge adjustment period. That its not easy. You get told that deployment is hard. You get told so much stuff - but every deployment is different. Every person is different.
And you never really know what is going to be the end result.

*There will be another entry - a side note - to this. Deployment has its upsides, too. And I want to touch on them, too.


Kate said...

Very well written - I hope you write more. I think you've done a fabulous job throughout the past year. It's hard for us to see such things about ourselves because we know the bad moments so intimately, but EVERYONE has those bad moments and you have worked through them, did a wonderful job being mommy on your own to a toddler, and you continue to work through what deployment has put your family through. *hugs*

Renee said...

Beautifully written. Brought tears to my eyes.

WhisperingWriter said...

This was a good post.

Deployments can definately be hard. :/

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

This is a fabulous post and one that should be reprinted in many media outlets. We are all human and life is never easy, but yours and your husband's experience is one that is replayed throughout the world in these difficult times (which never seem to get better). Bless you all.