Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Reintegration: Returning Warrior Workshop

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Last weekend we attended the Returning Warrior Workshop. You can read all about it here. For a long time I thought this would be a really great experience for my husband and I was really glad to be able to be there and support him.

Once I was there, even though I was happy to be there, I had this intense dread come over me that I didn't want to talk about "our story" or even talk about deployment at all. I've been down that road, no need to revisit it. Sure the road ahead looks hopeful but I don't want to think about or talk about it more than I already have to. I just wanted to be done with it. Enough with revisiting the past year, enough thinking about war, the tears that were shed, the pains that were suffered, and the loneliness that pervaded everything. I didn't want to talk about emotions. I didn't want to talk about r-e-i-n-t-e-g-r-a-t-i-o-n. I'm growing weary of that word and all it's impacts.

My poor husband got there and had a wave of stress, discomfort and frustration come over him. He did not do that well for the workshops the first day. It was tough. By the last session of the day I was in tears and couldn't even go into the class I had chosen to attend. I wiped up my tears and walked back to our room, stopping at the hotel Starbucks to grab a snack and a vanilla bean frappaccino.

Walking into our room alone was just the respite I needed. It was a cave to hide in. I sat and watched the hotel tv promo of all the beautiful hotels they had in all the most amazing cities of the world for over an hour. The music was so peaceful and the escapist travel bug in me felt comforted. At the end of the workshops my husband joined me and we both watched the promo repeatedly. There was something amazingly soothing about it.

Falling asleep for a nap in his arms was the perfect recovery from a long day of hearing, thinking and talking about deployment and reintegration. The evening was a delight with a fantastic meal, recognition for each warriors and their guest, and great company with our new friends we'd made in our group throughout the day.

The next morning flew by quickly with a flurry of workshops and soon we were on our way back home to our regular world and the continued journey through reintegration. It was great to feel we had made so many wonderful connections with our Navy family throughout the weekend. It was a little lonely to return to our world having felt the support and kinship of so many on the same journey. I learned so much from the other warriors who were there and they helped me understand my husband better which I was grateful for.

Even though it was difficult at times, I am so glad we went. Reintegration isn't going away just because I want it to. We're still finding our new normal as everyone calls it. Sending out my sincere thanks to everyone who contributed to a great weekend for us and so many other warrior families.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The "He Said He'd Call" Tantrum

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It often gets me thinking when I hear MilSos express how annoyed they are when their other half doesn't call. I totally understand the desire for the call and it certainly can be frustrating when they can call you but you can't call them when you want to. I get the desire to want to spend time with them and want to hear their voices. I know the loneliness. But sometimes it just sounds very immature particularly when the other half is in a war zone, on a ship, working long shifts every day and calling is not always easy.

Here are a few reasons to consider that explain why he might not call:

1) He's worked a 12-hour shift and it was really crummy. He's allowed to be exhausted. It doesn't mean he loves you any less. His number one job is to hold himself together for his unit. That means he has to take care of himself and keep himself rested and well, which is nearly impossible to do most of the time.

2) Due to situations beyond his control he does not have any private place where he can call.

3) The situation may have changed at work and the time he thought he would be free is no longer free to him.

4) He might be missing home too much to call. Sometimes it hurts to be away more than he wants to discuss or feel.

5) He may be taking a little time to have a little fun. This doesn't always come at the perfect time, but I think they should be entitled to have fun with coworkers when it presents itself. Sometimes that might mean they have to bump a call. But again it's no knock against you.

6) Maybe his stress level is high and he doesn't want to pass that on to you. Or he just can't hear any more about your problems and complaints about the distance. There isn't much he can do to help and sometimes it becomes overwhelmingly frustrating to hear it and not be able to help.

7) Maybe he's giving you space to stand on your own and be more independent. Sometimes we gals can get a little too dare I say "desperate" sounding with our I Miss Yous and Why Aren't You Here With Mes. Sometimes we need the space to step up to the plate.

8) There may be an emergency situations. That could mean communications blackouts, they are on a last minute mission, there has been an incident they have to be totally focused on or something else that is critical they focus on. Being at home pouting and stomping our feet because we didn't get a call seems particularly embarrassing in this scenario!

I know there are other very valid reasons why they don't call some days. The key is to not take it personally or get overly worked up about it. Don't let it wreck your whole day. He's just one person, it's just one call. There are plenty of other great interactions and good things we can incorporate into a day. Part of growing up and getting older is to find balance in relationships, how we use our time, what we focus our thoughts on.

While calls are pretty fantastic and awesome, our lives shouldn't totally revolve around them. Surely we have more good we can bring to the world if we focus some of our time and thoughts elsewhere during the day. Men want to be with women more when they feel it's not demanded or necessary to keep the woman pulled together. A little independence is a very sexy thing and that allows us to be fabulous rather than annoying when they do have time to call. And I think that means they'll do more to try to call more often when they get lovely on the other end, instead of "WHERE WERE YOU!" or "I WAITED FOR HOURS FOR YOU!" screeched at them first thing.

It's great you can communicate, even multiple times a day. But if you have to go a day or a few days you will be okay. Buck up and make great things happen for you while you wait.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Post Deployment: Losing Stuff Left & Right

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It struck me yesterday that since my husband came home from deployment he's been a bit of a scatter brain and it's getting really expensive! Have you found this to be the case for you deployed service member? Are they all this scatter brained when they get home? By his own admission, since he came home he has done some really dumb things and it all revolves around sunglasses.

A few years ago he made a big investment in a pair of very high end sunglasses. He loved them, there were amazing. He took them on deployment for the first half then left them here at R and R to protect them. So a few days after he got home, he was helping me down in the parking garage with my car. A while later I drop away with the car loaded up for a trip, planning to meet him at the car shop where he was dropping off his car.

As I made the first turn around the corner from our house I saw something fall off the back end of the car. I recognized immediately that it was the case to his fancy glasses and saw it, the cleaning cloth and his beloved sunglasses in the road. I stopped immediately and then saw one car turning onto the street. I watched in horror as that one car, hit only one of the three things in the road -- of course it was the sunglasses. I died as I sat there praying, watching that car run over them. I wanted to die again because I did not want to be the bearer of bad news. It did not go well. I kid here but to some extent he is still experiencing PTSD on the glasses.

So days later, he could not find yet another pair of expensive sunglasses. (These only cost about 1/3 what the super fancy pair did.) Then he remembered that he had put them on the top of my car with his cover (military speak for hat). Again?! You've got to be kidding me, was one traumatic experience NOT enough to teach him a lesson?! As near as we can figure those glasses and his cover probably ended up somewhere on base as I was driving away, never to be seen again.

The next day he bought a new pair of borderline expensive sunglasses. Yesterday he started getting anxious because he has no idea where that pair is. He teases me about having blonde moments, but my brunette husband cannot be trusted to keep an eye on anything right now. I am determined to figure out where those new sunglasses are before it escalates into a full blown disaster. I keep telling him that I am sure they are around here somewhere but I have absolutely zero confidence based on recent events. Ack! I wish his scatter brained-ness would have manifested itself with things like losing pencils, or something else that costs less than a couple of dollars instead of a couple of hundred dollars (more or less.)

Don't be surprised if your returning loved one makes a string of dumb mistakes or isn't quite on their game when they get back. Give them some slack, encourage them about all the great progress they are making. Our $1000 sunglasses situation is not yet over, but I know every week my husband gets more settled here at home which couldn't make me happier. He's calmer, happier and just in the past two weeks I have really seen him overjoyed to be with us. He has mentioned it almost daily how happy he is to be home with his girls. I'll take that any day. We'll keep working with him on keeping track of his sunglasses!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Being Careful Around Other Men

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One of the things I thought very carefully about before my fiance/husband deployed was being careful around other men. It was obvious to me that it could be very easy to start depending on other men too much or to be too liberal in my attention and closeness with other men while he was away. I learned that this also means after he's returned to when it takes time to reconnect. There is a certain annoyance to the reconnecting process that makes seeking other men's affections seem easier.

I am very loyal to our relationship and would never consider cheating or being disloyal in any way. But it's a slippery slope when you are lonely, your man is far away, other men offer you a sympathetic shoulder or to help you around the house.

I decided to err very far on the side of caution while he was away, because I knew how vulnerable I was to loneliness and how sad I was that he wasn't here with me. Here are a few things I determined I would do or absolutely would not do.

1) I would not have long conversations with other men. I was even careful about doing this with his brother. I tried to keep things simple and straightforward. Communication breeds intimacy and when you are missing the intimacy of your significant other it's easy to seek it out wherever it comes most easily. Getting it from other men I felt was dangerous.

2) I would not get overly involved in social media interactions or texting with other men. Social networking has a way of very quickly creating a false sense of intimacy. I wanted to avoid this. When a man is making you laugh and smile and you feel like he knows you, it's easy to get a little mixed up with the emotions. I think we all have a little alarm that goes off when we've gone a little too far. When you start to question whether something is okay or not, it's easiest to just make that your stepping away point.

3) I would not ask the same male friends for help repeatedly. When I needed help I tried to reach out to a variety of people, rather than the same friend repeatedly. Men are very sympathetic to women in need. It's how they are build. It's very easy to create a feeling of attraction out of a sense of need or of serving someone else. I also didn't want to put any unnecessary expectations on one person, nor did I want to come to rely on one person to an inappropriate extend.

4) I did now share my problems or overly unburden myself to other men. Again men feel a need to help solve problems and when you share your problems they want to help. It creates intimacy.

5) I would not be alone with other men: that's in cars, in my home, in their home, etc. Always in a group, never alone with a member of the opposite sex.

6) I would not give anyone even the slightest impression (by being overly friendly or warm) that I would consider any indiscretions while my husband was away. I know that men will show interest when they are interested, but I often see women in relationships giving every sign they are seeking intimacy or would be willing, who then appear shocked and insulted when  man attempts to act on such emotions. Keep the air very clear about your intentions.

7) I would create a Love Board to help me feel close and connected with my husband. You can read all about it here. I wrote him love letters even on days when he wasn't acting very lovable and I wasn't feeling very loving. It helped keep us close.

8) I would not obsess about my husband's flaws while admiring the talents of other men. It's easy for women to get dreamy and start immortalizing men. It's also easy for women to get hypercritical about their own men, especially when he is far away and one is missing intimacy and hugs and kisses from him. I tried to focus on my husband's strengths in my thoughts of him and my hopes for a strong future together. This wasn't always easy during rough periods, but I clung to it to get me through.

There are many stories about how relationships, marriages and families fall apart during deployments. Some people are just completely unscrupulous. You hear stories about people who act out of complete disregard for their significant other/spouse having outlandish affairs, getting involved in outrageous and dangerous behavior. There is little I could say that will stop that group from their abhorrent destructive behavior.

 Then there are the relationships that get broken because one little thing lead to another and suddenly intimacies had been created that shouldn't have been and people get confused, act, and lives again are ruined. There ideas I shared are for that group of people. For anyone who wants to strengthen their relationship and thrive through deployment I hope these tips can help you stay strong and avoid little indiscretions that can lead to big indiscretions. Great relationships have to be guarded, protected and cared for like great treasures. I hope these ideas will help you find the best way to guard yours.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Reintegration Joy: Tag Team Parenting

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Last night while I was making dinner I was thrilled to hear my husband in the other room instructing our daughter on cleaning up her room. That was one of the hardest tasks I had, and somewhat failed at while he was deployed. There never seemed enough time for me to sit there with her and get it cleaned up. It seemed like I was always making a meal, focused on homework, or some other vital task. I could send her in to clean on her own but it never was quite done to parental standards.

But tag teaming, he could be in there with her while I was cooking dinner or taking care of some other necessity. Later when I walked into her room it looked fantastic. I was thrilled. This is one big blessing of having him home. It's so nice to have someone else who can run to the store, make a phone call, send an email, pay a bill, sign a note and fix problems.

I made sure to tell him how much I appreciated him helping her to clean her room and how challenging that was when I was constantly on the run when he was deployed. It's great to have some back up. Here are a few other things I'm enjoying or will soon be looking forward to.

  • Someone else to watch her like a hawk and help her cross the road, parking lot, etc. It's a little stressful trying to keep them safe and alive all the time. It's nice to have another set of hands and eyes to keep watch and walk with her.
  • Someone to get to school and pick her up. I am excited about the idea of making plans in the afternoon and not having to rush back mid-afternoon for school pick up if he's available. Yay!
  • Back up when she's mopey and floppy and won't step to it when asked to do something. I love getting that support that let's her know that both parents are displeased with her current choice not to act when spoken to.
  •  Bedtime help. Now there are two people who can make sure teeth are brushed, tuck in has happened according to her specifications, music has been turned on, nightlight is lit, all that good stuff.
  • Someone who can take over when I'm exhausted or not feeling well. What a luxury! Last year it meant keep dragging yourself through the day with no break.
  • Someone else who can monitor computer and TV use and remind about book reading and summer school assignments. It's amazing how quickly she can find a way to be staring into a screen if I'm busy doing something. Now there are two sets of eyes to redirect her energies.
Those are just a few of the reasons I love having our Daddy home. I'm going to enjoy every moment of it, because over the past three years we've certainly had a lot of apart time. Remembering how nice these days together are helps keep a positive attitude when I'm waiting for him to come home and gives me something to look forward to.

Friday, August 9, 2013

I Thought I'd Be Stronger After Deployment

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You'd think that after a year-long deployment and very frequent separations I would be used to hubs going away. He's going away for only a few short days and here I am crying my eyes out. On paper this doesn't make any sense, but to a therapist it would probably make complete sense. Here's what I'm thinking is happening.

I was used to him coming and going for a few days or even a couple of months. Over the past three years we have been apart a lot. I was always a little on edge when he would leave but always did fine and in fact really made great use of my time.

Then came deployment. The great test. And we made it. We did it. We lived through it. He came back healthy and alive. And now I'm falling apart because he's leaving for a few days, worrying about worst case scenarios, having nightmares and feeling mad, sad, hurt, etc. I am afraid something bad will happen here at home and I won't be able to handle it.

Keep in mind that I took on some massive stuff while he was gone and conquered. Besides those things I was sick for most of December and January, was in a serious accident with long-term recovery (no fault of my own) and I'm pretty sure I was depressed for the first few months. But I still made it and I know I'm stronger for all that.

So the fact that I feel so weak and vulnerable when my husband is going away for less than a week, could rush home at any moment if something did happen, and is reachable by phone, email, or text 24-hours a day is a little bit baffling.

Maybe I'm thinking this might be the time I can't handle our separation. Maybe something will happen that finally breaks me. Maybe something will be required of me that I can't handle. But seriously the chances of anything going seriously wrong are infinitesimally small. Why am I worrying???? Maybe a little bit of post-deployment stress on my part? Very likely. Because this just isn't something that normally would or really should throw me for a loop. Clearly separation is a trigger for me right now.

We've already been apart quite a bit since he came home and that is definitely wearing on me. Not to mention all the returning home tasks and challenges that have been taken on that have created a home life where nothing feels normal or settled right now. I still don't feel like we've had a "normal" day since he came home. Maybe normal doesn't exists anymore and maybe that's what I'm craving desperately. Some sense of our old, normal life...not that I really know exactly what that even means or would recognize it anymore.

Once we get into the car and head to airport drop-off I know I will go into "mission" mode, I'll have tasks to complete and things to do. I'll have some free time to do things I want to do. I will probably go wander some of my favorite shops, do some sort of creative project, talk to my girlfriends, and of course have a lot of fun with our little one. Oh and let's not forget I'm going to need some rest since I have not been sleeping and when I have been asleep I've been having bad dreams. The days will fly by and I will be fine.

But it doesn't feel like it today. I thought I would be over feeling vulnerable after surviving a husband in a war zone for a year. This is very likely just an extension of that same vulnerability but it surprises me. The emotional wear and tear of deployment doesn't evaporate just because your spouse came home. It's likely I'll be feeling the effects for some years to come. That is something to remember and be okay with. Just go with the flow with thoughtful carefulness.

Have any of you readers experienced anything like this? How did it manifest itself and how did you handle it?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The United Through Reading Program

One of the great programs we took advantage of during my husband's deployment was the United Through Reading program. The basics of this program are that on military installations around the world, service members can record a video of them reading a book and then send the video and the book to their children back home.

My husband recorded several of these during his first six months on deployment in Afghanistan (also known as "AFFFA-gan-I-STAN" by our little one. For some reason she said it with a drawl like a girl from the deep south which always cracked us up.) These DVDs were great to watch in the evenings before bedtime or on car trips.

Just being able to see Daddy/Husband was a godsend, hearing his voice was a delight. You could see the joy he felt in connecting with our daughter as he red to her. He took such care in the way he read and despite being exhausted was animated and warm. It was nice to have a little break from the being the only onsite parent for even a few minutes and let my husband, via DVD, from thousands of miles away spend time with her and have her undivided attention for a while.

I am so grateful to the organizers, sponsors and volunteers of these groups such as United Through Reading who give of their time and resources to bless military families separated by deployment. This is a program that helps families stay connected, helps deployed service members do something special for their kids which I think does a lot to cheer them up, and encourages reading. Three phenomenal benefits.

You can learn all about United Through Reading and find locations around the world where parents can record stories to send back home. Have any of you readers taken advantage of United Through Reading? How did it help your family?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Massage: Relieving Post-deployment Stress

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I've always loved a good massage and at some point I really started studying the art of massage and body energy. I have read books, talked a lot with massage therapists and even considered going to massage school. I have learned that you will always be very popular among friends & family if you can do a good shoulder massage. I even received a marriage proposal once for a good back rub. Haha.

Well I've found a great way to help my husband combat his post deployment stress levels and help him relax more. Massage. I have noticed that if I can give him some massage time every day things go more smoothly. If I forget a let a few days pass, he begins to get edgy. One lesson I have learned, a bit the hard way, is that no matter how on edge he is, he will almost never turn down a massage. So even when he is struggling, I can sneak in a massage and it really helps him.

It's one of those simple little solutions that help keep a marriage strong and a family happy. I am really interested in learning Reiki as well. I have had some amazing experiences with Reiki treatments and healing myself and would love to become a practitioner myself too. I am sure many spouses have found little things that have really helped keep the stress levels down at home after deployment. I'd love to hear some of them. Please leave a comment!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Stories You Can Relate To From Not Alone

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I've been learning about PTSD lately and thought I'd share with you some of the great resources I've been finding online. First I want to say thank you to all the random people I've called the past few days asking questions. I appreciated their help, even though after a few calls I just didn't want to talk to anyone anymore. It was information overload and it felt like information buckshot flying around my head.

As always, hearing the stories of other military spouses really connected with me the most. So I want to introduce you to NotAlone.Com. It's a gathering place for service members and families to talk about about life after deployment. It's amazing how even words online can be so comforting when you realize that these people understand what you are experiencing and you can connect with their stories.

Yesterday I listened to two interviews from Not Alone Family Stories. Both women shared things that I could intimately relate to like finding yourself planning out what you will do if your spouse dies from the initial two men at the door visit to the funeral. I do believe this is a coping mechanism and although it feels strange, it's a way to plot out and then put away a fear that can gnaw at you. Somehow for we women, if the worst thing in the world happens, if we have a plan, it somehow doesn't haunt us quite so much.

First I read Lily Burana's story. Although I have never been suicidal, I found her story so interesting in how a couple deals with two cases of PTSD in the same house. So much of the beginning of her story I could really relate to, her introduction and isolation from the military culture, her thoughts and feelings as her husband deployed, etc.

Then I read Chaplain's wife, Kristin Henderson's story. Because my husband and I have only done one deployment together, I thought her explanations about how each deployment is different were so interesting. I could relate to a lot of her emotions about deployment, during and after.

There are stories from mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and spouses there, definitely something for everyone. I feel like hearing these stories helped me feel calm today and have faith that we will continue to grow and progress through post deployment. While the road may get bumpy there is complete hope that we can traverse the bumps and come out even better on the other side.

Have you visited Not Alone? Do you have a favorite resource, story or section from there? Have you ever attended one of their online support groups?