Loving someone in the military comes with an exceptionally steep learning curve. Between ranks and abbreviations, you learn a brand new language. Between PCS, deployments and TDYs, you learn a brand new lifestyle. There is no such thing as dipping a toe in and taking things slow; you have to jump right into the deep end.
That’s why learning from other members of this lifestyle is so exceptionally important. When I first entered into this life, I read and read and read. I asked questions. I followed seasoned spouses on social media and tried to pick up as many tips as I possibly could.
As I started experiencing military life in person, I began learning what did and what didn’t work for me. Each TDY, each deployment brought with them a lifetime of lessons and strategies that helped me handle the next one. Over the course of four deployments and probably 20 TDYs in 6 years, I have definitely begun to gather some of the wisdom I so admired in others.
What Got Me Through Deployment
Countdowns and Mini Milestones
Perhaps this is the organizational freak in me, but countdowns and mini milestones are huge for surviving deployment!
Each deployment, I’d use my countdown frame and an app on my phone to keep track of how many days until homecoming. Seeing the pie chart change color and writing a smaller number each night was like a tiny victory at the end of a long day.
But after my first deployment, I took it one step further. I broke the deployment up into mini deployments, punctuated by a work or life event that I could use as a milestone. Maybe it was a friend’s wedding or a holiday or an event for my day job; making it to each of those moments helped mark time. It made the entire deployment seem more manageable because it didn’t stretch on endlessly.
Ok, I know what you’re thinking:
“Duh, Rachel. Of course care packages helped you through deployment. You’re creative and like doing them. I am not!”
Here’s the thing: it’s not the decorations that make a care package. It’s the care package itself. Care packages helped me feel connected to my husband when he was away; especially when I was younger and our relationship was still in the baby stage. Having the constant presence of his care package on my to-do list (decorate, shop, fill, ship…repeat) kept him as a constant presence in my mind.
When I shopped for his care package, I felt more connected to him because there he was present in an everyday thing. When I worked on decorating his box, I felt more connected to him because I spent time considering what would make him smile. It was the tangible link between the two of us: we both touched it.
Projects and Setting Goals
There’s some controversy in the whole “staying busy makes the time go faster” advice so many military spouses hear regularly. In fact, time does not go faster if you’re busy. Six months is six months. A year is a year. But what staying busy does make possible is the illusion of time passing more quickly. When you’re busy, your mind is elsewhere. When you’re busy, the days without your loved one are filled with something other than missing them. That’s good for you.
During my husband’s deployments, I always had a few projects I wanted to finish. Maybe it was painting the entryway or running a half-marathon or starting my own business. The project itself wasn’t as important as what the project accomplished: for those minutes, hours, days, I wasn’t solely focused on him not being there. I was focused on things I could do on my own. I was focused on me.
This one may seem a bit silly, but trust me, it’s not meant to be funny! Every night, I would come home after a busy day of work and life and the house would be quiet. Too quiet. Sad quiet. Lonely quiet.
The dogs changed that. Their wagging tails, their ever-present warmth, their ever-ready lick brought a little life into the otherwise quiet house each night.
Without the laughter they brought and the love they gave, I would have been so much lonelier each night. I probably would have gotten through it, but it would have been so much harder.
What are some things that have helped you get through deployment?
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