Reintegration — the time after the homecoming pictures are printed and your formerly deployed spouse wants things to go back to “normal.” But if you’re like me, and you were the spouse left behind during deployment, normal doesn’t exist like it did before.
My husband Ryan recently came home from a six-month deployment to Asia. He left 10 days after our youngest son was born and three months before our oldest son turned 3. I quickly learned how to manage toddler tantrums, sleep train a newborn, and that the preset on the coffee maker is one of life’s greatest inventions.
This deployment was one of the hardest seasons of my life. I cannot tell you how many people told me, ‘I could never do what you did,’ or, ‘I don’t know how you did it.’ The truth is, I don’t know how I did it. I just know my kids needed me to get through those months without Daddy. They needed me to create a new normal. My boys didn’t need a perfect mom who did it all. They needed a happy mom who made things fun and kept them safe.
When Ryan got home, the first couple of days were wonderful. We were in the honeymoon phase of ease and connection. Then Day 2 came and honestly, I wanted Ryan to go back. He was disrupting our routine. My house was messier. My kids were going to bed later. I found myself getting annoyed that he didn’t see the things that needed to be done around the house. I expected Ryan to become my third arm when he got home. I expected him to take care of me after I spent six months taking care of his sons and his dog. But that wasn’t happening. I grew resentful and it was only the first weekend.
It’s been a a few months since Ryan returned home. I’m surviving this new transition by eliminating expectations. For the last six months, I felt like super mom. I dominated deployment. I stayed social, kept up with my workouts, enjoyed my boys, and even travelled. I did more than I expected and with so much joy. I poured everything into my boys and myself without realizing that I hadn’t left room for Ryan. Once he got back, I was resisting the need to redefine my role as a mother and wife post-deployment.
Now, I have my partner home and our family has military orders to move across the country in less than a month. I feel overwhelmed. It feels as if I used up all my super powers and now I’m running on fumes.
When Ryan went to work just five days after returning stateside, I panicked. I started feeling anxious about being home alone with the boys again. This was a feeling I didn’t expect and honestly didn’t know how to deal with. I went from feeling like I had everything together to suddenly feeling incapable of doing anything alone.
I’m not mentally prepared for this aspect of post-deployment life on top of moving so soon after Ryan’s return. It isn’t like we haven’t been through deployment before. We’ve moved between states and all the way across the country. But this time, it feels like everything is different.
So what am I doing about this unfamiliar anxiety? I’m talking about it in the hopes that if another military spouse out there is struggling too, together we will feel less alone.
I’m also accepting this phase of our journey. I’m not disappointed in my feelings and I’m not beating myself up. I’m letting myself feel the feels and choosing to find joy in the chaos. I find joy through things like journaling, trusting God, and letting go of the things that stress me out. Obviously, this is all much easier said than done. I have days that are harder than others. I have moments where I catch myself missing the structure and routine I worked so hard to develop during deployment. But I also have my family together again and that’s a pretty great thing.
Something I’ve learned over the past five years of this crazy, unpredictable and often unfair military life is that community is a powerful thing. With the right people in your corner, you can figure most anything out. If I know one thing for sure, it’s that Ryan is one of the best people to have in my corner and together, we’re going to make the best of whatever comes next. But don’t be surprised if you see me posting about how he leaves his stuff all over the house and never does the dishes.