One of the things I remember most from the pre-deployment brief is speaking with a woman about what she called “the emotional cycle of deployment”. I think it stuck with me because she mentioned that it may be difficult for anyone outside the military to understand the emotions we’d be going through before, during and after the deployment.
Prior to Deployment: J and I actually had a discussion last week about how anticipating the deployment was in some ways worse than the deployment itself. The anxiety and sadness builds, it makes you irritable and exhausted from trying to “hold it together”, and you get to a point where you really just wish it would start already, so you can get it over with. The pre-deployment stage is especially difficult because you’re trying to balance everything that comes with deployment preparation, keeping your emotions in check and find time make enough memories to last you through the next several months of time apart.
Detachment: This is exactly what it sounds like. According to Hooah 4 Health, “In this stage, service members become more and more psychologically prepared for deployment, focusing on the mission and their unit.” I think this is true for the spouse, too. It’s infinitely easier to cope with the idea of going from a life together to life half a world apart when you’re withdrawn than when you’re still emotionally attached.
Emotional Disorganization: I think this is the deployment equivalent of the “depression” stage of grief. The spouse and the rest of the family struggle to adjust to their new routines, expectations and responsibilities in addition to dealing with the sense of loss and sadness that come with the departure of their service member.
Routine Established: As it says above, this stage takes up most of the deployment. It’s kind of like the “acceptance” stage of grief. The spouse and family adjust to having their service member gone, they settle into their new routines and responsibilities, and they go on with their day-to-day. It is by no means an easy acceptance or stage, but it’s necessary. I’ve heard many spouses say that they grew a lot during deployments because it allowed them to see that there is so much they’re capable of that they didn’t realize before they were forced to do everything on their own, so it can definitely be a positive experience as tough as it is.
Anticipate Homecoming: This is kind of like the weeks leading up to Christmas when you were a kid. You’re so excited, and every day seems to drag out. At the same time it can be an anxious time for both spouses and service members. Sometimes spouses find it hard to adjust to the idea of not doing things on their own after being independent for so long, and service members anticipate changes and fitting into routines that they’re not used to.
Homecoming: Hooah 4 Health calls this “Return Adjustment and Renegotiation”. Everyone readjusts to having their service member home and in the service member’s case, to actually being home. Some service members may have trouble readjusting to “normal” life, sometimes due to PTSD, and children especially might have trouble dealing with the changes that come with having their parent home.
Reintegration: This is the stage of getting back to a “normal” day-to-day and falling back into a routine that includes all the family. Eventually things settle down, and what seemed like big changes fade into the everyday. This lasts until the next deployment (Ew!).
I know that was a lot of text and no pretty pictures. 🙂 But for me this seemed like an important thing to post. Deployments are extremely hard to service members and their spouses and children, but I think it’s also hard for other family and friends because unless you live the day-to-day, it can be difficult to grasp the many changes that come with a deployment, even after the service member is home. It may be frustrating for outside family and friends to see a spouse acting more anxious than excited about a service member’s impending homecoming or to see a service member or spouse appearing overwhelmed or irritated instead of happy when the service member finally does come home.
Just remember. The best thing you can do – no matter what stage of the cycle a service member and/or his/her family is in – is be supportive.