Even with multiple deployments under our belt, each separation (and reintegration) is unique.
Over the years, I’ve received plenty of raised eyebrows and shocked faces when I shared that my husband and I don’t mind the deployments and separations involved in military life. Now, I don’t *like* my husband being gone for half the year or more. But it doesn’t bring my life to a stand still, cause me to put my life on hold or otherwise change my plans. I still travel, go on vacation, work, and pursue my own goals. I’ve worked tremendously hard to build a life that accommodates the demands of his career, which is an essential piece of who he is, without losing what makes me who I am.
Ahead of my husband’s early December homecoming, I did what I normally do when I’m anxious – make to do lists. I made several: groceries to buy, last minute projects around the house, holiday planning, etc. All were intended to try and make reintegration as smooth a process as it could be. In the past, we’ve had some less than ideal re-integrations and I was hoping we had learned enough to change the pattern this time around. The jury is still out on how much better we’re managing, but I’ve already learned a few new things.
I know how I like it done
The last couple years have been a personal evolution. My son has started school and I’ve gone back to work. I’ve wrestled with plenty of Mommy Guilt. I’ve horribly over-scheduled myself. During this deployment, I finally found my grove. Maybe it was the opportunity to focus more energy on me, but for the first time since I had my son during a PCS five years ago – I felt squared away. I’ve been working out, eating well, getting sleep (most of the time), chasing new and bigger goals, and clearly articulating my priorities. I’m excited for several new projects in 2015 and happy with where I’m at as 2014 is coming to a close.
In order to find that groove, I developed a system. That system did not include my husband. Now, I have to rearrange that balance – time, budget, energy, and other resources – to accommodate his place in my everyday. I love the man, it shouldn’t be that hard, right?
I wanted him home and missed him. But I’m not sure how to match up the 5:30 pm dinnertime that my son and I got used to with his habit of sleeping in and staying up late. His pack rat, messy tendencies are directly counter to my need for an organized home and work space. I still haven’t figured it out but I’ve discovered just how jarring it is to have a found a system that really works for me and then be jerked out of it.
Personal Space is a dance
I am an introvert, an outgoing one (yes that’s a thing) but an introvert none the less. It’s why working virtually from home is a pretty ideal situation for me. It leaves me with the emotional reserves to do my socializing at the barn and other events related to my husband and son. It also means that while I might, at first, want to spend every waking minute with my newly-returned-to-me husband, I shouldn’t. If I do, I will quickly find myself exhausted and withdrawing emotionally if not physically. We may still be sitting next to each other on the couch, but we manage distance with tech devices and disinterest in each others TV shows.
This is something that we’ve struggled with off and on throughout our relationship. Because he interacts with people all day at work, his down time at home tends to consist of vegging on the couch. He doesn’t necessarily need to interact directly with me to feel that we’ve spent quality time. For me, when I’m doing something else (like writing a blog post) I”m not really even aware that you’re in the room – which means it does not qualify as quality time. Random observations about what’s on Facebook don’t make for engaging conversation. If we try to spend all of our time together, we quickly fall into this pattern which isn’t terribly positive for either of us.
Instead, we each have somethings that we do on our own and we maintain that routine during reintegration. He goes to the gym to workout and I go to the barn for my horse therapy and social interaction.
Reintegration is not smooth, and that’s okay
I am a planner. It’s how I handle my slight tendency towards anxiety, a general impatience with life and need to take action NOW. But you can only plan so much when it comes to bringing two very separate lives back together. While our latest reintegration is certainly going more smoothly than earlier ones where we were also dealing with the consequences of TBI (traumatic brain injury) and his anxiety issues, there are still challenges. I have to be okay with that. We are slowly drifting towards the more “experienced” side of the military community, but each separation will be different and bring new speed bumps. We’ve spent enough of our 10 year relationship separated that we know and are comfortable with each others’ coping mechanisms. In general, we know that I’ll struggle to let go of the more consistent routine I fall into when he’s gone and he’ll drive me insane by cluttering every surface of our home until he remembers that I can’t live with the mess. And those new speed bumps? This time around I’ve figured out what I need in my daily life to feel not just okay, but really good. I’m much more confident about advocating for myself after spending years largely in the role of caregiver – first for my combat injured husband, then for our son. I think that has surprised him since being home – that I am insisting on what I want to stay the same and asking him to adjust to me instead of the other way around. Slowly, carefully, we’ll navigate this reintegration too.