3 Life lessons from deployment
Stripes Europe February 1, 2024
Nobody wants to hear that deployment makes you stronger.
I was like a child with my fingers in my ears, singing, “La, la, la,” the entire way through our 2023 deployment. I didn’t want to be stronger; I just wanted my husband back.
Of course, I had to put on a brave face for my children, who were six- and two-years-old at the time. But inside, I felt just like them: scared, lonely, and missing someone very important.
We eventually made it through, fighting ol’ Murphy’s Law the entire way. Now that it’s behind us, I can see more clearly what pulled us through: awesome experiences, emotional awareness, and some really great people.
As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Here are three things I learned during deployment:
1. Happiness is Shared, Not Dependent.
At the beginning of the deployment, I felt guilty doing any “fun” things without my husband. Taking the kids for ice cream, heading to the aquarium, or even grabbing dinner out seemed like things we should be doing together as a family; it felt wrong when we weren’t a whole unit.
But one piece of advice from a dear friend changed my whole perspective, and that is the idea that happiness is shared. I was allowed to have happy experiences apart from my spouse, just as he did while he was gone. Our individual happiness was not dependent on each other, but, instead, shared through our stories.
Taking this advice, I ended up flying to visit family with my kids, something I never thought I would do alone. Meanwhile, my husband had the chance of a lifetime to visit port stops all around the mediterranean.
When he got home, we exchanged gifts and souvenirs we’d collected for each other from all of our months apart. It truly was wonderful to share our adventures and feel genuinely happy for one another.
2. Strength Comes in Waves.
Everybody told me to keep being strong, but it was just too much pressure. When two of my tires went flat, or when I had to take my son to the emergency room, I felt like I was failing, because those were the moments when I felt the weakest. Wasn’t I supposed to keep it all together? How could I let these things happen?
What I hadn’t realized at the time was that my greatest strength came from my weakest moments.
That strength, I learned, came in waves. I was strong when I had to be, but I allowed myself to be vulnerable at times, too. It was important to acknowledge that our circumstances were difficult, and nobody was meant to deal with so much all alone. Allowing myself that validation is what gave me the strength to take on our hard moments.
3. It’s OK to Ask for Help.
During this last deployment, I had a number of unexpected appointments that wouldn’t allow me to bring my children. Typically, I would avoid these types of obligations. However, spouses have to take care of themselves, too.
A neighbor thankfully offered to watch my kids for me when needed. It was incredibly helpful and kind of her, but I still felt guilty asking for help. Then, when she PCS’d during the middle of summer, I was forced to find alternative child care, which meant more asking. I didn’t like to ask.
If this resonates with you, milspouse, I’m here to tell you to swallow your pride and ask. Most often, people are more than happy and willing to step in. Sometimes, you have no other choice.
Help comes in many forms. When I was sick, a friend dropped off a basket of soup and medicines on my doorstep. Many colleagues at the nonprofit I work with, Military Spouse Advocacy Network (MSAN), were always ready with a listening ear when I needed to vent.
It’s really OK to ask for help when you need it. Organizations like MSAN, your command SFRG or even a local book club are all great places to find support.
So, if you’re in the thick of deployment, or if one is fast approaching, have a plan. Plan for fun, plan for difficult times, and plan for support.
You won’t want to be strong, but I promise, you’ve got this.
Stephanie Allen is a proud Navy wife and mom, a writer, blogger, success coach, and the Communications and Marketing Director for the Military Spouse Advocacy Network. Find her on Linkedin and Instagram!