It goes something like this:
You spend weeks with the day of his departure looming on the horizon. It stinks. You cry a lot. You get into at least one big blow up fight, but you get over it. Then you go with him to the place of his departure. And you cry the ugly cry. You kiss him good-bye and you drive home.
You go into your immediate deployment funk. You mope around the house. Eat chocolate. Carry tissues. If you look over the paperwork that goes through the ‘deployment’ cycle you get a clue about the narrative: Frequent ugly crying and bunny slipper wearing normal for the first month (the disorganization phase I think?).
The paperwork says this phase lasts a month… A month where it’s acceptable to wear the yoga pants and bunny slippers and cry and eat chocolate.
Then comes ‘sustainment.’ Which sounds like a military version of a Zen state, right?
That’s when you’re supposed to hit your stride and realize that you got this and everything is going to be alright.
Because that’s the narrative. The story we’re told about how it works.
He goes. You cry. You get on with living. You realize that you can overcome obstacles. You can fix cars and deal with washers that break and kids who go to the ER.
And don’t forget the bonus features. The evidence of having thrived: The new hobby you picked up. The new language that you learned. The new sweater you finally got knitted. The lessons learned. The silver linings.
That’s the expected story development. That’s how it was told to me the first time my husband deployed, and every time sicne. That’s even how I’ve told it to others. He leaves. I cry for a month. I get on with life. I learn a lesson. He comes home.
But what if it doesn’t look like that?
I’m three months into this deployment and I can’t tell you what I’m sustaining? Maybe a bad attitude? This past weekend whenever I thought about how much longer we still had to go, I cried. We’re talking multiple teary episodes and chocolate at the ready.
I find that I’m angry much more than I expected. I’m angry at times I don’t expect, like in the moment that we finally get to Skype. I checked the expected storyline on that moment and you’re supposed to feel happy about the connection. A little bit gooey-eyed. At the very least grateful. Not anger. But anger I felt… Anger about it all being out of my control. About the tears I knew my girls and I would shed when he left port and the Skype calls went away for another 4-6 weeks or longer. Anger at the inability to really feel like we could talk and connect. Heck—Anger at the way my kids go crazy watching themselves in the corner of the screen and wiggling all around the room (and on my lap!) while finding random things like one armed teddy-bears and ABC gum to “Show Daddy.”
What if…. What if I never hit the sustainment phase? What if I don’t find my silver lining… What if my ‘steady’ looks like vacillating in and out of anger and sadness at times that feel random for the rest of the deployment…. What if I never pick up a new hobby or get that sweater knitted? Does that mean I’ve failed? If the only emotions I end up sustaining are resentment towards the deployment, the Navy, or myself by turns… Does that mean that I’m not a “good enough?” Navy wife?
What if the closest I get to steady is having some good days interspersed in and amongst the tough days?
I took all of this to a friend of mine tonight. She listened to my diatribe and simply said: I give you permission to break free from the narrative.
I needed to hear that.
Now, I need you to know that doesn’t mean that I want to choose to have a bad attitude for the duration of this deployment. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to seek out the suck of it or that I will ruminate on the morose and sad and anxiety producing.
For me it just means that I get to do this the way I do this without the pressure of the narrative constricting me and serving as a measuring stick. It means I don’t flagellate myself for the bad days…. I might even expect them and give myself grace to have them and move on (which might actually shorten their duration).
It means I get to feel my feelings. Even if they aren’t the feelings I think I “should” have.
The “sustainment” may come. It may come next week and stay until the last few weeks of this deployment. Or it may not come. The only thing I may sustain are the elastic band of my yoga pants.
I may not ever fit the parameters of “The Deployment Cycle” paperwork or of any of the narratives I’ve ever heard about how we are supposed to do this. After all, I’ve often been the square peg in round holes
But I will get to the other side. My own way. And that will still be a story worth telling.