So far in this series I have stressed the importance of preparing and planning for tricky times, and sticking to wellness-promoting activities when the going gets tough. Yes, I still think that's super important; if you missed the previous blogs, give them a read here.
Yet, if you do everything I have suggested, does that mean you will sail through deployment? Unfortunately, no. While our careful preparations and investments before and during deployment undoubtedly make things smoother, more enjoyable and healthier, there will always be stress, even if nothing truly terrible happens.
Dr. Kristin Neff (Ph.D.) has published compelling evidence for why we not only need to notice our hurt (suffering as she calls it), but FEEL it in order to let it go. The wonderful world of psychology (and Eastern wisdom) has shown us time and again that the harder we repress or struggle against our emotional pain, the more evident it will make itself in our everyday lives. I have found this to be profoundly true for me following the recent return of my spouse. I did a good job of caring for myself and my children; I did my very, very best. Yet, the stress I felt was real, cumulative and didn't magically disappear once my partner returned.
What happened was quite to the contrary. For me, the stress and hurt rose up like the Loch Ness Monster at the most inopportune time: a week long wilderness trip with my extended in-law family. Imagine yourself in the deeps of the Canadian wilderness (150km in on gravel roads in Northern Quebec...and that's just to get to paved highway) with 10 people (including 2 young children, 1 baby and 2 dogs) crammed into a small hunting cabin. Yep, not exactly the place you want to start "healing" in plain view.
My strategy at the time was to hide my pain, survive the trip and try not to be too grouchy. Needless to say, this was an utterly miserable failure (and I was an utterly miserable cabin guest). By saying yes to an ambitious homecoming schedule (this was just the pinnacle of a whirlwind August), I had signed myself up for a continuation of the high-paced life I had had for the preceding months, and denied myself and my family a chance to recover our footing. As expected, I crashed like a freight train into a brick wall and found myself needing to apologize, explain, and begin the recovery process in an undesirable and public way. Sheesh. I can hear my conscience saying "I told you so".
Whether we want it to or not, deployment creates conditions that can cause stress, loneliness and emotional pain. Plan as we may, these feelings will occur and likely reoccur with uncomfortable frequency. There is no magic bullet for dealing with or recovering from this; however, we do have some tools that can bring us relief.
Social support networks are wonderful; however the reality of being a military spouse is that our close friends and family aren't as readily accessible as we would like. The personal practice of self-compassion is a powerful and highly effective way to ensure that we are able to provide the care and soothing we need in EVERY difficult moment.
I highly recommend checking out Dr. Kristin Neff's website on self-compassion and trying some of the excellent free exercises and resources. For complete beginners to the world of self-compassion, I highly recommend eliciting the help of a coach, counselor, or other support professional who is familiar with this practice. For many of us, our performance-oriented and humility-obsessed culture has taught us self-dialogue that would sound abusive if said aloud to another person. It therefore can be extremely helpful to work with a guide while learning to enjoy and benefit from this healthier and happier way of being. If you are a military spouse, please reach out to me if you would like to learn more about creating this practice for yourself.
To your wellness!