Let’s Be Honest About Reintegration

Joy Draper |
Author

Someone recently reached out to me to get my thoughts on reintegration issues. I was grateful that she was able to open up and admit that she’s a little scared/nervous about her husband returning from a deployment. She had an infant son at home and was concerned about how much he had changed since her service member left. No specifics were mentioned, but it was their first deployment with a child at home, and I think she just needed to hear that everyone else has the nerves/anxiety that surround the idea of a service member returning from deployment.

Let’s be honest – ALL of us probably feel like this. ALL of us have to deal with the adjustments of reintegration. ALL of us will face some struggles when putting the pieces of our families back together.

It can be a bit “icky.” It can be scary. You’re NOT alone if you feel that way.

Feelings of guilt can be associated with these fears! It’s not uncommon, but it is unnecessary.

Here’s the little secret most people don’t talk about – If you’re nervous about your service member coming home and a little anxious about them coming home … that’s OKAY!

Likelihood is, that things have changed for both you and your spouse during a deployment. You have been living separate lives and having different experiences. The spouse staying at home has been hit with the reality that we have to go it alone sometimes. We have to make decisions about a variety of different things without any input from the service member. We have to step up and be both mom and dad if there are children in the home. We have to deal with the chaos that typically ensues.

When my husband is gone, I have had to deal with things ranging from emergency surgery to girl drama to mouse infestations to giant gaping holes in my ceiling to workmen showing up and getting into my house when I wasn’t home. It’s a lot to handle. In addition to all of the stuff that “Murphy’s Law” inevitably rains down on our homes during deployments, the spouse at home also just has to manage the day to day grind. We have to get out of bed and be human even though 1/2 of our heart is thousands of miles away. We have to find a reason to press on through depression and loneliness. Military spouses that are left home during deployments have to face the reality that we have to go on with life even though our spouses aren’t home. We have to celebrate holidays. We have to enjoy life even without them. That can be very difficult. It can also create a lot of strength. I can also highlight weakness – and that’s okay too!

Then, on the flip side of the coin, the service members have their lives. My husband shared with me that (to him)  it feels like his life is on hold while he’s gone. He doesn’t get to be here living life with our family, and that hurts. It’s hard for him to watch the kids grow over FaceTime and know that he’s missing that. It’s hard for him to watch my struggles and know that I’m having tough times and he can’t fix it. And – let’s remember – they’re over there with a mission. They’re there to fight a war. They need to keep their heads in the game.

The reality is that these different circumstances that military families are living when they’re functioning through deployments will bring change. It’s inevitable.

This change means that when they come home – things will be different. That’s a great big unknown. That’s scary. Again – that’s okay!

It’s okay to be both excited that they’re coming back but nervous about how the pieces of the family puzzle are going to fit back together. It might take some work. Honestly, it should take work.

If you’re reading this and you’re a spouse that has a service member who is returning or has recently come home and you’re nervous about it all, please be encouraged over the fact that others feel the exact same way!

A few quick suggestions for making it through the reintegration phase.

1. Talk, talk, and talk some more – make sure you’re sharing your feelings with your spouse. You couldn’t read each others’ minds before the deployment, and you won’t be able to after spending months apart either. Share and discuss and make sure you’re not expecting your spouse to know what you’re thinking/feeling

2. Use your resources – I know the Air Force encourages spouses to attend the mandatory reintegration briefing that the service members have to attend when they get back from a deployment. Go with them! If nothing else, it’ll provide you a way to talk about how you’re feeling about reintegration concerns.

3. Eliminate expectations – Don’t create a list in your head of things that “should” be working or happening. Don’t convince yourself that it’s going to be a magical reunion. Likelihood is that the service member has been traveling several days across different time zones and will be exhausted when they arrive. You might need to save that cute little negligee that you got for the 3rd or 4th night he’s home!

4. Don’t over-think it – My husband reminded me that he isn’t a “project” for me to analyze and fix when he gets home. He doesn’t need me to be worrying and fretting. He just needs me to live in the moment with him. Enjoy both the good times and the struggles because at least they’re HOME.

[Above] Here’s a quick visual of what I want MY family to look like when we go through reintegration. Notice how the final product in step four isn’t exactly what we looked like in step one? Your family picture might not look exactly the same after a deployment, but you’re still a family. You still have the ability to be strong and grow through whatever the military life throws at you!

 

About the Author

Joy Draper has been an Air Force wife for the last seven years. She serves as a Key Spouse with her squadron and has been actively involved in the development of the Spouses Resilience Program at Offutt AFB.  She has been married eleven years and has a ten year old daughter and five year old son.

Joy’s family has been through nine deployments ranging from 60-220 days. She is actively involved with the Military Spouse Advocacy Network as the Deployment & Reintegration Coordinator. She blogs about parenting, deployment and reintegration issues, and the reality of what life is as an Air Force family. You can check her blog out at throughitallandthensome.blogspot.com or email her at joy.msan@yahoo.com.

 

The thoughts and opinions posted here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of AAFMAA.

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