For someone who has her masters in Military Resilience, you would think reintegration would be a breeze, right? I studied all about the effects of deployment, and what redeployment would be like. I knew it wouldn’t be easy.
I expected to get irritated with my spouse, but even with all of the expectations, I wasn’t prepared. Not really anyway.
For the last 6 months, I was deployed to a Bare Base. This means I slept, ate and worked in a tent and walked on gravel. There were no permanent buildings, and my engineers generated our own power and purified our water. If anything disastrous were to happen with our host country, we would be able to sustain ourselves for an extended amount of time.
During those 6 months, someone cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for me. Someone cleaned up the bathrooms and took out the trash. I could even have someone wash and fold my laundry if I wanted to. For what it was worth, it was glorious.
I was able to focus on whatever I wanted. I could spend hours in the gym or in my bed reading a book. I could wake up early and go for a run or I could “sleep in” and wander over to the DFAC (or Chow Hall for Army) whenever I was hungry.
It’s important to note that I wasn’t in a “combat area” per se. I never felt like my life was ever really threatened. We didn’t have mortars or rockets that would fill the background with noise. I am sure my experience would be different if that were the case; maybe that’s why I didn’t expect the emotional aspect of reintegration—because I wasn't in a "true combat zone" as my brothers and sisters in Iraq or Afghanistan.
For all intense and purposes, the deployment was a time of self-focus and growth. I soaked up every single moment of reading in peace and quiet; or stretching out in my bed that I didn’t have to share with a toddler. I knew that as soon as I returned home, everything would be different.
I was excited to get back to my husband and daughter. I missed them tremendously. I just wasn’t ready for everything that entailed.
When I returned home, I looked around and quickly noticed everything was different. Things my husband hadn’t even thought about because to him, it was so insignificant.
Things like streets closing or opening up, the remodeling of a bathroom at church, a change of speed limits, and the new signs in my workplace.
I noticed it all. It was weird; a place that was once home was now unknown.
Then there was the family piece... I found myself feeling inadequate, unprepared to be a wife and mother again.
I found myself asking so many questions on how to raise our daughter.
Do you get her dressed first and then brush her teeth, or do you brush her teeth and then get her dressed?
It’s 8:30pm, can I rock her to sleep now, or do I have to read books before bedtime? How many books?
How much snack is enough? Did I give her too much?
Why is she crying? Does she usually cry this much?
Do we wake her up from nap-time or let her sleep?
What’s the after church routine?
Questions I had never even pondered before overwhelmed me every second of the day.
Home – why didn’t it “feel” like home anymore? What is wrong with me? I want to go back. Why is this so hard? Is it supposed to be this hard? I shouldn't be struggling with taking care of normal everyday things.
Then comes the (mommy) guilt.
In the earlier years of a child’s life, development occurs so quickly. In just 6 months I missed my daughter learning new words, I missed her learning how to put on her shoes or her coat. I missed her learning to run. I missed so much, yet in the thick of parenting, I wanted to run back to my tent. To the quietness that existed on that deployment. To the place, I now felt confident in.
I no longer remembered what to do. I couldn’t cope with her crying.
I never expected I would want to go back.
I never expected my daughter would be too much for me.
Amid reintegration, with a screaming 19-month-old and a sick husband, I found myself lost and frustrated and confused and guilty—I felt like a horrible mommy.
What kind of mother wants to leave again after spending 6 months away?
A mother who has to learn to be a mommy and wife all over again.
A New Chapter: Coming Home
Similar to the first few weeks after a baby is born, you must relearn what it means to be a mother. You relearn what each cry means and how to read body signals.
That first week feels as though you are thrown in the throws of being a new mommy all over again.
You are reminded of your selfishness every time you wish you had a moment of free time. Every time you yearn to be back on the deployment focusing on yourself.
Like when you need to cook dinner for your family (or wash the dreaded dishes afterward), you find yourself thinking about the time when someone else did all of that for you.
Or when your feet are exhausted, and all you want to do is sit down, but your toddler grabs your hand and wants to walk around the entire house for what feels like forever.
You have to remind yourself to embrace the moment. Recognize the feelings and speak truth into them.
It’s normal to have those selfish feelings, but we must not succumb to those selfish desires. It’s normal to want what you previously had. It doesn’t make you a bad parent.
When your heart and mind conflict (because in parenthood, they seem to always conflict), remind yourself of the truth.
It will take time to adjust to the newness of being back home. It will take time to learn the routines of your family. It will take time to put aside those feelings of wanting to go back.
The day will come when you will look back and think-whew... I survived reintegration. It isn’t the deployment you need to worry about, it’s the coming home.