Friday, July 08, 2005

Day 186 - "Strength"

I had something pretty awesome happen to me this morning --- I opened up my email and a blog reader had written to me telling me that they admired my strength in this deployment - and that they were about two months into their deployment, and did I have any good tips or advice that I could give them so that the next year and a half wasn't the worst one of their life. Well, I wrote a small novel back to that gentleman - he is supporting his girlfriend who is a deployed soldier - and I thought that it might be a good thing to post my advice here for anybody else who might be dealing with a similar situation.

If ANYBODY reading this needs help or support during their deployment, please don't hesitate to email me. I definitely don't have all the answers, but I will be more than happy to listen - and point you in the direction of some resources that have worked for me. We are a military FAMILY - and I will help any of my deployment brothers and sisters anyway I can!



Well, I don't want to feed you a bunch of crap - and because you are going through this experience right now anyway, you would be able to see right through all the fluff anyway.

No kidding this situation is hard, huh? I have had several experience in my life up until this deployment that I thought, wow - that was really hard. Well, ALL of them were a cakewalk compared to this. You say that you admire my strength - but I am in a situation where I have not been given a choice. I love Al - and because I love him like crazy, I have to find a way to survive this deployment with my sanity (and our relationship) intact.

Let me tell you, Month #2 was the hardest for me (up until this point anyway) - Month #1, I was still kind of grateful that Al had finally left because the Army had jerked us around so many times on that, that I truly don't know if I could have dealt with one more 'goodbye'. Month #2 though, I had to have minor surgery on my foot, and my friends that were supposed to help me, etc. pretty much abandoned me after I got home. I ended up being at home alone on a Friday night - puking my guts out and hobbling around on crutches - and that was my breaking point. I got through that weekend (just barely) and it hit me that no matter how bad, no matter how much, no matter how deeply I needed and wanted Al home, that it wasn't going to happen. I cried for almost a week straight. It was horrible. I have NEVER been one to believe in depression medication - I know it works for some people - but I never wanted to 'change me' - and I was worried that's what those drugs would do. But that week, I ended up at a Doc-in-the-Box crying my eyes out telling them that I needed something. That was hard.

So, I popped pills for a few days, but then that weekend I got out of town - I drove up to Tennessee to visit my best friend - and just getting out of my house and getting a breather was exactly what I needed. I stopped taking the pills that Friday - because even though they made me stop crying - I also kind of felt numb, and I didn't want to feel that way either. I know a lot of people who have had to take depression meds to get through a deployment - and that's okay too - my new motto is whatever works to get me through another day is okay.

This is a grief process - Elsabeth Kubler-Ross defined the five stages of grief in her book, "On Death and Dying", and even though we both want our soldiers home for good as soon as possible - them leaving for year ++ is definitely like a death. It's a death to the time that you would have had together - and a death to the dreams that would have existed in that time, it's also a death to you being in control of your own life - which is a very hard concept to deal with. The five stages are - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I encourage you to research five stages - there are lots of good books out there - because educating myself on them and dealing with them head on has really helped me. Here is a great Internet article on them: Once you finally "accept" this deployment and can leave your anger and bitterness and depression behind - then you can finally start dealing with how to make the situation better. Right now you are still grieving in a lot of ways, and that's totally okay. I have been there, done that and I got the T-Shirt - trust me!

Every single day of this process is hard - and you have to give yourself permission to deal with that. If you don't look this shitty situation square in the face and say, "Wow this sucks", every now and again - you are going to crack up. The key thing is to not dwell on stuff. If you focus on the negative of the situation, you are never going to be able to see the positives. If you don't let go of the crap of a deployment every now and again and purge it from your system, your hands won't be open to receive the blessings out of the situation either.

The key thing that you need to tell yourself right now is that it WILL get better. I have been around all this stuff since Al left for training last August - and I have seen all kinds of people and how they handle deployment. There are as many different ways of getting through a situation like this, as there are people in the world. Some go into complete denial - refusing to watch the news or educate themselves about their soldiers location and situation - I've seen these same people refuse to write their soldiers letters and send them packages - almost as if they ignore the situation, it will go away. Other people - they get really, really angry - they think that if they stay pissed off at the military for a year and a half - that it will somehow change their situation, unfortunately, I have personally found that me staying fighting mad at the Army doesn't fix anything - it just wastes my personal energy. For me, and the successful people that I have found in this situation, we just take one day at a time. I count down the days and a lot of them are worse than others - when I have a bad day, I accept it and then I move on. I don't let myself stay down in the dumps, because it's not helping anybody when I get like that.

You know that cheesy saying that a long journey begins with a single step? Well, that's how I'm getting through this, little baby steps. I have been knocked on my bootie several times in this experience - and I find that about every 3 weeks or so, I have a couple of really, really bad days. But you know what? I deal with them - and I choose to be happy even when I am having a crappy day.

A couple of years ago, I got pregnant with my daughter - and her dad decided at that time that he didn't want anything to do with her - so I proceeded to spend the next nine months of my life - trying to figure out what I needed to do to fix myself in order to be a good mom. Through that situation, I came up with my lifetime motto - and it is simply this - "Every day is a choice, you are what you live!" That means that when I woke up this morning, I had the choice to be a completely negative, "B" - who was going to go through her day finding everything wrong that I could - I could also have been 'depressed' and 'sad' and find all the awful things that I could and spend my whole day worrying. But instead, I got up, took a bath - checked my email to see if Al had written - and put one foot in front of the other.

As you have probably figured out, this deployment is going to happen no matter what - and you have to make the personal choice about what you need to do in response to it. I don't know if you have heard this story before or not, but it's excellent . . .

by Mary Sullivan - used with her expressed permission.

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as if as soon as one problem was solved a new one arose. Her mother took her to the kitchen.

The mother filled three pots with water.

In the first, she placed carrots.
In the second, she placed eggs.
And the last she placed ground coffee beans.

She let them sit and boil without saying a word.
About twenty minutes later, she turned off the burners.

She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she said, "Tell me what you see." "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied. (You know the tone of voice.)

She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did, and noted that they felt soft.

She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg inside.

Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma.

The daughter then asked, "So, what's the point, mother?" (Remember the tone of voice.)

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity - boiling water - but each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid center. But, after sitting through the boiling water, its insides had become hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water...they had changed the water.

"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on yourdoor, how do you respond? Are you a carrot , an egg, or a coffee bean?"

Think of this: Which am I?

Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat?

Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship, or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my outer shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and a hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water - the very circumstances that bring the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor of the bean. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you instead of letting it change you.

When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level?How do you handle Adversity? ARE YOU A CARROT, AN EGG, OR A COFFEE BEAN?

Now, that I have driveled on and on, let me give you some practical advice. I am not a guy - but I have observed a couple of guys that were supporting their girlfriends, wives, etc. - and I have to say that I think that things are a little harder for y'all. First, nobody talks about the guys that are supporting their female soldiers. Everyone thinks about the family back home - but they forget that there are females in the military who have left behind boyfriends, families, husbands and kids. I think that sucks. The other thing is that 99.9% of the guys that I know are 'fixers' -- they want to get in there and fix the problem. The only challenge with that is that you are pretty darn powerless to make the war in Iraq go away - and nothing you can do can 'fix' the U.S. Military. So, you need to do what you can do to convey to your soldier how much you love her, how much you support her and how much you just can't wait for her to come home safe and sound - and back into the happy life that you had before she left. In other words, keep the home fires burning.

I do keep busy - but I keep busy maintaining and advancing the life that Al and I had TOGETHER. I also send him TONS of care packages and I email him several times a day. He is my priority in everything I do. I don't go out to bars on Friday nights - instead I stay home and get projects done around the house. I also educate myself - I am a virutual plethora of knowledge compared with where I was at this time last year - I solve my problems by being proactive and not reactive. That's what works for me.

As far as the other people in the world, one solution I use is to avoid them. I don't know if that's the best advice or not - but if I'm not around stupid people, they can't annoy me. I also don't wear my heart on my shirtsleeve - and I don't confide my deepest feelings in anybody that I can't trust. A deployment is not something that mere mortals can understand - they say assinine stuff because they have never had to go through anything like this. One thing that has also helped me is that I don't invest in anybody anymore that doesn't invest back in me. I got rid of a lot of peripheral friends that weren't really benefitting me. I had a good rule of thumb, if they didn't call me in the first three months after Al left to check on me, to see how was I doing and if I needed anything, I deleted them out of my cellphone. That may sound cold and heartless - but I didn't want anybody in my life that wasn't a benefit to me in this situation.

Okay, I have gone on forever, but I wanted to leave you with a couple of last thoughts. I don't know if you are active in church or not - but God is definitely what gets me through this situation also. I rely on Him for my strength that I don't have inside myself. Because I am so busy and I go out of town a lot, I miss church about once or twice a month - and I can definitely tell the difference on the weeks that I don't go. I am a much happier person on the weeks that my butt has been parked in that pew, that's for sure. I don't know what your path in life is, but again, I couldn't have gotten to this point without God.

As such, I have a couple of scripture verses that help me, you can take them for what they are worth.

  • Romans 8:28 - And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose

  • Galatians 6:9 - Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

  • Philippians 4:13 - I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.

As I close, let me leave you with this quote from Corrie ten Boom - who was a Christian who survived the Nazi holocaust. "Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength."

Your deployment sister, Melinda



Melinda said...

You are SO right about the "no choice" thing. When I came to that realization, I was able to remind myself of that numerous times a day...yes, deployment sucked, but my alternative (not having my husband in my life) was worse.

I just kept my head down and kept moving and before I knew it, it was over. It was always weird listening to other women who were out of the deployment tunnel before me who would say that they couldn't believe it was finally over & looking back, it didn't seem like it took all that long. I thought they'd lost their marbles, but now I'm experiencing that myself--of course, I think my mind has just mercifully blocked out all the bad stuff!

I'm with you, though. It's up to us...the families who are left here to keep things support one another and offer our hand to those who need it.

It's good to know people have your back.


Erik Holtan said...

That is so right on, and I AM the deployed one! My wife I know has expressed those same feelings, and experienced those same non supporters! Can I feature your site today on mine? I want people to know what it is really like!
You defined it exactly how my wife has told me!
God Bless you!!

KempoDude said...

Got "no choice" keeps it real and hopefully will make the pain of seperation seem bearable. Better to love the life I have with her than to never have "danced the dance." Isn't that a Garth Brooks song?

erika said...

You are so awesome, Melinda!!! :-) :-)

Call Me Grandma said...

Isn't it funny how we all have the same feelings. I think it all comes down to the fear of the unknown. God Bless you and Big Al.

CaliValleyGirl said...

The carrots, egg and coffee beans story is cheesy, but great! I love it...I know I will be quoting it often in the future. And it's funny that you should list the stages of grief. I never read up about it, but I saw the correlation (I could just remember the Simpsons episode where Homer thought he was going to die and went thru all the stages in a matter of seconds). I saw the whole grief, mourning, and then acceptence. Anyways....definitely 5 months down the road I look back and think, wow, I am a completely different person now. And even though I knew I had it in me, I really didn't realize how hard it was going to be, but then how much easier it would get after getting over that hump. I think the hardest thing coming up in the near future will be saying goodbye to him at the end of R&R. Well, it's great reading you!