I posted this at my new blog, but I don't know how many of you are over there reading and I thought maybe my MilSpouse readers might appreciate this one, so I posted it here too. That is all!
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So today I was paging through an old pre-Christmas issue of People (one of the ones with Michael Douglas on the cover) while waiting for my chicken curry lunch to heat up in the microwave. Tucked in the back was an article about young widows. While not immediately apparent, it was actually an article about young military widows… how they found out their husbands were killed, how they have bonded over shared experiences, how they have overcome and honored their husband’s memories, etc. I casually flipped through the article and looked at the photographs. It was an article I should have been compelled to read, but I found myself intentionally NOT reading it. Like I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. And then I started to feel it. That twisting, churning, sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach. The rush of panic and fear creeping up your spine and worming its way into your consciousness.
You all know what I mean, right?
That is when I realized that I COULDN’T read it. It was too close to home. Still. It was like a low-level PTSD moment for a MilSpouse. Even here, in South Dakota, safely retired from the Army, with no looming deployment… it still cut to the quick. I couldn’t bring myself to read their stories. It was like peering into the rabbit hole… I was afraid that if I got too close I would tumble in. All those familiar and terrifying feelings coming back to toy with me and mess with my head.
I think the thing about this "episode" is that I am amazed how strongly it hit me, even with all the miles and paperwork separating us from our former military life. It was like I was there, back in the midst of the deployment (or pre-deployment workup/misery/anticipatory grief period) in one instant. I mean, even the physical response was there. It was instantaneous. And it blew me away. I wasn’t expecting that while passing the time in the lunchroom, you know?
I think maybe it hit me so hard, even now, because the anticipatory grief period leading up to the deployment was nothing short of epic for me. Newly married, facing the questions, uncertainty and fear of a deployment (while I realized this isn’t new or special to MilFolks, it does make for a particularly noxious combination of emotions). Knowing he got shot the last time, knowing he was the kind of soldier that wouldn’t back away from a fight, but run headlong into it. Dealing with my first deployment on top of dealing with the bliss/confusion of being freshly wed. Being absolutely terrified of loosing it all before we got to really enjoy it. Having the fear and worry and depression wrap its arms around me and squeeze so tight that sometimes it was hard to breathe. Literally. Not being able to stop crying. Not being able to just STOP imagining the black sedan in front of the house, the knock on the door, the Class A’s standing in front of me. I couldn’t stop living out my worst fears in my head. Not being able to think about the deployment, the war, the Army, my husband it without launching into a mostly silent and internal meltdown. (If you can’t tell, I didn’t talk to many folks about this while I was going through it. Actually, I don’t know that I talked to anyone about it like I just have, here on this blog. Huh. But strangely, the pre-deployment portion of the program was worse than the actual deployment in a lot of ways. Sounds like a blog post for another time, no?)
Anyway, maybe the point is that your biggest fear and/or those life-altering experiences, whatever they may be, stay with you. You don’t really get over those things, not entirely. They linger in the back of your mind and rush forward to elicit the same responses as they did years ago whenever the triggers arise*. Even if the trigger is an article in People magazine. I think this is especially true when it is a fear that you have to confront so regularly and earnestly, like we MilSpouses do. And maybe part of it is that loosing your spouse prematurely is the sort of fear that, once out of the military, isn’t necessarily moot. It is a possibility that we have confronted time and time again, a possibility that really isn’t that unlikely when you are sending your husband off to war. Maybe that is why it stays with me. Then again, maybe it is just because dealing with a deployment was something that rather profoundly affected every part of me, it shaped me in more ways than I can count and who I am now is in large part to the (nearly) 2 years that surrounded it. Perhaps confronting it so early in life, when most couples are more worried about mortgages and daycare, makes the effects even more lasting. I’m not sure.
I just know that just because the retirement papers are signed doesn’t mean the feelings go away. It is now clear as day to me that our stint in the Army will have an indelible mark on both of us, in different ways for sure, but the mark of the Army will always be there. Always.
*Sounds a lot like PTSD, right? But don’t be mistake my point; I’m not equating my MilSpouse drama with that of combat troops. Apples and oranges for sure.