Last Christmas, when my husband was deployed, I thought I was doing a great job staying positive, being strong, and making happy memories for our four children.
Nevertheless, when it was time to hand out Christmas gifts in the morning, I hit my limit and crashed. The kids were excited and jumping around in anticipation. My husband was on the other side of the world, asleep because of the time difference. It was just me, at home with these four crazy kids, and I couldn’t handle any more joy and excitement without my husband there to share it. A wave of exhaustion and depression sent me huddling onto the couch.
In a moment I am not proud of, I covered my head with a blanket and curled into a ball, trying to hide. I couldn’t handle any more fake joy when my husband was so far away. I was tired of being strong, tired of entertaining the kids and taking care of their every need, tired of answering questions from well-meaning family members. I felt so alone and overwhelmed. I just didn’t want to do anymore Christmas.
Yet there I was, surrounded by four young children, whose faces were beaming in anticipation. For their sake, I had to pull it together and carry on. For them, I had to be strong and get the holiday.
All deployments are difficult and challenging in their own ways. But deployments that fall during a holiday have an extra level of emotional difficulty. Whether it is Christmas, a birthday, an anniversary, or any other special holiday, it is on those days that military spouses miss their service members most poignantly. It doesn’t matter how many times you have been through a deployment before. The one I just described was our 7th deployment. If getting through deployment emotions were simply a matter of knowledge or experience, I should have them figured out by now! But it never becomes “easy.” You never get used to being away from the one you love. And those waves of loneliness and exhaustion can knock you down, no matter how “seasoned” you are.
I think it’s time for a little more honesty in the military spouse community. Instead of putting on a fake smile and pretending everything is fine, let’s just go ahead and admit that this military life is sometimes difficult. It is demanding. It is exhausting. Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel fair. Can we please just admit that it’s hard going through life constantly separated from your spouse? Can we acknowledge that it’s ok to feel less than 100% enthusiastic and patriotic sometimes? None of us are perfect, and no military spouse should be left to feel that they carry a burden alone.
If we are honest, I think we will see that everyone struggles sometimes during military life.
And I think we will also realize that we are all better off when we support and encourage each other. You don’t have to have your own life completely figured out to bring a little bit of comfort to someone else’s day. Sometimes, what spouses need to hear most is a comforting voice that says, “I know how you feel. I’ve been there too, and it is so difficult!” But we also need to see a light at the end of the tunnel. We need to hear someone say, “I’ve been there, and this is what helped me get through it.”
On that holiday last year, when I was huddled on the couch under a blanket, trying to find a small reserve of inner strength, there was one thought that brought me comfort and helped me snap out of my loneliness. I realized that I was not alone. Even though I felt alone, and my spouse was thousands of miles away, I realized that many other military families were also going through a deployment holiday.
I thought about military families who had been through longer deployments with less communication. Together, we were all “embracing the suck” and doing our best to carry on. I realized that the loneliness of deployment was not mine to carry alone. It was a burden I could share with the entire worldwide population of service members and families. And once I saw it that way, the weight of deployment became much easier to bear. I felt relief that I didn’t have to do this all alone. I took off the blanket. I got up off the couch. And I found the energy and the patience to share genuine joy with my children.
This year, my service member is home with us for the holidays. But I will never forget the challenges I faced while he was away. Supporting military spouses and loved ones through deployment is a cause close to me heart. I think when we share our burdens (and solutions) with each other, everyone’s difficulties become easier to handle. I have created resources to encourage military families through deployment. Learn all about them in my Deployment Masterclass. If you’re looking for deployment support, I hope you will join our community!