After four full deployments, and a current fifth one, I don’t claim to be anywhere near an expert on military separations. I’m only thirty. Life is sure to teach me more lessons along the way, but as it stands today, I feel an inner steadiness and peace about my day to day. Life is good, regardless of our current situation, and I stand, amazed, each day at all the amazing and positive things we’ve been able to gleam from back to back deployments.

For my military wives, my partners in this journey, feel free to add any life lessons I may have missed. I am always willing and ready to learn from others. And am humbled when others share with me so freely what they’ve learned as well.

When we were still recently married, we attended a large Battalion meeting concerning our soldier’s upcoming deployment. We were given information and advice on managing the separation, among so many other things. What sticks out the most about this particular meeting is a woman who took the podium to address us wives, the ones of us scared, and new to the military, and perhaps even young, and maybe even those who just needed to hear it… This woman, an officer’s wife, I was too new to the whole thing to pay attention to rank or even understand what it meant, mentioned that deployments got easier with time. And I remember scoffing at her. How could it possibly get easier? I was already dying inside from the mere thought of My Brooks leaving me. But I understand that woman now, whomever she was. She meant to convey that the process became easier because we became more adept at handling it, at understanding the stages of deployment, of coping with the separation, at being single mom’s temporarily, if that applied.

But what I’ve come to understand more so, and appreciate fully, is that these deployments have taught me lessons about life that I will be ever eternally grateful to have learned.

1. You choose your happiness.

Happiness is truly a choice. I am happy most of the time. True story. Regardless of the circumstances. Because here’s the thing, our choice to be either happy or sad, positive or negative, affects all that we do. I can walk through life glum and unhappy and everything that occurs to me will be painted with the same paint brush. Five back to back deployments? Crummy duty station? Being far from family? Poor health? The dog being diagnosed with cancer? The list could go on and on. These could all be seen through the filter of unhappiness and bitterness. But it’s a choice. Instead of being upset about life’s bumps I’ve learned to choose to see the positive, to be happy, regardless. And as a result, my journey down life’s road has been easier to bear, more pleasant, more joy filled.

Five deployments? Life lessons gleamed. Crummy duty station? An opportunity to explore a new local area, thereby embracing it. Being far from family? An opportunity to grow as a family. Poor health? A renewed dedication to take care of oneself. The dog with the cancer diagnosis? An opportunity to celebrate the life of an animal rescued from a shelter, no matter how short or long the moment has been.

I’m a glass half full kind of gal. And I credit it with handling these deployments and life’s ups and downs more smoothly than if I’d chosen to see things negatively. I’ve met Army wives who’ve found themselves hating the Army, who are bitter and angry and tied down by the weight they carry perpetually from all that angry heaviness. It’s not a pretty sight. And it’s infectious. It will mark you, define you.

So choose to be happy. In most situations we can gleam some happiness out of it.

2. Give yourself a day (or a moment, or an hour…)

When life hands you a lemon, take a minute if you have to and contemplate the lemon before you attempt to make the lemonade. Am I delusional? Can I really take horrid news and swiftly turn it into something with a positive spin? Of course not. I’m human. Sometimes it’s easier, if it’s something small.

The other day while downloading new software onto my laptop, and speaking to my beau, I accidentally dropped my ancient laptop (which I LOVE by the way) onto the floor. The thing immediately drew a black screen even though it was still very much on. And no, it was not a screen saver. I’m not techy, but I’m not that far off the mark! I could have cried, cursed, thrown a fit. I laughed. Because it was funny. How ironic. The software was almost done downloading. And at that exact moment I drop the thing. That’s funny. You have to laugh. If it was broken I would have dealt with it, but until then I was going to laugh.

When much tougher news or situations occur however, sometimes we just need a moment. When I found our our sweet JayJay had cancer I took a whole day to feel sad and overwhelmed and grief stricken. I laid up on the couch with her and loved on her and cried. And the next day I got up and carried on. Every so often I look at her and feel overwhelmed with grief, and then I remind myself of the time we’ve had with her and feel a deep sense of gratitude to have found her in the first place. And I think to myself that that day of grief may have had something to do with my current acceptance as well, as if I’d had a head start on dealing with the grief already.

3. Everyone needs at least one amazing Battle Buddy

I’ve heard the soldiers call their battle buddies, Battles. Just that… Battles. But I’ve never reverted to that. Every soldier has a battle buddy. They have each other’s back, help each other, etc. But everybody needs a battle buddy, not just us wives who use our battle buddies like life lines.

My battle buddies have truly been life savers. When I’ve needed a shoulder to cry on, they’ve been there. When family was too far away they stepped in. They’ve helped with child rearing, errand running, hand holding, etc. Battle buddies will love you, uplift you, support you, empathize with you, and best of all (truly my favorite) tell you like it is, especially when you need to hear it. They will snap you out of it when you are too consumed by negativity or sadness. They will be honest and thought provoking, steadfast and loyal, dependable.

I can’t imagine going through one single deployment without a battle buddy. If I end up in the ER I’m not scared I won’t have anyone to watch my son. If I’m overwrought with emotion I know I can call my battle buddy to pick me up and keep me busy. When I need the truth or a sounding board, there’s my battle buddy, ready.

I can’t imagine going through life without a battle buddy. That one person to rely on, without a doubt. Who understands you and knows you and gets you.

4. Empathy is the best skill you can teach yourself

Scoffers may say that empathy isn’t a skill to be learned, but I disagree. I think it’s a skill that can be honed. And should be. When we empathize with others it makes us kinder, more compassionate, less judgmental people. The best way to empathize is to walk in someone else’s shoes, figuratively speaking for the most part.

I know some Army spouses get angry when civilians complain about short periods of separation due to their spouse’s job. These same Army spouses will scoff in the same breath to “try a year apart!” Okay, I get that. You’re preaching to the choir, sister. Except that I’m choosing to see it a different way. My journey through life is my own. A year apart from Brooks? Emotionally painful. But shoot, isn’t a week that too. It’s not a matter of “I knew what I was marrying into, so I should expect it (more on that later).” It’s more of a matter that respecting each other’s journey, empathizing with each other through life’s hardships is loving and kind. I feel bad for those who’ve admitted that same old thing in the past. Why should I water that down compared to my year at a time? That’s your journey and I respect it and empathize that the separation will be hard for you.

Empathy. I remain of the theory that a lot more would be accomplished in life if we just empathized a little more for each other.

Touching on that last statement… about knowing what we married, so we shouldn’t complain. I think out of all the empatheticless zingers out there, that may be the hardest to bear for military spouses. Come on… CHEAP SHOT! And incredibly sad. It’s not only dismissive of the actions of our volunteer forces but the sacrifices the whole family makes in the service or our soldier. For sure, my child didn’t know what he was getting into when he was conceived, but he bears his sacrifice with resilience and a positive attitude.

That’s where empathy is key. For those who say such things, if they just put themselves in our shoes they might understand why our grief at the separation is understandable. They’d understand that the choice to join military service is far from an easy one and is surely contemplated with the thought process that separations will occur. But that doesn’t negate the hardships that can occur, just because you may have expected them.

5. Be happy for others, really and truly, it’ll make you joy filled

Sounds easy but have you ever found yourself hearing great news from a friend and being envious, maybe even saying something passively aggressive to “rain on their parade?” That’s ugliness in it’s worst form because in life we should truly rejoice for our loved one’s successes, joys, and triumphs. All too often I’ve witnessed just the opposite and it’s sad.

In the Army I’ve seen this most often when promotions occur or soldiers come home early from a deployment. That latter one is probably the most painful to watch. Here comes Susie (fake name, obviously) telling Maria that Johnny is coming home earlier as part of the advance party… a whole month sooner! Instantly Maria’s face drops and she makes a less than happy comment, or maybe it’s just conveyed in her tone. Really, Maria? Why aren’t you happy for your girl, Susie? Celebrate with other’s their great news! There’s joy in that for everyone involved.

New car? High five! Job promotion? Group hug. Coming home early from deployment? Help Susie clean the house, girl! Susie wasn’t expecting her man for another six weeks and now she’s got a bazillion things to do, including losing those ten pounds she swore she’d lose. Never mind the house, his car, the new dress to welcome him home in, the decorating, the shopping… I’m tired thinking about it!

Be happy for others! It’s that simple! Man, I love a good high five!

6. Schedules will keep you sane!

I don’t know how other’s traverse through life without some kind of schedule, but oh boy, if I didn’t have one I wouldn’t even be sure what day it was, let alone what I needed to get done that day. Keeping a daily schedule, beyond a mild weekly, or milder monthly, keeps me focused on today so I don’t over-contemplate what lies ahead.

For example, if I have a huge assignment due for my college class on Friday if I’ve set time aside for it each day during the week and stick to that schedule I’m less likely to stress over it. Schedules keep houses running smoothly, ensure things get done in a timely manner, and can even help the tooth fairy remember to put that dollar under that pillow while retrieving the recently lost tooth. In the hectic pace of life a schedule is like my brain, everything mapped out.

7. Be good to yourself

As women, don’t we tend to put ourselves last, behind the husband and the children, behind volunteering commitments and our jobs? And then when we neglect ourselves and fall apart, be it with an illness or stress, we finally sit down and think about how poorly we’ve taken care of us. Our families love us and may even shower us with help and thoughtfulness but when we don’t take the time to be good to ourselves it begins to show.

Be it a Pajama Day or a day out shopping or beautifying something we deserve to take moments to ourselves. Men too, of course. I’m speaking from my own perspective, but you all get the gist.

Early in our marriage I was horrid at this. If I even sat down for a moment to read or partake in something else I enjoyed I did so somewhat guiltily. I was so consumed with taking care of the house and the boys and my schoolwork, when that applied, that the last thing on my list was to leave some time for me. And not last either. I’ve gotten much better with this and as result I suffer from far less stress related migraines than I did before. I am happier and more centered and more better able to deal with life’s unexpected surprises.

8. Patience truly is a virtue.

What better way to learn patience than a year long deployment? Of the patience that surely accompanies a grainy video phone call from half way around the world, let alone a regular phone call that keeps dropping on you? Receptions a fickle thing. But I digress.

Patience is one of those things I think we individually hone. But patience is one of those things I can’t imagine living without. Hurry up and wait is heard often around here because that’s the Army for you. You have to roll with those types of things,  and then hurry up and be patient about it.

One of my biggest tests of patience isn’t even deployments. Try the line at the post office. Last time I went even the guy behind the counter was grumbling. Even my small chatter about the weather and the fine service he was providing didn’t crack a smile. I think that poor man had lost his patience with his very impatient, and angry, customers.

But doesn’t patience do that? Keep us from anger? Patience. I wouldn’t get far without it.

9. Keep busy, but not so much so you drown in it

Keeping busy keeps me sane. If I had too much time on my hands I would over-think this deployment thing and possibly become negative after a while. Boredom will do that to you, just make you so miserable you don’t realize it’s the lack of doing something that’s making you crazy.

Every time Brooks gets ready to leave on another deployment one of the first things I do is sit down and make a list of goals for the year. The goals act as focal points, distractions, if you will. They also keep me busy. Focusing on that year thing will drive you batty. Take it from me. But focusing on small goals and peppering your schedule with them to keep you driven toward accomplishing that keeps you sane and happy and focused on something positive.

Those ten pounds you’ve been dying to lose. Put that sucker on the list (and if your like poor Susie on my other example, good luck losing that in a month). That half marathon you’ve dreamed of completing? Start training, you can do it! The place referred to loosely as hell in your home.. you know, the garage? Organize that sucker slowly over a year. The living room you’ve pondered painting two years? Paint that sucker, and if you’re Susie… Yay! You get to slap a welcome home sign on it a whole four weeks earlier!

On my list every deployment? Lose weight. I lose it. Then I gain it back when he comes home. I think I need a new goal. Keep it off when he returns 🙂

Busyness can also hurt you. A deployment ago I was volunteering so much that I realized one day I was neglecting my family in the process. I wasn’t given them the best of me, just what was left. And that was heart wrenching for me to realize because I truly loved volunteering and enjoyed it immensely. I love helping others and I was able to do that through my volunteer work. But at the cost of what? Less time with my family? Overbearing fatigue? Incredible amounts of stress? No time left over to take care of me?

Balance is key. I’ve achieved that now and love where I am today, in that regard. And I’ve still managed to volunteer weekly, on a more diminished, but more appropriate level for myself and my family.

10. Let the small things slide

One of the biggest ways these deployments have taught me life lessons was through my marriage. Now, do not in any way, shape, or form think that we nailed this deployment thing from the get go. The process was bumpy along the way, and if we had not participated in Camp Better America before Brooks’s current deployment this life lesson would have surely been missed.

Here is a link for those interested, and I hope you will be, because our experience through CBA was life altering: http://campbetteramerica.org/

 

Really, is Tommy leaving the toilet seat up worthy of World War III? Sure you’ve asked him a bazillion times, sure falling in is nasty, but really, the fireworks are a bit much. I’ve been guilty of it. But when I sit back and think about it, the amount of time I have in the presence of my beau is so limited and precious that sweating the small stuff is ridiculous. But even better, as much as I go out of my way to be sweet and thoughtful and caring to my beau, he does for me. It’s the best vicious cycle I’ve ever seen. You end up with two dopey, over the top, incredibly in love people who, if they see the toilet seat up, remind fictional Tommy that the dog sure loves that toilet water.

Those little itty bitty things are just that. Itty bitty. But we sure make mountains out of them sometimes, don’t we?

11. Appreciate your family now, and everyday

This one ties in with the last one. How many times a day do I find myself feeling incredibly blessed at the amazing family that I have, at all the goodness wrought forth each day. Yes, I am quite aware that my husband is deployed. But man, there is so much to be grateful for in life. If you find yourself unsure, make a list, stick that sucker on the fridge. Shoot I’ll help you draw up a list. I love lists.

The moment to appreciate our families is in the present, not afterwards, when it’s too late, but now. When you can hug them and kiss them and love them, even from afar. I’m grateful for each moment I spend with my beau. For each time the mere sight of him sends my heart dancing. For the sound of his voice at the end of the line, on the phone. For the sight of him teaching my son something only he could do. For the sight of my sleeping child, a smile curved on his lips. For my puppies, even the one stricken with cancer, as they lay at my son’s feet.

Appreciation can leave you spell bound and full to the brim with joy! Joy!

12. Be flexible

If the Army teaches us spouses one thing it’s flexibility. If there is one thing that is certain it’s that whatever they tell you, it’s surely going to change. Remember one of my former points? Patience? It ties in here at some level. Deployment dates change. Duty station assignments. Release times at the end of the day. Dates for block leave. CQ duty assignments. The list goes on and on and on. So I’ve learned to be flexible.

Dinner on the table but your job requires you to be there later? We’ll keep dinner in the oven warm. Expecting a deployment to end before an important date? Plan for both scenarios. You will be much less disappointed if things don’t happen as you had hoped and more excited if they plan as you had.

I am thankful for these deployments. I think from most things in life that we should be able to gleam something positive. I refuse to think that these deployments haven’t given us anything other than a stream of memories apart. At the end of the day I’m always left with the sense that life is incredibly good; regardless of the circumstances. Perhaps on certain days it’s harder to say that, but it surely always holds true.

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