If there is one thing that military wives agree on, it's that deployment sucks ass.
Military spouse literature tells us that experienced wives actually look forward to deployments because they get to take care of their goals and plans while their husband is away. Indeed, you do see some wives at the flag casing ceremony talking about how they would just hurry up and deploy already but, as much as it fits in with what the army likes to portray, I think it is dangerous to interpret this attitude as looking forward to deployment.
A few months ago, I was talking to one such wife. Her husband is on a 15month tour, something which my husband managed to miss by a matter of weeks and we were talking about R&R. She told me that they always take leave as late as humanly possible because after leave she always finds it much harder to cope. She is not alone in this. This is something many wives have told me and no wonder. R&R is an emotional rollercoaster and for a lot of wives, it's more heartbreaking than the actual initial goodbye at deployment.
Before a deployment, all members of the family go through various emotions. Sadness, fear, uncertainty about the future, anger and distancing. In fact, the pre-deployment phase of the deployment cycle is very similar to the stages of grief in some ways but with the added issue of people distancing themselves emotionally in anticipation of the coming separation. Fights happen and so in some ways, while you would give anything not to see them go, there is a sense of relief when they do because you're finally in a much less confusing place emotionally.
You are what has become known as a 'deployment widow' or a 'blue star wife'.
That's not to say that this phase is easier than the last but you finally have those goals to cling onto, you're not fearing the phonecall letting him know that the deployment had been shifted forward and they were leaving in a couple of hours.
No, even though you miss him all the time (and I mean ALL the time) and are afraid for him and even though that is painful as hell, there is a sense of knuckling down and getting on with it. Making the time pass and getting it over with so that you can look forward to the Homecoming ceremony. And that is what the more experienced wives mean. Their attitude is as simple as they want to just get it over with and see their husbands back again.
Some wives pass the time with hobbies, some with exercise, some with working and unfortunately some fall into destructive habits like getting drunk every night or obsessively trying to lose weight by taking laxatives because it's one thing that they can control.
I can understand all of these, even the destructive ones, because the fact of the matter is when your spouse is deployed, it is like you have this huge gaping painful hole in your chest and sometimes you would do almost anything not to feel that. Sometimes a person copes and sometimes a person breaks under the pressure. You can never know who will do what because it's not like any of us have had any training for this. The military would prefer us to be invisible, or indeed not there at all. The 'silent ranks' as we are sometimes known.
There was a really tragic case of a woman who broke on my street. She had sunk into a really deep depression, noone had noticed and noone had made her go get help. She stopped cleaning the apartment or cooking for her kids and soon the apartment became unliveable and the kids showing signs of neglect. Eventually she did come to notice but by then it was too late and as we are in Germany it was the German authorities that took her kids into custody. She was sent back to the States for help, her kids somewhere in the German system.
People aren't too disparaging when they talk about her because even by army standards, by which any negative emotion other than anger is unacceptable in all levels of the community, a deployment, while posted in a different country with five kids to care for is a lot for anyone to deal with.
This brings us to army statistics - the costs of war on the military population if you will:
*Alcohol and drug abuse has almost doubled since 2003, with 11.1 soldiers out of every 1000 being admitted for counselling to help solve addictions. 21% of active duty personnel admit to drinking heavily. More so than their civilian peers.
*Perhaps the only indicator of spouse alcoholism (as there have been no studies done on the impact of long and repeated deployments on spouses) is the financial statistic of the $132million spent on caring for babies with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
*Statistics show that 20% of all Army marriages break apart within the first two years of marriage when one spouse has been sent to war.
*Suicide rates have risen steadily since 2002 and reached a record high last year, rising by 11% compared with 2007 (115 soldiers committed suicide in 2007 and 128 in 2008 - in 2000, this was around the 60 mark)
*As for adultery statistics in the military...good luck finding them. The same goes for any domestic violence statistics from after 2002. Make of that what you will. On the adultery issue, just from what I have heard around post about who did what with who and the amount of soldiers that still try to take girls home from the bar in spite of being married - I would guess that it's really high.
Most of these statistics have been put down to long, repeated deployments and indeed, compared to other militaries, the US military deployments are much longer. The British military only does 6 month deployments for example. And as I mentioned before, there have been no studies done on the impact on military spouses or children.
There is a saying in the military that in spite of the new military propaganda about being pro-family, if the military had wanted you to have a wife and kids then they would have issued you with them. This is why we are treated as though we are invisible. The military doesn't want to acknowledge the damage done to us or the children growing up with enough issues to fund an entire season of Oprah. The outrage from Military suicides back home is bad enough. Or the recent case of the soldier in Baghdad that went crazy and turned a gun on the people at the Combat Stress Facility...
So instead they push religion and the idea of the 'Super-spouse'. The spouse that never complains, works, looks after kids, fixes everything in her home and just breezes through deployments taking comfort in her faith and patriotism. She is also the spouse that never tells her husband if she is having a rough time of it or if she is having problems with something. Nope, when he calls, everything is hunky dory because to be otherwise is to jeopardise your husband's safety. Emotional blackmail Army style - nice.
But that's never true.
Behind every seemingly 'super' spouse is someone that misses their husband, that goes to sleep with a heavy heart wishing they weren't going to sleep alone again, that wakes up with a heavy heart realising that yes it's just another damn day of the deployment that never seems to end and would give anything for her husband to come home.
The only difference between the 'super' spouse and the rest of us is that she has just learned to keep her mouth shut so as not to betray her weaknesses. Either that or she's already been for some handy little pills from the doctor that make everything a bit fuzzy and floaty and she really doesn't give a shit anymore.
It's a game we all play to some extent, we keep up the charade that everything is fine. But some days the charade is harder to keep up than others.
Unfortunately for me, today is one of those days. I don't want to go to work later, it's so much harder to keep that classroom persona in place when your heart is so heavy it feels like it's going to fall out through your feet and then in turn through the floor, down through the downstairs neighbour's apartment, through the basement and finally settling somewhere in the foundations of the building with the silverfish and woodlice. The only thing to do of course is to get on out there regardless, hope you don't fuck up too much and have faith it will pass.