November is Veterans & Military Families Month. The purpose of the month of recognition is to celebrate loved ones of service members and recognize their sacrifices. To honor the families of those who served, I wanted to share some perspective with the larger community on some of those sacrifices.
My husband deployed for 415 days and returned in July 2021. The separation was strenuous for both of us. He was working 16-hour days in a combat zone with no days off during COVID. This meant that there were no morale and welfare activities, meals were served in takeout containers, and the only places to go were his room, the gym, or his desk. In Kansas, I was working from home with little to no in-person social interaction. Sometimes, the most exciting part of my day was moving my “desk” from the couch to the dining room table. I was also navigating some significant family situations. I had to make the difficult choice of how much of the family problems I needed to share with my spouse. I wanted to ensure he was aware of my struggles, but I did not want to add to his already full plate. I was extremely lonely because the person who I would normally go to for support was temporally, emotionally, and physically unavailable.
The stories of separation and loneliness during deployments are shared frequently. These tests are those numerous people can sympathize with because most have dealt with separation from family, although for shorter durations than a deployment. But an aspect not frequently discussed is the trial after the deployment. One might presume that after the war is over, the warrior returns home, embraces the spouse, kisses the children on the head, and everything returns to normal. Reality contrasts with this presumption.
My spouse and I are now experiencing what the military calls ‘reintegration.’ My husband explained it as “relearning the quirks of your loved one, realizing you aren't the same person you were when you left, discovering hidden flaws you developed during the deployment, and adjusting to the fact that you aren't as integral to your spouse's daily life as you once were.” For the Service Member, there is an expectation that life is paused when they’re gone. For the Family Members, life must move on and so routines, and behaviors are adjusted to compensate for the drastic change in lifestyle. They expect the Service Member to step seamlessly into that new way of daily life when they return. The challenges of reintegration are compounded by the time spent apart and the type of separation.
To complicate matters, my husband and I did not start reintegration when he came home. Instead, we went directly into another stressful transition that many Military Families deal with every two to three years: a move. My husband did not return to the house he left. His familiar home was packed and headed for Europe. He was greeted by his lovely wife, a hotel, and a suitcase full of clothes he didn’t choose. I expected the brief period between redeployment and our move to Europe to be joyful. We could use that last week in Kansas to explore our favorite haunts, reconnect as a couple, and shed the stress of the last 14 months. The reality was my spouse had to out-process the base and we both spent most of our free time saying goodbye to loved ones.
Now that all our household goods have arrived and our paperwork to live in this new country is complete, my husband and I are finally starting to spend quality time together. Some context, he left in June of 2020 and we are just now starting the process of reintegration in November 2021. Eighteen months is a long time, and we have a lot of work to do to rediscover our (military).
This is just one story of a Military Family. But the reality is that these events, experiences, and sacrifices occur in some form to many, if not all. Each household deals with separation, loneliness, expectations that don’t meet reality, pains of reintegrating, and challenges of growing into a stronger family. I share our story to provide a window into what Military Families are quietly battling on a frequent basis.
This month, I ask you to reflect on these difficulties when you interact with a Military Family. Please share a kind word, get to know them, and welcome them into your community. My husband described it best, “It is not easy to go to war, it's hard to be in one, but it is also daunting to come back and preserve what was left behind (the Family)". The support you provide through understanding and compassion could be the key element to preserving and strengthening a Military Family.
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If you or a loved one is a veteran who’s been impacted by addiction or mental illness, our Veterans in Recovery program can help. We offer mental health and drug rehab programs for veterans at all of our Banyan rehab locations. Contact us today to learn how you or a loved one can get started.