Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Seeking Solitude as a Survival Skill (the four S's)

**This was scheduled to be a Friday Feature post on the now-defunct Semper Spouse blog.  I decided to post it here after I learned that Semper Spouse was closed down by its founders.**

I am normally NOT a fact, quite the opposite! I love to socialize, talk, hang out with friends, and even more, I love to have people over. Hosting a get-together at my house is one of my favorite things to do.

But when my husband is deployed, I become such an introvert. I still want and need that connection with others, but it seems it just takes TOO MUCH ENERGY to socialize with my civilian friends, and until recently, I really didn't have many milspouse friends.

I thought about this on a recent Saturday night, as I sat on my couch in the same pajamas I'd been wearing for almost 24 hours, watching my soap opera on my DVR, while playing "Words With Friends" on my iPad. Can anyone say LOSER??? OK, don't all race to the comment box and tell me not to be so hard on myself, I am not actually CALLING myself a loser. But, I definitely would have looked the part in the eyes of any of my civilian friends at that moment! All I needed to complete the look would be a half-eaten bag of chips next to me on the couch, with crumbs on my chin and shirt. Right?

But what those civilian friends would never be able to see in this scene is that this is actually a carefully crafted strategy for coping with deployments.

You see, I have been to this circus before. I know what comes after the dancing elephants, and I don't need some well-meaning friend to point out the shows that I am missing in the adjoining tents! This is our third deployment, after all.

During our first deployment I made the mistake of stepping up my social life, branching out to try to cover the loneliness. I went out to clubs almost every weekend, sometimes on both Friday nights AND Saturday nights. With my *SINGLE* girlfriends, because I couldn't bear to be around happy married couples, when my other half was on the other side of the world. While I never actually DID anything that could have destroyed my marriage, I stupidly followed temptation around everywhere. And drank too much. I acted stupid and immature, and it set me back several years, emotionally speaking. So I was in no shape to deal with the tornado that was re-integration, and I still shake my head in wonder at the series of miracles that had to fall into place SIMULTANEOUSLY to result in an intact marriage after that.

Our second deployment was even harder on me, and I threw myself into work as a distraction. I worked my ASS off, averaging 12 hours a day away from home (I had about a 30 minute commute to work at the time). I even worked on the weekends sometimes, and when I didn't actually GO to work on a Saturday or a Sunday, I usually brought some work home with me. Do you think my boss noticed or cared? NOPE. I never got one extra brownie point for any of it. My staff knew I was half-crazy with the deployment, and they were incredibly supportive and wonderful...but at night I would go home and the reality of deployment was too much to I would have a glass of wine to help me relax, dull the pain a little. Yes, there were a lot of nights that 'a glass' of wine became 'a bottle' of wine.... but it's not like I was driving anywhere or anything, right? Of course, hubby's return meant that I HAD to cut down on the alcohol, because I wanted to actually enjoy his homecoming, and more than that, wanted him to be proud of me - not disgusted with the LUSH I was becoming. So once again, I complicated our re-integration process by depending way too heavily on a crutch that I had to suddenly discard on his return...and it was HARD. I did manage to go back to my 'normal' social-drinking status...a glass (or two) of wine once or twice a month at social functions, and that's it. But doing that WHILE trying to fit my family back into our pre-deployment roles, and WHILE trying to keep a job that suddenly expected me to work 12 hour days, since I had done it for 7 months, well it just sucked.

Now, the wine itself is not a bad coping tool, if used properly. However, this third deployment is a whole different animal, since I am pregnant. When hubby left, I was 19 weeks pregnant, and when he returns, I should have a (roughly) 12 week old infant to introduce to him. So, no wine for me this time! I will confess, I do eat A LOT of grapes these days though. Not the same thing, but somehow they do satisfy my craving for wine.

In addition to being pregnant this time around, I am also unemployed. This means I have *WAY TOO MUCH* time to think about - and miss - my hubby. I have some social life, but I have to really try hard to actually paste on a smile and act like everything is OK. Something as simple as having lunch with a girlfriend means I have to ignore the cute couple smooching in the next booth (and the pang of loneliness that comes with that sight). It means I have to struggle to figure out when to laugh at a joke that I only half-heard, since I was spacing out again, daydreaming about my hubby. It means I have to come up with a stupid story about having something in my eye when I see a proud daddy patiently spooning baby food into his little one's eager mouth. It means I have to really THINK of something to say that won't sound lame.

And it all sounds lame.

I've found that it is not nearly as stressful to socialize with military wives, because they 'get it'. Especially if they are also dealing with deployment. I do make it a point to go SOMEWHERE once a week at a minimum, preferably with a milspouse. I have reached out to complete strangers to build a small social group of milspouses - through my blog, and through meetup and facebook, as well as word of mouth (stealing my friends' friends! ha ha ha)

But in the meantime, I choose to stay home, and be bored/lazy/loser-ish. It is safe. I can cry or laugh as much as I need to, with no one to wonder if they should call the men in white coats to come and take me away. At home, I can be whichever version of "ME" I need to be at any given moment, and make no apologies. I know for certain that I have good cell signal in my own living room, so I don't have to worry about missing a call from my love. I can blog for hours at home - or just read the blogs of fellow milspouses, if I have writer's block. Best of all, when I am home, on my couch, I can obsessively check email every 30 seconds to see if my hubby has sent me anything - and when he does, I can talk to myself about it. I even have a good built-in critic right here to proofread my emails to Hubby, and tell me how wonderful and supportive I am of my husband when I write *JUST* what he needs to hear. I am, after all, a pretty good listener, and I might be the best friend I've ever had. I mean, who else has been with me through EVERYTHING? ME!

And if the crutch I use to cope with deployment this time is MYSELF - at least I know that I can hang onto that crutch to also get through the difficult re-integration process.

I think I am finally getting good at this Marine Wife thing...learning to rely on MYSELF.


TAW said...

Oh I totally agree! It's not even the actual going out with my non-mil friends that bugs me, it's that they all get to go home to their hubbies and I have to go home to an empty house. It's the going home that I find the hardest. Even something like a baby shower, I go, and the whole time I'm thinking "crap, can't even dish to DH when I get home and tell him what crazy Aunt Mary did." It makes me really just want to stay home. But it's never a good thing to act "single" - no one wants to be THAT wife, LOL.

Relying on yourself is a good strategy. Sometimes, you're the only person you can rely on.

Laura said...

Up until the commend about the "ipad" I thought I was reading my own life. In fact, replace "ipad" with "iphone" and I AM reading my own life!

But as I'm reading this, I almost see your 3 deployment as "stages" of mine. I had the "lonely" phase, the "socialite" phase, the "workaholic" phase...maybe even a "pregnant" phase (crosses fingers).

And don't feel bad. I got out of bed at noon today, took a lazy 3 hours to actually complete the process of "cleaning up", then I made pizza rolls. Putting my satellite TV subscription in hibernation is looking like a pretty idiotic move right about now. There's only so much you can watch on Hulu before going mad.

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