My husband was sent on his first deployment to Iraq more than a decade ago. Yet, the day when I had to send him off was still so fresh in my mind as if it were yesterday. I remember driving him to the drop-off point to say our goodbyes. There were other people there too – wives and kids who were also sending their partner or parent off to war.
The atmosphere was a rather somber one as everyone had a worried look on their face. I could not bring myself to be brave and smile while I waved goodbye to my husband as he walked off to the gate with the other men who were being sent on the same mission. Tears were rolling down both my cheeks uncontrollably, and there are just no words that could accurately describe my feeling then.
That was my husband’s first deployment and also mine. I had no idea then how in the world I would be able to survive without him, and I was not even sure if he would be able to make it back in one piece. Believe me when I tell you that the first deployment is always the hardest since you do not know what to expect.
After more than 10 years, I have accumulated some experiences and learned ways that can help with getting through your partner’s deployments, especially the first one. Let me share with you what I have learned and hopefully, it will make it easier for you to cope with your first deployment.
HERE ARE 14 TIPS FOR SURVIVING YOUR FIRST DEPLOYMENT…
1. Be with your family
It might be a good idea to go home and be with your parents or family for a while to help get through this time of difficulty. It makes the situation easier to cope with when you are surrounded by people you trust and whom you know care about you.
2. Get a buddy
One of the worst things at this time is for you to be alone. You need someone to make plans with you, hang out with, or just talk to on a regular basis. While it is not necessary to find someone whose partner is also sent on a deployment, it certainly makes it easier for both of you to establish a mutual understanding if your buddy is also going through the same thing.
3. Know that the leave is not a permanent one
Reminding myself that my husband was not being sent away permanently and that this was just a temporary situation helped calm me down. This also meant that all the stress and worry I was feeling were also temporary and it would be over eventually.
4. Do not follow every piece of advice you come across
Understand that different people cope with difficult situations differently. There are many books, blogs, and forums on the internet that give advice on how to survive your first deployment. While it is good that you are looking for ways to help, do know that some will be effective for you while others will not. Give the advice some thought to see if it suits you before following it.
5. Let go of petty things
Additional stress and worry is perhaps the last thing you need when you are going through your first deployment. Therefore, you should not let small and petty things get to you. For example, if one of your friends is causing a lot of drama, just keep yourself out of it. You have more important things to take care of instead of dealing with petty squabbles.
6. Start a diary
I have found that writing down my thoughts and worries helped me a lot. Somehow, my diary was like a listening ear, and it can also be something that you give to your partner when they return from their deployment. In a way, that thought comforted me a lot when my husband was away. It kept me looking forward to the day when I could give him the diary myself.
7. Be strong and brave
You might be surprised at the strength you can find within yourself that even you did not know existed. Being a military spouse will make you into a stronger person because you really do not have any other option.
8. Know that you are not alone
You might feel rather sad and lonely at this time but know that you are not the only one going through this. Just that thought alone did help me get through my first deployment. If other people can do it, why can’t I?
9. Not everyone understands your situation
Even some military spouses might not understand what you are going through. Some people deal with it better than others. If you feel that someone is giving you any negativity about your situation, the best thing you can do is to stay away from them. Only surround yourself with people who can empathize with you even if they have never been through a deployment at all.
10. Let your emotions out
Do not keep your feelings bottled up inside. If you feel like you need a good cry, then you should certainly do so without any shame. It is a great way to release tension and help calm yourself down. Know that crying does not mean that you are weak and it is a viable coping mechanism.
11. Trust your partner
Just like any long distance relationship, the most important thing is to have a solid sense of trust. Being away on a military mission means that your partner might not always be able to stick to a schedule. If they missed out on a scheduled telephone call that you have been looking forward to for ages, do not immediately lose your temper. Trust that your partner has your best interest at heart and they could not make the phone call for a good reason. Being able to stay calm, rational, and trusting will help both of you get through the deployment a lot easier.
12. Do not think about the next deployment
It is possible that you hear news of your partner’s next deployment even before the first one has ended. Do not let that get to you. Remember, you need to take one step at a time or you might get overwhelmed. Concentrate on surviving the first deployment because you will have plenty of time to worry about the next one – if it even happens at all.
13. Pick up a hobby or skill
You might find yourself with a lot of extra spare time now that your partner is not around. Do not let loneliness get to you and instead, fill your time with something that you enjoy doing like a hobby. You could also take up a course and learn something new, like cooking classes, which you could surprise your partner with when they finally return.
14. Do not be afraid to seek professional help
Should you find it extremely difficult to cope with the situation and might be at risk of falling victim to depression, you must seek professional help immediately. There is nothing embarrassing or shameful about asking for help when you need it. If you do not know where to start, you can visit Military One Source to obtain some details that might help.
What other suggestions would you give to someone who is trying to get through their first deployment?