This is hard. My husband has been deployed to Afghanistan for four months and I am treading water, trying every day not to drown. The day after he left, I asked my friend Mary if it was too early to order his homecoming banner. Never one to mince words, she replied, simply, “Yes.”
And so it goes; as soon as they leave, we start planning for their return. We ignore the obvious absence in our lives by planning for the come back, the reunion, for homecoming.
As for us, we are past our halfway point of this deployment. My plans for self-improvement are in high gear — as in completely abandoned. I have given up on plans to transform our diet (Lunchables for dinner, everyone!). My twice-weekly personal training sessions are barely keeping up with the handfuls of Hershey’s kisses I stuff in my face every night. At this point it’s all about surviving. Outlast, outwit, outplay. Endure. Four down, two to go.
And boy do I feel guilty.
Because we won the Army deployment lottery. Instead of being gone nine or twelve months, a typical Army deployment, my husband will only be gone for six. I am constantly apologizing for this, in one form or another.
Last month, I was at a freezer meal making party. (Seriously. Don’t judge. It was amazing. You know you want one.) The host asked me how far along we were in our deployment. I started by apologizing, my natural reflex, especially when I’m around those who have faced or are currently facing a longer separation. The host, also an Army spouse, sort of chuckled and saved me, commenting about how crazy this life is, where a six month deployment is something to praise your lucky stars for.
Indeed. I live in the alternate universe where your loved one being in a war zone for “only” six months is a lucky break, something to be guilty of, something that should be no big deal, because other families are separated for so much longer.
But my heart didn’t get the memo. My heart doesn’t feel lucky. The four months behind us have gone by like molasses in winter. That we still have two-plus months left is inconceivable and shattering. Thinking about how it could be longer sends me into a panic-induced shame spiral that can only be halted by powdered donuts. Those battling the 9 or 12-month deployments, I don’t know how they are doing it. I think to myself, “It must be so much harder!” But what could possibly be more hard than the impossible I’m currently living?
Enter one of those awful but impossible to resist Upworthy videos, the one from TEDxBoulder about how we all need to come out of our own closet. Ash Beckham explains that hard is not relative, hard is just hard. “There is no “harder,” just hard.”
Honestly, it’s a hard point to see. If it’s not easier, than it must be harder, right? Many of us in the military spouse realm would do well not to feed into the tendency to compare our lives to others and measure up accordingly. It’s a completely natural impulse, but one that leaves us feeling different, when the truth is that we all have hard. Whether your deployment is six or twelve months, military or civilian, we all have hard. Whether it’s a bankruptcy, or telling your kids you’re getting a divorce, or moving to a new city, or overcoming addiction — we all have hard.
When I have the urge to apologize about our six month deployment, I wish that I could embrace this. That I could just say it’s hard and move on. But I hesitate to substitute that lesson for my go-to apology line. I still have a hard time seeing past my own hard, out of fear that one day, it will get harder.
Josie Beets is an attorney, military spouse, and mom. Follow her on Twitter @JosieBeets.