Now, lest you think I’m speaking in kinky euphemisms here, let me explain (yes, I just used kinky in a blog post. I can’t wait to see the list of incoming search terms now!).
I’ve spoken before about the numbness that comes into effect when you are dealing with a deployment or a detachment or a military separation of any sort. A part of me shuts off. I miss Husband. I unavoidably miss him. But most of my being is involved in consciously choosing not to miss him, because that’s the only way I can survive and stay up and functional and able to take care of my babies. I feel numb. Some days I will even feel highly disturbed because I am not sad enough in the missing of Husband.
My independence also necessarily flourishes when he’s gone. How could it not when I am entrenched in situations like the one I was in last night: Holding tight to Little Miss’s hand, reassuring her, as she howls and screams and cries while her poor little forehead is being stitched up, while simultaneously juggling Baboo? Even just figuring out how to get us all out the door and into our respective car seats last night while keeping the bleeding under control was an effort in independence.
It’s not just situational independence that separation brings. It’s also emotional independence. Like it or not, what happens in my days, inside and outside of my heart and soul and mind are primarily mine to deal with. I can share with friends, but friends have their own lives to sift through. I can send an email to husband… But I always have to wonder if my sending an email about how crappy I may be feeling is going to distract him and cause him to make a mistake on the Flight-deck that could cause him to be injured or worse. And practically, writing an email once or twice a day just doesn’t allow me to get into the nitty gritty of my emotions and thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears. Something special happens in the real time, real life exchanges of husband and wife that emails and letters and even phone calls just can’t capture.
So I deal with things on my own. I have to. I have no other choice. He does the same thing on his end. So we are two numb people, married and in love as we always have been, but not feeling that fully because we have to protect ourselves and go on with our lives and dealing with our own high-stress situations completely separately.
And then, Husband comes home. And suddenly, we are expected to switch ourselves back on again. I have to be switched on and ready to share household duties, to remember how to function with him as a couple, to remember how to share my physical, mental, and emotional burdens. I have to let the Novocaine wear off and feel again. Suddenly he is there and we hope to have that instant depth of marital interaction just all of a sudden.
Now, I’m dealing with depression. And part of the reason I’m dealing with depression is, ironically, because I’m so freaking functional when the ‘fit hits the shan.’ I get by fine. I handle things fine. I ‘deal with it’ fine. But I’m finding that because I’ve so long been in a situation of having no place for my emotions to go, of believing that there isn’t room for them, that I’ve simply just released them inward. As a result I find that I’m essentially emotionally imploding. I’m still getting by, but the cost of that getting by is higher and higher.
The more separations we handle, the more effective the Novocaine to the heart seems to get, and the harder it is to just ‘switch things back on’ when husband is home.
I’ve seen and have been seeing strong marriages (not my own) end at the end of long military related separations. As I’ve grappled with the whys of this I’ve come to believe that this is partially because of things like PTSD… Partly because one person in the marriage has literally been eating and sleeping and breathing only to stay alive in a war environment, while the other held down the homefront, and the changes those things bring about in the human psyche are difficult to reconcile into the marriage relationship. But I think it also has to do with this flipping of the ‘on and off’ switch. We turn ourselves relationally off for so long at a stretch, when we are together again we have to learn how to function in the ‘on’ position. And sometimes the switch sticks, and we continue to just ‘deal,’ because that has been our default position for so long.
It’s a scary and fragile thing to deal with. It is a scary thing to realize in myself. Husband and I are, hopefully, coming to the end of our season of extended separations. I am looking forward to having him home and to be given the opportunity to work on our marriage outside of survival mode. The first five years of our marriage have been exclusively survival mode years for many different reasons. I’m not sure we’ll know how to function outside of it.
I am recognizing that I am going to have to learn how to switch myself fully back ‘on.’ I am going to have to learn to feel again and I’m going to have to learn how to let Husband fully into my feelings. I pray that we will grow into an even deeper level of intimacy. Of course, that both frightens and excites me.
Even with this epiphany, I find that with each new separation the ‘away’ feels more normal. The numbness feels more acute. We hardly skip a beat when he leaves. We hardly skip a beat when he returns. We are still so very connected. We still love one another so very much. But we have to work through our rusty on/off switches. And that is often complicated by 12+ hour days and shifts that vary widely. Sadly, in a lot of ways, sometimes our ‘off’ switches just stay engaged. When the turnaround between away times is so short (two or three weeks or even less), there really is no way to fully renegotiate our marriage each and every time.
We only have a few more away times left. But those few still add up to a significant amount of time spent apart. I pray that God would help us to stay awakened to one another. I pray that he would help us learn to more fully enter in to one another’s respective emotional landscapes. I pray that he would keep our relationship in the palm of His hand until we are together in a more stable way.
I pray too that those of you who have read this post (and bless you for reading this long thing!) would lift the families of our military members up in prayer. I wish that you would lift them and us up not just in a general ‘God bless the troops and their families’ kind of way, but that you would pray specifically for the challenges this lifestyle poses for the family unit. While we don’t want sympathy for the path that we’ve chosen… While we’re proud to have served in our own small ways…. Being in a military marriage really is a whole different animal. Prayer and support for husbands and wives going through these constant adjustments is so important.
I don’t really know how to close this post. I’m sure everyone is ready for my verbal ‘off’ switch to engage. So without further ado, I’ll throw that switch.