The Five Stages of Deployment

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It is almost 8 weeks since Daddy Big Feet returned home from his 6 month Deployment. I wanted to write a post like this for a while but seasons like these are often better when allowed to marinate for a while.

The truth of the matter is, often people think that once our deployed loved ones return that all goes back to normal. This is not the case, in fact it can take weeks for normality to return. It is one full of ups and downs, happiness, arguments and readjustments. To make matters more complicated with lots of deployments in the forces, often families are moved soon after their loved ones return, as was the case with us. Daddy Feet returned and we moved about 3 weeks later. So here we are in a new county and location, new nursery and school for the Little Feet and it has taken some time generally to regain our balance.

If one were to break a deployment season down I would say it was one of FIVE stages. I write from a magnolia-walled truth, broken down into factual emotions of what we went through as a family with young Little Feet. Every deployment can differ depending on what life stage you are, my Five Stages looked different when we went through a 7 month deployment when we didn’t have Little Feet. This is where we were this time.

THE FIVE STAGES OF DEPLOYMENT


STAGE ONE: FINDING OUT A DEPLOYMENT IS HAPPENING

This is when your other half comes home (if you have an emotionally aware husband or wife!) and tells you they are being sent on deployment. Firstly, it is just being told that that produces an intake of breath. Then you wait for the ‘how long’ and the ‘how dangerous’. In that time, your stomach has dropped to your feet and your heart is in your mouth as you wait to hear the verdict. While your uniformed spouse is rattling off details, you are probably already working out what they’ll be missing in those months and wondering how you’ll all survive. Emotions can be erratic and can honestly range from unexpected malfunctions of tear ducts, to stoic silence, to hysterical laughter. Honestly, you can’t predict which one of those it will be until it is already happening.

STAGE TWO: THE BUILD UP TO THE DEPLOYMENT

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Visual: imagine a balloon being blown up very slowly. If you don’t stop blowing the sheer pressure of the air has no where to go… POP

This is one of the most unbearable parts that I have previously talked about. For your Little Feet they don’t really understand what is going on or the concept of one of their parents being away for a ‘long, long’ time. What they do understand and feel is the atmosphere that is building in the house they live in. As much as the Big Feet try and control themselves, it is really out of their hands. Emotions go from ‘I love yous’ and embraces that last forever, to uncontrollable bickering and arguments. Those being left behind desperately trying to organise themselves but are acutely aware of the panic bubbling away at their chests. Those that are going away are no better. If you have Little Feet, it is the physical and emotional pain of knowing how much they will miss in the next few months.

STAGE THREE: THE FIRST HALF OF THE DEPLOYMENT

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This part begins with physical pain. I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but it is the honest truth. I have talked about this in previous posts. As the adults we have to be strong for our Little Feet who are confused, whose sleep will be disturbed for weeks because of the unsettlement of Daddy or Mummy not being there. The tears. But mostly the pain. For the husband or wife left behind, those first few days stretch out like a desert with no end in sight. The pang in your chest feels like you are repeatedly getting your heart ripped out as it is ravaged by a pack of wild animals. It aches as if it is empty. And before you assume this is just me being melodramatic, I’ve had conversations with others who described this feeling unprompted. That ache thankfully subsides and becomes your companion for the duration. The pain becomes bearable as its taint reminds you that your family is incomplete.

STAGE FOUR: RNR AND THE SECOND HALF OF THE DEPLOYMENT

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Rest and Recuperation (RnR) is the magical wish come true and the magical curse realised. Again, I have talked about this before. The two week period of your loved ones coming home in the middle(ish) of their deployments (if 5 months or longer) are a gift and a curse. They are wonderful times to reconnect, but also to be on edge knowing the inevitable is happening again. The pressure of cherishing every last second weighs heavily on you and can feel like you can barely breathe.

If you have Little Feet, they may have only just gone back to sleeping properly and this excitement shakes it up and then disrupts it all over again when they leave. Older ones who now have a concept of how ‘long, long’ really is, realise that their parent is going to be gone for that same time again.

I mentioned tears in Stage Three, but these tears were just babbling brooks in comparison to the sheer force of the waterfalls that will occur in Stage Four. Or at least they did for us. Stage Four was hands down the worst stage of us in our 5 Stages of Deployment. Emotionally my eldest was broken. She became a shell of herself, not wanting to go to school, crying at school, anxious about being alone at any time, broken sleep with horrifying nightmares. It was the pits and painfully difficult to watch her go through that. My youngest’s sleep suffered the entire deployment that we ended up co-sleeping for half the night so that we both got some sleep.

STAGE FIVE: HOMECOMING AND LIFE READJUSTMENTS

He is home. Oh joyous day!

Well that is done and dusted right? HA. We all wish.

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Alas, no. No in Stage Five you can still feel the aftermath reverberations many weeks afterwards. The first week is exuberant but scattered with routine reminders of how things are done or how the children’s routines have changed. The irritation starts to show, you have spent the last half of the year having complete control of the house. How tidy it is, where everything has a place, you have your own routine, the kids have their routine, you have an evening routine. And all of that has been thrown up in the air. Suddenly, three people are sleeping in the bed and that no longer works, suddenly their is kit everywhere in piles of laundry, boots…oh so many boots! In a blink of an eye your military ordered house has become chaotic and crowded. Suddenly you realise you have to allow them back into your lives. This sounds ridiculous but honestly to survive you have had to create a rigid life just to get through the other side.

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Daddy Big Feet was home for a week before I went away for a much needed week of me time with my sister. This was preplanned and kept me going through those 6 months. I had never been away from my girls for that long but I was excited. It meant that Daddy had some proper Daddy-Daughter time and I had some switch off time. So off I went to Rome and I spent the time not being ‘Mummy’ but me, Grace. In that time, I thought of nothing other than what we would see that day, what we’d eat and what I’d wear (and thinking about the children, obviously!). I had no timings to catch, my sister pretty much did all the navigation and all the necessary tourist planning. We pounded the streets of Rome for 6 days and though my legs and feet were knackered, day by day I began to feel a like I was being put back together slowly. That week scattered the many hats I had taken to wearing and simplified the hat down to my own personal hat.

Stage Five has been one of realisations for myself. Emotionally I had nothing left. Physically my body was on its knees and mentally my fortifications were showing cracks in the highly built up walls I had created. To be truthful my body is still recovering and I’ve had some hard truths to come to terms with.

Two weeks after my return we moved house and it is here I write this blog. A week after moving my back went. I suffer from lower back pain sporadically but this was hands down the worst I have ever experienced. In the mornings I physically couldn’t get out of bed. The pain was excruciating when my spine realigned itself when I attempted to sit up. I was in tears every morning as it took me almost half an hour to go from flat to sitting and then standing with the help of Daddy Big Feet. I can thankfully say that I am no longer in that much pain thanks to acupuncture and a wonderful osteopath. Those two weeks were terrifying, I couldn’t do anything with the kids and I had almost all my family over for the Easter weekend, in a house that we had just about unpacked. I only mention this because it made me realise that I had still emotionally and mentally been going at it alone since Daddy Big Feet had returned. I had still been going full pelt ahead since he had returned. But I was in so much pain and I felt like my body was finally saying enough. He had to help me physically and emotionally. I am mostly forever thankfully it happened after he was home as I honestly don’t know what I would have done if he wasn’t.

Life has slowed down again and like an onion I’m slowly peeling away. And guess what, we are finally getting back to the beginning in a beautiful circle.

Little Feet A is finally enjoying school again at her new school (it was a bumpy couple of weeks). Little Feet B seems to enjoy her new nursery and there haven’t been any tears. Both girls are finally starting to sleep better now they understand Daddy is here to stay for the foreseeable future. The house is finally coming together, Daddy Big Feet begins work in a couple of days and we are slowly falling back into life’s rhythms.

So for now we are back as a family of four and a fur ball, hopefully for a good few months, perhaps even for a couple of years, before the inevitable will happen again…

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