This blog post is in honor of all Veterans this Veteran’s Day.
My heart goes out to each and every somebody out there who has a loved one serving in the Armed Forces who is being deployed overseas.
Of course, my heart goes out to each and every somebody out there who has a loved one serving in the Armed Forces, period!
Because if your loved one is serving, then by association, so are you!
Your loved one is making sacrifices for our country, and that means so is his or her family, significant others, kids, and community.
WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, no matter what your personal beliefs about war, the particular conflicts our nation has become involved in, or whether you think you have anything to do with the military…we are all impacted by the tours of duty being pulled by men and women all over the world.
I come from a long line of military family members, and spent a year without my Dad when he served in Thailand during the Vietnam War.
I am married to a former Green Beret who did his tour in Vietnam, and I try every day to help him feel welcomed home.
And currently, my younger brother (I don’t call him my baby brother anymore, him being a Lt. Colonel and all in the Air Force) left in April of 2010 to serve a tour of one year in Baghdad, Iraq.
I work with veterans of all ages and with their family members.
Recently, I’ve seen a lot of people…mainly the mothers, girlfriends, fiancées, and wives of men in the military who are being deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan.
The worry, anxiety, and difficulty they were feeling coping with their loved one leaving for an unknown and potentially dangerous situation where they may or may not have much contact was often seemingly unbearable.
I did the best I could as their therapist to help them gain control over what they could, get in touch with their spirituality and faith to help with the rest, and to take care of themselves.
BUT THEN IT GOT PERSONAL….
When my brother told me he was going to serve a year in Iraq, I was like….whoa, wait up!
I’d been used to him being very, very far away from me for long periods of time.
He has been stationed in Korea, Saudi Arabia, Guam, and Hawaii (yeah…hard to feel sorry for him on that last one). There have been stretches of years between seeing him for holidays.
But this was different.
We are in the middle of a nasty conflict “over there.”
And now he’s going “over there.”
This wasn’t settling too well with me, despite my having heard and dealt with this story from other people many, many times before.
This was personal. This was MY brother. My ONLY brother.
Like my best-friend-kind of brother, who I don’t know what I would do without in this world.
So, I’m thinking back to all the things I work with my clients on when it comes to coping with this situation.
Because now it’s me.
The Universe’s way of helping me learn more empathy for those who are suffering?
Hmmm…. Well, being the client now, I started to go back and try to remember and put into practice what I preach.
I am working on this one day at a time. Some days are better than others. And that’s okay.
I don’t expect to resolve all my feelings and fears once and for all, and then never have to deal with that ugly monster’s head coming back up.
I know it will rear up and frighten me, sometimes when I least expect it.
Like when two guys in suits rang my doorbell out of the blue and (completely forgetting my brother was on his mid-deployment leave and was safe) my heart started racing because I was dreading bad news…it was the only time in my life I’ve been truly grateful to have Mormons at my door trying to convert me!
PUT THE SERENITY PRAYER INTO ACTION….
The thing I seem to come back to over and over are the basics of the Serenity Prayer, because who doesn’t want to be all serene if possible, right?
If you don’t already know it so well you can quote it, it goes something like this: “God give me the Serenity to accept those things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”
So, when faced with something difficult, I usually start with trying to summon up the courage to change the things I can.
I like to be able to find at least one thing I can do something about….it prevents feeling completely and totally helpless.
So what can I do in a deployment situation?
I looked at what I could do and tried to do it.
I put flights to Washington, D.C. on my credit card and spent last Christmas with my brother touring Colonial Williamsburg and D.C. (where he lived) so I would have a wonderful time, memories, and pictures to last me until I could see him again.
I stocked up on little tealights…like hundreds and hundreds of them. Why?
My husband told me that his father, raised Catholic, went to church and lit a candle for him every single day he served in Vietnam. True story.
That’s what he did, and it made sense to me.
That’s something I can do for my brother.
I’m not Catholic, but I can certainly light a candle to basically say to God and the Universe: someone I love is out there, I don’t know where, but please watch over him and keep him safe.
It may not sound like much of “something to do,” but it works for me.
I am forwarding his mail to him every month, baking and sending cookies, emailing him weekly…all the things that you would do for someone overseas to let them know you are thinking of them and that they matter to you.
These are the things I can do something about
Now for the harder part….getting the serenity to accept the things I cannot do anything about.
HOW DO YOU ACCEPT THAT SOMETHING BAD COULD HAPPEN?
Well, this is really tough. I’m not gonna lie to you.
The whole reason anyone worries about their loved one serving in wartime is because there is this fear that “something bad could happen.”
They could be injured, wounded, or die.
They could be emotionally traumatized for the rest of their lives.
The list could go on….and depending on how good your information is about war and where they are serving, and your imagination, you can come up with a long, gory list that would keep you up night after night after night.
Instead of catastrophizing, I try to think about it this way…
FIRST, THE ONLY REASON YOU’RE WORRYING IS BECAUSE YOU CARE…
Sounds ridiculous to even say it, but it’s important for me to remind myself that the entire reason why I have “something to cope with” in the first place is because the person who is going off to this dangerous part of the world is someone I actually care about!
Men and women have been being shipped off to serve all over the world for centuries.
It doesn’t cause you sleepless nights and indigestion until it’s YOUR loved one.
But don’t forget, it is YOUR LOVE that makes this so important.
It is the quality of the relationship you have with your loved one that makes this so important.
The thing to focus on here is THE LOVE.
That kind of bond, that kind of love, that kind of connection is something to celebrate
That you wonder how you would live your life without that person in it means there is something really beautiful that you share. How many people aren’t as lucky as you to have this?
How many people are still in search of this relationship?
What an amazing connection you share that of course you don’t want severed.
When I can remember this…that love is the reason why I care so much, and let myself feel the love and care, it seems to help with the anxiety.
Love is a pretty good antidote for fear.
SECOND, THE TIME TO WORRY IS …NEVER!
The thing I also try to do is not worry.
Why should you work to stop the worry?
Well, here’s one way you can handle a deployment: You’re worrying all the time that you’re going to get that dreaded phone call or knock on the door.
You’re worrying all the time that your loved one is going to be hurt.
You’re worrying all the time about whether your loved one is okay.
Your mind creates the worst-case scenarios and plays them over and over in your head.
And every time you think about something horrible happening to your loved one, your body reacts as if it is actually happening!
Yep, your body doesn’t really get the difference between what you are experiencing as a result of reality versus a result of something you are imagining.
So your poor adrenal glands just respond on command with more stress hormones, your heart races, your stomach clenches, you can’t sleep…the good old fight or flight response.
Good way to burn yourself completely out!
Not very responsible behavior…if we are talking about trying to improve our “ability to respond”.
So here’s the secret: don’t worry about what MIGHT happen.
Decide that you will deal with whatever happens….but only WHEN IT HAPPENS!
Which is kind of what I did when the doorbell rang and I saw two strange men in suits standing there.
My first thought was…oh no, I don’t want to hear anything bad about my brother…and I panicked…heart raced…the whole thing.
Because I truly did think for a moment that my worst-case scenario was about to get played out. For all I knew, the dreaded “it” was happening.
But that’s one of the very few times I’ve been really stressed out about his being in Iraq since he’s been gone.
If the worst-case scenario we dread ever does come true, we are going to have to deal with it.
We are not going to have a choice.
I would have had to deal with bad news whether I wanted to or not.
And I am so grateful I did not have to that day. I hope I never do.
But if you don’t have bad news, then what you have is good!
That’s what you focus on, appreciate, and try to enjoy….not the potential for something bad happening.
I know this sounds a lot easier to say than to do, and it is.
Because I’ve been trying to do it, too.
But it works, which is reassuring…because I don’t like to ask people to try things that I am not convinced are effective.
So, if you’re in this particular boat and dealing with this issue, as Bill Clinton said, “I feel your pain!”
But it doesn’t have to be as painful.
Your loved one who is deployed doesn’t want you worrying, sick, anxious, depressed, scared, and just trying to hang in there.
Your loved one wants you positive, optimistic, and well…strong and healthy and able to help when he or she returns from their deployment with anything they may need from you.
So, let’s get some courage and serenity…and a little wisdom is bound to show up, hopefully right when we need it!
And from me to you and your loved one…thank you for your service and your sacrifice.