By: Jennifer Patronas, USAF Veteran
Reintegration after a deployment does not end on Homecoming Day. Of course, it is an exciting day to be welcomed home, but is followed by a huge adjustment period for the entire family. Everyone changes after deployment. Everyone has unique experiences, good and bad. New habits are developed, good and bad. But afterwards, everyone must live together again and resume life, but things never go back to the way they were before. A new normal had to be created.
Sometimes it goes smoothly, but more often it doesn’t. For some, it takes a week or so to get back into the routine, but for others it can take months. It depends on the factors involved. Often, we have dreamt up a fairy tale version of the future, then we come home and wonder what happened to that fairy tale. We are exhausted, but we want to feel happy and loved, so we get frustrated when things don’t go as smoothly as we had hoped. Our expectations don’t match reality.
I remember when I came home from a deployment. It was not so simple. I felt like part of me never found its way home. The new me didn’t like big crowds, loud noises, and was hyper vigilant of my surroundings.
I had experienced a period of extended absence from the comfort and security of home. From family. From friends. Time spent dealing with the same people day after day. No change and no break. Working with them. Eating with them. Living with them. There was no escape of going home each day and no weekends. I remember it sucking for days and weeks. And then I came home. Everything was fine, right?
At first, I was absolutely elated to return home. To see my family. My friends. Even my co-workers. It is a high that can’t be expressed in words. In some way, it was something that should be familiar, but seemed completely foreign. When I saw my family, they were familiar, yet unfamiliar, there were subtle differences that made me feel as if things had changed. For the first few weeks, I had to remember how to fit in again.
And then there was the residual stress after returning home. Military members deal with each other in ways that are not normal to most. We are harsh to one another and don’t often act with kindness and gentleness. It made it hard to mesh well with my family and friends. I did things that they didn’t understand, and they did things that I didn’t understand, mostly because we had learned to function independently of one another. I confused that feeling with being unwanted and un-needed which was a hard pill to swallow. I was irritable. Confused. Sad. It was a difficult transition between the two worlds. I didn’t cope well.
That is when measures of mayhem arose. The insomnia. The anxiety. The irritability. Separating myself from family and friends. Sleeping all day. Refusing to talk to the people who cared about me. Giving in to instant gratification. Being self-destructive. Engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors.
I shut down for months. Then I realized that I would never be my old self again, so I needed to find a new normal that was a medium in-between my new self and old self. To reconnect with family and dial back the hyper vigilance.
Things will never be the same. But I have people in my life who understand and care. That is what makes each day tolerable… and softer.