Having a significant other deployed overseas in a war zone is a steep learning curve.
What I did was go on holiday the DAY he went. So, I had a little cry and even though I did not feel like it, I had to get on a plane and go to the UK. I spent a week or so in the company of friends and family; and also got in some self indulgent shopping/travel time.
So, the first week didn’t count, it was like being on holiday while he was still back at home. The second week. OMG. Now, I planned a lot of stuff to keep me busy, made sure I had social arrangements but I was still a mess. Worrying about something terrible happening is like a full time job.
Now, if you are worried that, say, you might leave the iron on and burn down your house, you can go to therapy and the therapist can say “Well, it seems unlikely, right?” and that’s that. It’s your own imagination which is messing you up.
If you are worried that your boyfriend might get shot by a sniper/lucky shot, a disgruntled ANA soldier or blown up up by an IED, the therapist can only do so much in the way of reassuring you. You just have to make your peace with the horrific things that can happen.
Before he left, there were a lot of training exercises. He was on a training exercise when he told me he might have to go to war. I had been having a major anxiety attack about something else and the left hand side of my face was numb and tingly. The lead up to the deployment was horrible. We got on fine, no major fights which can be common. But he was hardly around. There was a briefing for the relatives but I refused to go. It was an entire Saturday, not long before he left and resented the army taking our time with each other away AGAIN. Also, I have a low tolerance for bullshit and I had an idea there might be a bullshit “women’s rights/important role for stability/Afghanistan is nearly ready for us to leave” narrative. Also, you know, it was in Danish.
Once he got there, the opportunities to communicate are pretty poor. In these days of video calls and instant text messaging, what is considered “good” is a satellite phone that only distorts 5-10% of speech and the delay is only 1 second. Most phones are much worse than this. I cannot call him, he has to call me. We can’t agree on a regular time for a few reasons. First, he never knows when the phones are free and he prefers to avoid lining up. Second, sometimes people die or are badly injured and they have to shut down communication with the outside world in case someone lets the news out before the relatives have been contacted. Third, he does not always know when he has a mission and even if he does, he is not allowed to tell me about it. He has interpreted this on the “safe” side. A lot of soldiers are able to say to their partners, “I won’t be ringing tomorrow” without feeling that great military secrets have been spilled to the enemy.
As I never know when he will ring this has knock on effects on my behaviour. I sometimes do not feel like going anywhere or doing anything, in case I miss his call. Being called for a long time and regularly, means that I feel a lot better about missing the occasional call. At the start, he would ring around once a week for twenty minutes and that was hell.
In a lot of ways, I am pretty lucky. Apparently, soldiers in other armies have only 15 mins a week or something ridiculous. When my boyfriend rings, he can stay on the line for as long as he wants. This is great because it’s not like I get to speak to many people. But there are people who have it better than me. Some are able to text their partners “Are you free?” and some have good skype connections.
I send him a lot of post. He is not very good at empathising with his future self. So, he tells me not to send so many sweets or send packages less often or send fewer magazines. I follow his instructions and a week later, he is disappointed! Ha! The Danish army does not provide free postage like the British army. I have to pay for the package to get to a base in Sjælland and this can be pretty expensive. The rest of the trip is free, though! There is email and he can check that occasionally. He almost never emails back. He never posts me anything.
I made some friends with people going through the same thing and they are really good people. It is nice to talk to others and find out what is universal and what is just me. (Most of it is universal)
There are resources for American army wives and they are much better than the Danish ones. American deployments are hardcore, they are longer and there is much reduced contact home. The effect on the partner and family is documented and presented “warts and all”. The Danish information is a little redacted. They acknowledge it might be hard but do not set out a timeline or advise exactly which emotions come and when. I was right on schedule according to the American information. The Danish stuff also tries to make you think of the POSitive. (For fuck’s sake.)
Eventually, I got used to being alone and all that. I felt “single” but without the need to find a new partner. I was nervous that when he came back, there would be trouble because I was so used to being by myself. His leave period was a bit fraught at times. He wanted to chill out playing computer games and while I welcomed a little alone time and understood his need to decompress, I felt terribly rejected after the third or fourth consecutive hour of gaming. But we reconnected and had a good time, though it was clear the leave period was “for” him and nothing to do with me or my emotional state.
When he left after R&R, I felt much better than when he left the first time. The only time that consistently sucks is Sunday. Monday through Friday, I am busy at work and I usually can find something to do on Saturday. But Sundays are bullshit! There is nothing to do and what would be great is to spend time with him and have fun.
Christmas is weird, it’s like one long Sunday. I am not a fan of Christmas and we don’t have children so it is okay. My mum is here, so we are having a nice time together. He is not a big fan of Christmas either, so he is fine with being away from home at this time. New Years is going to suck. It’s my favourite festival. We met on New Years, we got together officially around New Years. It is going to be weird without him. I don’t feel that strongly about it, though. Six months apart is six months apart. I am not sure him missing both our birthdays, our “anniversary”, Christmas and New Years is actually worse than if he had deployed in the six months where there was nothing to celebrate.
He gets back in late February. He wants to stay there as long as possible so he can make as much money as possible. This pisses me off, I am not ashamed to admit. There is now a dollar sign attached to our time together and it’s not worth more than a week’s deployment wages.
I am counting down Sundays. I think there are seven left, though it is subject to change.
So, seven “real” Sundays left. Somehow, it does not feel any better than when it was double that. It is still too long.
I wish the governments in charge would come to their senses and pull the troops out, though it will come too late for us. I hope those who lost loved ones in the war on terror can come to a place of peace with their loss.