When people think of mental health linked to deployment their minds often jump to combat situations, being injured or dealing with dramatic situations. While these situations do happen overseas and can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), there are other issues with being in a combat zone that can easily be overlooked.
I deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 on an Army assignment, while serving in the Air Force. The unit I was assigned to was a mix-mash of active duty Air Force, active duty Army, Army National Guard and a handful of civilians. We were assigned to a French Forward Operating Base with very few American assets.
With this mixed group, it isn’t surprising that personalities collided.
There were a number of regular emotions that were going on that lead to the added stress not found in typical everyday America:
The stress of being in a combat zone.
Living with the same people you work with.
The added stress back home that you can’t control.
Embarking on an adventure that you feel slightly prepared for and hope to survive.
Dealing with Stress
People cope with the stress by blurring socially accepted parameters. Being deployed is like being in an alternate universe where an unacceptable way to act is considered normal. It is hard to put into words. But you don’t have the energy to deal with these situations and it is easier to just accept them as normal.
People have to deal with stress in their own way to get through each day.
The military spent a lot of time preparing troops to get through various combat situations. The amount of information I learned about Improvised Explosive Devices, nation building, contract documentation and more was how the military helped us prepare for our mission. But focusing on how to cope with emotions or getting help was truly lacking.
At our Forward Operating Base, we didn’t even have a Chaplain we could go to for help.
Coming Home From the Deployment
After a year of being gone, I came home from my deployment. Something didn’t feel quite right. I answered all the questions the military required, but nothing popped up outside the range of normal. I even reached out and met with a counselor and talked to her about feeling off. She stated everything I felt was normal and assured me I would be okay. Life got busy, I felt normal and the feeling of being off went away.
But deep down there was something inside me. Something unsettled about the pain that had been caused by the people who were supposed to be supporting me through the deployment.
Betrayal, hurt, rage, all pushed aside.
Then when I left the military to become a mom, the sleepless nights, loss of purpose, and not having the ability to stay in control pushed me to find help.
I knew there was something wrong. I knew that my deployment scars that I was very good at hiding most of the time needed to be looked at deeper. And I took way too long to take that first step. At first, I didn’t know where to start. Then I dragged my feet. Arguing with myself on the inside. Telling myself I could fix it if I could just…do it.
Finally, I went to Celebrate Recovery for help.
And then I finally went to my first Celebrate Recovery (CR) meeting. CR is a place where people can find healing from hurts, hang-ups, and habits including addictions, compulsive and dysfunctional behaviors. It is a 12 step program similar to Al-Anon or AA, but Christ-centered. I was drawn to CR as I struggled to deal with the intense anger inside of me that I often couldn’t control. At CR I found people who met me right in the midst of the struggle. I would be lying to say that I didn’t cry at that first meeting or a year later when I received my one-year chip. A milestone where I could see so much change in me. And on a path toward healing.
My journey to healing is something I continue to work on. And the more I learn about myself and deal with past hurts, hang-ups and habits the more I realize I am not alone. And the more I realize that with help I can change.
Life Has Changed for the Better
Today, I am more in tune with my emotions. When I feel the stress of life causing me to go into a panic mode I can often take a step back or walk away. I have code words to help my husband and children know what is going on. Along with an open dialog of how I am feeling. There, of course, are times I mess up and instead of pretending things didn’t happen in a healthy manner I’m open honest and ready to apologize.
I have good days where I can see huge positive changes and I have days where I still struggle. But even on the days, I struggle I can see progress from the person I was before. I know that these changes have made the time I spend with my boys more enjoyable. I hope that as my boys continue to see changes in me they will realize you are not stuck in life circumstances and with hard work you can break bad habits.
Through this program, I have found a freedom in knowing mistakes don’t mean failure and change can’t happen.
Continuing to Get Help
I know that I still have more to learn and discover about myself and after this next Permanent Change of Station (PCS) I plan to seek out one-on-one counseling. And I know it is something I need to continue on with my journey of healing.
For me, I came home from deployment. I said all the right things, kept the hurt and pain hidden inside. I just wanted to be normal again. And I wanted the deployment scars to stay in my past and I hoped with time it would just go away. But you can’t heal from hurts that stay in the dark. You have to bring the hurt to the light and get help to move forward.
Before starting my journey with Celebrate Recovery I would have said that I probably needed help. But I was lying to myself about what was happening around me. And it was so hard to go to the first meeting and to keep going back. You can’t get help if you can’t admit you have a problem.
Let’s open the conversation and talk about mental health.
Starting the conversation about mental health is an important first step. We need to realize that needing help just means we are human. We all have hard times in our lives and reaching out for help doesn’t mean you are weak. It means you are strong enough to admit you can’t do it on your own.