Reintegration is that funny little thing that comes after homecoming, like a tag line to a movie title or period at the end of a sentence. It’s something we tend to glance over when planning our reunion and is likely something that most civilians have never heard of.
Our FRG’s and other deployment related committees do their best to remind us of the trials and tribulations that accompany a service member rejoining a predominately civilian world, but by that point in the meeting, most of us have already started planning our clever homecoming banners and drawing little hearts on our handouts like school girls in love. The trouble is, that “reintegration” is a loaded word.
Contrary to popular belief, the deployment does not end when our loved ones touch US soil. In the case of my husband, he was stuck on base for days after, having had that time shorted from what was supposed to be a week. They got no leave, but a bit of liberty, so I packed up and moved to where he was for a while. But even then, it’s not all fun and games when they are sitting on your couch again for the first time in a year or more. It’s a lot more like work.
It’s work to remember what used to make him laugh, or what you used to laugh at together. It’s clumsy to awkwardly realize that your routine is not his routine and, if you are like me, that routine is what saw you through the hard days and can be a struggle to let go of. I felt frustrated that he didn’t want to leave the house that I spent the last year hiding in and he had spent the last year missing. I was angry that my expectations of him being home and just falling back into life like so many others seemed to do never happened. Still hasn’t, and he’s been home for a few years now.
You see, HOMECOMING is like a honeymoon, and reintegration is the next 50 years of marriage. It takes time to figure out your new roles, your new patterns and who the new you is. It takes work and a little effort to meet in the middle of a gap that sometimes spans more than 15 months. And it takes patience and understanding to remember that while you became someone new, so did he, and now it’s up to you to figure out who you will become together.
It’s something we rarely think of, something civilian media never reports on, and why, in my opinion, so many of us struggle when we first find our lives thrust back together again. It’s not easy to realize that you both are different people than you used to be. It’s even harder to work out how to come together again. It’s not easy to come home to an environment where the noises are different and the threats aren’t what you are used to. It’s even harder for some than others to learn to adapt to garbage cans on the street simply meaning trash day, or for loud groups of people just being teenagers on the way to the mall.
So, remember, deployments are hard, homecomings are amazing, but the work is not over. It’s ok to feel awkward with your spouse at first, it’s normal to fight a bit more than usual, to talk a bit less, or to have not much to talk about at all. It’s not uncommon to feel like you can’t relate to each other, or to even be frustrated or angry at each other for what feels like silly reasons. Readjustment is not an exact science and everyone has his or her own timeframe in which it happens. You are not racing against anyone to figure your marriage out, so if you are finding that your spouse has been home a few months and things still feel stuck in a place that is unfamiliar, that’s ok. Some couples take just a few weeks; others are staring at multiple years together and still figuring things out. There is no specific way to wrap up a deployment with a bow and move on quickly, it just takes time, a little effort and a lot of communication…. And love. Love is not enough, but it sure does help with things get tough.
**If you are finding that you are concerned about the length of time it is taking your service member to readjust, or are worried at all about new behaviors you are seeing, I strongly encourage you to talk to someone about the warning signs of PTSD.