My husband, who is in the military, has been at sea for the past 3 months. He missed my birthday, our gorgeous dog, River’s birthday and other important moments and events. It has been our first proper deployment, and it’s unleashed a whirlwind of emotions, discoveries and realisations. I’m happy to say that I’ve not only survived it but have come away having found an inner balance and a revived sense of ‘me’, which I could have only found whilst on my own.
When he first left, I felt empty and unbalanced. It was like that feeling you get when you’ve left the house and think the stove is still on, or the doors didn’t get locked. I had that fear of impending doom and to make it worse people kept telling me to “be prepared!” because all the things that can go wrong will go wrong when I’m alone. Before my husband left we wrote a ‘how to’ list with everything on it from rebooting the internet to how to fix the boiler, he even made me video tutorials. However, despite being quite prepared, I was completely overwhelmed by the thought of how much I’d miss him and how I’d have to deal with everything on my own.
For the first week or so after he left, all I wanted to do was to watch TV. I had a massive ‘to do’ list ready to go, and I finally had the time to complete it. But I quickly learnt that no matter how much time you have, if you don’t have the mental or emotional energy to do something, it’s not going to get done! For the first couple of days I was hard on myself; why couldn’t I just get on with things? Until I took a step back and acknowledged that at that moment all I could do was zone out in front of the telly – and it was ok.
I read a lot. I read educational books and research to help me be better at my jobs and I also read for enjoyment. Education creates movement – emotionally, spiritually and academically. And when you’re stuck, reading can help you weave out a new pathway. One of my colleges once said she doesn’t believe it’s possible to dislike reading, if you think you don’t like to read then you haven’t found the right book for you. This rang true with me, having struggled with reading my whole life. I think everyone has the potential to read and enjoy reading, you just have to be willing to dig a little deeper to find that gem. And of course, like everything – practice makes perfect.
Throughout the deployment I tried different forms of meditation and exercise. I love yoga but finding the time to go was almost impossible, and that became stressful. So I decided that with two jobs and River to look after in the evenings, perhaps going to yoga classes wasn’t realistic. Instead I downloaded a meditation app on my phone and meditated every morning and evening. It has become a habit I really enjoy and look forward to.
I took River on long walks through forests and along the coast. I’m so lucky to be living in Cornwall, where there are stunning nature walks and wildlife at my door step. Walking amongst nature is incredibly nourishing for the soul as it’s a wonderful opportunity to observe the world and to reflect inwards.
I also meditated through journaling. This is something I started before the deployment, and carried on throughout the time alone. The ritual of writing a stream of consciousness for 10 minutes each day helped me release and identify emotions, and solve problems. Writing helps keep mind-chatter at bay and brings out issues that need to surface and be released. Journaling is so easy to do and extremely effective. Often, I’ll start by describing what I can see or feel.
One of the hardest learning curves was to lower my expectations of my husband’s phone calls. Although I looked forward to them and was worried if I didn’t receive them, they would often precipitate the worst moments of feeling lonely and anxious. Chatting to my cousin, who has also gone through a long distance relationship, helped me realise that a phone call is just a phone call and it’s never ever going to be as good as the real thing. So I must stop expecting them to make me feel better and instead look inwards.
As time went on, living alone became a routine I was happy with. However, there were still days where the glass felt half empty. Reaching out to friends and family, no matter how far away they live, always helped me; and of course having loved ones come to stay was wonderful.
As I reflect on how I’ve overcome the fear and anxiety about the deployment, I can see clearly it’s got nothing to do with what has happened or who I’ve spent time with. It’s all to do with how I choose to perceive myself and my current situation. I began to figure this out one evening whilst dancing around my kitchen. I felt happy and free, and like me – the girl who has always loved to dance. As I was mid pirouette I had a light bulb moment – “I am deeply happy, despite my husband being away” … It was in that fleeting moment I realised happiness really does come from within.
I’m sitting writing this in a forest near my house and right now I feel grounded – I can feel the sturdy tree that I’m leaning against, I can hear the rippling water as it rushes down the stream and I can see the leaves sparkle as the sun hits the rain drops – I’m present in this moment and therefore feel truly alive.
I feel incredibly grateful that my husband was able to come home for Christmas and even more so that when he has to go away next I am absolutely certain that I will be happy, because I’ve got me.