Monday, September 16, 2013

When Everything Unravels

I may be breaking my own biggest rule here. Note to self: sorry about that.

I've struggled with this post for a while now. I've been looking for the line between Dumps Days and an honest effort to be vulnerable. When I started typing, I wasn't sure this would ever go up on Hicks Hiking. But I know I'm not alone in this. I know there must be others grappling with the same issues. And I'm hoping this struggle of mine could be helpful to someone besides me. 

I spent a good amount of time in high school working with friends to get just the right fray on our jeans. Fraying has, at various times and in various ways, been a fashionable technique to apply to clothing. Right now, you see it on skirt and dress hems, scarves, and even converse. It is tough and time-consuming, but getting the fray just right makes things unique. It adds character.

It may sound silly, but I've tried to approach deployment in the same way (albeit not voluntarily, or with the same enthusiasm a sixteen-year-old applies to her jeans). I keep telling myself that the experience may fray me a little, I may come out the other end a little rougher around the edges, but with more character. Whenever I have a rough day, or I'm feeling like I'm at the end of my rope, I think about that. I tell myself: Hang in there! Just a little fraying. It'll add character.

Here's the problem: I don't believe myself. It doesn't feel like fraying. Most days, it feels like I'm living in one of those old school cartoons where one minute I'm wearing a sweater and then, with the pulling of a single thread, I'm standing totally naked. The whole thing unraveled in a clearly visible deployment FAIL.

Anyone else thinking about Weezer right now?
Right there with you.
No matter what I try, I can't find a way to keep from coming completely undone lately. As I look back over the past few weeks, there's not a single day when I haven't thrown my hands in the air at least once. It's not always over big things. It fact, it's mostly not over the big things. But trust me, the little things in the aggregate chip away at me a lot more.

It's not as though I spend every day in a giant puddle. I don't. And honestly, it's the days where I can't seem to cry that are the worst. It really does help to let it out. And I'd scream it out, but I live in a quiet community, and I'm pretty sure that half my neighbors already think I'm crazy.

I hate it, but most days I wake up and wonder "what'll it be today?" What's going to be the thing that gets to me? It's really impossible to know. Sometimes, the most illogical things make me want to cry/scream/go back to bed. That's the thing that is hardest to deal with, I think. Like life is one big sneak attack. And I'm not doing well with the unexpected. (How weird is that for me to be saying??).

And the worst part, the absolute worst part, is it means pieces of my heart, usually very well-guarded, are suddenly out there in the open for everyone to see. I'm a very composed person, always have been, and I disappoint myself daily in my seeming inability to just pull it together woman!

It's a really hard thing to reconcile, feeling at the same time violated that my emotions are out in the open before I can even process them, while also feeling isolated from the people around me. We've all felt alone in a crowded room before. That's not a unique feeling. But try feeling all alone in a room full of people you know care about you. It's a feeling I don't even know what to do with. I can't seem to fix it, and it's driving me nuts. What do I do?

The other piece of this for me is feeling more than a little lost. Everything I've read about deployment with small children says that the first month is rough, but then things even out. But that's not been my experience. We are a remote family. Unlike my friends with small children who are having to get their kids used to having a parent gone, Howie is already used to Jake being gone (which most days makes me very sad, but it's something I'm actually grateful for at the moment). He's used to FaceTime, he's used to phone calls. He's accustomed to the distance--for a while.

I think that for Howie the toughest times are ahead. He's been away from his dad for a month before. That's just about where we are now, and I'm just now starting to see the fraying happen to Howie. I know he will have his moments, but for the most part, the little man is handling all of this like a champ. Which is more than I can say for his mom.

I'm used to the distance too. In the six years we have been together, Jake and I have never lived in the same state. The vast majority of our relationship has been conducted by text/phone/letters/emails. When I'm hurting, I don't need Jake to hold me (although that is very nice). The digital arms around me are enough.

Although we've always been apart, we've also always been in constant contact. We might have been one of the first families to get an unlimited texting plan, because from the beginning we exchanged hundreds of texts a week (or more!). Our bodies may not have been close, but our hearts sure were. And now, texting is not an option. Email works, but he's only able to check sporadically. We FaceTime, but usually only once or twice a week. And sometimes for under a minute because the connection is so bad on his end.

I'm only now realizing that I've come to rely on Jake to help me maintain my precious composure. It happened so gradually that I didn't notice before, but he's become the person who stands by me while I throw my emotional spaghetti at the wall--and he helps me clean up what doesn't stick so I can focus on what does. And now that he's not here to do that, I have to figure out a new sorting method. I never thought I'd hate an overabundance of spaghetti.

That's actually part of why I started writing prayers. I put the words on the page so that I can really meditate on them and try to sort through what's going on with me. I read them over and over again until the unraveling stops. Until the words permeate my sadness-addled brain and I can focus on what I know is true, but cannot seem to keep my mind still on without thinking with all of my might:

I have things to be grateful for. 

I have things to rejoice over. 

I have things to celebrate. 

I am well-loved, and my son is even more so.

I feel very alone, but I am never really alone.

This too shall pass.

The last one is really the key. I keep reminding myself over and over again that Jake will not be gone forever. And that I want our emotional house in order when he comes home. And that we, Howie and I, deserve a happy home in the in between time, even with a piece missing.

Photo via
I don't want to make it sound like I am miserable. I'm really not. Most of the time I'm fine. We are fine.

But life's sneak attacks happen, and when they do, they throw me for a serious loop. I've been trying to articulate all of this to identify the warning signs (if I can), and to come up with some kind of strategy for dealing with the waves when they crash. I'm looking for my lifeboat.

I've said before that blogging keeps me sane. So you, dear readers, are part of this boat I'm building. And I thank you in advance for your participation in my effort to kick deployment's butt.

Writing letters to Jake is another part. We have always done that, and I have to keep sending the messages even though I know he can't always answer.

But perhaps the biggest part of my lifeboat plan involves more letters to God. I'm most honest with my fingers, because my mind doesn't move fast enough to censor them. Usually. If anyone thinks it would be helpful to see more of my prayers written down, I will share them.

Well, some of them. Not everything I say to God would be considered appropriate for polite conversation...

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