Breaking the Rules: Fear


I’m going to break some rules here today.

I am going to write in the first person. I am not going to do what my good journalism training taught me and go out and find someone else to tell me their experience while leaving mine out. I’m going to talk about me.

And why shouldn’t I? When it comes to this subject I know all about it -- and so do you. After all, in that little poll a combined 36.2 percent of those that voted labeled fears of your spouse dying or getting injured mentally or physically as the number one stress of deployment.

I’m right there with you. And so are many others. My story isn’t unusual.

It starts with my husband’s deployment and seems to end with him coming home. But that’s not what matters, is it? It’s what happens in between that changes everything. And no, it doesn’t really ever end.

For so many -- 22 families, to be exact -- this particular deployment meant loved ones would never come back. For me it meant attending memorials, supporting those friends and, more than anything, wondering about what it would be like if it were me. Selfish, I know, but true.

I do not think of myself as afraid of the future. Instead of worrying about it, I plan for it. I have planned his memorial. I have planned what I will wear to his funeral. I know who I will call and I have imagined what they will say. ... and so much more. 

But those are all birthed of worry. And “worry” hangs out with “fear.”

I know that those things to the extent I have is not healthy, really. But I do it anyway. I can’t stop. Is it because I know more widows than the average military spouse? I don’t think so. I think everyone does this anticipatory grief thing. For me all of it is born of a (let’s be honest) reasonable fear that someday two men in uniform will knock on my door and tell me what I dread.

Since this fear is reasonable, it must be OK for it to be around, right? Military counseling experts say so. Therefore the question isn’t whether or not I have it or should have it. The question is the extent to which I allow it to control me, to change how I operate and, more importantly, to stress my relationships and in particular my marriage. The question is over what I do with it.

I bet you’ve lived how this problem can stress your marriage just like I have. One day you are each other’s best friends. The next he is deployed and you are afraid he isn’t coming back. And before you know it you’ve built an emotional wall around yourself to keep him a little bit out -- you know, just in case the worst should happen. That way you’re closer to being ready than you would’ve been otherwise. He’s still your best friend, but it’s harder. You have secrets.

Where do you go from here? If this problem really stresses marriage the way we know it does thanks to our poll and Elizabeth Allen’s University of Denver study, something must be done. 

So how does the military help us deal with these things and keep them from tearing us apart? And how should they? 

Over the next week I’ll explore those questions. Meanwhile, feel free to share your struggles below. It might just help.

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