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Learning to Stay Open

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In 2009 my husband was deployed to the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.   At the time of his landing, it was deemed “the deadliest place on Earth”.  I did not know that when he first deployed for good reason.  The year that followed was a tremulous one for me.  I was acting as a single mother for Whitney who was 4.5 months old when we said goodbye.  It was hard.  I was forced into a situation where, in hindsight, I wasn’t mature enough to deal with the emotions that accompanied very real worldly – and personal - affairs.
Since I didn’t know how to deal properly with his absence, I numbed the grief with alcohol.  I stocked my house with wine, drinking one glass a night to help me sleep.  Some days were tough as a stay-at-home-mom and the wife of a deployed soldier.  Many times the only person I ever saw or spoke to couldn’t speak back.  Some weeks I calculated the adults I spoke with only to recall the drive-thru employee at McDonald’s and the cashier at Safeway.  The nights were often worse.  I slept alone.  Once the magical 8-o-clock toddler-bedtime arrived, I was without my little buddy and alone with all my terrifying thoughts in the vast quietness of our apartment.  Too much quiet lends to too much thinking.  And too much thinking lends to too much fear about the what-ifs.  So I drank wine.   And it helped me not to think so much about the bad stuff.
I share this here because I know there are military spouses who hide in the shadows thinking they’re the only one.   You’re not.  It is an incredible challenge acting as mother and father to young children.  What’s worse is when we're embodying dual roles only to have our child/ren not know who daddy is because he’s been gone so long.  We show them pictures and say, “That’s your daddy!” hoping they ‘get-it’.  I’ve heard stories where the service member comes home from deployment and the spouse says, “There’s daddy!” only to watch their child walk over to the photograph of daddy on the refrigerator - the only image of daddy they understand.  Families with older kids ‘get it’.  Teens comprehend deployments, but act out verbally or physically to their mothers because they, too, are scared and haven’t been given the tools to channel their fear and anger.  I’m not trying to offer an excuse.  Wine is just what I turned to for lack of structural cognition.
Over time I learned there is a much healthier way to not let fear, grief, sadness, etc. affect me.  Next time we face deployment, I won’t need help getting to sleep.  And this is because I stay open.  I open my mind and body to all of the possibilities the world shares with me.  A while back I somehow accepted my mortality.  Because of this, I decided to be less cynical, fearful, resentful, and regretful.  You can call it “living life to the fullest”, but I don’t care much for that cliché.  I believe some people live full lives by building a family, traveling the world, or establishing a successful career; however, that very person could still be fearful, resentful, or regretful.  Then, I simply asked myself how.  If I’m trying to build a happy life, how do I move past counterproductive emotions?  I stay open my friends.
Staying open simply means I let the feeling toward the event – whatever it is, good or bad – move through me like the wind.  Is my one-year-old creating a spectacular Cheerios dust mess on the floor?  I stay open.  Is my husband deployed to the deadliest place on Earth?  Stay open.  I try letting it move through me so the emotion does not take up residence.  Once it does, it seeps out in other ways – poor health habits, petty arguments, and spiteful gossiping (guilty on all charges).
It isn’t always easy when it comes to easy things to stay open about.  Just today I cleaned up food off my floor for the sixth time in six hours because Kennedy is in the throwing food on the floor stage.  And I felt myself getting pissed.  I really started to lose precious patience.  Whoever said patience is a virtue is so on-target.  So true.  I felt myself closing in on the pissed-off thoughts.  As soon as I realized this, I reminded myself, “Stay open Erin.  Stay open.  Get your crap together and stay open.”  It took me a bit to come down out of the red to see that it’s not something to get steamed about.
If I let nasty emotions move through me, then I am happier.  And happier is good.  And maybe, just maybe, I’ll spend my little precious time on Earth enjoying instead of fearing.
- EB
 P.S.  I kind of feel like the Dos Equis man when I said… Stay open my friends...

Brandon celebrated his first Father's Day in AFG, so Whitney and I made him a goofy lil' sign...

We video taped him reading books before he left so that he could read to her each night.

Courtesy of Megan Buskirk Photography. Our homecoming celebration.

Courtesy of Megan Buskirk Photography. Our homecoming celebration.

First outing as a family since his homecoming; a birthday party for a friend's daughter.


  1. Thank you for opening up and sharing some very personal details in your life. I am very thankful to have you as a friend and will always here for support, no matter what!


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