Call It What It Is, Guilt is Not a Four Letter Word

By Michelle Joyner, Director of Communications
National Military Family Association

I wish I had a nickel for every “Dealing with Deployment” article I’ve read. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve mined gems out of many of them. However, now as my family is in the middle of my husband’s third deployment since we’ve been married it seems that many of the resources I come across rehash the same information I had at the beginning of the first with one exception. Before this most recent deployment I attended a symposium with a panel of senior officer spouses discussing family support. In the closing remarks, one of the spouses made a statement about guilt that has stayed with me in the months since.

Guilt seems to be the great equalizer; experienced by everyone but not openly discussed. I grew up as the daughter of a Soldier and married a Sailor, but I’d never identified guilt as a driving emotion. Some of the speaker’s examples included the servicemember’s guilt for their strong desire to return to the sand and continue the mission while at the same time feeling guilty because time had robbed them of the chance to experience the many benchmarks in their family’s life. The family experiences guilt about having moments when the separation was easy and comfortable and some spouses feel guilty about using the time to better themselves through weight loss or education while their spouse used the time to focus on survival.

I’d like to add my guilt to the list. I’ve experienced the guilt of arguments under the stress of the anticipated good-bye and feeling guilty for not making every moment together count. I’ve felt guilty for looking forward to preparing meals I love but my husband doesn’t when I knew he’d be eating MREs. I’m guilty of evaluating new duty stations through the criteria of how many times he’d have to deploy and trying to work the best option. My strongest guilt comes from sharing these feelings with my husband and possibly making him feel that somehow I wasn’t proud of his service.

At the symposium, the speaker remarked that we carry our guilt in a backpack from one deployment to the next and with each subsequent deployment the backpack gets heavier and heavier. Guilt is a worthy opponent if left unattended she said, we should only feel guilty if we don’t commit to doing something about it. Listening to this was empowering to me. I now had an umbrella to put many of my feelings under. Guilt isn’t a bad word or something to feel ashamed about.

My husband left in early October and I am proud to say I emptied my backpack. With my mind clear, I remembered the real reasons I love being a military family member. I have friends across the country and around the world. My children have had the opportunity to travel and see the marvels of this country. I appreciate my family because of the support we need to give each other to manage the many challenges this life brings.

I know guilt is a constant. My backpack doesn’t have a permanent seal and I’ll continue to carry the stresses of this lifestyle, only now I have a new management tool. At the homecoming and in the months after, I’ll commit to keeping my pack light and reminding my husband to check his backpack periodically as well. I don’t mean to make light of the situation, deployments are difficult on everyone. However, we need all the resources available to us. Consider adding this one to your arsenal.


- hfs

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