It was about a year ago that I had the first deployment nightmare. I can still remember the foggy, cold darkness. I can still see his hair floating softly in the depths of the water. I still remember that omniscient feeling that he just couldn’t breathe.
As far as nightmares go, it wasn’t particularly violent. But in my dreams, the love of my life was dying. I woke up with a deep sense of fear and helplessness.
I get a similar feeling any time my fear for my husband’s safety resurfaces. This fear manifests as nightmares but it shows up in daily life. It turns fictional TV stories and movies into very real stories of grief and heartache (Who else sobbed like a baby after Wonder Woman?).
It reminds me maybe I need to wait a little longer before I’m ready to go touring historic sunken submarines where the small crews died. It also gives me just the tiniest glimpse of how to grieve and respect our fellow sailors and their families when news stories break about the sailors who didn’t survive the USS Fitzgerald or USS John S. McCain collisions, may they rest in peace.
But for all of its usefulness, these fears are mostly just roadblocks to my daily happiness. Here’s how I conquer them.
Combat Deployment Nightmares by Breathing
Combat breathing, or combat tactical breathing, if you wanna get really technical about it, is probably something you’ve done before! The Navy calls it “an
excellent way to reduce your stress and calm down,” in their Combat Tactical Breathing informational flyer.
Combat breathing simply means to breathe deeply and count. You’ll count during the inhale, holding your breath, and the exhale. This forces you to shift your focus to your breathing. It is a powerful tool to calm down immediately after something that has you really freaked out, like a crazy deployment nightmare.
Whenever I acknowledge that I am too stressed and I need to calm down, this is always the first tactic I use. (See what I did there?) Seriously, it’s amazing what just slowing down and focusing on your breathing can do. If you have experience with yoga or meditation, you’ll be really familiar with this idea already. Try it out when you have to face “regular” fears, too, like your fear of heights or spiders.
Accept Your Fears with Grace
No one said this was gonna be easy. Seriously, everyone loves to talk about how stressful military life is on the service member and their family. The reality is that everyone has huge, scary, big things that happen in their lives whether or not they serve in the military.
The big switch in my happiness level came after I gracefully accepted that what I’m feeling is okay and that a ton of other people have felt the exact. same. way. Other military spouses are also having really spooky deployment nightmares! If you need to have permission to feel scared, or sad, or angry, here it is.
You have permission to feel scared and sad and angry.
Life is hard. Military life is hard. It’s okay to not feel strong and badass all the time. The important thing is that every time you do feel scared or sad or angry, you have the tools you need to get through it. You have to know how to find your badass-self again. You’re gonna need it.
Be Vulnerable with Your Sailor
I could talk to my parents or best friends until I was blue in the face but nothing quite beats talking to your significant other about the challenges of military life. When my now-husband was waiting to ship out for boot camp, I remember reading blogs online that only talked about how strong you had to be for your service member. And, that’s true – there are times you need to understand how to prioritize your sailor and their responsibilities above yours.
For months, I let this ideology dictate my actions. I didn’t talk to him about my deployment nightmares for weeks because I was scared it would make me an unsupportive, needy significant other. Don’t let this be you! It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your service member.
In every relationship you need to know how to balance your significant other’s responsibilities and feelings with your own. Your sailor has their own emotional work of learning to trust you to deal with military life, including giving you the space to express your feelings that don’t leave you feeling badass and in control.
Do you need to have a sense for when the time is right to talk about these? Yes!
Do you need to work to manage your emotions as a capable adult first and foremost? Absolutely!
Do you need to do it all alone? Hell no!
Isn’t your significant other your partner in life? This isn’t a one way street. If you’re struggling with something recurring like deployment nightmares, they might feel silly or insignificant, but that’s only maaaaybe true until you bottle it up and it becomes a big problem in your relationship.
You can only do so much for your loved ones if you’re a stressed, emotional wreck. Talk it out. Your sailor has pretty limited control over how much risk they’ll take on, but they can help you process everything you’re feeling just like you help them.
Maybe you’ve tried all of the above and you are still super overwhelmed, or maybe your service member is in boot camp or deployed right now so you can’t get comfort from them. Maybe your deployment nightmares continue to haunt you during broad daylight when you should be able to focus on your day-to-day life.
The good news is, being a part of the big Navy family, you have so many resources at your disposal. I love reading blogs and even just connecting with other significant others on Instagram who are going through the same things as me.
If you’re married, you have a plethora of options beyond that. You can contact your base’s family readiness center to get a list of resources. These include military spouse 101 and resiliency workshops in person or online, joining up with your local Compass group for more camaraderie, and even free professional counseling. At my base, I can get twelve sessions at no cost to me or my sailor.
How do you keep your fears in check?
This is my list of go-tos, but what are yours? Let me know what else significant others can do to help manage their fears by dropping your best tips in the comments.