How to ‘Embrace the Suck’ When Building Your Emotional Resiliency

by Lauren Thornhill, Guest Contributor

As military spouses, we’ve heard the term Embrace the Suck before.

Embrace the Suck is military speak for “the situation is hard, but just keep on and you’ll get through it.”

While our spouses have to embrace the suck of various mission-related experiences during deployment, we should also think in these terms at home when it comes to dealing with our emotions.

If you are on the brink of your first deployment as a military spouse, I’ll be the one to come out and say it: there are times when you are going to be sad. Depressed. Anxious. Scared. Frustrated. Lonely. Worried. All those emotions that people try to avoid at all cost in their day-to-day lives? They’re coming for you, milspouse! I’m sorry to break the news but no matter how tough you are, you’ll experience some darker times when your spouse is forward deployed.

Now I’m not trying to paint a picture of milspouses as vulnerable, dependent, don’t-know-how-to-be-alone weaklings, but rather am merely encouraging you to be honest with yourself and your emotions.

Instead of a “Nothing bothers me and I’m going to remain super strong during this deployment” approach, perhaps try something different. In my experience dealing with some of these emotional rough spots, I’ve learned to embrace the suck; embrace those hard emotions that hit you like a ton of bricks.

By embrace I don’t mean revel or wallow in your sadness, but recognize that there are going to be times that are challenging. The key is that even in those moments of “this is so hard!”, acknowledge and understand that those feelings aren’t permanent. They will end and joy will come.

As a disclaimer I am not a professional anything. I have no clinical experience as a therapist or psychologist or any other kind of –ist that gives me reign to make commentary on how anyone should handle his or her emotions. If you are someone who is experiencing long bouts of depression, I encourage you to seek professional help.

I just know that as a milspouse with a husband currently serving in a war zone, having emotional awareness is helping me kick this deployment’s ass!

Embracing the emotional suck means that when those crying episodes happen (and trust me, they will), remember in between your sobs that those feelings are fleeting. THEY WILL NOT LAST FOREVER. As milspouses we can’t run away from the emotions that scare us. We become stronger when we acknowledge and don’t hide from those heart-stuck-in-your-throat moments.

When I became a military spouse years ago I was flattered when people commented on my bravery, selflessness, strength and <insert your own compliment made by well-meaning civilians here>.

I was grateful for the attempted support, but in retrospect what I needed was for someone to shoot me straight and tell me that hard times were ahead. I wish someone would have told me that during deployments, I was going to experience the emotions that we spend most of our lives fearing.

No one told me how lonely it’d feel to crawl into bed without him there.

No one told me how disappointed I’d feel when we didn’t get pregnant in the few months between deployments. Nothing like trying to make a baby on a deadline!

No one told me I was going to be jealous of other women who got to dance with their husbands at a friend’s wedding or whose husbands held their hands when walking in public.

No one told me how anxious or scared I’d feel when a news story aired about the Middle East.

No one told me how frustrated I’d feel after I’d missed his phone call or when his internet connectivity was bad, ending our Skype session prematurely.

No one warned me about the million times I’d wish he was beside me.

I don’t mean to share the aforementioned experiences to completely depress you or make life during deployments seem absolutely miserable. Of course there are countless positive moments during time apart as well, but the point is that I’ve learned to be a well-adjusted, strong and resilient milspouse because I come to expect the hard moments.

Since I embrace those tough emotions, I am able to see them for what they truly are–fleeting.

One of my proudest “embrace the suck” instances was when I was literally crying over how much I missed my husband but was able to think in the midst of the sobs, “I won’t feel this way forever. I am only sad in this moment.”

My way-smarter-than-me, licensed clinical social worker friend Marissa Howard says this strategy of “embracing the emotional suck” is a useful therapy approach. She explains

It’s called acceptance-when something is not as we want it to be, but it cannot be changed. It’s not resignation or giving up, it’s an active choice to recognize that it is as it is even though it’s not what we want. This allows us to have the emotion and also allows us to engage in things that are important to us, rather than playing emotional tug of war with something that can’t be changed.”

Apparently by forcing ourselves to see outside of our current emotions, we can transcend that sadness/loneliness/fear/anxiety/etc. I’ll admit that I felt pretty smart for utilizing this handy emotional regulation strategy without even knowing that it’s a fancy clinical therapy tool.

I could go on about the various ways to stay sane (and dare I say happy!) during a deployment like finding new hobbies, building a support system, working out, focusing on career and taking trips to name a few, but there are plenty of articles about those things.

Instead, here are a few tricks to utilize when you’re in the throes of one those darker deployment emotions:

How 'Embrace the Suck' Builds Emotional Resiliency for Military Spouses

  • Keep a journal and write down how you’re feeling. Re-read your entry the next day/week/month as a reminder that the sadness/anxiety/frustration/loneliness didn’t last forever.
  • Make a list of things that frustrate or scare you about being away from your spouse. Then make a list of all the things that you’re going to do during deployment to keep busy and happy.
  • During a bittersweet situation like flying solo to a wedding or going on a family vacation without him, recognize the potential for melancholy but force yourself to have fun!
  • Work on your inner monologue. Practice thinking about something else in the midst of those strong emotions. Repeat to yourself, “This won’t last forever. I will not feel this sadness/guilt/loneliness/etc. forever.”
  • I always ask my husband to “fill up my love tank” (Cheesy, I know!) by sending a really sweet email. When I’m missing him or feeling awful, I read it over and over again.
  • Think about the joyful times you’ve had together and the even more exciting times to come! I’ve happily fallen asleep many nights dreaming about our honeymoon to Fiji or about our next post-deployment trip.

When I mentioned that no one ever fully explained to me the roller coaster of emotions I’d feel during a deployment, I forgot to say that neither could anyone prepare me for the SHEER JOY I’d feel when my husband returned home.

As milspouses we are unique in that we might experience some tougher times than others. However, we also get to experience more excitement, adventure, anticipation and happiness too.

No one ever told me how much relief would wash over me when I saw his aircraft land back on American soil.

No one told me how giddy I’d feel jumping into his arms after months apart.

No one told me how proud I’d feel seeing him in his uniform.

No one told me how much gratitude I’d feel for his service and for his safe homecoming.

No one told me how blessed I’d feel to be married to him.

How 'Embrace the Suck' Builds Emotional Resiliency for Military Spouses
The joy and excitement from our last deployment homecoming. Photos courtesy of ChrisandWendyWeddings.

Deployments are hard. As a military spouse, you should expect a whole range of emotions that will beat you up. However, by expecting and embracing those emotions, you can train yourself to realize that they do not define you nor will they remain forever.

When we embrace the suck of deployments, we become stronger and more resilient than ever.

When have you embraced the suck during military deployments, PCS orders and military life, in general? 

LaurenLauren is a former educator currently pursuing a Masters degree in speech-language pathology. She is wife to a Marine aviator and loves living (for now!) in one of the best duty stations on earth–sunny San Diego, California. She spends her free time enjoying the outdoors with her adventurous husband and energetic dog, doing CrossFit at the gym, and cooking. She prays everyday and watches every episode of the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon because she believes that the most successful people in life are those who have faith, and those who can laugh.

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