Home blog The 5 Stages of Homecoming + The Power of a Love Hug

The 5 Stages of Homecoming + The Power of a Love Hug

by BOXOFKNOTS

Homecoming is one of those things that tugs at my heart no matter who it happens to and since we had a homecoming this week I wanted to make sure to share some thoughts with you guys. ?

Homecoming can can be someone returning from deployment, another that was incarcerated for sometime, a foster child entering their new home or someone who flew to another country to live with a stranger for a year long backpacking trip.

Homecoming doesn’t only happen for military families, it happens to every type of family. 

I’ve witnessed homecomings from friends who have gone away to ‘find themselves’ and then return home to tell us about it. In that same group- I’ve read updates from friends and family on social media who share their journey of foster parenting with us one day at a time. I’ve also met a few that have been incarcerated to then come home to their families and try to reconnect in the same dimension.

Homecoming has depth, it has emotion, it evokes feeling and can even tug on your heart strings. Homecoming makes us human. We all want to ‘be home’. Don’t we? So why are millions of families having to say “hello again” every year?

My take is the obvious, we all are working toward a better life. Some are in one obvious form over the other but when you take a step back and look at ‘life’, we all are in search of “home”.

HOMELESS IN THE BAY

I live in the “The Bay” as we call it, in an San Francisco suburb that happens to be in a rare corner of the Bay Area that has no homeless population, Dublin (my best secret). Keep in mind…”The Bay” is a melting pot of rich meets poor at the same coffee shop. There is no wall, there is no hate, just poor humans on the curb of the wealthy in their overpriced tiny apartments.

Just to back up a few months back, our living situation was a little different…

You see, we lived on a man-made trash island called “Alameda” right in the armpit of Downtown Oakland and a short ferry ride or drive across the San Francisco Bay. We lived there for a total of 9 months, but I can tell you I already knew in that first month, I didn’t want to live there. (If you’ve never been, I’d suggest getting an Uber and doing an east-bay tour) 

It opened my eyes is what it did. I saw homeless drug addicts posted on corners day after day after day. People who I understood made a “choice” to leave home and live on the street, away from family. Away from mom and dad. 

It stirred anger inside me I couldn’t express to my husband as I would drop him off at the airport and say our “see you later’s”. I was angry because here he was, putting his freedom in his pocket as this stranger was trying to make a dig into his.

The point isn’t that the man was asking for money or even homeless, what got my blood boiling is that it was by his choice and it got me thinking “what the fuck happened to them??”” Like for real guys….what is happening?

MY WAKEUP CALL IN THE BAY

After lots of thought and a few drinks thrown at me by the homeless at a Starbucks I worked at in the heart of Downtown Oakland, it gave me the courage to grow some balls and define what I wanted “life” to look like for my family. I was not happy. 

I wrote my husband an the email telling him I was “done” with Alameda and that I put us on the list to be released from housing into the economy. I was so fed up, I was focused on finding a solution. We moved on a quiet army base 30 minutes south in what I like to refer to as the military communities best kept secret, Camp Parks Army Reserve in Dublin, California. 

This drastic change trickled down the family (in the best way possible) and we have grown to fall in love with the Bay Area, however, I’m human and I know that those people are still standing their on that corner holding those signs, praying for that window to roll down.

So what makes me any different that them? I know I moved, but what about them…What can i take from this and teach my children?  

At this point, I have lost track of how many times I have said “hello again” to my husband. I think not counting has become a coping mechanism I created as to not obsess over the weeks and days in between deployments. 

It doesn’t matter how little or long he is gone, it never gets easier.

As I write this, I can see the perspective that I am being a complete hypocrite. On one hand, I’m holding up my own cardboard sign that says “help, doesn’t stay put for more than 3ish years but would love to buy a home”.

And then I see the beauty of the world we live in- you see… perspective is backed by knowledge. Perspective is not something you wake up with or can subscribe to, it is earned. It’s earned through long stories and uncomfortable conversations and can move fucking mountains.

I live the military life by choice because its what works for me and my family right now. What interests me are the reasons why everyone else is living their life to lead them toward “goodbyes” and “hello agains”. What is it that keeps them going and for the few that can, HOW do they make it work?

For that answer I reached out to my friends on Instagram and asked around to find out how these women are mentally coping and reconnecting after deployments. 

Again, I know not everyone is military, but I can assure you that learning what they go through can bring you perspective from corners of the earth you’d never understand otherwise. 

Through some research I came across this article that breaks down the 7-stages of homecoming. I figured I would sum them up for you guys and see how we can make the human connection between story and perspective.

While I don’t agree 100% with the findings in the article, I did pull what I DID agree with and summarized my experience.

If you’d like to read the full article you can check that out here.

Here’s what I’ve got…

5 STAGES OF HOMECOMING

  1. Anticipation + Detachment 
  2. Withdrawal + Emotional Disorganization
  3. Recovery + Stabilization
  4. Anticipation of Homecoming + Planning 
  5. Reintegration + Renigotiation

Now lets take a closer look into these.

ONE – ANTICIPATION & DETACHMENT

From the moment we find out the deployment date, the anxiety and depression hits like a tidal wave and there is no dodging that one unless you enter that part of your mind that is ready to go with the flow. Because really, that’s the only way you’d survive a tidal wave. 

The best advice I can give for this one is given by my instagram friend @datbombmom whom I met at a previous duty station and is also living the “boat life” right now. 

In a message I put out to my friends, she responded “I think there’s definitely a honeymoon stage and then some rough waves can follow that until routine comes back.” That hit it dead on for me, the rough waves- they always hit no matter how you brace yourself.

“A few years ago when I accepted this, it’s made homecomings much easier!” she shared, and she’s totally right. Acceptance is step one no matter which way you look at it. If someone is going to jail, being moved to a foster home, about to take a solo-flight to a strange country, everyone is scared and you need to accept it.

The detachment part is hard for me because we both do it. You can see it when I’m doing the dishes and I can see it when he’s folding the laundry. We are both not looking forward to “this” and that’s where the beauty lies, in the “both” part. 

TWO – WITHDRAWAL AND EMOTIONAL DISORGANIZATION

When I originally did my research for this piece, this step was one I totally related with. I am definitely guilty of both. The stress of being alone is overwhelming and the easiest thing to do is shut down, so I do. Then the domino effect happens where crying is as common as sneezing and no one runs to see if you’re okay because they know…you’re not, but they must allow you to live with this on your own terms. 

For me, I don’t like to talk about my husband being gone, about to leave, now, future, ever. I don’t like to talk about it. We know it’s coming and he gets on that boat and he leaves. 

THREE – RECOVERY AND STABILIZATION

While he’s gone however, I’m still human, I’m still me, and time and time again I notice that the emotional pain I am trying to shy away on the inside slowly creeps its way outside. It turns my face bitchy, it gives me an attitude, it hurts.

I go months without what I call a “love hug”, other than the hugs I get from my kids and my mother, who lives with me. The love hug is powerful and the moment you get it, you feel reenergized and yourself again.

This is when the recovery part begins…

When my husband is deployed, I have come to learn that the only way I can mentally be “okay” with the situation we have put ourselves in is as if I act like he’s an Angel.

Your brows might have scrunched up after reading that, wondering, wtf is she talking about..

Yea an angel…I’m not a religious person, but I am a hyper-spiritual person. And “angel” is just the name I’ve chosen for my spirits, in-part from my name being, Angela. Anyway- I continue to live my life as if my husband is right there over my shoulder. He can’t talk to me, but I can talk to him.

I can blame him when I drop the bowl of spaghetti at dinner time when the kids are extra hungry, I can blame him when I forget the baby’s diaper bag in the car…you get the idea…

The point is that I’m “not alone” and any moment that happens, my husband is not missing out because he is there in spirit. At least for me…

Life keeps going, the sun continues to rise and we get up time and time again and mark off one less day from that count down, running to that love hug.

Life is as normal as we make it.

FOUR – ANTICIPATION OF HOMECOMING AND PLANNING

Then you get “the coming home” call. 

Oh how I fucking hate that phone call.

Now your eyebrows have risen high to your forehead and your’e confused, “why aren’t you excited???”

Well, the house is a disaster, I’ve been lying the entire deployment about my emotional stability and that huge tidal wave I mentioned in the beginning….yea, it’s making its way back out to the ocean and if I don’t get my shit together, it’s taking me back out there with it.

This is when I dig my planner out from under the pile of mail on the kitchen table and start counting down how many days I have to make it look like I’m not an absolute mess without him. A list gets made of every corner of the house that needs cleaning and another list for Costco and the grocery store to make sure he has all the things he is used to having when he’s home.

Any phone call is filled with butterflies and relief that we can finally end these “see you soon” conversations.

FIVE – REINTEGRATION AND NEGOTIATION

The minute that boat hits the dock its pure adrenaline and the end goal is that Love Hug that will send electricity through my body and shock me back to this life I have anxiously been anticipating.

I always get questions like “is it weird at first”(the reintegration part)… it’s not. You anticipate that and once you receive that love hug, any doubt or awkwardness disintegrates because there’s no room for that. 

I mean, just look at their faces, they are filled with love.

This is more of a side note, but I included “negotiation” into step five because I feel like every time they return from deployment you both renegotiate what it means to be a family and what that partnership entails because when we said those “I do’s”, we never included “deployment” in that- and our way of making sure we are both on the path we have chosen and not landed on is reliant on those renegotiation conversations.

THE CONCLUSION

One thing I can tell you, he never comes back and says “I don’t want to come home”. 

And that brings me back to the homeless sleeping on the corner that I will later pass on my drive through Downtown Oakland who don’t want to be home.

It makes me wonder, maybe they need a love-hug from someone who has totally written them off, and how awful and destructive that must feel. I couldn’t imagine standing on the dock waiting for my husband and not receiving that love hug. 

That would break me, in fact, that could break anyone.

In an article I found through some Google research about the emotional effect homecomings can have on humanity, I found a part that spoke of empathy, something this world really lacks these days. 

“They don’t need sympathy,” Lyles says. “They both need empathy; they need to understand where the other one is coming from.” psychologist Dr. Terry Lyles, who specializes in stress management explains.

If you’ve ever heard of that expression, “to each their own”, it would make more sense to use it in this context. Each person has their own individual way they cope with stress, anxiety and the depressions life can suppress into your heart. But there has to be an underlying connection between what makes a person want to or not want to return home. 

Is it something an understanding love hug could fix? Or is this beyond our control because we have no control?

I will always wonder “why” the homeless population I see on a daily basis leave home and I’m sure one day my journey will lead me to some type of conclusion.

But for now, I will soak in as many love hugs as I can get and fill my soul with what feels good because my soul is who truly knows me.

The next time you see someone you love, give them a hug. 

If you’d like to see the recap of our homecoming you can see it on IGTV here.

Perspective is not something you wake up with or can subscribe to, it is earned through long stories and uncomfortable conversations and can move fucking mountains.

Box of Knots

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