One of my chief complaints during Stephen’s last deployment was that I wished I had the support of the military community. I was living in Dallas at the time, and although my family was nearby and incredibly supportive, I often wished I could talk to other people going through what I was going through. Well, I finally got my wish when I saw an e-mail about a free event for spouses of deployed soldiers: The Strong Bonds Retreat.
Strong Bonds is an Army-wide program developed to strengthen and support families. Usually it is offered as a couples event, but since our men are away, the chaplain and FRG leader for the Stephen’s battalion developed something that would benefit us as we make our way through the rest of the deployment. (I have no idea why they call it a retreat since it was a 1 day event, but that’s what they call it.)
I waffled for a while about going. I wouldn’t know anyone, it might be uncomfortable, I wouldn’t know anyone, it was a long drive to get there, I wouldn’t know anyone, I didn’t know what to wear, I wouldn’t know anyone. Sensing a theme yet? It’s no secret that I’m as socially awkward as they come with the great combo of being shy, introverted, and anxious. I signed up one night on a whim (Nightime Amy is much braver than Daytime Amy) and wouldn’t let myself back out. Besides, how will I ever find people to go to things with if I don’t first go to things and meet people?
I’m so glad I sucked it up and attended because the retreat was excellent!
First off all: food. I could end right there. The food was provided for free by the restaurant and it was excellent. Even if everything else was a bust, the food alone would have made it worth the drive across town. Second of all: prizes. I walked away with a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card. Score!
I had a bit of a bumpy start. When I arrived, I sat at a vacant table figuring that other people would eventually show up and join me. But no one else showed up. So it was two tables full of people…and me. The battalion FRG leader was so sweet and told me I should move to a table with people, so I did. Everyone was super friendly, but I was embarrassed. I guess I should have expect that I wouldn’t be able to escape an entire day of strangers without making myself look foolish at at least one point.
Once we dug into the work at hand, though, I was able to loosen up and enjoy myself. We played silly games (people bingo, purse scavenger hunt, a flower riddle thing) with the people at our tables and then had discussions with the whole group. We spent a lot of time just talking. Even though I didn’t know anyone, the other women were very nice. It was refreshing to sit and talk about the highs and lows of deployment with other people who were knee deep in it.
One of my favorite parts was when we were asked to talk about challenges we’ve faced during the deployment so far and how we’ve overcome them. Again, I felt myself nodding along with what everyone else was saying or piping in with, “me, too!” My experiences and emotions felt validated. I was reminded of just how not alone I am in this whole thing. The chaplain pointed out the fact that we are doing it, we are getting through, no challenge has been too much, we are strong. Maybe a tad cheesy, but I felt like I was sitting up a little taller and smiling a little wider. I am getting through it.
At one point, another chaplain came by to visit and speak with us. She mostly just cracked jokes and kept things casual, but at one point she said, “I’m very thankful that I have a safe place to lay my head at night. I’m blessed that your husbands have taken up arms to provide that for me.” I had never heard someone so sincerely say it like that before. No thanks is necessary, especially not for what I do, but it was touching to hear. The whole day was just a big reset button for me. There’s still a long ways go before Stephen comes home, but I feel more ready to face it now.
I was able to meet new people, laugh, eat some good food, talk about relevant issues, and get my head on straight. The whole day was just a big reset button for me. There’s still a long ways go before Stephen comes home, but I’m ready to face it.
If you ever have the opportunity to attend Strong Bonds, I highly recommend it!