When serving in the military many of us dream of the day when we can get back to the life we left behind. Nothing beats serving your country, but there’s no denying that the disruption such service causes can be extreme. Both you and your family are at the mercy of your deployments, and it’s a tough time for everyone.
But when you do leave, it may not be the breath of fresh air you hoped for. In fact, many ex-military individuals report finding it tough to adjust. The majority of us join straight out of school and know nothing else. Plus, military life is so immersive that it can feel bizarre to leave it behind.
That’s not to say you can’t enjoy yourself once you leave the military. While those first months may be tough, you’ll soon get to living the calm life you dreamt of. All you need to do is know how to cope with those initial struggles.
To start, understand the emotions you may experience. These vary, but the most common feelings seem to be:
- Sudden loss of purpose
- A realization of what you’ve missed (in regards to family)
- An inability to judge social situations
These are by no means the only common threads. It’s also normal to experience a realization of what you’ve been through. When you’re in the action, you rarely have time to think, once your service ends, thinking may be all you can do.
So it’s understandably a hard time, it would be naive to assume that a transition as extreme as this will be without its struggles. To help you on your journey, we’re going to look at a few things you can do to make things easier.
Give yourself time to adjust
The first thing to bear in mind is that it’s going to take time to adjust. Your life now will be very different, from job prospects to social interactions, everything will change. As such, it’s important you don’t rush in and overwhelm yourself. Take things one step at a time. It may help to carve out a chunk of time during which you don’t have to worry about anything but your adjustment. You should take at least a month, or more if possible.
First, spend time readjusting to living at home. Spend as much time as possible with your family, especially if you have children. It’s going to be strange for them too, particularly if they were born during your service. Together you need to get used to being around each other more. Go for days out, and spend some time bonding. Then, start to venture out in public more, do the things you like. While second nature to most, these interactions will no longer be the norm for you.
When considering your interactions with others, you may need to alter your behavior. The military can change your personality. There are different social cues and behaviors. Often, these may be considered aggressive, or unacceptable once you return home. Let yourself relearn how you should act.
Talk to a therapist
Ex-military individuals are reluctant to speak with therapists for a variety of reasons. For one, it doesn’t fit with the hardened personas we have to wear to cope with the job. Plus, it could involve facing some traumatic situations you don’t want to think about. Meeting with a therapist when you return home will work wonders for your adjustment. As mentioned above, one unexpected side effect is the realization of what you’ve seen. When that strikes, it can lead to post traumatic stress, which needs treating. Worse, the problem will progress if you’re avoiding that trauma. So make sure to book at least one appointment with a therapist. You may find that a quick talk is all it takes to dispel your feelings or you may feel that you want more sessions. Once you start talking, other things could come to the surface, and while it might not be comfortable, it’s essential for ensuring you can move forward with your life.
Find your new purpose
As soon as you feel able, it’s important to go out and find a new purpose. Ever since school, you’ve likely been working towards your military goal. It’s all you’ve known. So, it makes sense that no longer having that goal would leave you struggling for a purpose. If left unchecked, these feelings can lead to issues such as depression.
As stated above, your purpose in the first months should be to readjust. After that, you need to think further afield. The primary decision is, of course, where you would like to take your career next. This can be a daunting decision, especially if you’ve never done anything other than military work.
Start by considering whether you would like to go straight into a career, or study first. If you didn’t go to college, now could be a good time to do so. Plus, having qualifications makes you a more viable candidate to employers. As it stands, you don’t have much to set yourself apart. You don’t even have job experience to fall back on.
Of course, your military experience can come in handy, but you should back it with something solid. Your experience would make you ideal for a job in the police force or some other criminal justice field. Something like an associate in criminal justice will give you an extra assurance that employers give you a chance.
It may also be worth getting a part time job on the side. Shop work or something similar doesn’t need qualifications. It’ll give you an insight into the working world. Plus, this will give you invaluable experience into the daunting world of job interviews.