I need to recognize that deployment changes everyone, both warriors and family members, and recognize that there is a difference between military life and civilian life. Readjustment and overcoming the disconnect takes time.
I should recognize that civilian life does not follow the same rules as military life, such as respect for authority, discipline and camaraderie. There is a need to renegotiate my role at home. As my GPS system always reminds me when I am lost, recalibrating.
Many of the things service members learned in the military served them well while deployed or while in a combat zone. But, some of those same strategies and skills may be causing difficulties in their civilian roles. What worked over there may not work back home. It is a “Stuckness” problem.
Perhaps this adjustment challenge was best captured by Chaplain Douglas Etter* who offered the following observations about his experience of coming home.
- For 18 months, I was surrounded by men with guns. When I came home I felt vulnerable without them, even in church.
- For 18 months, I suffered the indignities and deprivations of military life in a combat environment with a core of friends. When I came home I felt lonely without them, even when surrounded by family or other friends.
- For 18 months, I kept a constant watch on my surroundings and the people all around me. When I returned home, I could not break the habit, but remained hyper vigilant outside the walls of my home.
- For 18 months, I studied every piece of garbage or discarded junk along the road. When I came home, I couldn’t stop. Riding in the passenger’s seat always made me nervous when someone would drive over a piece of trash.
- For 18 months as a leader of soldiers, I had to keep my emotions in check. When I came home, people told me I was distant and withdrawn.
- For 18months, I shared common goals with others with whom I depended literally for my life. When I came home, I found dishonesty, hypocrisy and malevolence in people who claimed to be my friends and share common values.
- For 18 months, I had no choice about what to wear, what to eat, what to do or when to sleep. When I came home, I was overwhelmed by choices, sometimes to the point that I was unable to make decisions.
- For 18 months, I dealt with issues that were literally life and death, one’s eternal in their scope. When I returned home, I found people worried about matters of no consequence at all.
- [Reprinted with permission by the Institue for Research, Education & Training in Addictions (www.IRETA.org)]
For further examples of the transitional stressors of shifting from military to civilian life visit the following website www.realwarriors.net. “Battle-mind” skills helped you survive in combat, but they can cause you problems if not adapted when you get home.
“I understand that it took time to train myself for my mission as a warrior, and I must allow myself time to readjust feeling like a civilian again.”
“When I first returned from combat I felt like a stranger at home. My son had grown up so much and had really become independent. My wife was running my house and doing well at it. I felt that I had missed a lot with birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and school activities. I had a pretty easy transition because I was able to take my time and slip back into my role in the family. We haven’t encountered any major issues. We all became more mature people with the separation.”
“My transition to civilian life has been weird. My wife tells me I changed and that I have a shorter fuse. She tells me that I make rash decisions. I can’t stand stupid people. I use to get pissed off when she told me this and then I thought maybe she is right. Now I can catch myself and step back. Actually, I think I have matured as a result of my deployment. I can now appreciate my family and friends more if I just take the time. It just takes time and some deliberate practice.”