Written by Holly Black.
Many people may assume that a veteran leaving their military post is always a positive, happy and special time.
No-more long periods of time away from home, no more being posted unexpectedly to daunting countries, no more worry from family/friends about safety and not needing to be at a constant state of high alert.
This may be true, however some veterans face many struggles when they step back into life expected to go on as “normal”. But what is normal? What is normal for one person, especially those who have lived in a military base, is not normal for another. Why are veterans expected to ease back into society with little help and support to familiarise with their new surroundings?
Take an eighteen year old boy who grew up in an unstable environment with no caregiver showing him the direction in life to achieve his potential. Suffering bullying from various people throughout his life and feeling no sense of self-worth he decides to join the army.
Here he begins to feel part of a family unit, feels respected, valued and cared for. Something he hasn’t felt before. He learns to stand up for himself and voice his opinion becoming strong both physically and mentally. A protective layer and defence shield emerges around him as he starts to become programmed to fight. An overwhelming content feeling rises giving him his purpose in life. He has found his niche and starts to develop friendships and is able to choose his family. His elders teach him rules, boundaries, punishments, respect, routine, strength and discipline. At first he may feel rebellious but as time goes on he learns from the best and works his way up to become a leader himself.
Throughout the years there are ups and downs, victories and traumas. The impact of drastic life events, accidents, fatalities and being forced to make terrifying decisions creates a rollercoaster of emotions both short term and long term.
The day arrives when the young boy who stepped into a man’s boots leaves the military, leaving his family behind, his purpose, his identity and a life he created for himself. As he leaves he holds his head high and is proud of himself. Nerves fill him but he is excited for any adventures that lie ahead. He ponders on what life will be like now and is content with the feeling of being able to relax. After celebrating with his friends and adjusting to a new environment, reality seems to set in.
Imagine having a structured routine and control in your life for over twenty years which in one day suddenly stops. Turn it the other way round and imagine having no routine, structure or control and then suddenly having constant demands being placed up on you. Where would you start? How would you feel?
The feelings of being out of control lead you to feel stressed, anxious and become irritated. This is coupled with intense feelings of sadness as you start to grieve for a family you once saw day in day out who supported you, protected you and valued you. The family you chose and felt blessed to be a part of. You grieve for your sense of purpose and feel like your identity has been ripped away from you. What do you do now? How do you feel? You now feel like the future is a burden as you worry about finances, employment, housing and government changes which may affect you.
Not knowing where to turn, you start to isolate yourself and the negative feelings overwhelm you and you start to think the world is against you. The protective layer you once formed around you begins to emerge and your anxiety worsening as time goes on.
Being in this constant state of fight or flight leads to many social problems as you are always on guard. Snappiness, frustration, arguments and even violence start to rule your life ruining relationships with others around you who cannot understand your behaviour. You feel they don’t understand you.
You start to feel guilty about your behaviour but just don’t know how to help yourself. Your self-esteem becomes more damaged and you start to punish yourself for anything and everything you feel you shouldn’t have done whether past or present. You feel so out of control that you want to escape and will try anything to achieve that.
All you needed and wanted was someone to show you the way. Someone to talk to about how you felt. Someone to help you to help yourself and guide you through.