January 20, 2016, by Helen Duke – While on deployment, many personnel dream of the rose-tinted life on Civvy Street, surrounded by the comforts of home and the smiling faces of loved ones. In reality, however, returning to civilian life after a career in the military can be surprisingly tough. The military welcomes its recruits into a whole world of its own – and that world can be hard to leave.
As we’ve covered on this site before, many returning veterans are, alas, suffering from the horrors of PTSD. This makes it especially hard to transition from military to civilian life. However, the all-encompassing culture of the military and the way of life to which personnel become accustomed means that any veteran can experience transitional difficulties. While no two people will have the same experience, here are some basic tips which may help the process along.
Providing For Oneself
The military provides for its people really quite well. Plenty of long-serving veterans will have little experience of getting together their own meals, clothing, housing etc. Furthermore, the amount of choice in these matters available to civilians can be overwhelming. Not only does the military do a lot of things for you as regards basic necessities, it also does not leave a whole lot of choice over the form said necessities will take. This leaves a lot of veterans unprepared for the realities of fending for oneself. Things like bills, mortgages, rent, the various insurance policies needed by civilians, food, clothing etc place an unaccustomed burden of responsibility upon the shoulders of retiring personnel which is quite different to the responsibilities of the military.
Of course, some lucky service people have a loving and supportive network of people to help them get used to this kind of thing. Others, however, must go it more or less alone. In order to make this process easier, try getting all the advice you can before you leave. Do your research, and get a reasonable idea of what will be expected of and available to you. Don’t make a ‘cold’ transition – warm yourself gradually into civilian self-reliance!
In the military, individuals are absorbed into a life in close quarters with others. There’s a lot of what is termed ‘camaraderie’, and never any need to seek out a social life. While many may lament the lack of personal space, most find that it’s far preferable to the comparative isolation with which they are afflicted when returning to civilian life. Not having an instant support network which knows and accepts you extremely well can be tough. No more in-jokes, no more off-color (but secretly adored) humor, no more taken-for-granted socializing.
A supportive family and a strong group of friends can help enormously here. However, civilians have their own lives to be getting on with and can’t always be around for you – whereas military personnel are all more or less in the same boat and running to the same schedule. It’s a very different experience. Social media can help you to stay in contact with your military friends but, for real-time human interaction, try joining a club or throwing yourself into community life. It’s not quite the same, but it will help to fill that void!
It can be very hard for those who’ve never experienced military life to understand you and where you’re coming from. If you’ve spent a long time around other personnel who understand this implicitly, this can be a frustrating experience. What’s worse is when civilians assume that they know things they do not. It’s easy to get angry when this happens.
However, remember that there’s a lot about their life with which you are unfamiliar, and a lot about their world that you do not understand. Rather than widening the gap through pointing out areas of misunderstanding, seek to establish common ground and ask for help.