Thanks to a laundry list of surgeries, my Marine Corps career came to a rather unusual end. With my future uncertain, and my contract expired, I found myself on medical hold, standing by to find out what a panel of doctors and leaders decided from what they could glean from a small brown folder that held everything they deemed to be of import about Sergeant Alexander Hollings. Meeting me, of course, didn’t make that list.

Soon it was clear: my separation was inevitable. With screws, plates, pins and steel mesh in my abdominal wall, both knees, and right ankle, my value to the Corps had been forever compromised. I bucked against this reality — even completing two first-class PFTs between surgeries to demonstrate what I thought was dedication, but the command clearly seemed to interpret as well-intentioned masochism. As is so often the case when one’s time is up, I’m pretty sure the whole world figured it out well before I did.

So I spent about a year in limbo … knowing that I’d soon be sent packing, but unsure of when or under what circumstances. During that time, I applied to colleges, enrolled in the Seps and Taps (training intended to help you transition back into civilian life) and continued to work in varying capacities, as the Corps had already seen fit to send my unit a replacement.

Admittedly, most Marines know right when they’re getting out, so the uncertainty of my situation was exaggerated by a combination of trudging bureaucracy and the overwhelming finality of their decision. I received word on the pistol range one Thursday afternoon: I’d head in for yet another knee surgery the following week, then allow my convalescent leave to transition directly into terminal leave, and never don my uniform again.

After six and a half years in the Corps and what seemed like no rush to be rid of me, I’ll admit, learning on Thursday that the following day would be my last in boots hit me a bit hard. I wasn’t sure if I should celebrate or mourn, so I split the difference and finished my pistol table: earning another expert badge out of spite before splitting a bottle of expensive vodka with my wife and a few close friends.

I had completed all the separation training required by the Corps, I had even held jobs before enlisting (having joined at 21, rather than the more common 18), but I was still utterly unsure of what to expect on the other side of the scarlet and gold curtain that was about to be pulled away, revealing a civilian world I knew so little about.

That fear of the unknown “real” world is pretty common among transitioning military members, and if I’m honest, there’s good reason. I know plenty of Marines who have failed to make that transition a successful one, eventually finding their way back to the uniform in search of stability after the real world proved too unpredictable or unforgiving. I know others that should have found their way back, but instead found themselves at the bottom of too many bottles (or worse). And then, of course, there’s that looming statistic about veteran suicide… a number that weighs heavily on you as you exchange your active duty ID for directions to the nearest VA hospital.

So why is the transition so stressful? Why are the sorts of people that are able to complete objectives amid the most stressful conditions imaginable somehow not able to manage the day to day lives the rest of the world seems to handle so easily?