After being immersed in military culture for a while, you start to feel quite separate from civilian life. You often find yourself calling the other place, “the real world.” If you’re back home on leave, you groan as you have to eventually go back to the real world. If you’re on a deployment or looking to ETS, you say things like, “Man, when I get back to the real world I’m immediately drinking a beer.” There are two distinct worlds, or it least it feels that way–the world of the military and the civilian world back home.
A lot of people tend to deal with their issues with that mindset. A Martian would approach an Earthling with a level of caution–they know they don’t understand each other. It’s not the Martian or the Earthling’s fault, it’s just the way that it is. Combat particularly seems to separate you, drifting you further away at sea from the mainland of regular Americans.
This is a major contributing factor behind the difficulties of reintegration. It’s also why veterans tend to find it healthy to seek out and chill with other veterans. A sense of community has helped veterans time and time again in feeling like they aren’t an alien stranded among foreigners, unable to relate to them in any meaningful way. So many find success in these communities, and they build families and/or careers and get on with their lives.
And then the new problems introduce themselves.
These are the civilian problems that are perhaps exacerbated by combat trauma or even just the extreme lifestyle change from the military life to a civilian one. It’s the financial struggle of wondering if next month’s bills are going to get paid, the emotional strain of navigating relationships and of course the huge question: what’s my purpose? Where do I fit in? Is my life just some meaningless series of events?
In the military, service members can go to those around them. If a particular firefight is really bothering them, they can go to senior, seasoned NCOs and ask them what to do. At the very least, they know that they are surrounded by people who just get it. On a smaller scale, they can ask someone for help with some paperwork, and unless their chain of command is completely worthless, it’ll get figured out because everyone’s had to face those problems before. During my E-5 board, I could easily approach plenty of recently promoted E-5s and get the juicy details on anything and everything to do with the board.
Well if you’re a veteran and you’re having trouble with civilian problems, you’ve got experts. They’re all around you: at your school, place of work and in your family. Civilians have been doing this stuff since you were in the military. The problems might not be as “hard” in some ways, but in other ways it’s intensely draining and taxing. Personally, I’d take physical risk and strain over financial stress any day. Either way, problems are problems and they need to get solved.
Sure, there are plenty of people who have no idea what’s going on (I’m one of them), but I have come to understand that my problems are no longer exclusive to myself and a small group of people, which has taken some getting used to. If I’m struggling with relationship issues, there is no shortage of wisdom if I seek it out. If I feel lost and purposeless, I can hit up multiple people who are feeling the same way. If the constant barrage of financial stress is really getting to me, then I’m in the same boat as millions of people across the United States.
I had forgotten that, since for so long I would come back and associate the civilian world with a place that has no business trying to understand what I have gone through. But the things I’ve been going through recently? They’re civilian problems, and civilians are slogging through the same trenches. They get it–at least, some of them do. And that’s something.
Featured image courtesy of AP Images.