Civilianification

Growing up you always hear the old cliché sayings. Hindsight is 20/20. The grass is always greener. Be careful what you wish for. You hear them so often that you forget why it is they have been repeated over and over again.

It hasn’t even been six months since I left service and for me personally it is the most challenging thing I have done in a long time. I have felt isolated and alone. I have felt apathetic and depressed. I have been frustrated and angry. I have put the nail in the coffin in some of my most important relationships.  What has made it all the worse is normally I can think through these tough spots and find some peace. Not so much this time.

 My whole adult life I was a Soldier. I put on my uniform and boots and played the army silly games. I filled out the online surveys. I went to pointless meetings. I waited on the word. I bitched along with everyone else staying late to clean equipment. I complained about all the things in the big army I couldn’t change. I constantly danced the line of staying in or getting out.

 At the same time, I was training and mentoring children to go fight grown man conflicts. I knew their future because I had been that same ignorant child. The responsibility weighed heavily on me because I felt I owed it to them to make sure they had the best chance. I sacrificed my own family to make them the priority. A choice I would make again given the same circumstances. Sadly. Together we did what we had to do and I can’t put to words how proud I am of the brothers I made. Being a soldier became my identity not just my career. Something that is unavoidable when the stakes are so high. I am a warrior. I am capable of things that the good people of this country cannot even comprehend. I was able to do it and take great pride in that fact.

 But all good things come to an end. Now I am just Mike. No responsibility but to myself and my own pursuit of happiness. The problem is defining what would make me happy in this new chapter of my life. Mike the civilian has a hard time letting go of the warrior. Finding the Valhalla that I started searching for since the beginning of this journey.

 I have found I don’t quite “fit” in my new life. People annoy me. They walk around so self-centered and oblivious to how the real world works outside of the American bubble. Now I think I figured out why I feel that way.  I feel that I don’t take for granted what a privilege it is to live in this country. I had the American dream blindfold taken off and saw what the real world is really like. A world without social media, things that are trending, and butt hurt people getting offended because they have nothing better to do. So I walk around a little like a misfit unable to be content with the monotonous life of ignorant happiness.  The people I come across have no idea how good they have it and waste the privilege worrying about things that don’t matter.

 I have to remind myself it was my choice to do shoulder the weight of fighting for my country and the consequences that came along with that service. I faced these new challenges so the average American can live their lives in whatever way choose. It is the basis of why it is soldiers do what we do. It still doesn’t close the gap between myself and someone who isn’t like me. Common ground is not easy to find. To be honest it is my hang up and need to let it go. Easier said than done.

The worst part is my inability to find any kind of gratification in anything. To find joy in the endeavors I undertake since leaving service. Without feeling content at the end of the day that I made a difference, I feel a little lost. I know that in the army I wasn’t changing the world but I was doing my part to change the lives of those around me either through the mentorship of the younger guys or the brotherhood we created training and fighting for each other. It leaves me frustrated, depressed and often angry.  Sometimes I feel if I am not a soldier then I am nothing. Which I know deep down is not the case.

Nothing can compare to the gratification and satisfaction of the difference you make in the military. Especially in a war time military. Now I am not talking about the freedom and patriotic crap. That’s nice and looks good on a bumper sticker but the real difference you make are in the people you serve with. I realized quickly that all the rank and medals I have earned mean nothing now. My medals are the guys I served with who still have their lives because of my small contribution to our little family.

 I had a soldier who I wouldn’t put in charge of a second grade class hamster call me out of the blue and thank me. He turned it around and made sergeant and said it was because at least partially because of my mentorship. Now he is out there training his boys for a fight and I could not be more proud.  You just cannot reproduce that feeling of accomplishment.

 I know I’ll snap out of this eventually but I talk to a lot of guys in the same boat. I clearly don’t have it all figured out but I talk all the time to my boys and it has been helping listening to their advice. Sticking together as a veteran community is important. Something I have leaned on heavily. Especially if you can allow yourself to be honest even when pride screams to keep your mouth shut.  I know the way forward is not going to be easy. I need to find something to replace for my desire to make a difference and allow myself to be ok with the fact that it’s just not going to be the same as being a Soldier. If nothing else I know even if I fall on my face there are hundreds out there ready to pick me up.

6 thoughts on “Civilianification

  1. Dang, this is just so well said.

    I’ve been out 16 years and I still regularly have every feeling you describe. It’s hard to find things you enjoy doing. It’s hard to feel your work is nearly as worthwhile. It’s hard to relate to civilians.

    And I’m not even touching the friendship angle you described. You just can’t possibly get as close to people in the civilian world as you did in the military. Maybe that’s because you’re not sleeping in the mud and muck together. Maybe it’s because you’re not on the same unified mission, sharing the same goal.

    All of these things seem to never change. And no matter how long you’re out, you never lose the identity of being a Soldier or Marine. You lift, you run, you train martial arts. Partly, it’s to be prepared. Partly, it’s because it’s all you know, and when you don’t, you know you didn’t proudly represent that mantle of Soldier or Marine that day.

    I wish I had some answers, but 16 years out and I still don’t have many. But you’re right that we need to all hang together. We’re the only ones who truly get it.

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  2. Well said. I have been out of active service since 1995, and done with Reserves since 97. I am 100% service connected for ptsd/major depressive disorder and I still have these struggles regularly. I don’t fit into civilian life. They just don’t get it.

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  3. Me Too.

    Even though I look like a regular guy with my fat belly, longish hair and bad attitude. I am still that guy that doesn’t fit in well, try as I may.

    My wife and I are in the process of moving to a new house in a different part of town and we were talking about what is acceptable housing. I mentioned that I could like in a tent if the zombies attack and she said that she would shoot herself before she lived like that. I said it wasn’t a big deal, did it for six months in Iraq. She replied that I hated living like that. Which was true, I was a Air Force guy and always like hotels over tents.

    I told her that any shelter above the tent level is good living and if the zombies attack I am going to hit her with a axe and save the bullet. I might need it later. I laughed and she didn’t.

    As far as solutions to how to cope. I have none other than to solider on. I have a former Airborne Vet friend who started cooking Bar-B-Que and opened up a restaurant. The bar area is full of pictures, signs, plaques, posters, medals, name tags and other military items donated by local vets. It is a very cool place to visit and the food is good. I don’t know if it replaces the thrill jumping out of C-130s with 60 of your best buddies but it gets him up every day.

    Thank you for the honesty. I wish you all the best.

    rob

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  4. Couldn’t have said it better, and I never got shot at or feared for my life, just occupied a tent in Kuwait. Something to be said about the selflessness one invokes when they volunteer to leave ‘What’s trending’ in America to be all but forgotten except for a “thank you for your service”, and that being the end of it. I found that trying to make up for lost time never helped. I turned to writing, and it appears it’s beginning to do just as much good for you as it has for me. It’s murky, life. Along the way we’re still searching for meaning, but we always find it. Obviously you’re better prepared to meet the demands now than you ever were.

    I went to a Vet Center and found someone to talk to. Not sure if there are any near you. It wasn’t easy, because I felt I had no business talking about my issues (one suicide in unit during deployment) while legitimate combat veterans needed help too. Through the VC, I met many incredibly folks, some over beers, and some through volunteering. Volunteering helps a lot, I’ve found. You get a chance to make a difference, and people are amazed that you’re a person, not a robot in fatigues. Making those things into habits helps a lot more. That takes some getting used to, but the friends you can make there are just another person you can make the days seem normal again. Because deep down, you are normal, and you won’t realize when you find Valhalla. I think it will just become more apparent that Valhalla is trying to find you.

    As the others above have commented, it takes guts and balls to be this honest, especially in an age of Keyboard Warriors. Thank you for your words. We all need to hear them

    Sam

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  5. It certainly is a process. There is no reverse-Basic in which you can ‘un-learn’ and assimilate back into society [if this ‘society’ is something you even wanted to assimilate into, that is]. TAP is a joke. The VA and C&P process is also an enraging, endless joke. But it does get… different. I won’t say better because it doesn’t always get better. But it gets different.

    Now is when you should look to reach out and connect with fellow veterans. And to reflect on your time spent in service. Do things you always felt you should do when this time came. Recognize that there is a thin plate-glass window between you and the world. And most people won’t understand anything you did; won’t get anything you say; won’t even seem like what you did mattered to them.

    But it doesn’t diminish everything we all did – what you did, and those you touched and affected. I think in the Civil War they called it Soldiers Heart. And if you ask me – that’s an OK thing to have.

    Stay Strong, Brother –

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  6. Let them annoy you. Use it to push yourself up and be better.

    I’ve learned to use their language and play at being a civilian but a better one. Just enough to fit in where I need to without giving in to the craptastic world they live in.

    Don’t let the weakness in. Show them what an infantryman is made of. What he can do with even a small part in the game. It is not you, it is not your weakness. It is their scared little mediocre lives they are afraid of and anything you could do to rock the boat.

    Do it anyway. Others are waiting for you out in civilian land. They more we gain leadership rolls, the more we can help correct course and help others to rediscover the truth. One day at a time.

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