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.