The mirror reflects back a person you know. For the first time in a very long time you contemplate a change in grooming — longer hair, different cut, or the male-skewing decision to have a beard or not. If someone has been making these decisions for you for years, then you may be feeling some newfound freedom.
For some retired and active duty military individuals, this is just one example of a decision that can surprisingly overwhelm you and add to a list of struggles you face during the transition back into civilian life.
What you may be experiencing is unique, and deserving of attention. When someone goes into the military they are taught a new way of life. They are taught when to do things, how to do things, and how to look when they do things. It is purposeful to form a united force aimed at serving the United States of America — a proud undertaking.
The fact is that humans struggle with transitions regardless of whether they are positive or negative: a great new job, an awful break-up, moving to a new home you’ve wanted forever, the loss of a beloved friend, or pet. All involve varying degrees of adjusting to a loss of identity, a loss of purpose, comradery, routine, comfort, and others. We lose a version of ourselves, and we need to create steps forward to find a new sense of self.
Here are some challenges shared by our military clients:
“When I’m in a crowd I have to position myself at the back of the room, and I always need to watch the door.”
“The landscape on the way to my home looks similar to where I served, and I’m always waiting for something to happen.”
“My sense of smell picks up scents that are similar to what I smelled when I was over there, and it brings back memories. It’s food, or truck exhaust, or even laundry detergent. It brings me back.”
“All my senses, especially my hearing are sensitive. Unexpected noises are disturbing. I’m always on guard.”
“It’s ironic that the fight for freedom has made me fight for my own internal freedom in a different way.”
“We were taught to not talk about it, so I reached for a bottle of alcohol instead. I poured myself into the bottle.”
“It’s really hard spending time with my family. I feel like I’m pretending. I don’t know how to act sometimes. It’s like I’m visiting, not living there. I don’t think they understand. I don’t really understand.”
“We were pretty much not allowed to feel and not allowed to think. So we get out and we’re expected to be able to do both, immediately. How do we do that?”
Whether intentional or not, efforts to help military personnel transition into civilian life fall short. This may be due to messaging that fosters a perception that seeking help is a weakness, or exposing reality is an act of disloyalty. The bottom line is that silence leaves room for catastrophic endings.
Based on the breakthroughs we experience with our military clients at Rise Canyon Ranch, embracing life’s struggles with openness is nothing short of a courageous stand on the frontline. This is a journey worthy of merit, and is certainly a steadfast display of honor. To witness it is profound.
Dr. Dubois shares,
“My hope for this article is not only to reach out so veterans and active military can identify with it, but that the public will too, and understand that the experience is very real. Perhaps then, the public will be far more sensitive to the soldiers who give us our freedoms, that in one sense, we take away from them when they join. I grew up in the military experience, so I value the freedoms I have because of the sacrifices they’ve made.”
Fortunately, the path forward to finding peace and healing for this country’s individuals who have, or currently serve in the military includes a horse, mental health professionals and equine specialists ready to serve.
If you or anyone you know would like more information about the benefits of Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) or Equine Assisted Learning (EAL), please contact Rise Canyon Ranch at 714-477-1630 (Orange County, CA) and 928-288-0780 (Yavapai County, AZ). Come for the horses. Stay for the self-discovery.
As discussed with: Dr. Theresa Dubois, PsyD, LMFT
Written by: Anne Kruse
Photo credit: Rise Canyon Ranch