After serving in the US Army for 22 years, I knew it was time to retire so I prepared myself and my family for transition. We had checklists and family meetings to discuss everything from finances to moving. The only thing we didn’t discuss was the emotional transition that would take place once we left the military for good.
Nobody forewarned me about the emotions that are stirred up during transitioning from the military. If someone had told me, at least I could have been better prepared. Instead, these 5 emotions hit me smack dead in the face and I struggled in my transition process.
- Sadness – I felt like I was mourning the loss of a family member, good friend, or something that was indeed very special to me. And when I thought about it – I was. Sadness is often the result of a loss. I was mourning the loss of a life I had grown to love and excelled in. I was sad over having to say goodbye to a life I had grown very comfortable in, an organization I had come to successfully operate in, and a culture that had a profound impact on the person I had become. Yes, I was sad but I eventually understood that this was part of the process of transitioning.
- Anger – I began to grow angry. My temper was quick, my patience was short and my attitude was BAD! I had to ask myself, ‘How did I get here?’ When I stopped to look at the source of my anger it was directed inward – I was MAD at myself. ‘You were a leader in the Army – why can’t you just shake this funk off?’ I asked myself over and over. This is why I was mad at myself. I felt foolish for struggling with my ‘feelings’ during my transition process and became mad at myself. I soon realized I had to do something with this angry energy before it became destructive.
- Withdrawn – I resorted to withdrawing because it was easier than talking about or explaining what I was feeling. I struggled to find the words to describe what I was going through. People always look at the good in a thing, and there is nothing wrong with that – actually I recommend focusing on the good always. But sometimes there is a process to get to the good in a situation. Sure it’s great to be able to retire in your 40’s with full access to your pension, full medical benefits, and the many benefits that come with a military retirement. Sometimes the road to get to good is tough and lonely to travel. At least that’s how I felt…
- Fear – False Emotions Appearing Real. I had to tell myself if I successfully survived a military career – deployments, separation from my family, tough training, tough responsibilities and much more – I had what it took to make it outside of the uniform. I had to search within and use the skills I gained during my time in the Army to fight through my struggles and prepare myself for life as a Veteran. I had to dig deep and create an effective system for processing these emotions that had me stalled in my transition because a GREAT LIFE was awaiting me on the other side of my struggle.
- Loss of Identity – This was one of the toughest emotions to deal with in transition but facing this is where I had my breakthrough and experienced the most personal growth to date. I will also tell you that recreating a new identity outside of your military uniform will likely be an ongoing process. It has been for me. I knew before I retired that I was a mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, great cook, etc. But once the uniform came off and I was “Who are you?” I froze and was at a loss for words. Before it was easy to answer this question while in uniform – I am Chief… My titles, my record, my experiences were all laid out in my military record and clearly seen when I was in uniform. I was now forced to answer ‘Who are you?” without the safety net of my uniform.
So maybe you’ve found yourself at the ‘transition crossroad’ struggling with your emotions. Maybe you feel alone during this time, like no one understands or can relate. That was me and I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. An emotional transition is part of the process; we all experience it. Maybe at differing degrees of difficulty but emotional nonetheless. If you find yourself stuck in your transition process, struggling to creating your ideal life outside of the uniform, then maybe you could use a little help. Even the strongest Warrior needs a little help sometimes. If this is you, then get help. Remember there is no honor in suffering in silence #BattleBuddy.