My Transition from the Army Part 2
It's not easy
Ok so…I left off with the movers, right? I will skip this part of the transition since most of us have moved at some point and know the stress, the damages, and the moving company not taking responsibility for said damages they unintentionally caused. Here is where the real issues started for me.
My family and I moved into a nice townhome in Virginia, my wife's job was going well and my daughter was finally enrolled in and started online school due to COVID. Things were lining up for them. Not so much me though. I was starting to feel the stress, pressure, and uncertainty building up within me. It felt like a ball of rot, doubt, and uncertainty slowing getting larger. I knew it was there, but I did not know how to deal with it. However, every day I had a smile on my face…kind of.
Many may think why would a guy whose family is settling in great and just retired after a successful 20-year career feels this way. I mean I will be receiving a monthly retirement check and a monthly disability check…so I should have little to no worries, right? Wrong. Remember I told you about that ball inside of me. Well, it was slowly growing larger. Those feelings of doubt and uncertainty kept building in me. They kept eating away at me. Twenty years of training in the Army repeated resiliency training in the Army, dealing with problems of my own and Soldiers problems ranging from drug addiction, 23% APR on a car loan to marital problems. Nothing prepared me to deal with this.
The worst feeling growing in me was one that is hard to explain to people who have not served in the military. Best I can say it is; for twenty years I knew who I was, how to dress, and when to do things. You see, every part of your life in the military is laid out for you. Now I was free to do anything, anyway, I want. And I had no idea how to do accept this fact. I found myself doing random things around the house, bouncing around from thing to thing, and eventually completing them. Sounds ok right? It wasn’t. I was starting to feel alone. I was starting to not know where I fit in life. I was starting to think “what do I do next?” I was starting to get depressed.
All these feelings grew over the first few weeks. Every day it got worse. Sure, my wife and daughter were there with me and we were nearly always doing something together. But I felt something was missing inside of me. That empty spot is where that ball fit in and grew. It grew and it grew. Every day I was putting on a happy face. Laughing and smiling for my family. I did not know how to talk to them about this. I felt like no one would listen to me (for the record I was wrong about that feeling.) I repeatedly thought this is what most vets must go thru and I don’t need to talk, it will go away.
It did not go away.
This kept building up and up for a few more weeks. My wife and I were having some marital issues at this point, which all came back to how I was feeling and acting. I was in a downward spiral and I was going down fast. One minute I felt happy then the next minute I felt alone, depressed, and angry. That ball of rot made my emotions like a roller coaster. Then one day I was organizing my part of the closet (which is weird when I did not have a large portion dedicated to military uniforms). I must have redone my closet three or four times trying to get it to look normal again. Which, if I fast forward here it still looks wrong to me after three months. So back to organizing…. I was being defeated by clothes, I was getting frustrated with everything and it was affecting my relationship with my wife. I could not stop myself from doing it either. I knew it was happening but I did not know how to stop it. Then one moment in that closet when I was feeling the most alone, depressed, and just not me, I received a text from the person who replaced me as the unit First Sergeant. All it said was "hey man give me a call immediately." So, I called him and put back on my super happy voice and face. That’s when I learned one of my good friends from my last military unit committed suicide the night before. This call was the one thing that turned my life back around. I stopped in my tracks, everything stopped for what seemed like a whole day. Once I was off the phone with him, I honestly cried for a solid ten minutes.
In a fraction of a second, I thought about where I was and where my spiral was leading me. I knew that if I kept heading down this spiral I would get back to that horrible place in life where I once considered suicide, and I never want to go back near that place. I knew I needed help from the one person I trust with every cell of my body. I needed to be brave and speak to her about what I was feeling, about this ball of rot growing inside of me. I was prepared for her to tell me to wait until work was done (that is a worst-case scenario and that is where my mind was). I was thankfully wrong in my thoughts, my wife stopped everything she was doing and she listened. Speaking with my wife for only a few minutes opened up a plethora of feelings. I told her how I felt about my friend and how I was doing. And you know what she listened. She was has always been and will always be the most understanding and important person in my life. She has saved me twice now I believe. I love her with my soul and should have started this conversation with her a long time ago. Just so we are clear, talking about how you really are feeling and thinking is a life changer. She hugged me for a while and that is when the healing started.
That healing process made me realize the two root causes of this ball of rot. First, I started to think more about who I was now and where I fit now instead of who I used to be and where I used to fit in. That is huge if you are transitioning, move forward…just keep moving. Second, I found talking about what I was feeling helped make that ball of rot filling the empty place get smaller. And it kept getting smaller. I found my place again, I moved forward, I still am moving forward and I will never stop moving forward.
Now if I ended this by saying that everything is now perfect with unicorns and rainbows (as my daughter says) I would be lying to you. It is not yet. It is getting better though, I no longer feel alone or lost. I am starting to understand who I am and where I belong after the Army. I am treating it as a marathon (never ran one…yet) not a sprint. So, if you are reading this, thank you for listening to my journey so far. If you are transitioning Soldier, a family member of a transitioning Soldier, or just a friend of one. Remember they may not be ok inside; they probably need some help. So, talk to them, tell them to keep moving forward not to dwell on what or who they used to be, to find where they fit (remember make it a marathon, not a sprint).
About the author
I am a 38 year old retired Army Military Police Officer. I am married to my absolute best friend and the most amazing, supportive and intelligent woman I know. We have three children and currently live in Virginia.