Five Common Yet Unexpected Experiences With Transition

You’re going to feel these when you transition out of the military, even if no one warned you about it.

1. Grief

Service members frequently believe that life on the outside will be all sunshine and roses. Transitioning is going to be a piece of cake, right? You will probably underestimate how much you are going to miss the highly structured and surprisingly predictable life inside the military.

As humans, we are naturally inclined to be averse to loss. We weigh losses much higher than gains, and frequently question our decisions with endless “what-ifs.” It’s only natural that, even given the best possible reasons for separating from the military, we would experience a sense of loss from the change.

It’s important to acknowledge this sense of loss as you transition from the military to civilian life. Process it properly. Failure to do so can result in longing for a fantasy version of the military. You will not being able to appreciate your life as it is on the outside.

2. Loneliness

There are few opportunities in civilian life to bond as closely as one does with their peers in the military. There simply aren’t as many intense struggles, opportunities for bonding, or expectations of camaraderie in most civilian jobs. This can lead to a tremendous feeling of loneliness during your transition.

By realizing that this is normal and taking steps to create a community or become part of an established club, you can combat these feelings of loneliness. This can go a long way to stabilizing your life.

3. Apathy

In the military, it’s tempting to imagine that when you separate, all those civilians will be interested in everything about your service and ask you constant questions about “what was it like?”

The fact is that most people will be uninterested in your experiences after you transition. They are busy enjoying their own lives. At first, this will come as a shock. And it may be a very painful one. You may feel that all those years of service were pointless and that nobody cares. On the other hand, people’s apathy can be a blessing. It’s an opportunity to remake yourself as basically anything you want.

Pro tip: try not to make “veteran” your primary identity. It’s unbecoming to find someone who is constantly living in the past. Remember the high school quarterback that can’t seem to let go of the glory days? Not pretty.

4. Irritation with Loved Ones

Many veterans struggle with how much they end up fighting with their loved ones once they are around all the time. Although the struggle can be painful in the moment, it’s actually a sign of increasing intimacy. The more familiar you become with any person, the more you will become familiar with their faults, the essential elements of humanity. They will also become more familiar with yours.

Try to appreciate this increased intimacy for what it is and not focus so much on the conflict. You created a family together for a reason. This transition time will soon be over, and you’ll come to realize a new life together that incorporates everything you’ve had.

5. Awakening

One of the most surprising experiences shared by veterans as they grow into civilian life is a sense of “coming alive”. During this period, although you’ve struggled through a number of different experiences, you’ve come out wiser and more confident.

This experience is very difficult to describe for those who have not experienced it. It feels like a sudden awareness of beautiful things you couldn’t appreciate as a service member, a feeling of confidence and efficacy, and excitement for the future. While you appreciate your service for what it was, you don’t dwell on it.

Although this may seem like a logical goal or endpoint for transition, recognize that it’s really more of a beginning of the next chapter in your life. Enjoy it, because that new chapter will come with it’s own struggles, and it will be easy to forget all of these wonderful feelings. “This, too, shall pass.”