When you return home from an overseas deployment, you’re likely to go through a number of complex emotions and some strange or unexpected experiences. Your return and transition represents an enormous change for you, your family, and your friends, and there will probably be some bumps along the way, no matter how happy and exciting the occasion is. It’s perfectly normal to feel confused, miss the friends and work that surrounded you overseas, or even wish you could return to your deployment, all while you’re also glad to be home. Not only are you dealing with reverse culture shock, a phenomenon experienced by nearly everyone who spends weeks, months, or years living in a foreign country or culture, you’re having to adjust to an entirely different way of life and immediate purpose, all while getting used to any changes that occurred during your absence. Navigating the adjustment period is no small feat, but fortunately, you have a multitude of support and resources at your disposal.
Settling into a new job or reintegrating into an old job is bound to present some challenges, whether or not your employment is civilian or military. Policies and procedures may have changed while you were gone, and some former co-workers may have left while new faces arrived. Especially if you’ve returned to the civilian sphere, you may have to totally change the way you’ve become used to thinking about or approaching various problems. If you can, meet with your supervisor before you return to work so you’ll be prepared for any new circumstances and can raise any questions or concerns you may have. If you’re able to ease into your job, rather than jumping in all at once, take advantage of the opportunity. If someone covered your position while you were gone, or if you’re inheriting a new position from someone else, try to appreciate their support and learn from their insight, and especially in the former case, keep in mind that no one was attempting to replace you while you were gone.
Reintegrating and reestablishing relationships may be the most difficult part of returning home for deployed service men and women. To begin with, whether you live by yourself or with many family members or roommates, you may find yourself strongly missing your fellow service members with whom you served. You may feel like they’re the only people who could ever understand what you went through overseas, and in a way this is true. You and your fellow deployees shared and will continue to share a unique bond built on mutual goals, experiences, fears, and triumphs, and no matter how well you describe events to people at home, they will never be able to travel through time and share those experiences with you. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t talk about your deployment with caring friends and family at home. While you were gone, they also experienced changes and events that they will want to share with you, and it’s normal to feel sad or guilty for having missed those things.
It may be frustrating to see how well your significant other and/or your children managed while you were away. Try to keep in mind that this doesn’t mean they don’t need you; rather, they stepped up and did what was necessary, missing you all the while, and now that you’re back, they are able to let go of some of those burdens. Remember that a relationship requires two people to function, and everyone will react to a major change in a slightly different way. If the way your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife is reacting to your return doesn’t jibe with the way you are reacting, that’s perfectly normal. You may be able to work through minor issues with time, communication, and understanding, or you may be better off seeking help from a counselor who is trained to deal with these situations. There is no shame in taking advantage of outside assistance when going through a transition as huge and complex as returning from deployment; in fact, it’s one of the smartest things you can do.
Dealing with complex and conflicting emotions can be draining for all human beings; however, withdrawing into yourself or cutting off contact with others will not help you reintegrate to life at home. It’s extremely important to find a balance between quiet, private time that allows you to recharge and process all you’ve experienced and spending time out and about in your new world with friends, family, or even strangers. It may help to spend time around other current or former members of the military who have had similar experiences to yours, both on deployment and transitioning to life at home. Socialize with your military friends and acquaintances if you can, or even simply shop at your local commissary and exchange or work out on a military base. Don’t be shy about asking how others dealt with their transitions. If your new situation seems boring or pointless in comparison to the missions you carried out while on deployment, remember that your work now supports the service members who have gone overseas in your place. It may help to get involved with a nonprofit organization, whether military or civilian, to give you a new “mission” to focus on. Alternatively, you may find comfort in joining a team, learning a new hobby, taking an academic class, or focusing on personal goals such as health and fitness.
Finally, it’s no secret that many service members return from deployments, especially if they served in heavy combat zones, with symptoms of combat stress or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). People in the military have been suffering from these conditions for millennia, but it’s only relatively recently that we’ve learned to identify and treat them. Returning service members may experience any of the following and more:
- difficulty sleeping
- irritability or uncharacteristic anger
- anxiety or panic attacks
- loss of interest in friends or activities
- flashbacks to traumatic events
- increased stress while driving
- feelings of numbness or isolation
- substance abuse
None of these symptoms are the person’s fault; they’re simply the brain’s way of trying to deal with major changes and disturbing events, and they may not surface for months or even years after the return from deployment. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible, before a combat stress injury turns into PTSD or PTSD grows worse. If you’re not sure to turn, the military offers numerous online and in-person resources through its mental health services. Remember that being an advocate for your own mental health is one of the smartest things you can do.
While the challenges of adjusting to life after deployment are many and varied, you have many, many resources at your disposal to help with the transition. Whether you rely on your civilian family and friends, fellow service members, professional services, or online resources, there’s no right or wrong way to settle into life at home. Returning from deployment, after all, opens your world to so many new possibilities, such as achieving your dream of home ownership through the VA loans program. If you’re interested in learning more or beginning the home loan process today, contact your family of VA loan specialists and lenders at Fortress VA Loans right now!