Military service members all have a period of adjustment when transitioning from a military life to a civilian one. A certain amount depends on the experiences that a person has shared during their time in. It also depends on each person’s personality and the way they internalize their experiences.
Marines take their military service to heart. Their time in is an extension of their own lives. From boot camp, they are taught to never leave their own behind and to never ever give up or surrender.
It isn’t surprising then that many feel they are breaking those convictions when transitioning to civilian life. Whether it is a voluntarily or involuntarily transition doesn’t seem to matter. There can be a certain amount of guilt about leaving the Marine Corps. For many, it can be an exciting new chapter in a Marine’s life. For others, it is a troubling and depressing time.
Here are eight warning signs that a Marine is having a hard time transitioning to civilian life.
Loss of focus. It is normal for Marines returning to civilian life to talk a lot about his or her time in the Marine Corps. This has been the Marine’s identity for a long time. Being a Marine means having been immersed in ideological values such as honor, courage, commitment and being part of something bigger than oneself. A Marine can feel like her or she is no longer immersed in that lifestyle so they will try to recall those feelings through talking about their experiences.
There is nothing wrong with this and those who are listening to a Marine’s stories will often enjoy them. However, if a Marine is consumed with only recalling memories of the past and is not focused or motivated to look toward his or her future as a civilian, there may be a problem. If the focus is not on planning what they are going to do with the next chapter of life and only on their past, intervention may be necessary. Sometimes this is a short-term situation that allows the Marine to ease into his or her new life and sometimes it never goes away. It is best to watch and see if the Marine forsakes everything and everyone around them to relive these memories or if they intersperse them with their new life.
Depression. If a Marine is despondent, unable to get out of bed each day, sits around recalling only the past or abuses drugs and/or alcohol, this could be a sign of depression. It is very common for all prior service military veterans to experience a little depression initially. The loss of one life and the unknown future of another. However, if there is no change and the depression goes on for weeks or months, this could be a sign that the Marine should seek counseling.
Anger. Misplaced anger or violence can be a sign that a Marine should seek professional help. Sometimes being in a combat zone where aggression and tension are the norm can wreak havoc on a Marine’s mental state. How are they expected to return to the civilian world and not do what they have been conditioned to do? Anger management or other types of therapies would help the Marine to understand and in a sense decondition them from the knee jerk reaction to be aggressive. Also, realizing that anger is often a side effect for hurt or fear can allow a Marine to get beyond the anger to what the core issues actually are.
Insomnia. If a Marine is unable to sleep due to restlessness or fear of having nightmares, this may be a sign of trouble transitioning into the civilian life. This could be a result of the Marine’s experiences while in the Marine Corps. Many Marines have endured horrific events as a result of combat. Others can be affected by the loss of what they feel is a brotherhood. Regardless of why, the Marine should seek professional care.
Stress on relationships/marriage. This is seen by many Marines and their families. Even with those who have been married the entire time they have been a Marine. Life is different once a military family transitions into a civilian life. There is a lot that the Marine’s family goes through while the Marine is deployed or away from the home.
For family members, the Marine transitioning could be seen as a great thing. They think that everything will be great now that the Marine is home full-time. For the Marine however, this could be perceived differently. Not that they haven’t missed their family, but the family they have built and served with in the Marine Corps can be just as compelling. Many Marines no longer know who they are without the title “Marine” as a job description.
A Marine can pull away from friends and family or not participate in the community feeling that they do not belong. This can take some time and for some it will never change. It is important to evaluate why the Marine is alienating him or herself and to seek help.
Pain or lasting medical injuries. This can be extremely difficult for a Marine who is transitioning to military life to overcome. Not only are there the obvious challenges of dealing with pain everyday caused by a service-related injury but it is a constant reminder of the trauma and experience the Marine has survived. This can take years to get over or many times never. Aggressive counseling and consistent support is needed to help the Marine redefine who he or she is as a civilian and how to move forward with their injuries.
Guilt. This seems to be one of the most common reasons Marines have trouble transitioning to civilian life. Whether they feel they are leaving their brethren behind or feel they didn’t give or sacrifice enough, Marines are good at assuming the responsibility of things that are beyond their control. They will assume guilt that isn’t theirs to carry. Understanding this and letting it go can help the Marine transition.
No joy in hobbies/interests. If a Marine finds no pleasure or interest in things that were formerly favorites then it could be a sign that the Marine is having trouble adjusting. It could also be a sign of depression. Sometimes hobbies and passions can bring a Marine out of depression and other times it simply holds no interest. Encouraging a Marine to participate in their former interests may help the Marine re-engage in a hobby or interest they previously enjoyed.
If you know or are a Marine experiencing a transition to civilian life you need to understand that you are not alone. Transitioning is always difficult. However, it is possible to transition successfully as long as you are open to getting help when needed, even if it is just getting out to see old friends and family and interacting socially. Be willing to help yourself and there will always be others willing to help you.