Reintegration: Returning to Life After Deployment

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Returning from a military deployment can be a time of celebration and joy. After an extended period of time separated from your loved one, holding them again for the first time can be the sigh of relief you’ve been dreaming of. You can see your friends, eat your favorite foods, get back into your hometown routine. Sounds easy enough, but in reality, transitioning back to normal life after the service brings its fair share of challenges.  

The Burdens of Coming Home

Whether your coming home to a spouse, a partner, a child, siblings, or just parents- you look forward to returning to “normal” and no longer being isolated from loved ones.That joy along with  the relief that the stressors of deployment have ceased makes the day you come home one to cherish. Mixed in with those feelings however, is often worry and anxiety. This is normal. In many cases there is worry that spouses or partners have changed, and the relationship will no longer work. Some veterans worry their families will have created new routines without them, and there won’t be space for them in their lives anymore.

The difficulties of returning home can depends on a few factors. How long were you deployed? What was the family dynamic prior to you leaving? How stable has your mental health been throughout your life? Do you have hobbies and a healthy lifestyle to return too?

The first week or two home is typically spent with  a lot of down time, adjusting to the physical and emotional change of space, and making time to see the many people whom you were separated from while away. Once the initial excitement of returning home diminishes, reality sets in. You no longer have your days planned out for you with specific tasks, eating times, projects, etc. You have to begin to plan your own days, reconnect with your independence and make use of your own time. This can prove especially difficult.

How To Make It Easier

The best thing you can do to make integration easier is to admit from the beginning that this is going to be a challenge at times. GEtting frustrated that you’re having a hard time coming home only makes things worse. Thoughts may arise like, “why aren’t i happy yo be with my family? Why can’t i be grateful im no longer deployed?”. Looking down on yourself for struggling isn’t going to get you anywhere, instead, have a plan for how to deal with the anxiety and stress.

  • Be honest with your loved ones: It’s important to communicate with your family and friends that this is a challenge for you. Be open about the difficulties of trying to adjust to a whole new routine, and let them know anything they can do to make this period of time easier. Emotions will be more stable and frustrations/anger will be less if you’re open about how you’re feeling from the very start.
  • Take time to understand how home has changed: Don’t expect things to be exactly the same. Go home with the intention of observing the changes and slowly adjusting to them. Whether its moved furniture or new saturday traditions, they’re all changes to you! Embrace them, and don’t rush it.  
  • Get a Hobby: Maybe you already have one, maybe you need one. There are going to be times when nothing feels comfortable, you don’t want to be around your family or friends, and you feel overwhelmed with anxiety. Having a hobby or a project, anything to keep you busy and focused on something other than your stress with prove to be extremely beneficial to your reintegration.
  • Drop Expectations: You didn’t know what to expect when you were deployed, and likely you embraced that, because it’s considered the norm to be nervous and unsure. Look at coming home the same way, you don’t know how it’s going to be or how you’re going to feel. Instead of freaking out, be excited! A whole new start, something to build yourself up from. It’s only negative if you let it be.
  • Use your Resources: When you get home, its okay to have a little down time- but not too much. It’s important to get back into the workforce, a schedule, and a lifestyle soon after returning. If you get too comfortable doing nothing, it will be harder to get back to normal living. Plus, doing nothing is only going to make your mental health worse. Until you’re able to get into a full routine, make a checklist of a few things to accomplish every single day to keep you going.

Counseling and Medical Support

Wanting or needing professional support during the reintegration phase is nothing to be ashamed of, in fact it should be celebrated and practiced more often. Pretending a situation isn’t difficult doesn’t make it easier. Veterans have special access to a host of medical services including therapists, psychologists, group therapy programs, and holistic services. Take of advantage of them, give yourself the gift of a good life!

Too often veterans find themselves embarrassed about their emotional struggles (or physical) and try to self medicate. This leads to drug addiction, drug abuse, severe emotional distress, and a lower quality of life overall. Struggle is to be expected after deployment, and those who use their resources and are honest about their emotional state have much easier times overcoming challenges. Just as in deployment you need your fellow troop members, at home, where life can feel like a battle, you need your support system to get through it. Always remember you are not alone.

Serving your country is something to proud of, but life doesn’t need to end once that phase is over. Reintegration is about learning to live well with the experience of deployment still as a part of you, but no longer the defining factor of life. Coming home can be a challenge. Relationships will be tested, jobs will be intimidating, and life can feel overwhelming, but with the right tools and preparation- coming home can be everything you dreamed it would be.

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