I’ve been home from Iraq for 6 years now, and I relinquished company command in 2007. Since then, I’ve become a professional resume writer, career coach, trainer and transition expert.
After working closely with people from all branches, and from enlisted all the way up to General officers, I’ve learned a lot and my respect has grown even deeper. I am so proud to stand among the ranks of America’s veterans.
But beyond all the career stuff, I’ve learned some very personal lessons along the way too. One of the main things I’ve learned is how important it is to be open about our feelings and emotional issues. That’s right, you heard me. As a former Captain, company commander, airborne and air assault qualified Iraq war vet, I am saying that we should be MORE in touch with our feelings, not less!
Listen: in Iraq, my marriage fell apart, my mom lost her struggle with breast cancer, and Hurricane Katrina devastated my home town. That was the personal drama I was dealing with, and I’m sure you all had yours. Meanwhile, I was in Ramadi as a Battalion Communications officer (S-6). Not only did my 18-person section rely on me for leadership, but my 600+ person Battalion relied on me to ensure they had communications during combat ops.
Needless to say, balancing these personal, emotional, and operational issues and staying focused on the mission wasn’t easy.
As a writer, I did work through some of it in my journal and my military blog (here’s one of those blog posts from the time). But that only scratched the surface. Mostly, I kept it to myself, and very few people knew just how much I was suffering inside. I had buddies going to visit Combat Stress to get some support with similar issues, maybe get some Ambien to help them sleep. But I refused to admit weakness, or that anything was wrong inside. I just compartmentalized it until I could get home safely to my kids, and then I would deal with it.
Looking back now I can see how much additional heartache and emotional fatigue I caused myself. It took me a few years after getting home, but I opened the locked doors and started dealing with all of it. While transitioning back into “normal” life, I finally grieved the loss of my mom, got divorced within a couple of months, was granted full custody of my two kids, and put us all in family counseling.
I’ve been on a very deep personal (and spiritual) journey ever since, and my experiences in Iraq were the catalyst for an amazing new perspective on life. I won’t get into all that personal stuff here, but I did want to share one message, so that you can learn from my mistakes:
Don’t try to be superman or woman just because your job requires you to be mentally and physically tough. Being mentally tough means having emotional resilience, and you can’t have that if you don’t work through stuff. Yes, physical fitness is very helpful and therapeutic too. But that’s not going deep enough. Being open and honest about your feelings is one of the healthiest, most therapeutic things you can possibly do for yourself, and to help your family and friends to understand what you’ve been through.
Keep a journal. Write a song or poem or book about your experiences. Call the help hotlines. Talk to a professional therapist, coach, or counselor. Reach out. Look into VA programs. Talk to and help out other vets. Do yoga. Get into meditation. Go to church. Do whatever works for you, but just don’t try to keep it all in and isolate yourself physically or emotionally.
It took a lot of courage to do what you’ve had to do. Now, if you can just be brave and vulnerable enough to open up about your experiences, you will also realize that even if you think you’re all alone, millions of people (like me) are ready and willing to listen, and to help …
Along those lines, do yourself a favor and check out what the folks at MaketheConnection.net are doing for transitioning vets.
Until next time, in support of you –
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