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Adjusting to life on the outside: An exploration into the sense of loss when leaving the military

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about leaving the military?

I’d put my eyebrows on it that the first and foremost thing that springs to mind is that you need to find a new job.

But I put it to you that your resettlement period is about so much more than just finding a new career.

It’s about preparing to leave a unique way of life. It’s about a complete change of lifestyle for both you and your family.

And there will be many feelings that accompany this period of change.

One of which is a sense of loss.

Now, I think the military is getting better at addressing serving and veteran personnels wellbeing, but not nearly as good as it could be which is why I wanted to speak out on this topic.

It’s a fact - leaving the military is accompanied by a sense of loss in so many ways, a few of which we will explore here today.

Firstly we have the sense of loss of identity.

For so many of us being in the military was all we ever wanted to do. It is all we have known since around the age of 18.

The day I went outside I distinctly remember I cried pretty much non-stop as I drove my car out of the gates of HMS Caledonia in Scotland until at least Birmingham on the M6 for that exact reason.

It’s a wonder I didn’t crash, to be honest!

And as much as I chose to put my chit in and I wanted to leave I still deeply felt the loss of what I knew was something special.

I was Jen, the girl who was in the Band of Her Majestys Royal Marines.

I was proud of everything I had achieved. I was proud to have been in the best military band in the world.

The sense of losing your identity when faced with going outside is real.

  • Will I ever have that sense of pride again?

  • How can anything in civvy street replace that sense of identity?

  • Who will I ‘be’ now if I am not that person who is in the military?

Next up we have the loss of your support system.

During your service, there are highs and lows but through it all you have the backing of your oppos and the structure of a military routine to support you in this thing called life.

Now faced with going outside it feels like you are losing your safety net.

  • Who will I turn to when times get tough?

  • Will the civvies get me?

  • How will I cope with a ‘normal’ 9 - 5 routine?

For me, I don’t think I realised the sense of loss of my oppos until I had actually left the military and the excitement of something new had worn off a bit. It was then that I realised I had to figure out how I was going to fulfill my need of being connected with my ‘old life’ whilst embarking on my new one.

As with everything in life your feelings around this will likely ebb and flow, but taking time to understand what level of connection to your service life you wish to have and how you will achieve is definitely a worthwhile exercise.

The one thing I have found is that no matter how much time has passed the support from both those still serving and those who are now living in civvy street is unwavering. So never be afraid to get in touch with people regardless of how long it has been since you were last in contact.

And finally, it would be remiss of me to not mention the feelings around losing your income.

A steady and secure monthly wage that comes with free dental and medical care.

Not to mention the addition of extra financial brucie bonuses that accompany being deployed or drafted away from home.

You feel a huge pressure to find a job to support yourself and your family.

  • Where do I start with my job search?

  • How do I write a CV?

  • How is anything I have done at all relevant to the jobs out there?

The question I will ask you is what do you want to do? What interests you?

Taking time to realise what is important to you and what you want out of your new career is invaluable. Not falling into the trap of doing this, that, and the other course just because it relates to the work you have done in the military and it is the path that others have taken before you.

The reality is that not having a preprescribed career pathway as is common in the military can be equal parts terrifying and exhilarating but I put it to you that embarking on your new job search is like having an empty notebook.

It's a unique opportunity to write your next chapter in life, a chapter that you now have full control of what it will look like.

So, what is going to be important to you in your new place of work?

Research the courses you can do that will actually help you achieve these things you have identified and make the most of the funding that you are eligible to recieve.

And whatever you do, don’t leave it until your last 6 months when the panic starts to set in. You’ll kick yourself later that you didn’t make better use of your time to think about what you want out of your new career early on.

As I begin to wrap up I acknowledge that we have only scratched the surface within this brief exploration into the sense of loss that is experienced when leaving the military (and you very well may be able to identify others for yourself that we have not touched on here today) but I hope this blog has served to reassure you that whatever worries you may be having are normal, even if they are not readily spoken about when the conversation turns to resettlement.

Leaving a life in the military is a huge transition in ALL areas of your lifestyle, and one can undoubtedly be a stressful time for both yourselves and your family.

But talking about how you are feeling is the first step to finding a solution it so I encourage you to start the conversation. With your oppos, your family, your bosses. I think you’ll be surprised once you start talking about just how many people can relate to where you are coming from.

Life will never be the same as when you were in the military but with some careful thought and planning you can adapt your thinking and start to get your head around how you can make civvy street work for you.

Turning that sense of loss into a life on the outside that is just as fulfilling, just as connected, just as inspiring, and just as rewarding as you have found service life to be!

Sounds like an exciting prospect when you put it like that, doesn't it?

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