Woman Veteran: My Transition From the U.S Army to Civilian Life
Civilians I meet often ask me what my life was like when I was a soldier
“Fantastic. Heartbreaking. Emotionally challenging. Devastating. Fun.”
“Fun?” they ask.
“Yeah, fun. Have you ever driven a humvee before? Watched a sunrise in Baghdad? Have you ever been to Saddam Hussein’s palaces?” I ask.
And therein lies the problem
The civilian world has no concept of the sacrifices made by the military, that deployment has dark moments, boring moments, beautiful moments, and can actually be fun. The military trains civilians to become troops through bootcamp or basic combat training, but nobody teaches us how to become civilians again when we take off the uniform for the last time.
Like many, I left the military thinking that I would take off my Army uniform on a friday, wake up on Monday morning and throw on some civvies, and walk into cubicle land like I had never left, completely ignoring how much I changed during my military service. But wherever we go, there we are. We carry with us our problems, expectations, past regrets and hurts. You may try to avoid yourself and move around a lot, like I did, but eventually you discover that:
Your family doesn’t understand you.
Your friends don’t understand you,
You don’t understand you.
To me as a veteran the definition of transition is “finding your place in the needlessly complicated civilian world.” I have been trying for a decade, but I have yet to find where I actually belong, where I can be somewhat content and useful. Maybe I never will.
Many people think that the transition process or experience is merely an issue of finding employment: if veterans can find and keep employment then voila, they have transitioned. I did have a job after the military, I did have an income, I did fight for and get VA healthcare. However, my first several years after the military were filled with anger, illness, sleep issues, divorce, domestic violence, regret, homelessness, and military friends committing suicide. Even if on the surface if I looked at all to be transitioned, I was very far from it.
Additionally the glaring sexism I endured in uniform followed me home
I discovered that the civilians had their own sexist view of military women: “you’re too pretty to be a veteran” (WTF does that even mean?) or “you’re a woman, you didn’t do much in Iraq anyway” (um hello, asshole, were you there?) or any other myriad of other comments they make to me.
It took me a long time to even have any clue of what to do with myself. I had always loved languages but the military pretty much had ruined that experience for me, so I kept trying new careers: education, farming, non-profit management, among others. In vain I kept looking for a mission and purpose, only to learn that the civilian world does not operate that way. I missed my peers and the daily routine of military life.
I decided to become a mental health counselor after seeking treatment myself
I believe good therapy is such an incredible gift that I decided to study it and become a professional so that I could give it to others. I headed to the University of Southern California and earned a masters degree in social work, even completing clinical hours at the Department of Veterans Affairs in Los Angeles, the largest VA system of them all and arguably its most dysfunctional. I loved every single minute of my time at the VA: individual and group therapy, homeless outreach, even just talking to veterans about day-to-day life issues. I loved hearing the veterans’ stories; I was honored that they shared their darkest, most intimate moments with me and I was someone they trusted as a guardian of all of their secrets. I believe in my clinical skills, educational training and experience as a veteran, and I know I can do this job; I am made for this, a veteran ready and willing to work.
Although I have the master’s degree, I currently lack a job with clinical supervision which will allow me to earn a license, which will allow me to practice independently. I wrote a fantastic resume and go on job interviews every week, only to be rejected because I am either “overqualified” (their term, not mine) or told the position does not offer any clinical supervision, so essentially I would be a paper-pusher, a job I could have found without the master’s degree.
And of course, there seems to be a never-ending onslaught of unsolicited advice: “get a job now! Wait for a job with licensure! Move back to California! STay in Washington! Earn a PhD! Go get another graduate degree!” Not only do I have to tune out my own voice, but also the voices of those well-meaning people who apparently have my life figured out for me and know exactly what I need.
Not having regular employment is a new kind of strange experience, as I have been consistently working for the past 25 years.
The feeling of being rejected (or just ignored altogether, not even being told that you did NOT get the job) has taken a toll on my psyche. As I see my classmates and peers move ahead, pursue their hours for licensure and hone their skills, I am happy for them yet cannot help but be frustrated at my own situation.
As Christmas draws near, I remind myself to have hope: I will find a job. As I reflect back on my life I remember that I used to be a soldier, that I was driven and fearless. In my current situation, I am sad that I have not found employment helping veterans, yet I remember that I have survived other difficult times and hope is what brought me through.
Hope that I would survive the war
Hope that I could come home alive
Hope that I could find my place in the world
Hope that I would not live in my car forever
Hope that I could finish graduate school
Hope that I can and will work with veterans
2017 is coming to an end at a frantic pace. After almost twenty job rejections in the past three months I cling to hope like never before. In holding onto hope I have learned that pain makes us stronger and teaches us important life lessons. I have total confidence that there is blessing and meaning in my struggles and this setback is just a bump in the road on my journey to help other veterans.
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By: Alicia Ranney-Regua, contributing writer
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