Important Things We Should All Know About The Transition To Civilian Life

We asked veterans to share honest, personal stories about the experience of coming back home after serving our country. Thank you to everyone who participated – the responses were overwhelming and powerful.

We bring you this post in partnership with Secret Lives of Americans, a groundbreaking doc series that takes a look at the secrets we all keep, and the strength it takes to reveal them to our family and friends. This Friday’s episode shares the powerful story of Alex and Amber, who eventually seek financial support from family and friends after struggling to receive adequate help from the Department of Veterans Affairs once discharged from the Coast Guard.

Watch all-new episodes of ‘Secret Lives Of Americans’ Fridays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Pivot, Participant Media’s television network.

1. “For me, the most memorable part about adjusting to regular life was getting used to all the little decisions that define most people’s day-to-day. Suddenly, I had so many choices to make. I could wake up whenever I wanted, wear whatever I wanted, and eat whatever I wanted. Those are such negligible things to the average citizen, but not to someone who’s unaccustomed to having so many choices.

In a way, it’s all so overwhelming. Some days, I would stand for 20 minutes straight, staring at all the options hanging in my closet, totally dumbfounded by my own wardrobe. I had to ask my wife to choose my outfits so I wouldn’t have to. Eventually, I realized that I didn’t necessarily want too much flexibility, so I drafted my own schedule for getting rest, food, and exercise and I stick to it pretty vigilantly. Serving taught me that leading a disciplined life works for me and I’ll carry that with me forever.”     — Male, US Army, 28

2. “When I was getting out of the service the general consensus was that it would be easy to find work. Most men in my Military Occupational Specialty become contractors. After all we are the perfect candidates. Highly skilled soldiers that companies can save major money on training. However, if you don’t go the contractor route, and you move back home like most veterans do, then the local job market can be a little tight. I got out of the Marine Corps in December. It is now June 13, 2016 and I’m still unemployed. I feel a great shame in this. But I’ve been able to resume my college courses that I had started during my time at Camp Lejeune, so things are looking up.”      — Male, Marine Corps, 25

3. “I joined the Marine Corps less than six months after I turned eighteen, so adulthood remained a mythical land – full of freedom and good fortune. It took less than a week for me to realize that freedom is simply a mindset, constricted by bosses, professors, and laws. It took months to understand that good fortune doesn’t spread nearly as far as I once believed it did.

I quickly realized that maintaining a job that paid sufficiently was not going to be quite as easy as I initially thought. Additionally, I started to realize that finding a stable home at an affordable price was not something my friends could assist me with.

When I achieved freedom, I was not prepared for the responsibilities of life outside of a controlled atmosphere. Even years later, I still long for the moments when I had minimal worries and didn’t have to make many of my own decisions. However, even though my journey was a rough ride, I believe I am starting to figure things out.” — Female, Marine Corps, 27

4. “One odd thing I didn’t expect about transitioning back to civilian life is how other people would regard me with such awe. As a vet, you get a lot of discounts at various stores, so I often have to provide proof that I’m a vet when shopping for clothes and household stuff. I’m incredibly proud to have served, but I wasn’t prepared to be thanked for my service so often by people back home. Everyone seems so incredibly grateful when they find out that I’m a vet, and I’m taken aback every single time someone demonstrates their heartfelt gratitude. I never really took myself for an emotional guy, but I’ve teared up a few times in those moments when you realize why you did what you did for your country—how your service is so important to so many people you don’t even know. It’s beautiful, really.” — Male, US Army, 26

5. “The most interesting part of getting out has been adapting and accepting that I make my own decisions. The army is the best relationship, ever – she takes care of everything. When I got out, I jumped into a relationship with a woman, hoping to get that same sense of security. But it’s not the same thing, and things didn’t exactly work out. Sadly, it’s a common tale. Deploying was my life, I loved it – it’s tough getting out.”  — Male, Green Beret, 29

6. “While I never was one of those dudes who was going to make the Army my career, I was definitely one of those people who needed to join. I needed it in order to challenge myself, gain some real life experience, and instill discipline into myself. When you sign that contract, you give up a lot of autonomy over your life and have to behave in a certain way because you now are a representative of the armed forces.

When I got out, it felt like I had gotten my freedom back. I did a lot of things both positive and negative that I couldn’t do while in uniform. I adopted a very anti ‘system’ attitude and set out to push the limits of my freedom. It turned out, the world is a way more difficult opponent than I ever imagined. I’m still fighting with it on a daily basis, yet, I’m really proud of all the progress I’ve made.

I spent the first couple of years out of the military attempting to shed the aspects of myself that I associated with it. It was only after realizing that the military taught me a lot of positive things that I could apply to my new situation as a regular citizen that I really started to improve. Each day my life comes closer and closer to the life I day-dreamed about establishing while serving.” — Raul Felix, US Army 2005,  Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Learn more about veteran resources on this week’s episode of Secret Lives of Americans (Friday at 10 p.m ET/PT on Pivot) where Alex & Amber, two veterans struggling to receive adequate help after being medically discharged, finally decide to come clean to their families about their financial situation.

Inspired by Secret Lives of Americans, Pivot is offering tools and resources to further the conversation around some of the topics explored in the series, ranging from literacy to religious tolerance. Visit the “Take Action” hub to learn more about the issues and get involved.