The struggle is real brothers and sisters. You’ve been indoctrinated, but are now in the civilian world trying to figure out how to apply all of your skills, experiences, and structure to a seemingly impossibly chaotic world.
I wasn’t the best Marine, and I’ll be the first to admit that. I had long hair, I traveled on my own often, and I ignored most liberty restrictions. I told my E-dogs to stop saluting me, and I was constantly planning my next move after the Corps.
As far as I was concerned, I drank the least Kool-aid of anyone I knew.
I’m in there somewhere plotting my next move.
(Courtesy of one of the citizens of MOUT town)
After nearly five years of service, I was out and grateful. Grateful for everything I learned in the military, but also grateful that I could finally become the person I thought I was meant to be. There was one problem, though…
I was paralyzed by fear. Fear of failure, fear of making the wrong choice, fear of wasting time, fear of being an imposter veteran/adult/man. Fear that all of a sudden, my safety net was gone, and I was actually on my own. I had been on the government’s teat for a decade–I signed my first paperwork when I was 17 and was given the opportunity to go to college before active duty started.
I had bought into the culture of the military more than I ever realized. I feared for my future, because I knew it would never resemble my past.
Not me, but the point stands. The older you get, the more your body makes you pay for a night like this.
From structure to nonsense to balance
My first move involved scheduling every waking moment of my day.
Mind you, I was living in Bali at this point with a nice nest egg saved, so the expectation was that I would chill and decompress.
That was not f*cking happening though. I was stressed and lost. So I scheduled when I would wake up, work out, surf–I even scheduled naps. I needed structure. I wound myself up tighter than I had ever been while on active duty.
I was stressed, with no “daddy” to tell me what to do.
Eventually, I came undone and decided to relive my early 20’s, the years I had “missed.” It turns out I cannot handle alcohol or late nights partying like I could when I was 18 (err, I mean 21).
Hungover, happy, sad, or crying: I’m in there when it’s on the schedule.
(My phone and tripod)
That period didn’t last long. It was like a flash flood: it swept in, destroyed a lot, and was gone before I could ever move to higher ground.
Maybe that sounds familiar too?
Through the whole figuring-it-out phase, I had one practice that kept me sane and somewhat grounded: my training.
I never stopped training. I didn’t know what I was training for, I just knew I had to keep training.
Nothing better to teach the lessons of the world than a heavy barbell.
Training for life
It turns out I was training for the day-to-day enemy. I just didn’t know it.
While on active duty, I spent a fair amount of time in the Philippines “training” with the Filipino military. They have terrorists in their backyard literally, so it was interesting to watch how they operate with the fight so close to home.
One day they were sitting in a briefing with me talking theory and best practices. The next day they were two-ish islands away in the jungle, their backyard, engaged in a firefight with terrorists. They had to be at the ready at a moment’s notice.
This is not something that U.S. military personnel can relate to easily. We have big, grand deployments with all the bells and whistles, halfway around the world in countries we would never otherwise visit. The enemy is far removed from the homeland. There are no terrorists in Pennsylvania; we are not used to an enemy constantly at the gates, like our Filipino counterparts are.
They have to be ready every single day, at any time, for the very real threats that are so close to home.
U.S. and Filipino forces training together in the Philippines. One of these guys is training, one is prepping for next week.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Courtney G. White)
Learning a daily cycle
So who are the enemies for us veterans?
With my military issued umbrella gone, I was opened up to a deluge of enemies in my own backyard. Even on a tropical paradise, I had to confront fears that never left my side. They come with me everywhere.
It takes an approach like that of the Filipino military to keep close-at-hand fears and inadequacies from crushing us into a debilitating depression.
The real world doesn’t give us a pre-deployment plan to prepare and train us to combat feelings of inadequacy. There is no doctrine written with step-by-step directions on how to troubleshoot imposter syndrome.
We are now like the gladiators of ancient Rome. We have to train for all possible contingencies and hope that our daily practices will allow us to walk out of the Colosseum of the day.
I keep my blade sharp, my rifle clean, and my mind clear through my daily practices. My training area is the gym. These tools have helped me find balance.
Small acts add up and keep us on track.
Training in the gym is more than just training the body. It’s training the mind, resolve, patience, maturity, and composure.
Look at each day as a deployment cycle:
- The mornings are work-ups
- Going to work is the deployment
- Training is downtime on deployment
- The evenings are post-deployment leave
I’ll go into more detail about how veterans can optimize each of these steps in their daily lives in coming articles, so keep an eye out for “Veteran Daily Deployment Cycle Plug-In” posts.
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