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No Longer Superman: Rebuilding a Life Where You're Not the "Hero"

written by Drew Peneton
on February 01, 2010

When soldiers return home from the battlefield, they often find themselves eagerly waiting for the next opportunity to lead, overcome adversity, and achieve success. But how? Is the next venture expected to surpass previous achievements? Or will it seem lackluster compared to the unique opportunities that being in the military presents -- opportunities to selflessly sacrifice life and limb, exhibit personal courage and serve with a host of other heroes from multiple backgrounds?

For me, the days after I returned from service were filled with confusion. I didn't feel like I belonged in the civilian world. Honestly, it's extremely difficult to not be classified as "the hero" anymore. I've heard the same story from other veterans many times: no one wants to stop being Superman in the eyes of the world. A soldier reintegrating into the civilian world might feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, when she realized that the world she knew and understood no longer existed. Chances are that veterans might find themselves cycling through stages of mourning over their new-found civilian status. Grief, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are not uncommon. It's easy to miss the comfort that comes with the predictability of being a soldier.

For veterans, navigating these waters alone can be difficult. When I returned, I knew I wanted to find others that understood the troubles I had faced, so I joined professional and social organizations that were filled with like-minded, yet diverse, young men and women. I knew I could learn from my peers, based on the different paths they had chosen in life, and that they could learn from me too. Exposure to their experiences created a more open view of the world for me; it allowed me to speak without being judged, learn without being criticized, and comprehend different personalities and life choices.

Life beyond the military is going to be different, and stress is inevitable, but with the veteran's experience in high-tempo environments, that shouldn't be anything too new. Most veterans have also discovered that healthy stress can be a source of action: it forces you to choose "fight" over "flight." On the other hand, unhealthy stress sucks you dry, and drags your loved ones with you. Effective stress management needs to include your whole team. One good way to combat stress is by participating in recreational activities.
As for establishing new trustful relationships, what can be learned from the bonds developed in "life or death" situations we form during our service that can be applied to our relationships in the civilian world? These bonds may not arise from identical circumstances, but still, the trials and tribulations we share with those around us generally make us stronger. Relationships and networks can come together to provide a support system that evolves as we change, war changes, and we make forward progress.

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