Many veterans feel alone when they leave service. The claim is, they lost a part of their tribe. Maybe it is time to ask whether they were ever truly part of a tribe in the first place and if so, what they can do to bring back that inner tribal self.
You had a purpose. You lived under a unique caste system that you respected. You were given tasks as an individual which you fulfilled not for self-purpose but for the larger grand scheme of the unit. That unit was your clan.
Within your unit/clan, you witnessed other units which were either friend or foe. Yes, most service members witnessed unit rivalries but when the larger tribe was threatened, those rivalries went to the wayside, and together, you banded as one larger force.
In the most simplistic means, the military is a tribe comprised of multiple clans.
Now that is out of the way, what happens once you leave that tribe? Do you maintain that respect for the tribal hierarchy? Do you fulfill tasks as an individual for the larger unit?
Simply put, the answer is no to everything previously asked but why? Because you are no longer with that tribe. You left it behind.
So now you are in the barren lands of civilian life wondering. You are on a quest to find something but it is something many do not even realize they are even searching for. But what is it?
Once you leave the service, you are actually looking for something more.
Everyone has their reasons to leave the service and those reasons are theirs alone. Yet at the end of the day, more service members feel isolated, lost, and confused once they are out into the civilian space.
They have no one to order them around, no specific schedule they are mandated to adhere to, no tasks and purposes, etc. They truly become wandering souls looking for life again.
During this transition, we see many veterans become hostile to civilians due to convoluted perceptions. In time, they even become hostile to their own past tribal members. More often than not, the hostility is not due to outside perceptions but rather one that comes from the inner self of loneliness, lack of purpose, and a withdrawal from a respected hierarchy.
Unfortunately, as lost as these wandering souls become, they also inflict self-pain and anguish through drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, etc.
They become self-isolators.
Isolation has a proven history of causing unprecedented neurological issues. Look at recent studies of solitary confinement and neurological health.
So how does one circumvent this isolation in an attempt to maintain an inner healthy being?
If you decide to leave the tribe or are mandated to remove yourself, you need to have another waiting on you. If you do not have that other tribe waiting on you, it is critical to find one and fast.
Learn that you are an outsider entering a new tribe. Just like the first time you entered basic training, you shut your mouth, listen, and do what you are told whether you like it or not. You must suck up your pride and realize you are an outsider until the new tribe believes in you. And for them to genuinely believe in you, you must learn their own customs and courtesies.
Become proactive and find a purpose not for oneself but for the larger picture which supports your new tribe. Take a leap of faith, take an initiative, and do something worthy for your tribe so they realize you actually have a lot to offer which inevitably will have them welcome you without hesitation even faster.
You must learn that no matter your rank or position in your old tribe, you must start from the bottom again upon entering the new tribe. This bottom position may last an hour, a day, week, month, or even years but in time, you will move up as you did before in your old tribe.
Of note, not all tribes are worthy of your existence and some are toxic in nature. You must learn to differentiate which ones are truly toxic for you and which ones appear toxic yet will actually do you good. Frankly, it may not be the larger tribe that is the issue but rather the clan within (remember the unit rivalries?).
We all have a choice in life. We can either be alone living in a toxic mental space or we can flourish by the side of people who are willing to take us in, helping us become one, and limiting our own self-inflicted wounds.
Yes, as a veteran, you once lived the tribal life. For whatever reason, you left the tribe and have been wandering on your own for some time. But you do not need to be alone. The world is full of clans who would love to have you and welcome you with open arms.
Find your new tribe and do good.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on May 21, 2019.
Kerry Patton is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force turned actor, producer, director, writer, and stunt performer.