Living in the past may be one of the unspoken hazards of leaving military life. Our younger daughter had some straight talk for my husband and me one summer when she came home from college.
“You both talk constantly about how wonderful your last base was,” she told us. “You’ve never done that before and I think you should stop. It’s obnoxious!”
And she was absolutely right. The move to our new home in the Midwest had been fraught with problems, but who wants to hear a newcomer make negative comments about their neighborhood?
Although my husband had not yet retired from the Air Force, it was one of those life lessons we tried to remember a few years later when it was time to move on to civilian life and immerse ourselves in our new community.
No matter how hard a transition it might be, we needed to put the accent on a different beat, to find the positive in our new way of life without forgetting our roots.
Some people think of “moving on” as a chance to blot out the service part of their lives as if it never existed. But that would mean forgetting all those friendships we cherish, all of those who may have become more “family” than our blood relatives.
Here are some of the lessons we learned when we left the military, I hope they will help you:
Reinvest in old friendships.
Keeping in touch with what may be pretty far-flung friends takes effort, but it’s an investment that pays joyful dividends. Sending greetings on special occasions and holiday times, remembering birthdays, attending reunions, sending periodic emails, making cell phone calls or scheduling Skype get-togethers all make it easier for us than it was for earlier generations.
Lean on your adaptability
Even after only a short time in the military, we’re as different from 99% of Americans as our ability to understand the services’ alphabet soup. And that difference, the experts tell us, makes us more psychologically adaptable, with a larger world view.
That should make separation a piece of cake, right? Why then do we too often feel as if we’ve just been pushed out of our family with nowhere to go?
If you’ve returned back home or moved to where a job opened up, expect to feel displaced for a while. You’ve been away from family and pre-military friends. Even though you’ve kept in touch, you’ve changed and so have they. Look for what’s good about that instead of focusing on the negatives.
Don’t let it discombobulate you. Remind yourself that you need time to adapt. That you have done this before. That you can do it again.
Invest in your new community.
Even if you have access to a nearby military base, at first you’re not likely to run into someone you know the way you’re used to doing when you go shopping, to church or even to your new job. Give it time—and effort—and you will.
Volunteering is one of the best ways to get involved in your new community. You will acquire new friends, new skills and perhaps even a paying position if you’re ready for one.
It’s your turn.
For the military spouse, it can be time to pursue your own dreams. Many report their delight in being able to build a business or career without having to start over every few years at a new location.
If you’ve always wanted to return to school, once you get settled, give it a try. Whether it’s a degree or special training in a trade, go for it.
Watch out for stockpiling.
Forewarned is forearmed: The biggest hazard of not relocating all the time as you’re used to doing is the accumulation of stuff.
You may no longer be going through things in preparation for the next move, but you also don’t have to save those extra curtains because they might make do somewhere else. You’re home now and those new drapes look great.
Keeping one foot planted in each of your worlds, former and present, can be the key to happiness in leaving the military. You know the steps. You do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about.
Joan Brown is a military retiree wife and author of Move—And Other Four-Letter Words, the story of learning to deal with all that is unique to the military family as well as the universal issues every woman faces.