Active military personnel live in a unique environment and culture. Not only can military life affect how a person perceives or feels, but specific on-base cultures can further the unique experiences that each active service member has in the line of duty. Thus, when transitioning from military life and beginning life as a veteran, it can be difficult to reacclimate to civilian culture. Many veterans may feel disconnected from their families, peers, and communities. Disconnecting from military culture is challenging, but it can also be necessary for a healthy and fulfilling approach to civilian life. 

Unique Military Cultures

Military culture is comprised of many elements that may not be as present in civilian life. An ingrained respect for authority and the hierarchy of command, a focus on fellowship, rites of passage, and more are all tenets of military life. 

However, military culture also comes with a number of other unwritten elements. First, military cultures can make it very difficult to emotionally express oneself, making it hard to confront personal challenges like injury, trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and more. Pervasive, on-base drinking cultures may also celebrate the use of alcohol, even at unhealthy and dangerous levels, further altering a veteran’s perception of addiction and the relationships they have with alcohol.

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Likewise, these cultures commonly face difficult situations like coping with loss, survivor’s guilt, and more. Sacrifice is also expected and not something that civilians must necessarily confront in the same way. 

Many of the ideas and perspectives of military culture can continue to be prevalent even after an individual has been successfully discharged from active duty. However, it can also make coping with the transition to civilian life difficult. Therefore, knowing how to disconnect from military culture can help distance veterans from harmful practices and create the best approach to a fulfilling civilian life.

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Among Men
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Among Men

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Strategies for Disconnecting From Military Culture

Military and civilian cultures are vastly different, with different ideas, perspectives, experiences, and more. While veterans should never feel as if they have to completely let go of their past experiences in military life, knowing which parts of military culture could be harmful to their transition to civilian life and developing strategies to relinquish military norms can create the best approach to healing as a veteran.

Expect Changes From Military Culture

In order to truly disconnect from military culture, a veteran must be willing to change. Expecting there to be some differences between military and civilian life is the best way to emotionally prepare for change. Even if a veteran is not yet sure how life will be different, preparing to keep an open mind about change can be a great way to approach the transition with the right mindset. 

Join Veteran Support Groups

There is nothing easy about veteran life. Not only must veterans transition to a civilian lifestyle from a distinctly different culture, but many veterans also continue to experience the effects of their time in military service. Trauma, PSTD, anxiety, depression, substance use, and more are all common among veterans. Therefore, joining a veteran support group, community, or residential drug or residential alcohol treatment program – like the one available at Hawaii Island Recovery – can help veterans take their transition one step at a time rather than feeling overwhelmed by such sudden transition shock. Moreover, the additional support and camaraderie can help veterans transition at their own pace while still feeling accepted and welcomed in a familiar community. 

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Get Involved in Local Events

The differences in military culture can be difficult to process, and many veterans can feel isolated due to these differences. However, these feelings of isolation can become self-fulfilling prophecies, where veterans may self-isolate out of an assumption that they either do not belong or would not be understood. Simply getting out and trying to engage in a local event can be a big change but a necessary one. Furthermore, attending a local function with other veterans or family members who understand the concerns and stresses of the situation can ensure that veterans don’t feel truly ostracized during this time while staying open about their experiences.

Understanding the Challenges of Children in Military Families
Understanding the Challenges of Children in Military Families

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Challenging the Norms of Military Culture

Military culture can have a plethora of elements that may not best serve the individual in favor of serving the group. However, throughout each veteran’s transition to civilian life, there is an opportunity to analyze how each of these beliefs may change, which ones may align with personal beliefs and convictions, and which ones may be more harmful. Meanwhile, working with peers and professionals at Hawaii Island Recovery can help each veteran better understand the continued impact of military culture on their personal beliefs and how to best challenge harmful perspectives for a healthier civilian life. 

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Disconnecting from military culture doesn’t mean that veterans have to leave behind their experiences and the part of their identity that is tied to their time in service. However, it does mean that veterans should be open to changing norms, expectations, and attitudes. Professional treatment to set goals, meet peers, challenge beliefs and practices, and find new opportunities for the development of personal identity and engagement in civilian life can all help veterans feel more connected to others and create the basis for ingratiating themselves into local civilian cultures. 

Military cultures are unique, and veterans transitioning to civilian life may have to disconnect from some of the norms of military life as they establish a new routine and lifestyle as a civilian. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we understand the challenges of this transition, as well as how the effects and experiences of military life can continue to impact your daily life. From the stresses of this transition to chronic pains, trauma, mental health disorders, and substance use, veteran life can be exceptionally difficult. Our dedicated veteran programs and residential alcohol treatment and drug treatment are designed to help you address each of your needs for a fulfilling life after service. For more information, call us at (866) 390-5070.