Loss is a prevalent part of life for veterans of the armed forces. These feelings can follow veterans from active duty well into their civilian lives. Because loss can take on many forms and often produces inevitably intense effects, coping with it can be exceptionally difficult. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging loss in one’s life. However, professional guidance to safely address and overcome one’s grief is necessary to ensure that one avoids other self-destructive behaviors

Loss Has Many Forms

The term “loss” can bring many different images to mind. Every person has their own unique experiences pertaining to loss in their lives. For veterans of the armed forces, loss can take up an even greater space in one’s mind. 

Loss of a Loved One

For veterans, loss can mean the death of a brother or sister in arms during one’s time on active duty. Losing fellow service members is a harrowing experience, and such experiences are all too common. This loss comes packaged with intense feelings of trauma, regret, survivor’s guilt, and much more. Unfortunately, it is common for veterans to constantly revisit experiences of loss through intrusive thoughts and problematic emotions.

Loss of Time

Other veterans may experience loss as a product of one’s time in the military overall. Despite the noble service provided, one’s time on tour or through multiple deployments affects entire families. The loss of time with one’s family or missing out on the life events of one’s children all bring incredible feelings of loss. Missing birthdays, graduations, or anniversaries all carry an emotional toll, and veterans transitioning to civilian life may feel inclined to “make up” this time. 

Loss of Abilities

Veterans also may have experienced physical traumas, whether from an injury incurred on the battlefield or persistent and chronic pains due to pushing their bodies to the limit. These aches and pains can make it difficult to continue performing tasks that may once have been simple, all while serving as a constant reminder of one’s body’s limitations. 

Loss of Identity

Lastly, veterans experience a unique form of loss when it comes to their transition to civilian life. Military life comes with its own culture and atmosphere, and being successfully discharged from active duty means adjusting to an entirely new life with individuals who may not share one’s perspective, culture, or life experiences. Feeling as if one has lost a piece of their identity when transitioning from military service can be incredibly stressful for veterans of any military branch. 

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The Effects of Loss in Daily Life

Experiencing any of these forms of loss can have lasting effects on an individual. For some, pervasive feelings of guilt and sadness can pave the way for feelings of depression. Others may experience feelings of loss due to traumatic experiences or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Pervasive sadness, grief, anxiety, denial, and anger can all be common following any loss. 

Some veterans may experience these feelings episodically, resulting in angry outbursts or depressive episodes that dictate the entirety of one’s day. However, others may experience a constant struggle against these feelings, with wriggling feelings of anger or depression constantly informing one’s mental state, emotions, and behaviors. 

It is common for feelings of loss to affect one’s sleep – both in one’s ability to fall asleep or stay asleep throughout the night. Often, loss can manifest as painful and intolerable nightmares or flashbacks. 

Those coping with the intense effects of loss may do so in several self-destructive ways, including:

  • Use of addictive substances
  • Increase in risk-taking behavior
  • Self-blame or feelings of guilt
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Unhealthy dieting
  • Self-isolating practices
  • Avoidance of acknowledging feelings
  • Pervasive self-blame or self-pity

Despite these effects, individuals can learn to overcome these effects and appropriately manage loss with help and support from a treatment professional. 

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Learning to Processing Loss

Learning to process loss is a journey. Similarly, no one solution will work for everyone. However, veterans can try many effective techniques to begin their journey through healing. 

Talk About It

Talking about loss is difficult. Fortunately, professionals are instrumental in creating a safe and open space to share one’s experiences without fear of stigmas or judgment. Talking about one’s feelings of loss doesn’t always have to start with vocalizing these experiences. Writing down one’s story and feelings, or even just saying the words aloud to oneself in the mirror, are great ways to begin talking about these profound experiences. 

Take Action

Being active in trying to address loss is powerful. For some, finding ways to give back to one’s community can be helpful while one processes loss. Some may even use community involvement as a motivator for processing loss healthily. Actively serving or engaging in new classes to strengthen one’s skills can be great ways to combat the effects of loss. Finally, making the most of one’s personal time in civilian life can provide deeper meaning, purpose, and understanding of loss.

Do Not Fear Holidays or Memorials

Loss can produce a myriad of uncomfortable feelings. However, dedicating a day to mourning can be beneficial by allowing these genuine feelings, time, and space to be truly acknowledged. Without a directed outlet, these feelings can continue to writhe in one’s mind. By creating a day to allow oneself to feel sadness, grief, or anger, one can better navigate the effects of loss throughout the rest of one’s life. 

Working with professionals to talk about loss, take action, and connect with peers in similar circumstances is crucial. While loss can create overwhelming feelings, it is always possible to use them as a catalyst for effective healing and treatment engagement in civilian life.

Loss will always be difficult, but we at Hawaii Island Recovery are committed to helping you better understand and navigate its potentially destructive effects. We understand the need veterans have for professional treatment and recovery, and our unique Hawaii rehabilitation is designed to help you navigate feelings of loss while overcoming the use of drugs or alcohol. From our effective residential alcohol treatment to our dedicated veteran program and community, we are prepared to help you through your feelings of loss with trauma-informed professionals and understanding peers alike, all working to personalize your recovery efforts. For more information on how we can help you, or to speak to a caring staff member about your situation, call us at (866) 390-5070.