Veterans have served and sacrificed much in the name of duty, and they often feel pressured to project a heroic public image. Others look to veterans as people who are courageous and worthy of the utmost respect. However, it can be intensely stressful for some veterans to live up to this image projected onto them. Veterans who have already given so much may feel compelled to maintain an image of heroism even with close friends and family. Managing the expectations placed on military service members is already difficult, and transitioning to civilian life as a veteran is complicated enough without the added burden of stress over one’s image. While honoring and recognizing veterans is a noble effort, one must be careful not to place unnecessary stresses and expectations on veterans in the course of those honors and recognitions.
The Dangers of Persistent Heroism
It is tempting to honor veterans and active service members whenever possible by thanking them for their sacrifice and bravery. Patriotic iconography presents military personnel as bastions of strength and protection that reflect how many communities feel about them. However, when presented with such imagery and expectations, it can be difficult for a veteran to allow themselves to display anything other than this expected image: one of unyielding control that can handle any situation. Even if birthed from the idea of thanking these heroes, it can have the inadvertent effect of fictionalizing and glorifying these people, thus compromising a veteran’s emotional ability to be a regular person with their own vulnerabilities, needs, wants, and struggles.
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The Cost of Exuding Strength
It isn’t easy putting on a face that exudes strength and protection at all hours of the day, and veterans may push down their own emotional needs and struggles in order to uphold this facade. Pushing aside difficult emotions and traumatic experiences is already a difficult task wrought with its own emotional damages and ill-advised self-medication strategies. At home, these feelings can take new forms in these dangerous expectations. Images of strength are undoubtedly reflective of what veterans are capable of, but these images don’t always show the complexity of the story. Veterans have just as much a need to express human vulnerability as anyone else in order to pursue a balanced life.
The emotional tax of constantly presenting strength and stability can be extreme. Emotional exhaustion, depression, traumatic feelings, and more all take a toll on one’s mental health. The cost of living up to these expectations of strength can continue to beget unhealthy coping strategies such as the use of alcohol or drugs. These expectations can also exacerbate feelings of:
- Emotional fatigue
- Substance use
Constantly being reminded of one’s role as a veteran can also have another inadvertent, trying effect: reminding one of their time in service and associated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While some may enjoy recounting their tours and time in the military, others may see their veteran status as a reminder of those they have lost, and expecting bravery amidst trauma can create an unhealthy emotional state for veterans already facing daily challenges, addiction, and trauma.
Stresses, Challenges, and Addiction in Veterans
There is no shortage of challenges that veterans face in their transition to civilian life. From trauma and PTSD incurred from one’s time in the military to the consistent anxiety, depression, and more, veterans face a myriad of adjustments that are difficult to process. Substance use and abuse are extraordinarily common as a result of the prevalent drinking culture across the military, the use of prescription opioids and painkillers as a result of injuries, or even as a way to cope with flashbacks and nightmares that make it difficult to sleep. Veterans have faced harrowing, life-threatening situations more times than most non-military personnel can imagine. Expecting veterans to continue maintaining a heroic visage can further comprise veterans’ mental health and create a stigma surrounding reaching out for help. Calling veterans “heroes,” while accurate, doesn’t reflect the whole picture of their needs and experiences.
Finding mental health and addiction recovery support for veterans is already difficult given preconceived notions of what it means to be a veteran. Therefore, changing the dialogue surrounding veterans is essential to helping veterans address their unique needs and vulnerabilities tied to their life experiences.
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Acknowledging the Needs of Veterans
Celebrating veterans is ingrained in American culture, and there is nothing wrong with respecting and looking up to those who have braved the most difficult, tumultuous battlefields. However, rather than bombarding veterans with even more heroic expectations, it is important to listen to the needs veterans express.
Working to find a community of veterans, engaging in veteran-focused and trauma-informed recovery programs, providing financial support, actively listening to those who have already sacrificed so much, and destigmatizing trauma and addiction are just some of the first steps needed toward meeting veterans’ complex needs.
Veterans are often presented as heroes, but such a hyperbolic expectation of this strength can lead to even more stigmas and barriers surrounding the help that veterans may need. At Hawaii Island Recovery, we understand the blights that veterans face every day, and we are committed to creating a safe space for veterans to challenge the trauma and addiction that impact daily life. From trauma-informed programs to a dedicated veteran community, coupled with comprehensive detox and drug and alcohol treatment centers, your time can be personalized to your unique needs and goals. We are prepared to address your needs while supporting you through your vulnerabilities. Our blend of proven recovery strategies and beautiful, spiritual support on the big island of Hawaii makes us the first step toward a sober, healthy future. For more information on how we can personalize your time with us, call (866) 390-5070.