Thursday, September 1, 2016

What to Expect When Your Sailor Gets Out of the Navy

A reader recently asked on our Facebook forum what she should expect when her Sailor gets out of the Navy. Keep in mind this is based on my experiences. Some people might not struggle with exactly the same things in this situation. Still, here are some struggles he might go through that you will need to be a little extra supportive and patient about. I've also included some links to additional information on what to expect and how you can support him during this time.

by Allan Bergman via Flickr cc.

It might not seem like that big of a deal to you but it is to him.

My husband was in the Navy for eleven years before he got out in 2013, and the transition wasn't too jarring for me, but for him it was an ordeal that lasted not just months, but to some extent years. Depending on how long your Sailor was in, he might feel like he is transitioning for a long time.

It was difficult for me to comprehend at first, but his entire identity was stripped away, his approach and perspective in the world shifted, his support system was uprooted, and his entire set of tools used to relate to the world had been confiscated.

For me, this was strange because for the first time in our marriage, he was the one going through an emotional loop-de-loop instead of me. Giving him support at first wasn't difficult. It was the long term support that I struggled with - even years later realizing something is hard for him because he's still not used to this civilian world. You really wouldn't think it would be something that was so world-changing or that it would take so long, but then one day, years later, you realize oh ... this is the first time he's done something like this since getting out.

I too felt this loss of identity to some extent, but I always still had one foot in the civilian world whereas he did not. We never lived on base, though. I'm sure for those Sailors or families who do live on base and go to military schools and maybe the spouse works on base, this transition can be a lot more of an ordeal for the entire family.

He and you might lose all or most of your military friends.

My husband said when he got out, it felt like people were acting like he was dying. They said farewells as if they were never going to speak to him again even though we weren't planning on moving away. He tried to keep in touch and grab a beer with them afterwards, but the majority stopped speaking and interacting with him.

It wasn't that they were angry that he left. It's that there's this mental hurtle between military and civilian, so it can be hard for people who are staying in to feel like they can still communicate with and relate to someone who gets out. My husband experienced this hurtle from the other side. It still feels really uncomfortable for him to go onto base now, having to be signed in, having no authority or even a role there.

It's similar to when you leave a job and no longer stay in touch with the people you really got along with there. The difference is that the Navy infiltrates your life, so much that generally Sailors don't have a lot of friends outside of it, so it's a much bigger loss.

He might feel awkward in new social situations or struggle to make new friends.

So he'll make new friends right? That's what I thought, but my husband became surprisingly sequestered after he transitioned out. Not only did he lack the friends he used to socialize with, but he seemed to have less desire to go out at all.

Sailors do a lot of their socializing in Navy situations or at Naval functions, and it turns out without that, they can feel less like interacting with people. My husband met people he got along with at his new job, but he didn't socialize with them outside of work. Further, he stopped wanting to be around my friends as well.

I asked my husband about this change in him once, and he said he felt a lot more mental and emotional stress when it came to socializing after he got out. It had something to do with the fact that there used to be this camaraderie he had with his friend, his fellow Sailors - you know the fact that he knew he would die for anyone of them and they for him, but now that wasn't there. That was only one aspect of it though. It's just now he has some anxiety about social situations.

He might get weird or even depressed for a while.

Big transitions can be really stressful for anyone and can cause prolonged periods of sadness or depression. My husband talked about the Navy as if it were a person he lost or like a person who had betrayed him. After everything he endured and went through with the Navy, the second he wasn't willing to sacrifice everything, it turned its back on him.

The first day he got out was really bad. I'm so glad that I asked if he wanted me to come with him to turn in his IDs and do his final check-out off of base. Driving off base for the last time, knowing you had completely disconnected from it and wouldn't be able to just go back, it was a emotional thing for both of us but much more so for him.

My husband felt really depressed and stressed for the first couple of weeks. It was really bad before he got a new job, but even then he struggled with things for a few months. When Sailors go through boot camp, they are indoctrinated and their identity becomes connected with the Navy, so when it's no longer there it's like being left alone in the ocean while the ship disappears into the distance.

He might lack confidence in the job market.

I was really surprised when my husband was so worried that he wouldn't get a job. He was well qualified from his time in the Navy, and he had a lot of experience, but he was still timid about negotiating higher pay and during the month that he waited for jobs to get back to him, he was really stressed out.

Although Sailors can take a class offered by the Navy to help them with the job search, many feel unequipped when they try to enter the civilian workforce, and some skip the class and end up completely stumped by the civilian job search process. I think a lot of former Sailors and Veterans struggle to get good jobs simply because they lack that confidence to go after them or to negotiate higher pay, and also they fear how they will be seen by the civilian world as a former military member.

Then, not only have they not had to deal with resumes and interviews in a long time, if at all, they are used to working in a job that consumes their entire lives. My husband struggled with drawing the line and found himself working insane hours like he had in the Navy.

He may feel some internal and external pressure to join the reserves.

Not only to the reserves recruit from Sailors getting out, but many Sailors sign up simply out of the fear of being completely disconnected to the military. There's also pressure from the reserves which gives extra benefits to those who are signed up before their last day in the Navy. 

There's a lot of good stuff too!

I don't want it to sounds all bad and scary. As I said these are some of the struggles he went through during the transition but getting out was not a bad thing or something we regretted. It was the right thing for us and we are happy we made that decision. 

For More Check Out:

So How Can You Support Him During this Time?

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About Stephanie Carroll
U&E Founder & Author

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Photo by Randy Enriquez
I dated and married my husband in 2004 when I was 19. I felt like an outsider for the first half of our marriage. He didn't understand what I needed to know about the Navy, and I didn't know what to ask.

After ten years of learning in the Navy, I founded Unhinged & Empowered. I wanted to spread the knowledge that I needed when I was new, to reveal what took years for me to learn.   
Cover Design by Jenny Q
In addition to being a Navy Wife, I am also a novelist. I write historical women's fiction.

My first novel A White Room debuted in 2013 and is about a woman forced to sacrifice her own ambitions of becoming a nurse to marry a man who can save her destitute family. He moves her to a strange, small town where she slowly succumbs to madness until she stumbles on an opportunity to nurse to the poor despite the fact that her husband prosecutes unlicensed practitioners.

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