For many veterans, there’s no higher purpose than serving the country they love in the military. Yet when they come home, they often feel isolated and disconnected from society as they struggle to find meaning in their lives once again. One way to reduce this sense of isolation and regain some sense of purpose in your life is to use storytelling to connect with others and share your unique experiences with the world at large.
Why do veterans feel isolated?
Being in combat, whether for days or months, can be life-changing. To feel like you’re a part of your community once again, it’s important to let people get to know who you are now. As one Vet says: People do want to know what they [veterans] did...It connects me with my civilian friends who may have no understanding of what we did. It reconnects us. It helps them understand how difficult this job is, not just physically but mentally as well. They're still trying to figure out what happened to their friend while he was away.
For many veterans, telling stories about their military experience provides an opportunity to heal. One vet explained that when she talks about her time overseas, she feels at peace and as if I'm giving something back. Hearing these stories can also provide comfort for those struggling with the aftereffects of war.
What are some tips?
These tips can be useful to anyone, regardless of whether they're veterans or not. While many service members transition back into civilian life after leaving their post, others find it challenging to adjust. Fortunately, there are a few steps veterans can take to make reintegration easier. Here are some tips that might help.
Look for veterans groups in your area
Not only are veterans groups great for networking, but they can also help you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. Many organizations have their events or volunteer projects for veterans to participate in. Joining one is a great way to meet other vets and maybe even find some purpose again. Look up your nearest VA hospital and see if there are any nearby veteran support groups near you. It ́s not uncommon for them to provide these services at the hospitals themselves so that vets can get back on their feet after being discharged from service. Organizations such as the VFW and the American Legion often have physical locations in nearly every town and offer meetings and other social events for veterans.
Tell your story
If you’re dealing with any level of depression, anxiety, or thoughts of suicide, talking about it is probably in your best interest. Getting through some troubling times means sharing them with someone else. There are several ways you can do that without feeling as if you’re burdening anyone: Talk to friends and family about what’s bothering you. Find online support groups for veterans who have been through similar experiences to yours. Work closely with mental health professionals to discuss your feelings openly and directly.
Even if you don't feel like you need to tell your story for mental health reasons, it's helpful for you and others to share what the experience was like for you. You can do this through a platform such as Storii, or by connecting with veteran's groups, or other social programs.
Listen to others
When you’re out of your element, it can be easy to feel isolated. A way to combat that isolation is to listen to others. Even if you don’t talk much, listening shows that you care about people, and that’s one of the most important characteristics a veteran can have when re-entering civilian life. You never know what wisdom someone else has, so listening opens opportunities for learning new things. It also reminds us that there are other humans in the world besides ourselves. It builds connections with other veterans, which will help with the sense of loneliness they may feel as well.
Taking part in activities that your community offers is a great way to keep connected with other veterans, but that can also bring you closer to new people and new experiences. Volunteering to help others is always rewarding, especially if you’re using it as an outlet or even as inspiration for future projects or endeavors. If you're not sure what your purpose is, volunteering can be a great way to try different avenues. Whether it be fundraising for an organization that helped you during your time of need or volunteering at the local food bank, just know that there are opportunities for those who want them.
Connect with other veterans through social media
Connecting with other veterans is one of your best defenses against isolation. Whether you’re looking for advice on veteran-specific issues or simply searching for a support network, there are countless ways to connect with veterans online. We’ve already established that social media can be an excellent way to manage stress levels; it can also be an excellent method for finding like-minded individuals in need of social interaction. Try joining Facebook groups such as Our American Heroes, Veteran Empowerment Project, and Support Our Troops. These groups have tens of thousands of members from all walks of life, many of whom will happily strike up a conversation about anything from military history to the challenges faced by wounded vets returning home.