The recent drawdown of military forces from Iraq is the largest the U.S. military has seen since the end of the Vietnam War. Tens of thousands of service members are currently negotiating the stressful and uncertain reintegration process with family, friends, work, and life in general. For most, the process will move naturally with few problems. For some, however, the return home will be met with many obstacles and returning to "normal" will be challenging.
The First Few Days
The first few days home can be the most stressful. If your experience is like most, you will be shuffled back and forth to briefings, asked questions about your mental and physical health, and stand in formations so that some military brass or other governmental official you don't know or have never met can thank you for your service. In addition, you will probably be suffering from jet lag, sleep deprivation, and some degree of agitation as you anxiously await to spend time with your family and sleep in your own bed. Here's what you can do.
Remind yourself that the chaos will be over soon. Tell yourself that things will start to settle down in a few days. Your superiors will relax once all the equipment is accounted for and you will soon have the chance to spend time with your family, sleep in a real bed, and eat at a couple of your favorite restuarants.
Sleep when you can. Now is not the time to worry abuot a sleep schedule. Your system is out of balance and will take a little while before it returns to normal. Therefore, during the first few days of being back, listen to your body and sleep when you can.
Set boundaries. Many of your friends and family members will want to spend time with you when you get back. The problem is that there is only so much of you to go around. Set your priorities regarding who you want to spend time with. Let everyone else know that you'll visit with them soon. If feelings are hurt during the process, then so be it. You and your immediate family are the priority right now.
Don't drink alcohol. Your tolerance for alcohol isn't what it used to be. Pace yourself. You don't want to spend your first night back in jail.
Let someone else drive. Road rage is a common problem for returning service members, particularly those that did a lot of driving during deployment. Take a break and let your spouse, friend, or family member do the driving.
Leave the weapons at home. You are no longer in the war zone. There is no need to keep a weapon on your person or in your car. At this point, it can only create serious problems for you and others.
Remember, the first few days after wheels down can be incredibly stressful. You'll be fine if you remain patient, stay focused on how great it will be to spend time with loved ones, and not try and catch up on 12 months of drinking overnight.
*A version of this article appeared in Dr. Moore's column "Kevlar for the Mind" published by "Military Times." You can find out more at www.militarypsych.com.