Discussions with Dr. Cantrell

Dr. Bridget CantrellDr. Cantrell is the author of numerous books on post-traumatic stress, warrior reintegration, and how to provide support to those navigating the reintegration process. These books have been well-received by family members, fellow mental health experts, and, most importantly, the warriors themselves.

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Why is Adjusting After Returning from War so Difficult?

The following article was originally written in June of 2008:

There is a prevailing question that comes up wherever I go. I would like to address it today.

That question is: Why are many of the adjustments so difficult for both family members and service members when the deployment is over and they have arrived home?

Both parties, Marines and family members, must be open and honest with how these aspects of adjustment impact their lives. Likewise, compounding the issue of experiencing a life-altering event such as war certainly adds to the challenge.

When our loved ones are deployed to various locations around the globe many changes take place. Change is a critical aspect of the process. It allows one to examine their lives and determine where growth and decline have occurred. It gives us opportunities to put things into perspective in order to reconnect and move forward.

These changes are continuous, and many may not be realized for quite some time. This is, however, the beginning of re-establishing a relationship with our Marines, and who they are now as they return home.

Once you realize that there is no more square one, it is time to re-access so you can develop new ways of coping with the issues involved. It is common to see behaviors, thoughts, and responses which helped them survive in the war zone carry over into their lives on the home front. They may discover that they now have sleep disturbances, anger issues, discomfort with certain social situations, an increase or new use of alcohol consumption, and even road rage, just to name a few. There are some things, however, that are not so easily observed, such as the feelings of disconnection with the civilians in their lives. Also their assumptions about life, and what is important may be very different from the ones they were taught or had previously held.

It is very challenging for our warriors to return home with the invisible wounds of war. These wounds come about from the various experiences they have from being deployed and dealing with issues that are outside the range of normal human experience. So their responses may not seem fitting to those on the outside, but for our Marines it was vital for their survival.

There are many battles that rage inside those returning home. We can show our support by not pushing the issues, not asking questions and not placing demands upon them when they return. Allow them to gently reconnect at their own pace. "Go with the Flow", but at the same be observant if these changes concern you. Get help and talk to others so you also have support to help your Marine adjust.

Research is showing that months after returning from deployment, anger and frustration may be more prevalent. This is because they may be disappointed with how triggers in their environment set them off, or reactivate certain reactions. It is up to us in their circle to be "a second set of eyes" and help them to adjust. They may feel as if they just don't fit into life as they did before, so as loved ones and family members we must learn as much as possible by reading, reaching out, communicating and connecting with others who have walked in our shoes. We must strive to be well informed in order to practice tolerance and compassion as this is one of the most important loving acts that we can give to those who have given so much of themselves to all of us.

Many times it is extremely difficult to admit that things are rough (for warrior-types and for their families alike) and some may see their challenges as a sign of weakness. However, in reality these challenges are more normal than one would expect. You and your Marine are not alone, and it is times like these that we all need to come together as a community to offer support. I'm glad to be part of the process to help with these transitions.

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