By: Juan M. Gonzalez, (RET) MSgt USAF/MI ANG, ISK Veteran Navigator
“Your feelings were taken away when you signed on the dotted line.”
I heard this line early in my military career after overhearing a conversation between a non-commissioned officer (NCO) and a lower ranking airman. I don’t know what the airman was dealing with at the time, but the response has stuck with me for over 20 years. Another thought at the time was the question of what we really give up when we sign on the dotted line.
From day one, those of us that have worn the uniform of any branch of service know that our initial training tells us we are no longer individuals, but part of a team. That team has the main goal of defending and protecting the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic, at all costs. It does seem that one of those costs is our own feelings and emotions. Why is that? I want you to fully understand that the duty of being in the military is very important and it does take a lot out of people mentally, physically, and emotionally. Back in the day, the mental health programs in the military consisted of fellow service members probably going through the same thing as you, chaplains, or non-healthy self-care means (alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.). Those feelings and emotions would sit and not be addressed as we did not want to be the ‘weak link’ in the chain or put extra burden on our teammates. As a civilian now, after a 27-year military career, I know we all need a place to unload mentally, physically, and emotionally in a healthy and productive manner.
To me, the first step to letting our emotions and feelings out is being able to find an inner circle that allows us to be open and honest with them and, more importantly, ourselves. This can be family, friends, co-workers, or our fellow veterans. This group need not be huge and can be only one person. The point of this crew is to let us talk and be open about what we are going through in our lives. As we are part of something larger, and thus a teammate, we must also be aware that we may be the one that needs to listen. This is where we roll back to our time in the military. ONE TEAM!
The last point that I would like to emphasize is the importance of being vulnerable when we are ready. What we are dealing with is deep and personal. It may be traumatic, and we must be ready to open up in order to heal. While this is easy to write, it is very hard to get to the point of being able to talk with another person about what we are feeling. Make sure you are ready and that you are in a position to let those emotions go. By being open to our vulnerability, it may allow another person to hear our story and give them the strength to tell their story. This will allow everyone in the inner circle to grow as we are open and honest with each other. Trust is still a very positive trait in any relationship!
By following these points, we will be better to perform in our inner circles of family and friends. Consider it as exercise for our self-care and mental health. Find your voice and find your crew!