2.0 Improving Your Relationships

After challenging and potentially life changing experiences like deployment, you may find that you want to spend time alone.  It’s natural to want some time to yourself.  If you had an intense combat experience (like being injured or witnessing a death of a friend), it may be difficult to get close to other people right now.  Or you may prefer to spend time only with “battle buddies”, avoiding friends who don’t share your deployment experiences.  These are all normal and common feelings held by many service members returning from deployment.

There’s nothing wrong with spending some time alone, but isolating yourself from others can become a bad habit. To reconnect with your friends and community, we recommend that you work through the following sections in order:

  1. Overcome isolation
  2. Strengthen your network of relationships
  3. Share your deployment experiences
  4. Manage problem situations

 

2.1 Overcoming Isolation

After an intense experience like deployment, you may feel awkward and lonely around others.  You might keep to yourself because it allows you to avoid situations that bring up painful feelings or memories.  But if you cut yourself off from your friends, you won’t get the support you need and deserve.  Avoiding people can actually increase those upsetting thoughts and feelings.

 

2.2 Tips For Beating Isolation

You may have to push yourself to spend time with others. Remember that being around others is important for your well-being.

  • Be intentional.  Plan to socialize with others.  Stick to your plan even when you’d rather be alone.
  • Spend time with people you trust, in places where you are comfortable.
  • Start with short outings, staying a little longer each time.

 

2.3 Strengthening Your Network

Returning service members often think they have little in common with their family and friends back home.  After such an intense, life-changing experience, you may think no one understands you.  But connecting with others helps you:

  • Improve your mood
  • Decrease your boredom
  • Deal with painful thoughts and feelings about your deployment
  • Find solutions to your problems
  • Avoid harmful coping methods (like heavy drinking)
  • REALIZE you are not alone

     

It's important to strengthen your social network in the months following a deployment.  Some people like having a large and mixed social network.  Others prefer a smaller circle of friends.  Either way, it helps to have people you can count on when you need them.  Your social network includes:

  • Family members and friends
  • Neighbors
  • Co-workers
  • Community members such as members of church or sports league
  • Professionals such as counselors, therapists and doctors

 

2.4 Expanding Your Network

Being with others gives you a sense of belonging and security, lifts your spirits, and eases your worries.  Don’t forget, you may be a source of comfort and friendship for others, too! 

Here are some things you can do to be part of your community and increase your social support network:

  • Get some exercise.  Join a pick-up game.  Take and exercise class at a local gym or community center. Sports leagues and hiking groups are great ways to meet people while staying fit.  You could also try a new sport of physical activity.
  • Get a hobby.  Find local people who share your interest in music, motorcycles, professional sports, cooking, and books
  • Join a place of worship.  Joining a church, synagogue, mosque or temple can give you spiritual directions and help you become part of the community
  • Join a professional group or neighborhood organization.  Get involved in a Neighborhood Watch group, or a group based on professional interests
  • Volunteer.  Get involved in community service projects—clean up a local park or volunteer at a hospital
  • Join a veteran's organization.  Groups such as the VA, the American Legion, and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) are safe places to talk and fit in.  You’re probably eligible to join these groups, even if you’re currently active duty
  • Join a cause.  Work with others toward a goal you believe in, such as an election or the protection of a natural area