Sometimes I sit back and reminisce about the exciting times that I experienced as a soldier. Relationship-building is high on the list. Whether we were filling sandbags during the Red River floods or bunking together on a Search and Rescue mission in BC, the camaraderie was high on the list. “There is no life like it!” was more than just my mantra, it was the truth. Now when I share my stories, even the people who are listening get fired up. There was no life like it.
However, what I’ve come to learn in the years since leaving the military is that it is possible to build a life as a veteran that is just as rewarding as the life we had when we were serving. My transition journey was painful, and there were many times when I wondered whether I would find that kind of satisfaction again, but I am here to assure you that there is life after service if you’re willing to do the work.
A career that ended abruptly, a freefall into a dismal place without the supports for healthy transition; my story is one that pulls at my heartstrings each time I tell it. But it’s one that needs to be told. I’ve come out the other side so to speak – a little worse for wear, but I’m no longer a disabled veteran, I’m a veteran who lives a rewarding life despite my disabilities. I’ve found my way back, and there really is “no life like it”. Although my time in the forces was amazing and the stuff that stories are made of, the truth is that I’ve got a pretty good gig right now.
The journey would have been easier if I had a role model. I choose to be that person for others who are transitioning. I lacked those supports and poverty was often nipping at my heels. I was classed as “at risk of homelessness” at one point. I’ve known many lows. However, I didn’t remain there – I chose to build a fantastic life outside of the military, and I have done just that.
We all love to be in control of our lives, and there’s a huge distinction between those of us who choose to retire after a rewarding career and folks like me who had that choice taken away. My release was a shock that came as a result of vision loss. Just like that, I was out the door prematurely.
My story comes from the perspective of someone whose tragic end to a rewarding career has evolved into a life worth living. I hope that the insight I have gained will help you in your transition.
There are certain things that I did along the way that really benefited me. It took me 10 years of living in denial about a disability before I hit a wall that landed me in counselling. I sat in that chair a broken person – unable to say that “I am disabled” and feeling disgusted and angry about this new disability. After some time in counselling, I learned to appreciate all of me and to focus on what I was good at. My disabilities are part of me, but they no longer define who I am.
Allowing myself to grieve was a huge part of my transition. Honouring what was left behind – my identity as a soldier and a valuable cog in the wheel. I needed to forgive the people who made premature decisions because they had half the information they needed. Trying to build a new life without dealing with what was going on inside was like driving a car with the handbrake on. It was only when I got the professional help that I could connect with my joy again. I am still legally blind, and I struggle with anxiety and depression, but it is not WHO I AM. Who I am is who I have always been – a hard worker who enjoys great experiences, especially when shared with people I appreciate.
Dreaming again – that’s what I figured out how to do. I was classed as “hard to employ.” Maybe I had adjustment issues that needed to be addressed. Either way, finding meaningful work presented challenges for me. I’m a firm believer that entrepreneurship is a viable option for anyone who lives with disabilities. My struggles led me to entrepreneurship, and it was there that I regained control, developed relationships, and rebuilt my life.
I had to do a little ego check to manage my own expectations. Not everyone valued my service as much as I did. My experiences made me stand out in ways that weren’t always valued. Those were tough but necessary lessons.
As you begin your New Year, open your heart and your mind to hope. There’s lots of great life out there if you want to embrace it. Here’s to a healthy and happy transition.