By Paul Peng
Chances are if you are reading this article, let alone this magazine, you have served sometime in the military or are tied to the military indirectly in some fashion. First and foremost, I would like to convey my sincere gratitude for your service and the sacrifice your loved ones have made, in service of this nation. Do me a favor and take a moment to think about when you first left the military; the moment you got that final DD214 in your hand and/or the last day you wore the uniform. What feelings went through you? Was it relief? Happiness? Ecstasy?
Now fast forward four months. Now that the high of leaving the service has faded and the reality of civilian transition has kicked in full gear, how are you feeling now? A little depressed? Overwhelmed? Anxious? Perhaps even a little angry?
Out of all the challenges that will be thrown your way during your transition period out of the military, emotional regulation is, in my opinion, one of the hardest challenges to overcome. Failure to keep this one in check can lead to a host of problems for you, such as but not limited to: extreme anger (i.e., going from 0 to 10 in a split second), depression, isolation, mood swings and anxiety. Which can then lead to other bad events, such as drug addiction and/or alcoholism and overall relationship issues.
I can speak from experience because I personally experienced severe depression, isolation, anger and anxiety shortly after discharging from service. Individual therapy and group therapy helped to an extent, but it felt (at least to me) more like a band-aid than a permanent fix. As long as you kept going on a weekly basis you felt ok, not great, but ok. The minute you stop going, the tendency to relapse back to the “darkness” increases tremendously.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving emotional regulation after leaving service. Many transitioning veterans feel lost and oftentimes do not feel like they are properly equipped or supported to handle the plethora of stresses regarding military transition.
Here is an opinion: many veterans already have the tools for success that were learned throughout their time in service. One of these is marksmanship.
Emotional Regulation & Marksmanship
Marksmanship is something that is drilled into you in the military. This is especially true if you served in combat arms or combat arms support in the Marines or Army. To hit your intended target, you must have good sight picture, trigger press and follow through. For all three of these aspects of marksmanship to be performed properly, you must regulate your emotions through breathing and purposed concentration. Breathing regulation allows for the heartbeat to slow, providing the relaxation your body needs and preventing such symptoms as shaky or sweaty hands. You must also focus on your grip, stance, target and, most importantly, your trigger press and follow through with no other distractions to hit your target and achieve optimal results (hitting the 9 or 10 ring of your target). Your mind must be clear. When your mind is clear and focused on nothing but achieving the task at hand, you have, in essence, achieved emotional regulation.
Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that marksmanship is the only way to achieve emotional regulation; there are many veterans’ organizations that offer a variety of recreational activities such as horseback riding, fishing, hiking or meditation—all requiring the same focus, concentration and emotional regulation.
All I am conveying here is that many veterans already have the foundational building blocks and tools needed to achieve emotional regulation when receiving their final DD214 in hand and are discharged from service. Sometimes, they just need to be reminded that it is there.