Adjusting from Tour Life to Civilian Life
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Some people are able to drift effortlessly in and out of tour life with very little mental or physical stress. I was not one of those people. Despite having been a free spirit/going wherever the jobs take me person for my entire post-college career, I had a very rough transition from tour to civilian life. I want to be clear that while on tour, I did have meaningful interactions with close friends and unforgettable experiences on many occassions. Unfortunately, none of those interactions or experiences could have prepared me for my utter shock about this new lifestyle. Furthermore, no one had ever so much as whispered the idea that many people have a hard time adjusting to anything post tour.
Here are some of my highlights (more like lowlights) of post road life:
- I found it impossible to coexist with my partner in the same apartment. I'd become so accustomed to having Me-Time that I resented him for simply existing in the same space as me.
- I had my first of several mental breakdowns about money at the 60 day off-tour mark. All the per diem I had been so careful to set aside was gone after purchasing basic items we needed for the apartment (couch, chairs, mattress, dishes, etc).
- I coped with the change by over-eating because I had (have) major control issues.
- Even though I used to ache for structure and “daily routines” on tour, I found them to be major constraints in civilian life. I missed the flexibility and choices of tour and was overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being back in one place.
- I was annoyed that I had no opportunity to hit restart in a new city. There was no new, exciting site to discover. I no longer felt like a mini celebrity as local patrons would see my embroidered show bag and ask with wide sparkly eyes, “Are you with the show!?”
- I had to come to terms with the idea that I HATED my new life, while watching my tour family post on social media.
Common Issues To Expect
It’s not uncommon to have trouble reconnecting or re-establishing roles within the family & with friends. While you were on tour, you and your friends/family found your own individual rhythms. Constantly feeling like you are clapping on 1 & 3 while everyone else is one 2 & 4 is excruciating. It is hard adjusting to the different pace of life. As exhausted as I was, I relied on the rush of the constant go-go-go of life. While it was never the same schedule every day or week, I knew that I was always ready to work. Non tour people and real life move much, much slower. Creating structure can feel nearly impossible. You may find yourself constantly struggling to work with a different kind of ambiguity in life. Having the “it’s only temporary” mindset every time I got somewhere was helpful to deal with stressful situations. The idea of having a “system” on tour seemed necessary. Having a “system” at home felt like the weight of the Earth was crushing me. I felt pinned down, no freedom to choose my own fate (dramatic, I know), no choice but to let my to-do list and paperwork overwhelm me to the point of inaction. These are things that even I, a Professional Organizer, felt to my core.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms are very common among those who are struggling to adapt. Naturally, we try to find a sense of control in any form we can.
How to Cope
Networking- Talk to others who have made this transition. Everyone has their own story about their new life, so ask them if they’d feel comfortable sharing theirs. They may not always have answers for you but having someone who understands your confusing feelings can make a huge difference toward validating them.
Therapy - Find a Professional to help you work through these feelings. If you’re anything like me, the reasons you sought therapy may not be your actual problem. I thought I needed to learn how to communicate better and let go of the unnecessary anger I felt post tour. It turned out, I was unhappy with my career (to which I equated my personal value) and needed to change. If you don't click with your therapist, don't be afraid to seek out someone else. You won't really make the progress you need if you don't feel 100% comfortable.
Resources- Reading books and following blogs or podcasts can potentially be highly valuable tools if you would prefer to not speak to other people about how you're feeling. Seek resources which speak to you, written by authors who understand your point of view and offer a variety of solutions to get you in a better mental space.
Honoring the Shittiness of Change- If you don’t have access to affordable mental healthcare, do yourself the favor of recognizing that you have A LOT of feelings. Take time to listen to your inner voice of reason and also your inner voice of sabotage. Try to cope with the fact that, despite your best efforts, you are having a hard time dealing with some shit. Try to remember that thing you told yourself when times were hard in your least favorite city. “It’s all temporary”. It’s possible that you will be miserable for much longer than you think, or maybe much shorter than you think.
If you find yourself struggling now, rest assured it will get easier. Maybe you'll end up going back on tour for good, or maybe you'll commit to your new lifestyle change. Either way, hang in there and know you've got a wonderful community here for you.