I heard a story on the news this morning about a group of four marines who took a picture on a beach in May of 1966, and recreated it 50 years later. That, and a chance remark to a former soldier of mine, who happened to repeat it to a group of us on Facebook, got me thinking: some things can be hard to let go.

It can be hard for veterans to let go of our memories of the service. Sometimes, we take it too far, of course; a recent post here on LinkedIn warned against the trap of getting too caught up in our military experiences and missing out on life after the service. It can be hard to let go of the idea that “the good old days were always good” as the Billy Joel song goes, even though we know that the good old days had some pretty bad moments in them.

Without awareness, it can be hard to let go of the support that we received in the service. We always knew that, whatever base we went to, there was going to be a dining facility. We may never eat there, but we know that it’s always there if we need it. HR will always be there in the form of post finance or the personnel section in our Battalion. If the internet goes out, go get someone from Commo or put in a request to the S6; when we come in the building in the morning, the light comes on when we hit the switch. In all of my years in the Army, I never had to worry about paying the electricity bill, even when I was a company First Sergeant. The water was always on, except when it wasn’t, and it usually came back on pretty quick without much effort on my part. When we get out of the military, though, especially if we open our own business, a lot of those things that we never prepared ourselves for are front and center…and not letting go of the idea that I can stick my head out of my office and ask (or tell) someone to do something can certainly create challenges in our civilian lives.

“In the end
these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?”
― Gautama Buddha

It can be hard to let go of regrets that we had; regrets that we didn’t choose that MOS (or regrets that we chose the one we did), sometimes regrets that we did too much and regrets that we didn’t do enough. Regrets that we didn’t go to combat, and regrets that we did go to combat. If we get caught up in the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” thoughts about things that we didn’t accomplish or the things that did happen that we weren’t proud of, then we can get stuck in the past without looking forward to the future.

Sometimes, there are things that we don’t want to let go of. I lost a friend of mine in a car accident on the night before Thanksgiving, 1994; at his memorial service they played “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd during a memorial photo montage. Every time I hear that song on the radio, Joe Parks comes to mind. The passage of time makes the pain of loss less, but it doesn’t take it away entirely. The memory of Joe is certainly something that I don’t want to let go of, and it has happened so often over the last twenty years that I don’t think I will ever let go.

Sometimes the things that are hard to let go of are habits. Big habits, like the need to scan the room or the rooftops in order to feel safe; or small habits, like keeping all of your pocket stuff…keys, wallet, whatever…in one place so you can grab it and go the next morning. A couple of my habits that are hard to let go of revolve around coffee: in Afghanistan, my LT, section sergeants and I all shared a tent. We had a common coffeepot, and the first one up in the morning would fill the tank with bottled water and dump a scoop of fresh grounds on top of yesterday’s old grounds and run it through…the presence of the coffee was what was important, not the quality. When I got back home, however, and did the same thing, my (long-suffering and very patient) wife looked at me like I was crazy. Now that we have one of those fancy pod-coffee things, I’ll do the same…run three or four cups through the same grounds. It doesn’t disrupt my life and it’s something I picked up along the way…no real reason to let it go, so it hangs around.

“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”
― Samuel Johnson

The problem with not letting things go is when the things we don’t let go start to get in the way of our progress in life. A friend of mine in Pittsburgh said that he often interviews veterans who are so fresh from combat that they are still shouting…if we don’t let go of those combat habits, life is going to be just a bit more difficult. The key is becoming aware of the fact that we are going to have to change, and as I mentioned in a previous post, huge change is difficult.

If you are not a veteran, but someone who supports a veteran, and you’re reading this, then great. Anything that can be done to help you understand the veteran you are going to be working with is outstanding. I’m not saying that the veteran you’re interacting with can’t explain it to you, but if they’re struggling, then it is unlikely that they will do so…a remnant of another thing that is hard to let go of, the idea that we can and do get things done on our own.

If you’re a veteran, and you’re reading this, what kind of things are you not letting go? Is that okay with you, and not getting in the way of life? You don’t have to change beyond what you feel comfortable with, but the ultimate benefit of change is personal growth. I don’t ever want to let go of the ideals and experience that I gained in the military, while also knowing that I do need to let go of those things that get in the way now.

Did you enjoy this post? You can read it and many others like it in the first Head Space and Timing eBook, available for purchase on Amazon now.

Duane France

Duane K. L. France is a combat veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a mental health counselor practicing in the state of Colorado. Do you want to join the conversation regarding veteran mental health? Share, like, and comment. Read Duane's previous posts and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn. Keep the conversation about #veteranmentalhealth going.

1 Comment

Brad · March 2, 2017 at 10:53 am

Great article, I do need to let go and get on with the next stage of my life. It is difficult but I have to lean into the future and not always be thinking of the past. I had such a good go on my first 30 years in the military then everything went upside down and after 35 years I am now a civie. I am having such a hard time getting over how I was treated by the service that I had dedicated my whole life to. But like they say you can’t fight city hall and believe me I have tried. I fought within the system using redress of grievances, and supposedly won but got nothing, I even took it all the way to the top and was denied. Civil litigation is my last resort but a lawyer that I have seen told me they would simply prolong the case until my legal fees forced me to quit. I guess I have to let go and pursue new interests and just get on with my life.

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