How the Hell did I become a Has Been?

I often think about how awesome I use to be. Jumping out of helicopters, shooting 50 caliber machine guns, working 12 hour days with squadrons and partying hard during the free time in between. How awesome I use to be…

I was 31 when I got out and decided to go back to school.  I made a conscious decision to leave a successful military career to sit in a classroom with a bunch of 18 year olds that I didn’t relate to. None of those kids realized how qualified I was, how important my job was, how badass my community was. Those kids didn’t know anything. I have a right to say that, because my mom signed my papers to join when I was 17, I didn’t know anything then either.

Experiencing war had changed me. I saw things, did things, and heard things that could not be erased. I was blessed with opportunities to save a few lives during my career operating as Air Rescue. In all my military experiences, good and bad, I never questioned my purpose. That is something that a lot of people cannot understand. But, while I sat in those classrooms it became painstakingly clear that I had become a Has Been.

No Veteran is a Has Been.

The academic piece of school was challenging, but the social piece was even harder. I didn’t do myself any favors either. I isolated myself a lot and I intentionally only allowed people to get so close. My thoughts kept me from moving forward because I struggled with where I was in life. I kept replaying my past and desperately wished I could go back. That thought cycle was very difficult to break.

When Veterans leave the military, they leave their purpose behind and they have to be prepared to seek and find purpose in something else. If purpose is removed and the void is not filled or it is filled with something unhealthy then bad things happen. I buried my younger brother and best friend as a result of suicide. They were both Veterans. That was a type of pain I had never experienced before and in those moments I knew that I needed to make a mental change.

My solution was a combination of things: I found a new career that allowed me to use my military experience to help others in a new setting. After a lot of trial and error, I connected with a counselor who helped me sort through my military experiences. I surrounded myself with family and made some new friends that supported me and were open to listening and learning. I got connected to a church, grew in my faith and received a freedom only God can offer.

My life is not perfect and every day there are always moments when I have to fight the battle in my mind to not fall back into the Has Been mindset. No Veteran is a Has Been. We all need to truly believe that in our hearts. When we are able to do that, we make room for our new purpose to come through.

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  • Lindaleah Johnson

    I can relate, a retired helicopter crew chief (non rescue swimmer) myself , I often feel irrelevant. At no point in my Naval career did I ever feel that way and yet as a “civilian” it comes to mind almost on a daily basis. I’ve been out of the service for 3 years and still searching for a purpose. It does bring me peace of mind when I speak to others that are going through a similar experience because at first I thought it was just me, which can be isolating. Thanks for putting this out there, it matters.

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