Boredom and Loneliness Haunt Veterans

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One of the hardest problems veterans face is what happens after transition. This article may help you survive. 


Veterans face a variety of problems once they leave the service. Whether it’s accurate or not, many veterans feel life is a little harder for them than for most people. But what if a big part of the problem wasn’t so much PTSD or poor transition assistance — at least not directly — but rather loneliness and boredom?

From being under a microscope to being unseen

The best and worst thing about being in the military is that it is all-consuming. It provides you with a place to be and a time to be there, pretty much 24/7/365.

You spend several months at a time deployed. When you get home, you work long hours, so that takes care of a good part of your day. Then you’ve got frost calls at the club on Fridays after work. Another weekend that month you have duty. The next there’s a mandatory fun event of some kind. Your next door neighbors are military too, so they invite you over for dinner every so often.

For better or worse, while you’re in the military, you’re always busy and rarely alone.

In the civilian world, after you walk out the glass doors, no one cares what you do. Outside of blatant misconduct that might discredit your employer, they generally don’t care much about how you live your life. They sure aren’t going to have you sit in an auditorium for eight hours on a workday to talk about why you should wear more sunscreen.

Shot gunning into civilian life is lonely in the best of times

Once you have that DD-214 in hand, your social network changes. Chances are you’ll get a job in a whole new city. Once you’re there, you’re no longer in that protective military cocoon. Your neighbors come and go silently to wherever it is they go. On one side, you have a college student whose parents pay his rent and who apparently commutes by skateboard. On the other, who the hell knows, because you’ve never seen anyone enter or leave — just vague signs of occupancy. You think there might be a serial killer with a torture dungeon living there.

It’s definitely not like the barracks, or even a typical neighborhood street in a military town.

If you do stay around your old duty station, your military friends will still have the demanding schedule you just left — plus you’re probably a sellout contractor, with the logoed polo shirt to prove it. Even if you decide to go back to your old hometown, you aren’t the same person as when you left. Unless you’re picking up that dead-end job right where you left off, you no longer fit in there, either.

Your new coworkers generally scatter to the winds after work. Unlike your previous semi-homogeneous band of mostly young male brothers, now you have a diverse group with lives as different as their backgrounds.

If you’re single or divorced, it’s even worse. You can’t party with the Friday night crowd unless you want to be the sad old guy in the club. If you don’t have children or they don’t usually live with you, you probably aren’t plugged into the whole kids soccer scene (and it would be a little disturbing if you were). Most of your peers are married, so if you aren’t, you probably aren’t going to be hanging out much. No one likes a third wheel. As far as meeting other middle-aged single folks, that guy who spotted you on the bench press at the gym was really cool, but it seemed weird to ask him to hang out after staring up at his crotch for 10 reps.

Falling into a cycle of self-isolation

When you get home you usually have nothing to do. At first, that fills you with sublime joy, but after awhile, having nothing and no one to fill the off-time becomes old. Some people handle that better than others.

Unfortunately, charming old-fashioned solitary pursuits such as painting, solitaire, and playing soulful jazz piano at dirty gin joints are far less common pursuits than things like excessive drinking and internet use. Both of those things are addictive, but they do temporarily relieve boredom and loneliness.

In the case of drinking, without anyone else to watch what you’re doing, that couple of beers after coming home from work easily becomes 3 or 4, maybe even 5 or 6. You aren’t trying to get shitfaced. You’re just hanging out, watching Netflix or playing video games, while sipping a beer. But sipping beers for several hours quickly adds up, even if you’re not trying. Vets have much greater rates of alcohol abuse than the general public.

Then there’s the internet, that great time-suck. It’s the refuge of the lonely, offering instant connections with people around the world. But that virtual companionship can destabilize your remaining relationships in real life.

For vets in particular, there’s a temptation to rekindle camaraderie on any number of vicious and misogynistic social media pages. An online life devoted to mocking civilians and treating women poorly is even more isolating — after shitting on every non-vet, and even vets who don’t live up to your standard (oh good, another POG hatefest), are you really going to go out, be friendly, and find new friends in real life?

Though I’ve wasted too many hours on social media, I’ve never thrown in with the vitriolic Facebook groups. But I see enough reposts of those groups from many of my old colleagues to know that it’s clearly a thing.

As far as alcohol, I’ve had more than my share of beers in a sitting enough times to know that I need to keep an eye on that, if for no other reason than my waistline. Along those lines, there are many other unhealthy time-killers, like overeatingsmoking, and dipping that vets are especially prone to.

Admit you’re lonely. But you’re not alone

The plural of anecdote isn’t data. But it’s indisputable that loneliness and boredom have profound effects on health and wellbeing. I can’t help but wonder if a large portion of the acute mental illness and substance abuse problems among vets might really be just the long-term products of poor social networks after leaving the military.

Some of the military’s and VA’s organizational efforts would be well spent in finding earlier interventions on that front, instead of waiting until vets’ lives go completely sideways.

And on the individual level, it’s just another good reminder to take care of each other. Taking an interest in each other’s lives isn’t a cure-all for our issues, but it does help remind us: We’re not as alone as we think.

If you are struggling with life after the military. You are never alone. We have your six. Get help. Here is a toll free number you can always go to to get help:




You are never alone.

You are never forsaken.

You are never unloved.

And above all….never, ever, give up!

One Reply to “Boredom and Loneliness Haunt Veterans”

  1. Hi Doug!
    I think there’s a bit more to the isolation you were talking about. After I retired from the Army I immediately started a job without a break, which I welcomed so I could pay my monthly bills. Within a couple of weeks after retiring from the Army, my entire family; they live all around me, decided that I work for them now. Suddenly I became my fathers caretaker pretty much full time, then my daughter decided that I needed to take care of her as well since she is handicapped and has trouble getting around on her own sometimes. Then my son constantly asked me to do things for him, followed by my grandchildren every time the school nurse or doctors office needed something for the grandchildren they now had my number as the main contact without me providing it to them. Then, anytime my mother had an appointment or wanted to go shopping it was on me and when I wasn’t feeling well and asked if one of the others please take care of it, I got told that she’s my mother and I should be ashamed not being there since I’m retired now. My niece and her husband started relying on me too and no matter what I told everyone that I might not be in the army anymore but I’m still working a full day everyday and had an almost 2 hour commute each way to get there; sometimes more if traffic was bad. I often wind up working double shifts not because I wanted to, but because it was required by my employer if not enough workers showed up for the next shift. After a little over a year doing all this I was so exhausted that I was afraid to drive to work; thinking I might fall asleep behind the wheel. I found another job closer to where I live, and worked there a little over 3 years when I became so ill that I could no longer work. Since I worked around a few VA VocRehab counselors at that job, they helped me get in touch with the right people to get my 100%IU through quickly before all my money saved ran out. I spent nearly every day at the hospital or ER for awhile because my health just really hit bottom; although not rock bottom yet. Now that I was no longer working the bombardment by my family increased even more; even my church started in on this trend and before I knew it being an Elder, i found myself serving in 4 different committees and still also attending my church choir. When 9/11 happened a lot of my suppressed memories resurfaced and I could no longer attend my church; was having to many panic attacks being around people. However, I was still dealing with all of the family living around me. Whenever I started backing off from them some, I just faced lots of retaliation from them and decided to just try my best to help them all. I could no longer sleep at night and when laying down in my bedroom i had to barricade everything to ensure my safety; even installed security locks like you normally only see on front doors of homes. I was also still dealing with enormous amounts of pain every day; reason i put my retirement packet in with the Army. Finally in Oct 2015 I suffered a Pulmonary Embolism, followed by Cardiac Arrest and Kidneys attempting to shut down as well. Good thing was that i was at the hospital that day when it happened or I would not have survived this. I spent a week in a coma (woke up on my birthday) and my entire family was standing around my bed because doctors told them it would be best for everyone to come if they wanted to say their goodbyes because it didn’t look promising for me at all. After waking up, i spent another week in CCICU before i finally got to a regular room. Since coming home I’ve had a few more scares with my heart and just had a RFA done on my heart in May this year and praying that i will now start greatly improving. I still have a long list of other health issues that are sometimes very debilitating and therefore since I came home after my coma will often hide from everyone because I cannot go through all this again. I did not turn to alcohol or any drugs but have isolated myself from everyone because of what I’ve gone through. I go to counseling and I attend small craft classes with women twice a month and once a year go with a couple of these women to a craft convention that mainly just has women there since I also have a problem from MST in the military and this gives me a little social interaction. I still have to lock my doors to sleep because of my PTSD which thanks to medication I do okay with most of the time as long as I avoid large crowds and it’s not nighttime which is my worst time unless I can secure myself in my bedroom with the extra lock. As you can see by my story outside behavior by others on top of health problems and also PTSD can do this. Some just deal with one or two problems and others have quite a few. My counselor actually agrees with me staying away as much as possible from all this toxic environment. I’ve been able to reduce some of my medication and was even able to get rid of some as well because I can cope better when alone.

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