I remember how I felt when I transitioned from the Army following my 22-year career – happy, proud, excited, READY… I was so ready for retirement. I did my time and ready to write the next chapter of my life outside of the Army uniform. Then came the feelings of anxiety, confusion, fear, abandonment, and a loss of identity. These feelings caught me completely off guard, they were unexpected to say the least. I was shocked that I was experiencing these conflicting emotions, that I was able to just shake them off. One thing my military training taught me was that I had to do something. When I couldn’t just push through, I had to tap into resources available to me.
The first resource I tapped into was the Department of Veterans Affairs medical services, more specifically mental health services. I must be honest, in my 22-year military career I never utilized mental health services. I’m not saying that I didn’t need them, I’m just saying I had never used them until I transitioned out of the military. I am glad that I did because I was reassured that I would be okay, that the tools that I had implemented would help me push through this difficult time. I recommend if you find yourself in a dark place mentally, tap into the VA mental health services. They are there to help us Veterans. I believe although very overworked and shorthanded, they truly want to help us and want to see us doing better.
The next resource I tapped into was the power of service. I began volunteering and using my time to continue serving and giving back. While volunteering I began talking to other women Veterans asking them if they had some of the same symptoms during their transition. I believe I couldn’t be the only one who struggled emotionally during transition. I found out that this was a normal part of the transition process. This was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one who had experienced this struggle. It was also comforting to know that I would get through this challenge just like my sisters-in-arms had. So, how did I know I would be okay? Two things – community & Sisterhood.
When I connected to a community, the Veteran community, I had found a place where I felt I belonged. Serving in the military, separated me from my family and friends at times. My experiences where different from my siblings and friends who had not served and at times it was difficult for them to understand what I had been through. It’s not that my career was bad – the good days surely outweighed the bad. You don’t stick with something for 22 years if it is terrible. But there were things that I had experienced – good and challenging – that only other Veterans could relate to and understand.
Community has always been important to me, especially during my military journey. My community was critical while I served as a single mother, especially when I had to deploy and leave my family for a period of time. Community was so important when I became half of a dual military marriage and my husband deployed while I was pregnant with our first child. So many times, my community was there for me.
So, when I had connected to the Veteran community after leaving the military, I felt I had found my place where I belonged. It was a community that I was proud to be part of, where I had earned my place. So many things in common. It was familiar and comfortable to me. I was grateful to connect to this community because having people around me who understood made pushing through the challenges of transition that much easier.
As I dove deeper into the Veteran community, I discovered the amazing Sisterhood of women Veterans. This Sisterhood is incredible and very special! And as my Sisterhood grows with women from all 5 branches of the military, representing all ranks and different eras of military service, I am so proud to call myself one of them – a woman Veteran.
I’ve created an amazing Sisterhood for women Veterans with Camouflaged Sisters. It’s a community that serves me and I serve them with my whole heart. It’s a safe place for women Veterans to connect through our stories. We comfort each other as we share the good, the not so good, and even the ugly parts of our stories. It’s a no-judgement zone where women Veterans can comfortably be themselves. We are FREE to be ourselves!
This is our sisterhood! I once posted on social media that women Veterans are not a freak of nature, we’re more like a rare species – one that should be valued for its uniqueness.
I could easily say that for Veterans in general. We are definitely a unique breed. We have unique experiences. We bring unique skills to any given situation. We are that small percentage of society that has volunteered to give our life in the name of patriotism and love of country. All things that connect us and allow us to be inducted into the military family.
If you are a woman Veteran reading this magazine, know that you already belong to the Sisterhood, you just need to find your tribe within the community. Whether you connect with Camouflaged Sisters or some other group of women Veterans, find your place where you feel like you belong because we need each other at some point on this journey called life. Learn more at our website camouflagedsisters.org and plan to join us for our monthly Sisterhood Chat where we discuss topics important to us women Veterans.
Lila Holley is a multi-award-winning, bestselling author, Army Veteran, and founder of Camouflaged Sisters. She uses her books and real-life lessons to help other Service Members maneuver through the emotional battlefield of transitioning from the military, take ownership of their stories, and heal using the power of storytelling. The Camouflaged Sisters anthology series consists of 8 published books sharing the inspirational stories of 143 courageous military women. The books cover topics such as leadership, mentorship, sisterhood, career challenges, and combat experiences. They also tackle tough topics like surviving military sexual assault, toxic leadership, PTSD, and surviving domestic violence while serving. These authors desire that other women read their stories and know that they are not alone in their struggles. This method of writing and storytelling is healing for both the writers and the readers. Lila believes there is no one better to tell these stories than the women who lived them. Learn more at camouflagedsisters.org.