So I’m going to cut straight to the point. I grieved after my retirement. To say I experienced the 7 stages of grief is an understatement. I waited years, months, weeks, and days for the moment I no longer belonged to the Department of Defense to come. The moment where I was free to live the way I wanted without the judgement, rules and restrictions of the US Army. I dreamt of clothes I would wear, places I would visit, colors I would dye my hair and crazy nail designs I would show off. What I didn’t anticipate was the grief. How did life change after leaving the military, well lets talk about that…
Stage 1: Searching for Answers
Though I anticipated my discharge I still was a bit hazy as how to I found myself in this stage of my career. Yes, I know the details and timeline of the activities, but I didn’t really get the “How”. Mainly how did the mortar attack in Afghanistan and toxic leadership cause me to develop Post Tramatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Scientifically speaking, I was curious about all the details of this chemical imbalance affected me. No matter what I read or watched, it wasn’t enough. No amount of information fully answered the question.
Stage 2: Denial & Shock
Prior to my retirement I didn’t believe the Army would ever let me go. Yes, I was attending all the briefings and turning in my gear. But the purpose of the activities didn’t register. I took leave and was released from attending drill. I attended 9 hours of Kunilini Yoga, 30 minutes of meditation and 1-2 mental health appointments everyone week. Yet, none of it really sunk in. Then I was scheduled to report to headquarters to complete my paperwork and sign my DD 214.
As I watched the Senior Human Resources Manager place my DD 214 and supporting documents in a large manila folder, a haze came over me. Somehow I lost time between the third floor of headquarters and the one and half hour ride to my house. I don’t remember the days that followed. I just remember feeling numb.
Stage 3: Bargaining
Returning to service was not an option. I knew this then. It didn’t stop me from harboring some tiny kernel of hope that it was all a mistake. I thought maybe I could return as a DA Civilian or maybe I would be recalled. Maybe if I remember the good times, maybe I could return in some capacity.
Stage 4: Relapse
Six months after leaving the military I was terminated from my job. I was only working with the company for 2 months. I had never been fired before. It left me feeling worthless. Despite my high dosage of antidepressant, I sunk into a depression. For a second, I felt like my time on this planet was a waste. Don’t worry, I didn’t give into the thoughts. Instead I wiped the snot from my face and tears from my eyes and gave birth to Butter Angels Handcrafted Skin Care. To say my business saved my life was an understatement.
Stage 5: Anger
This stage was a long one. As a matter of fact it last about a good year and a half. I felt angry about everything. And because of this, I hated the uniform. I hated the height and weight standards. I was mistrustful of anyone who remotely resembled those who had hurt me or pissed me off. Everything I did was thumb my nose at the institution that said I would fail with it. I felt betrayed that I was cast aside because I was no longer bionic. I felt used and stupid. Honestly, I wish I could tell you that I no longer get angry. But I do. Not nearly as much, but the rage is still there, waiting to be triggered.
Stage 6: Initial Acceptance
I have finally accepted that I no longer serve this great nation. I have accepted that my service, my pain, my joy may be used to help other women veterans. Although, I couldn’t begin to speak knowledgeably about successfully transitioning from the military. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror and smile, knowing that my hard work has afforded my family the life we live now. And I damn sure wouldn’t be motivated to live my life authentically and to the fullest.
Stage 7: Redirected Hope
My focus is now on building a life that is perfect for me and my family. I’m no longer preoccupied by “the mission” or the guilt of placing my family last to God and country. I have hope that my business will flourish and grow. I have hope that my story will inspire someone else to choose to live when life is dark and lonely. In my hope I have the energy to forgive those who have wronged me, to include myself. This is the space that makes the entire grief process worth it.
How did life change after I left the military? I am free. My mind, body and soul finally feel free. I am free to work where I want. When I want. For whom I want. I am free to take care of my family first. I am free of unreasonable expectations and standards. And I am free of judgement. Not because I am out of the military. In my grief from leaving the military, I have learned to see life from a different prospective. I am free.
Rolande S. Sumner is a retired US Army veteran and the CEO & Founder of Butter Angels LLC®. Rolande enlisted in the US Army National Guard in 1995 and retired in 2015. During her career she was a Admin Clerk, Heavy Vehicle Operator and Human Resources Generalist/Manager. She served as both a traditional National Guard Soldier and in an Active Guard/Reserve capacity. She’s been stationed in Massachusetts, South Carolina and Afghanistan.
Rolande’s passion is empowering and inspiring women veteran to live full and authentic lives. Her mission is to enhance the beauty of powerful women with quality skin care and though encouraging messaging, inspirational stories, powerful imagery via her company Butter Angels Handcrafted Skin Care®, her blog, podcast and YouTube channel named “Sister Soldier Entrepreneur”. Plus you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.