Reintegration 101

Merriam-Webster online

The concept of home

Home can be a concrete notion, e.g. a soldier returning from war, or a repatriate returning after an international assignment, or a student returning from university or boarding school.

Coming home may have different time values attached to it. You can come home for the holidays, for a visit, or indefinitely.

Home can also be something intangible, in a sense that you may be returning to find yourself after a period of not being who you wanted to be or who you were meant to be. For example, you might be redefining yourself after a divorce, or a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Are you ever the same again after life-changing events?

Well, by that definition, no. A life-changing event changes your life.

Either way, I don't think staying the same is the point of living.

I believe all of us continually forge a "new normal," integrating our experiences from what came before. With a little introspection, we can learn to recognize how those experiences have impacted us. This will help us acknowledge and accept the change. Some changes are harder to accept than others, and some we may reject altogether.

But when we're ready to step into our new normal, we have to learn how to reestablish connections with people we knew from before.

Home-coming challenges

One of the challenges is reestablishing connections with people we knew from before if they have not gone through a similar transition. Someone who has never lived abroad or who has never been sent into battle has little concept of what that's like.

For repatriates, it can be difficult not sounding like a spoiled brat when recounting exciting exotic vacations or international adventures and mishaps to the folks who stayed back home.

For veterans, it can be difficult putting words to the things they have seen and done. More than that, you may not be allowed to talk about any of it to your family or friends. If that is the case, I hope you take advantage of mental health support that should be available to you. According to this Forbes articles, 22 veterans commit suicide every day. Don't be a statistic, call the Veteran Crisis Line.

Either way, the challenges of returning into a supposedly familiar environment after having broadened one's horizons are often underestimated. Consider the example of a disaster relief worker, who spent 12 months helping people on the other side of the globe survive. Upon returning home, none of her interactions had the same urgency or life-or-death aspect. This is also the case for many soldiers - once you get used to having adrenaline-filled days, standing in line at the local groceries store can be underwhelming, and disconcerting.

How can you deal with these challenges?

Approach your reintegration process the same as you did that of moving out. They are not called a process for nothing: it will take time and practice to feel at home again. If you like to plan, make a list. If you like to learn from others, contact your local vets center, or other repatriates from your company. If you like to read, consider any of the books (affiliate links).

Forging a new normal takes conscious awareness. You can only work on what you're aware of. If you don't think you need support in reintegrating, fine. But if you're the only one who feels that way, and you're receiving consistent feedback telling you otherwise (either directly in the form of verbal suggestions, or indirectly in the form of nobody's calling to hang out anymore) - maybe it's time to take a deep breath and think this through.

More on how to do that tomorrow.