When You Can’t Be a Warrior Anymore…Is There a Reason to Go On?

It’s that hollow numbness, the sense that you are already dead, the complete lack of desire to go on, the craving to be gone, to be done here. The feeling that you are nothing more than an empty husk blown about by gusts of wind. There’s nothing left of you.

You’re not who you used to be. You look in the mirror and don’t even recognize the vacant soul staring back at you. Nothing — and everything — gets to you.

Your body is here; but you’re not here.

You lost the one thing that meant everything. The ability to be who you are. Because being a warrior who loved and breathed combat, who misses it like your heart has been torn from you, being that person wasn’t just a job. It was — it is — who you are.

And to not be able to be who you really are is absolutely…. devastating.

It’s soul crushing.

It’s the reason death feels like a viable option.

Why were you put on this earth to find the one thing that makes you feel like your truest self, your deepest purpose, your reason for being here….and have that taken away from you?

That’s what your life is now, right?

There’s a reason warriors prefer to die in battle.

Because of this. The “what comes after” service ends. When your body gives out and you’re not allowed to be who you know you were born to be.

That void feels like you’ve already died.

No one talks about this part of it. We mourn those who take their lives, we cry out against their decision, we bleed inside at their loss……………….and, we envy them.

Hard words. But true. There’s a part of you that feels it every time a brother goes home early. You just can’t tell anyone that.

The reality is part of you has died

A warrior’s life after military service ends isn’t like civilian retirement. When what you do is who you are — and anyone called into a service field, who is “born” to be what they do knows this — the end of it feels like death.

It is a death. The you that you knew yourself to be dies. The pain of it and the silence that shrouds it keeps it hidden.

Warriors who can’t go back to war die inside. Quiet, aching, pervasive deaths. The longer you go on without a renewed purpose, the more of you dies. The emptiness, the sense that your soul has been cut out of you….it’s real. You’re not alone.

And you’re not fucked up for feeling it.

Civilians are elated when your service ends because it means you’re out of harms’ way. It means you survived. It means they can exhale. Finally. They expect you to find something else now to fill your time. Some of the perceptive ones will understand that this isn’t about finding a new job – this is about mourning the loss of your identity and… finding a new one. (A new job doesn’t give you a new identity — this is why it can be so hard to stick with a job after you get out.)

A warrior’s purpose is to serve the life-death-life cycle

Identity comes from purpose. It comes from your sense of who you are and why you are here — in the bigger picture of lifetimes on earth.

A soul is born into a lifetime with a purpose. Being a warrior feels like it was your purpose. But being a warrior is the package for your purpose. The purpose lies deeper inside.

What was your purpose?

To defend? To protect? To destroy evil? To rescue? To save? To keep your brothers safe? To liberate?

Service itself?

You feel empty because you’ve lost your known purpose and meaning. It was all very clear for you before and now it’s not.

The question is: can you take who you are and do something new with it? Can you identity what your soul purpose is and hold onto THAT, and find a way to live that now?

I can tell you this: a warrior will ONLY re-find purpose by finding a way to continue to be of service to life on earth. You’re not made to be self-only-serving. It’s not in your soul DNA to be on this earth without carrying out a mission that matters to humanity, to history.

You were born into this world to make a difference, to take risks, to change the status quo, to expose and eradicate evil, to uproot and open life to new possibilities, new change.

Yes, war destroys; absolutely. But it also creates. With the destruction of what was, comes the opportunity for newness. We follow a life-death-life cycle. It’s natural law.

Being of service to this life-death-life cycle is who you are and you need to honor that.

It’s true that you’re never going to stop missing combat. You’re never going to feel as whole as you felt you were then. Some things cannot be replaced or replicated. You know that in your soul.

But you survived combat. The gods didn’t take you.

You were saved and your purpose on this earth is NOT done.

I know this is hard. I know this tears at your heart. I know you are so close to choosing death because you can’t feel anything right now. But that’s an illusion. Feelings can be changed.

Make the hardest choice you will ever make

You are still here.

Your soul is still on this earth. So is your body. Ending your life now may seem like the only option, but is it?

You were called to service. Service is still your purpose.

Who can you serve? Who can you impact today? How can you take the strength that has been built into you and help someone else find theirs?

Can you lead someone to find their own courage?

Can you see that if you help one, it’s the same as helping a thousand?

No, it’s not combat. But you survived combat so you would have the wisdom you need to serve in a new way. What if THIS time in your life is what it was all for??

You are a warrior. You have to fight this one. You have to choose life. We need you.

It’s the hardest choice you’re going to make.

Only you can make it.

Your heart was made to expand into newness. You were created to be able to adapt and overcome. Emptiness can be filled. Numbness can thaw. Pain can ease. Sadness can soften. Purpose can be rediscovered. What seems impossible to you right now, is possible.

You are needed here. By those in your life now, and by those destined to meet you.

Be here to show up for them.

Choose life. For me, for your brothers, for that one soul out there who is going to interact with you and because of your wisdom, your insight, your encouragement, your example of courage is going to change their story…..history takes a different turn when someone changes their story.

Change yours, my warrior.

Change yours.

I stand with you. You can do this.

Comment here or email me at brittareque@gmail.com

  1. Thank you, David. I am grateful that it resonates with your heart. Please reach out anytime if I can be of support to you.

  2. WOW. 27 years, four months and one day, I wore the uniform of a US Marine. I saw combat in Desert Storm, Somalia and finally in Iraq. I retired in 2005 and have been searching ever since for my calling in life. I dont know that I have found it or ever will, but such words are amazingly accurate. May God show us the way forward. Thank you for this. It articulates so clearly what so many of us are experiencing.

  3. Wow….I also found a documentary called That Which I Love Destroys Me that has been as eye opening as this article.

  4. I am so grateful it resonates with your heart and helps to give your feelings a voice. Please reach out if I can be of further support to you, Tony.

  5. This piece resonates with me so, so much. Whether it was coming home from Desert Storm, Somalia or Iraq, I always had the nagging feeling that something was missing. I never knew how to reconcile the dichotomy of combat and survival. I could never articulate my feelings, because I wasn’t cognizant of what they were, and there was no one to listen. The USMC taught me that the mission of the rifle squad was to “locate, close with, and destroy the enemy…” When you do this, you destroy parts of yourself, and you feel that there’s no absolution for you. This piece accurately describes this, and offers that there is a sense of absolution.

  6. Thank you, Charles. I am grateful it resonates and that you are going to share it. I agree; you don’t need to be a mental health professional. A heart willing to deeply listen with empathy and reverence is healing. Many blessings to you for walking your journey of sacrifice and love.

  7. Very moving, well written, and spot-on. Sharing this with the community of veterans with which I interact. My faith resonates strongly with what you have written and I think it gives many avenues of intersection for discussion; whether one is a mental health professional or not.
    Trying to improve the lives of those around us should be more than just a common courtesy…
    Former Navy Corpsman & ER Technician,
    retired Marine Infantry & Reconnaissance Officer
    Veteran Charity Cycling supporter

  8. Oh, Tony, it means a lot to me to hear your story and receive your encouragement. Thank YOU for not giving up on yourself (and thank you to that woman who stayed!) … you are a light unto many.

  9. Well said, Britta. I struggled for years going from one career, one marriage to another…landing in a prison cell after destroying a career as a nurse and paramedic (but a stubborn woman stuck with me) and now I work with those coming out of prison and jail with co-occurring and substance use disorders. That and my faith has given me a reason to live that has energized me even more than combat (both land and under the sea). Keep writing dear lady.