Addiction Recovery Is Hard Work For Veterans — Here Are Five Ways They Can Succeed

Navigating the road to recovery can be a daunting endeavor, particularly for veterans who carry the weight of their unique experiences. It's a path that demands resilience, a quality that’s deeply ingrained in those who've served. Yet, in this new battle, the tactics are different, and victory looks different too. At NorthStar Transitions, we understand the challenges veterans face in recovery. Here, we explore five strategies to guide veterans toward lasting success, blending strength with vulnerability and past experiences with new beginnings.

1. Practice Self-Compassion

Recovery is a journey filled with ups and downs. For veterans, it’s crucial to replace self-criticism with self-compassion — harsh judgment only hinders your progress. We often say things to ourselves that we’d never say to others, such as “I’ll never be able to do this” or “This is too hard, so I might as well give up.” However, it’s important to remember that doubts and setbacks are a normal part of the process, especially when things are tough.

This negative self-talk doesn’t help your recovery. Instead, treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a friend can significantly impact your journey in a positive way. Here are some other ways you can practice self-compassion:

  • Let go of past mistakes: Understand that everyone makes mistakes and that they don’t have to define your future. Learn to forgive yourself and move forward.
  • Progress, not perfection: Accept that perfection is unattainable and setbacks are natural. They are opportunities for learning and growth, not failures.
  • Practice mindfulness: Engage in mindfulness practices to stay focused on the present. This can reduce the tendency to dwell on the past or worry about the future.

2. Embrace a New 'Normal'

After leaving the military, many veterans struggle to redefine what ‘normal’ means as they adjust to a life where their roles, responsibilities and environments have dramatically changed. Letting go of the past and accepting that things will be different can be a deeply challenging process, especially when it involves re-establishing one's identity.

The concept of 'normal' continues to evolve during recovery. Clinging to the past often becomes a barrier to progress. Veterans in recovery are encouraged to redefine what normal means to them now. This might involve accepting current challenges and appreciating the positive changes and growth that have occurred. Creating a new normal is about recognizing where you are now and what you've accomplished so far. Here’s how:

  • Create new routines: Establish new daily routines that support your recovery. This can include exercise, healthy eating and making time for relaxation or hobbies.
  • Celebrate your successes: Take the time to reflect on your experiences and acknowledge the positive changes in your life since beginning your recovery journey. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people: Engage with others who are on a similar path. This can be through support groups, alumni networks from your treatment program, sober meetings, community activities or veteran organizations.

3. Letting Go of Stigma

Many veterans struggle with the stigma surrounding substance use and mental health issues, especially those who have been conditioned to maintain a tough and stoic demeanor. However, it's important to remember that seeking help and facing these challenges head-on is a sign of strength, not weakness, and that your past doesn’t define you. Overcoming stigma can be difficult, but it is possible. Some actionable steps veterans can take to help reduce the stigma associated with addiction and mental health include:

  • Maintain an open dialogue: Creating an open dialogue about addiction and mental health challenges can be powerful. Share your experiences with family, friends, or support groups. This not only helps in reducing the shame associated with these conditions but also encourages others to share and seek help.
  • Promote awareness and education: Educating yourself and others about the nature of addiction and mental health challenges can dismantle misconceptions. Understanding the scientific and psychological aspects of these conditions helps in recognizing them as legitimate health issues, just like any physical ailment.
  • Don’t hesitate to seek help: Actively seeking help, whether through therapy, support groups or rehab programs, is a practical step in challenging stigma and taking control of your own story. It shows a commitment to your well-being and serves as an example to others who might be hesitant to do the same.

4. Open Communication

Your voice matters. Talking about your experiences — the hurdles you’ve faced, the strides you’ve made, and even the setbacks you’ve encountered — does more than just articulate your personal narrative. It can become an incredibly powerful tool that helps you process your journey mentally and emotionally. Sharing your story also provides support and encouragement to others and helps build strong connections in recovery.  

Communication is a two-way street. As much as it is about expressing yourself and being heard, it’s also about listening. This opens you up to the possibility of learning from other people’s experiences and breaks down barriers of isolation and misunderstanding. Some channels for sharing your story and facilitating open communication include:

  • Support groups: These are safe spaces where you can share your thoughts and experiences with others who understand exactly what you’re going through. The mutual support in these groups can be incredibly empowering.
  • 12-step meetings: Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) offer structured environments to discuss struggles and successes throughout the recovery process. These meetings can be pivotal in maintaining sobriety and building a network of support.
  • One-on-one conversations: Sometimes, a personal conversation with a friend, family member, therapist or fellow veteran can offer the intimacy and trust needed to openly discuss your journey.
  • Blogs and social media: Writing about your experiences in a blog or sharing your journey on social media can reach a wider audience. This not only helps in processing your own experiences but also inspires and educates others about the realities of recovery.

5. Build a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive environment is key to a successful recovery for veterans. This environment goes beyond just having people around; it's about being in a space where you feel understood, accepted, and motivated to continue your journey. Here's how veterans can build a supportive environment that benefits their recovery:

  • Find veteran-specific support: Engage with groups and treatment programs specifically designed for veterans. These organizations understand the unique challenges you face and provide tailored support.
  • Set boundaries: Establish healthy boundaries with individuals who may not understand or support your recovery journey. It's important to prioritize your well-being.
  • Community involvement: Get involved in community activities, volunteer work or hobbies that align with your interests. These can provide you with a sense of purpose and fulfillment and help you meet similarly minded individuals.

Get Help Today

Recovery is a deeply personal and challenging journey, but it's one that doesn't have to be walked alone. For veterans who have given so much, it's time to focus on your well-being and take steps toward a fulfilling, sober life. At NorthStar Transitions, we're committed to providing the support, resources and understanding that can make all the difference. If you or a veteran you know is struggling with addiction, we encourage you to reach out. Together, we can build a path to recovery that honors your service and your future. Call us today at 866-407-2240 or contact us to learn more about how we can help you succeed and thrive.

Search Blog Posts
Back to blog
Call 866-407-2240
Verify Insurance