“Coming Home Alone” 

By Dr. Robert R. Rail 

*This is an article from the Fall 2023 issue of Combat Stress

They feel alone as they return home from serving in the war zone, to where that “other person” they used to be, once lived. They are asked, “is everything all right,” and “thank you for your service,” or “great being back huh.” But they feel like the words are being asked of some other person that’s lost deep inside of them. Their families don’t understand their constant excessive apprehension for their safety and overly protective, guarding nature. They want to tell their family members so much of all the things that are on their mind, but they know friends and family cannot understand where they have never been and the world they have just come from.

They think now and then about those who will not be coming home and those who have been so badly scared. After a deep sigh of relief that they returned home safely, there are still the unrelenting thoughts of the loss that others have suffered and it feels like it is all part of them. Time does exist for them, but very differently. It is measured by counting their sleeping and waking moments, and the numbness in between that is frustratingly difficult to remember or even care about. It is a welcome escape to seek out a dark room of seclusion and isolation, or a vacant open field, or talk to an old pet or a too familiar weapon. They cared for the weapon and the weapon cared for them. As time goes on it becomes less a weapon that others see it to be and more the one friend that will never let them down. It is that something, somewhere, or someone to listen to them, that will understand them during one of their overwhelming moods that explodes out of nowhere from the most insignificant of things said, seen, or done. They can wash away any and all moods or feelings of frustration, anger, and confusion, with an instant of destructiveness, wildness, or a last option. 

They search for anything they can do or consume to provide them with that past adrenaline rush, and the welcome relief it brings masking the hollow pain of emptiness they feel. All that happened while they were in the war zone was worked out. No matter what it was, it was just handled in some way, and it was done, finished, because they were not alone. Here, they are alone in a crowd. Here, they cannot even hear the music others hear. Here, the humor that others understand, they don’t care about. Here, what others touch they cannot feel. Here, the affection that others show, they reject. They know that something is gone that was once part of them, but now they can only touch the emptiness and loss that has taken the place of what was back there. Here, at their own home, they sense they do not belong. 

There are two paths they see ahead of them as they return. A path that has been born of conflict that is ever narrowing that leads them to only a quick resolution. Or a path of understanding that widens with time. The sooner they realize they are not alone and that their actions and feelings are not unique to only them, the sooner they will realize “they belong home.” 

Only seeing through their eyes, will allow us to understand what they see… 

Robert Rail, “Surviving the International War Zone” 




Dr. Robert R. Rail, a retired American Police Officer, and University Instructor, is recognized internationally as one of the foremost experts on terrorism recognition. As a war zone trainer to the International Police Task Force IPTF in Bosnia, Kosovo, and the DOJ in Iraq, Dr. Rail was responsible for designing curriculum and instructing elite police officers from 63 nations who have been deployed to various war zones of the world. He was also named as a physical confrontation advisor and resource training provider to select personnel of NATO and OSCE. Dr. Rail was a resident instructor at the Specialized Advanced Training Unit, of the High Institute, of the Baghdad Police College in Iraq. 

Combat Stress Magazine

Combat Stress magazine is written with our military Service Members, Veterans, first responders, and their families in mind. We want all of our members and guests to find contentment in their lives by learning about stress management and finding what works best for each of them. Stress is unavoidable and comes in many shapes and sizes. It can even be considered a part of who we are. Being in a state of peaceful happiness may seem like a lofty goal but harnessing your stress in a positive way makes it obtainable. Serving in the military or being a police officer, firefighter or paramedic brings unique challenges and some extraordinarily bad days. The American Institute of Stress is dedicated to helping you, our Heroes and their families, cope with and heal your mind and body from the stress associated with your careers and sacrifices.

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