The women who attended are part of the Wounded Warrior Wives online forums. We had connected and supported each other online for a long time, and to meet in person just strengthened that support system. It is hard for me to relay what happened on this retreat; it was really life-changing for all of us.
We arrived at the farm on Saturday morning, and we talked about TBI. Dr. Edie Dopking, who was the founder of Quantum Leap, spoke to us about the varying levels and symptoms of TBI. I was interested to see the different areas of the brain and what happened when these areas were damaged. It really clarified a lot about Bryan’s brain injury. Then Dr. Bridget Cantrell, who wrote “Down Range: To Iraq and Back” and “Once a Warrior: Wired for Life” spoke to us about PTSD. She had an extensive history working with veterans and has her own practice in Washington.
We shared our stories. It was hard for me to tell my story to the group even though I had time and time again. I was feeling very emotional after hearing the other stories; my heart was shattering for my fellow caregivers. When Karie spoke after me, I broke out in to the full-blown ugly cry. I felt my best friend hurting.
Later in the afternoon we created an obstacle course that was labeled with challenges in our lives. We listed PTSD, service member, VA and red tape.
We were then instructed to go to the muck pile and fill out buckets to the appropriate level of crap (we used the other four-letter word) that we carry around with us. All of our buckets ran over. We labeled our buckets with the words that coinciede with what is in our bucket. We paired up with a horse and lead our horse through the obstacle course while we carried our bucket. The last horse through the course refused to go through the VA obstacle. He wouldn’t budge. We all tried to lead him through with no avail. Finally we lead him around the VA.
In the end we carried our buckets or carried our partner’s bucket. We never dumped it even though we could have. It was so reflective of how our lives are.
Sunday we talked more in the group about different resources and tools that we can use to cope with our wounded warriors. We created “our world” inside a boxed off section of the arena. We used random objects to create this world. We placed 3 buckets that represented our resources inside our world. We painted 3 horses with words that represented threats to our world. We had “red tape,” “ourselves” and "negativity.” The horses were released into the arena, and we had to keep them out. “Negativity” and “ourselves” were the most persistent. “Red tape” hung back but would pop up out of the blue as it usually does. Finally “negativity” backed off and “ourselves” intruded.
For the final exercise, we each stepped into hula hoops laid out in a circle. We were reminded that we need to only carry around what is inside our hoops. We can’t carry around our husbands’ baggage, there are things out of our control like the VA and we don’t have to carry the burdens of anyone else. We had to concentrate on ourselves and not let negativity run amok.
It was an amazing experience; one I’ll never forget. I hope that each of us remembers to let go of the guilt, stress and things out of our control. We do have a support system and the tools to make our marriages work despite physical or mental injuries.