I mentioned in an earlier blog that I was attending a retreat sponsored by Operation Homefront's newest group, Wounded Warrior Wives. The retreat, W.O.W. (Women of Warriors) was held in Tampa, FL and was from Friday til Monday. I was fortunate that I was chosen to go on this trip and actually had reservations about going. It wasn't the "free" trip to Florida because from past Army trips, often times they aren't worth the hassle of flying, getting reimbursed, and the agenda not pertaining to our situation or helping. The retreat was to Quantum Leap Farms which really turned me off because Lord knows, I am more city than country. Therapeutic horses I didn't really think worked, am completely terrified of them to begin with, and the first thing I thought of was I am going to get bit or I am going to be around a TON of horse crap! The newest reservation I had was going with strangers I didn't know save one, and that was Wife of a Wounded Soldier through blogs only. I don't normally shy away from large crowds, and can fit in with others...but the thought of being around women honestly scares me somewhat. I guess it's a female anxiety because most women friends I have encountered in my life are catty, hateful and back stabbing except for a select few. Worries about what my husband would do while I was away, my kids and dealing with my mother in law in the process, I really did go back and forth on making my final decision. I am surprised that I actually got on the plane......
I am so glad I did.
Arriving late to the group on Friday night in Tampa, FL...I was more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. I didn't know what to expect, let alone the leftover anxiety of my family and husband behind. Walking in, I was greeted by smiles by the most amazing women I have ever met. Immediately the bond was set and it was by general consensus that we were all married to the same man. Amongst this group, were not just the physically injured, but PTSD/TBI wives. I liked the fact the group was small as there were only eight of us and that we have all had a chance to speak online through Operation Homefront Online Cafe/Chat provided for us in the Wounded Warrior Wives forum. We spent several hours laughing, sharing stories, concerns and fears. I am a people watcher and listen, and I learned a lot about each and everyone of them. Looking back now, I think that if they hadn't said a single word about anything....the bond was still there. There was a mutual stress relief that went around the room and just simply blanketed us. Perhaps it was because we all knew what the other was going through and understood. Unspoken looks, unsaid words and the occasional nods confirmed this. It was like for the first time, I actually fit in somewhere.
The whole weekend which I will blog about in another, was based on just us. I liked that factor because it is usually focused on just the Veteran's. We all need resources and tools to cope with our Combat PTSD veterans, but selfishly, we are screaming "HEY WHAT ABOUT MEEEEE". The retreat focused on things we could not control, taking care of ourselves and forcing us to look deeply into what all we are surrounded in day in and day out. The use of horses, buckets of horse shit, hula hoops all believe it or not, left me with really a new perspective and walking away with a new purpose. Being the cynical me, I really didn't think this would be all that and I would at least get a couple of days away from my husband and the stress. If I didn't like the ladies, I could retire to the room early....mentally I had a back up plan for everything! I was surprised how easily everything just sorta flowed out of me, and from the others. Deepest secrets, fears for the future, and worries all seemed just to pour out of us.
The ladies in this small group, were literally amazing. Each with their own different personalities, strengths and courage. Several of them had smiles that would make even the rain clouds go away, one with honesty that was so refreshing and a personality that was just simply spunky. Another with such a softness about her, you really just wanted to hug her to feel that close to sweetness. One with a laugh that could light up a room, one with a patience of a saint and others with such courage to keep trucking, I had to step away and just say WOW. For the first time, I met a small group and there wasn't one single person I didn't like. I walked away with a new found strength drawn from each of them, many memories to keep me up and smiling, and a new found relationship with the strongest individuals I know. Perhaps they don't realize how much of an impression they made, or how much of themselves they don't notice, radiates from them...either way, they should know......because it sure made an impression on me.
The counselors, doctors and volunteers there at the Farm were amazing as well. All with a "been there done that-know exactly where you are coming from" experience which led them to help others. Carla, Jenny, Lisa, Dr. Edie Dopking (owner of Quantum Leap), and Dr. Bridget Cantrell (author of Down Range: To Iraq and Back/Once a Warrior:Wired for Life) made you feel like you were accepted....understood....acknowledged for the hardships we suffer and go through...and walked you through the pain with the outcome of not the proverbial promise of the silver lining in the clouds, but you make your own outcomes with positivity, boundaries and self awareness. I can't explain it, but they are truly amazing in their jobs that they do. It was like these ladies were picked by a higher power with the focus on just helping others. I have been around others who are in jobs such as these and I can tell you from experience, that some people chose the wrong profession. Their love of horses, helping others and working through their own losses and grief just absolutely shines through. If anything, I drew strength from them as well.
In another blog, I will post more about the things we learned and coping skills that were taught. I can tell you though that horses are indeed theraputic. I went on Saturday morning with butterflies in my stomach from fear, but walked away with love and admiration I can't even begin to describe. I don't know what it was, but it just seemed the horses really listened to you, understood you, and reacted to you. I was so excited that I had to call my husband and say "I LOOOOOVE HORSES-can we get one?" Hahaha! I felt so relaxed coming back on Saturday although hot and icky, I was exhausted. It was the first time in four years that I felt unstressed. I wasn't sure exactly what to do with myself and boy did I sleep! I realized for the first time as well that I was not only soooo physcially tired, but emotionally tired too. You don't realize how much you thrive and drive on stress, until it no longer is there.
I cried on the way home yesterday on the plane. Mostly from uncertainty that I could utilize the methods I learned, whether my home was completely destroyed while I was gone, and already missing the ladies from this group. I learned so much from each one of them that I felt somewhat charged and on a mission upon my return home but at the same time, I was unsure of myself. I didn't realize for four years exactly how alone I felt and was until I was around these ladies. I don't believe I have laughed as much as I did this weekend in the four years since my husband has been home. I will blog more about the tools and information I learned here because I know that it helped me. I came home me...and I did utilize what I learned when my PTSD beast picked me up at the airport. I dug in my heels and stood firm, and for the first time in a long time...I thought to myself "I can make it through this".
I know the words "Thank You" can be very easy to roll off the tongue and the recipient you are saying this to, not really understand the value or the depth of how much that means. I have to say my sincerest appreciation and love to the all the ladies who welcomed me with open arms, didn't judge me when I vented, listened with earnest, and made me feel like I belonged. Thank you for trusting me with your stories and heartaches. My sincere appreciation to Dr. Cantrell, Dr. Dopking and the counselors for their patience, understanding and non-biased opinions. You all do make a difference and hope that you realize to the full extent how much of an impact you leave on someone's lives.
To Operation Homefront's Wounded Warrior Wives group, thank you so much for allowing me this opportunity to go. To Wounded Warrior Wife, I know that I stopped you and said thank you...but when you left, I felt like there wasn't enough words to convey how much I appreciated your work and all you have done so far for this group. I was sinking, and this group and retreat literally saved me from drowning and for that....there will never be enough words to express my gratitude.
I will blog more about my experiences through this retreat throughout this week and all that I have learned......
A New Found Horse Lover,