Our title is Elder Warrior, our journey is “Healing Through Reckoning and Responsibility” and our purpose is to provide retreat experiences promoting the healing of PTSD and to provide education and training of a healing ethos and practice to concerned members of the community.
There is a way back home from military associated trauma. We provide a “Healing Journey” that is a guided process of reckoning and responsibility between Veterans, Active Duty Service Members and Civilians for the Healing of Moral and Ethical Injury Associated with Post Traumatic Soul Distress.
The path to healing is often a steep climb.
The journey of healing is not easy, but it is necessary. And the journey does heal.
We see healing of Post Traumatic Stress, Moral Injury, and Military Sexual Trauma as soul wounds. Yes, they are often connected and may have physical and mental aspects, but on the deepest level they are spiritual. Most of our warriors tell us, “I am not religious but I am spiritual.” Though many of us on the team are affiliated with one religious group or another, we feel that the process cannot be about our particular religions, but has to address the universal spiritual needs of our warriors and civilians. Thus, we use ritual and story. The ritual forms are adapted from ancient and current traditions–Buddhist, Native American, Aboriginal, Jewish, Muslim and Christian. The rituals we use do not promote any particular faith, because we are called to work with people from all traditions. The stories come from the participants and are only theirs to tell.
The journey of healing takes time. The sun clock in the photo to the left stands in one place, marking the changes of time around it. Sometimes it is in the dark and that too, is how the journey is.
The journey is set in beautiful places–places surrounded by nature, hiking and quiet. This gives us the peaceful privacy and safety to deal with difficult, painful memories, in a way that heals. We often hear from our vets, “I slept all night without nightmares for the first time since I came home.” One told us, “I slept all night for the first time in 40 years.” Others tell us, “I finally feel at home.” Still others tell us, “I am at home here with people who finally understand and respect my experience.”
We don’t guarantee healing; we provide and opportunity for it to happen. We don’t do therapy. We provide a journey of equals, veterans, warriors and civilians, listening without judgment, critique, analysis or diagnosis–with respect for the story and the storyteller. The warrior can actually share the story, and the civilian can finally, in the name of the nation, own responsibility for our warriors and what we have asked them to do for us, for our families and for our nation.
Good food is also essential to the journey. Menus are carefully and lovingly prepared and serve all the needs of vegans, vegetarians, meat eaters and those with various food allergies.
A daily menu is posted for the convenience of all.
The Healing Journey Works because:
There is no judging, no criticism, no diagnosis, no analysis and no treatment.
Great care is taken to provide an emotionally and physically safe space, e.g. there is no forced sharing and each night a vet is on “night watch” for those who might be struggling.
Over the four days there are large and small group experiences of ritual, verbal presentations and discussion.
There is time for quiet reflection in nature.
Through four days of guided interaction Vets and Active Duty.
Soldiers feel heard and accepted.
Civilians take rightful responsibility for the work of the military.
Vets feel they belong back home.
Active Duty Soldiers feel supported.
Civilians recognize vets as Elder Warriors who bring hard earned wisdom back to society.
They are finally home!
Elephant in the Room!
With the help of our veteran consultants we have developed an approach to the very powerful and delicate experience of “survivor guilt.” “Survivor guilt” is the elephant in the room for any veteran–after the Healing Journey this aspect of the wound is no longer a secret.
Tools for the Journey
Symbols speak to the soul and can powerfully transform. For our warriors, some symbols are extremely powerful. Some of our Vietnam vets used art and media for their healing. They were able to depict the horrors they experienced, the recurring nightmares and often buried feelings and were able to heal. Storytelling, poetry, writing and art work are all powerful tools. Ritual activities are a form of art that uses movement and action for healing.
A Personal Flag
The flag is an honored symbol of our nation and their are many rules regarding its care and handling. It also has become a symbol of free speech which can anger, irritate, educate, heal…all with great energy. Two of our warriors, one active duty and one veteran, gifted us on our second program with small flags for each of the participants. Our active duty soldier asked us to sign his flag. He then took it off its post and folded it appropriately in the triangular form we have often seen at military funerals. He then explained that he was going to be carrying that flag under his battle armor wherever he served as a sign of our being with him. It is now a formal part our our healing process.
Vietnam veterans healing art
During one of our rituals, warriors ponder the Vietnam veterans healing art work. Pain and suffering can only be healed by going through it to healing. You can’t do an end-run around it. One of our veterans shared with the civilians: “You can hear our stories and you can see the pictures, but you will never fully understand what it is like to have to been on a 40 hour mission and be attacked. You are exhausted and sleep deprived, hungry and thirsty, angry and even afraid, and still expected to do your duty. You do it for your ‘battle buddies’ and somehow even do it well. And still some die and are horrifically wounded and you suck it up and you go on.”
One on one sharing
One on one sharing between rituals is incredibly powerful. It continues the amazing healing that comes from the sharing of stories and experiences. Warriors do this easily with each other. After all, they get it and have experienced it. Veteran and warrior sharing with civilians is another story. When it can happen in safety and with trust, it moves the healing monumentally. When a civilian owns the moral responsibility, not only can our warriors heal, but our nation can heal.
The question we first asked when we received a request for active duty service members to come to this process, was whether this was safe for them. Did it take anything away from their necessary battle edge that would render them unsafe or take away from their finely honed battle skills? To our delight we found that evidence based research showed the exact opposite: the warriors experienced a lessening of the PTSD symptoms and a sense of connection with others at home, including civilians. This is extremely important.
Sebastian Junger, a noted embedded war correspondent and highly respected film maker has pointed out in his book, Tribe: on Homecoming and Belonging, that the returning warrior returns to a nation that does not know deep relationship. Warriors develop a powerfully deep relationship with each other in battle. They will often tell you that they did not fight for this cause or that, even for their nation, they fought for each other–their buddies who had their backs. Their is nothing in civilian life that matches it, not even their marriages and families. We as a nation need to learn to have each others backs, how to self-sacrifice for others how to work together in a common purpose, and how to effectively get things done. This is the experience our warriors bring back and yet we fail to empower that experience.