Category Archives: Stress Reduction

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Off the Mat: Team Red, White & Blue

We just love sharing the work that non-profits do in support of Veterans and the military community, even more so when the mission of the organization resonates with our mission here at War Retreat. Back in January I had the pleasure of attending the University of Michigan Student Veterans of America (SVA) Benefit Dinner, which served as a fundraiser for Team RWB. Prior to the dinner I had been interacting with the Athletic Director of my local Team RWB and I had fallen in love with their mission. team-rwb

If Team RWB is new to you, their mission is “to enrich the lives of America’s veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity”…how great is that?! Veterans AND physical activity, how perfect!

One of the best things about Team RWB is the size of the organization. MANY areas have a Team RWB chapter and they are continuing to grow, some chapters are even linked with VA Centers.

Each chapter hosts weekly meet ups providing members with a chance to get out and get active by hosting running groups (if running isn’t your thing, walking or cycling is an option!), fitness classes or just meetups out in the community, allowing Veterans the chance to meet with other Veterans! Team RWB also offers events outside of the weekly meetups, such as camps and training events. For folks looking to participate in races, many local chapters also offer a chance to sign up and participate with other members.

TeamRWBSlogansIf you haven’t looked into Team RWB please do so, the organization is a great group of folks and it is a great opportunity to try something new while meeting other Veterans.

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Moving Forward: OAF Nation

The other night, while struggling to fall asleep I came across the OAF Nation website. After browsing around for a little bit I came across a posting that I knew I had to share.

Everyone has “those days”. Where so many things have gone wrong that it can feel impossible to move forward. Where all you can focus on is the negative. This is usually the point where giving up seems like a great option. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been there. Sometimes things improve quickly, sometimes you need a good old kick in the ass (I mean that as lovingly as possible!). And sometimes, as a Veteran or service member, I’m sure that “kick in the ass” advice is better received when it comes from a fellow Veteran or service member. So this post it for you…anyone who feels “stuck” or is struggling with moving forward.

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“All my life I’ve been chasing something, I feel fate breathing down my neck. If the road I’m on somehow leads me nowhere, no retreats men, no regrets.”-The Parlor Mob

Over the last 12 years, I’ve been asked on multiple occasions for advice. From relationships to medicine, my friends and even complete strangers come to me seeking guidance.This astounds me in that, not even counting my extensive list of character flaws, I rarely feel like I’m one to give my two cents on much without being an incredibly massive hypocrite.

Upon concluding both of my enlistments, I was fortunate enough to be approached by my junior Marines as I ran out the door before it hit me in the ass. They were hungry for one more morsel of wit and wisdom from yours truly. They wanted to know, if I could tell them ONE THING that could help them in their careers, combat, or life in general, what would I tell them? My reply is and always has been, “Always put one foot in front of the other.”

If the above has you scratching your head, allow me to expatiate on this:

In all facets of life, be it work, relationships, or combat, there will be obstacles that stand between us and our goals. Life is full of those events that just seem to slow us down. Sometimes, they just trip us up a little. Other times, they level us. Yes, there’s even times when something comes along, knocks us down, and then proceeds to curb stomp our teeth in. Breakups, makeups, empty bank accounts, unemployment, health (or lack thereof), family, booze, pills, sex, bills, the list goes on and on. These are all part of the process recently. Blame who you want or what you want, fault is irrelevant. What IS imperative is that you put one foot in front of the other and carry on. As long as you are moving forward in your life, no matter at what pace, you are winning like Charlie Sheen on Tigers’ Blood.

Our time in the military has prepared us for these events, perhaps not directly, but nonetheless we are gifted with the mindset to persevere. There have definitely been times in my life when I certainly couldn’t see the finish line. I sat at my kitchen table dumping out and counting change from a jar to get groceries. This was a sad time in my life when I was barely scraping by. But, that’s where I decided that BARELY scraping by was better than NOT scraping by. Not because I accept mediocrity or the bare minimum in my life but, I was still working and going to school and thusly, still moving FORWARD.

That job you applied for didn’t call you back? Call them. You didn’t get the job? Apply for another. Tired of deployment? Does it all seem pointless and repetitive? Just focus on putting one foot in front the to the other. No matter how slow and awkward your steps, forward is always the correct direction. As long as you keep trying, you’re doing the right thing. You don’t have to get there today, you just have to get there eventually. 

I know this all sounds like trite, cliche motivational speak but, I believe this mental fortitude is lost on our society these days. We live in a “microwave culture” where everything has to be as fast and efficient as possible. People want gratification, and they want it yesterday, with as little effort as possible. This is an enticing notion, sure. But, it breeds weakness and laziness. When the going gets tough for most, the most go to bed and stay there. No matter how many T-shirts and bumper stickers they read, failure is the end for most. Giving up when things get difficult is acceptable to people these days. It’s not the time of our grandparents and great-grandparents, if something was broke or didn’t work, you laced up your boots and tried to find a way to fix it. The thing I try to portray to those around me is that failure is just an opportunity to ask “what’s next?” Failure to me, should be the chance to try something different.

The next time you’re obsessing about that bottle of pills or your ex-girlfriend, remember, that isn’t the way forward. Put one foot in front of the other and never give up.

Dedicated to Clay and E.B.

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My Body was Stuck in Fight or Flight

Kanani Fong:

Hypervigilance, anxiety, flight or fight. Trauma manifesting itself in both body & mind. The source of her relief? A service dog. Read one veteran’s journey to understanding PTSD and healing.

Originally posted on Jennifer S Norris:

Bear's Den on the Appalachian Trail, Virginia
Bear’s Den on the Appalachian Trail, Virginia

I used to wonder why it took so much energy just to exist in normal society. I just assumed that it was something I had to accept, another limitation of Post Traumatic Stress. I now understand the neuroscience behind what happens to our bodies when we get stuck in fight or flight. Everything makes more sense to me now because all of my issues were related to my body being frozen in time. I just didn’t know what was happening or what to do about it. Everything I tried felt like a temporary band-aid.

I have come a long way in the last year especially. After retiring, I went from the military’s warfighting mission to a new mission to end violence in the military. I stayed in that mission mode for three more years after retiring because that is what felt comfortable. I…

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Data Collection in Yoga Studios: The abolishment of the anonymous yogi

10ea831Yoga studios are asking students to provide an increasing amount of personal information. Name, address, telephone, email, along with a release of liability is pretty standard.  But they also want you to log in with Facebook, which gives their program access to all your friends, as well as date of birth, and provide the name of an emergency contact (whatever happened to 911?).  All of this may be to cover their ass for legal reasons, but there’s the undeniable truth that they’re also compiling data. Data to email you things that you don’t want. But you wonder if it’s a matter of time before they start asking about ethnic makeup, marital status, income, education, medical questions, and whether  you have a dog or cat. All of this data compiling can be used for a myriad of things –none of them relating to your consent.

Recently, I went to a hot, stuffy, dark yoga studio, and the woman thrust an iPad in front of me to register. There wasn’t an “option” -let alone any indication she would be willing to do the data entry herself. I can just imagine her thinking, “All I do is click this mouse”.  Mind you, I work daily on an iPad. Still, asking the public to perform a quick registration on one is short sighted. It’s a clumsy, awful process –I’d never ask anyone to register with anything less than a keypad. But as I did, the program kept rejecting me –passwords didn’t match, a missed field, a button that didn’t work.  Typeface and fields –all too small, which had to be adjusted continuously. Oh, yes, and did should I mention again that she hadn’t turned on the fucking lights? What is this –they hadn’t paid the electric bill? She chastised me:  you should come in earlier!  Well, I had –if I had been allowed to simply pay a fee, sign a waiver, and go take a class.

What irked me was this:  A lack of choices. You HAD to use the iPad, you HAD to provide all the information, you HAD to create an account. And then I realized that if one of our wounded warriors had come in, how the yoga-clerk would have sat idly by, watching him or her fumble, get frustrated –all before going to class. God forbid, one of my veteran friends with limited vision, or anxiety issues should go in. Yeah, disaster time. The yoga-clerk wouldn’t have had either the insight or inclination to say, “Look, go take the class. We can sort through this later.”  Like an info-automaton, she just kept insisting that we go through this process. Rejection after rejection, plus her chastising. Honestly, SHE wasn’t worth it.

So I did the sensible thing. I went back, rolled my mat (which the teacher had nicely put down for me –I hope she finds a better studio, maybe one with lights), and told her that I had to leave because their computer wouldn’t let me login.  The girl looked on dumbly, only offering,  “The computer is saying….”  Which pretty much says that she wasn’t thinking, and was without a clue that even she had choices on how to handle the registration process. (I’m reminded by many yoga teachers who say that yoga is all about choices. It should be that with the business side of things too).

So here’s the deal:  if you’re going to open a yoga studio, you have to give people CHOICES.  You cannot assume everyone is going to want to give you personal data, because we can’t be sure how secure your firewall is, nor can we be sure that at some point you won’t be hacked, and that our data will either sold or shared by you, used to support some bogus study,  or stolen by sheer thievery. And the other truth is this:  maybe we’re not there for your friendship. Maybe we just want to be an anonymous yogi.

And if you’re going to work with a veteran, you’d damned well better give them a choice because they fought for that right.

Offer your students the choice to create an account. Or simply give them a piece of paper, collect basic data, and enter it yourself. And still –some people might not even want to give you their name, let alone their email. Are you going to turn them away?  Or will you let them sign a release of liability, and send them onto their way into the yoga studio?

 

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Expedition Balance: Veterans Helping Veterans. Apply Now

Expedition 5.14

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May, 2014

Near Houston, Veterans Helping Veterans at Camp For All

The Expedition: Expedition 5.14 is an opportunity for military Veterans to attend a fully-funded wellness retreat, created to offer an environment of outdoor fun, camaraderie, and healing. It is open to military Veterans of any era, male or female, living anywhere in the US. This Expedition will serve both Veterans who are managing physical challenges as well as trauma-related ones (PTSD, TBI). We have 12 openings available for this life-changing experience, paid for by our donors. Veterans selected for this event pay nothing in cash, though they will commit to perform a service project in their community after the event. Our program includes; yoga, meditation, workshops, and outdoor activities provided by Camp for All .

To apply go here:  Expedition Balance

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Hellertown, PA: Veteran says “I’m a Marine and I’m not doing yoga”

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USMC Veteran Liz Thompson shared that statement in her story with The Express-Times, where she described her struggle the transition home after a 9-month deployment to Iraq in 2005. Liz eventually found her way to yoga after it was suggested to her by a friend and she has since become an instructor herself and teaches a class for Veterans at the American Legion Post 397 in Hellertown, PA.

Check out the rest of Liz’s story in The Express-Times!

 

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A Big Thank You

Screen Shot 2014-03-22 at 4.08.47 AMTo everyone who gave to our fundraiser on Causes.Com to help send military kids to camp through the National Military Family Association.  We raised $500, for Operation Purple Camp, which sends military kids to summer camp for a week, for free. . Special thanks to my cohorts in crowdfunding, Deb Ings and Matt Murray.

RIght now, families can apply for NMFA’s Operation Purple Family Retreats. These are for the whole family.  From their website:

“Coming back together after a deployment can be difficult. Operation Purple Family Retreats provide military families with the opportunity to reconnect as a family. We are using our popular ‘camp’ approach and bringing families to beautiful outdoor locations in order to provide fun family oriented activities, new memory making, and the ability to spend quality time together. Specially adapted communication activities developed by FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress ™) ensure families return OPFR-Thumbnail-Jan-2013-copyhome stronger. Families are able to connect in a “purple” environment that brings families from all ranks and services including National Guard and Reserve components together as a community. We are climbing, hiking, canoeing, bonding, eating s’mores, and more!”

Click here to find out more about Operation Purple Family Retreats and apply!  

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No Way To Treat A Blue Star Family

Years ago.  It was a hot summer day, and I ran outside to bring the trash cans in.  I didn’t have any shoes on, because I thought it’d be quick. But I was wrong.  As though watching for me, a neighbor approached and asked about the war. She, like others, knew my husband was in Afghanistan.  It was a difficult time for us, and the thought of danger was always with us.
But her goal wasn’t a conversation. Rather, her plan was to score an ideological point. Every question she asked, underscored her opinion of the fruitlessness of it all.
 
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My husband in Herat, Afg.

For those of us with loved ones in the game –war is crap. If you ever want to feel like shit, try dropping your loved off to be deployed.  Every time we hear the word “deployment,” we fold a little, but we spring back because we have to. Sure, we’re scared, but we only show it when we’re alone. What helps us through is the closeness of others who have been through the same thing. I know that I can always look to a veteran or their spouse, regardless of their generation, and find support. This is a wonderful thing.

As for her insistence that it was hopeless, fruitless, foolish, or pointless –we don’t think in those terms. This doesn’t make us shortsighted,  rather, we see something deeper.  A service member’s commitment to serve is one that makes their lives, and all those who they touch, a bit more meaningful.
I felt attacked.  A simple act of bringing the trash in resulted in someone fruitlessly trying to trash us, as I stood on the asphalt with bare feet. At the end of her rant, I told her to read the twelve books on Afghanistan that were sitting on my kitchen table. Perhaps under another circumstance, I could have spoken to her about what I think. But someone who takes a low shot at a barefooted person just trying to bring in the trash cans can’t be reasoned with.
Today, it’s been announced that the 173rd Airborne Combat Brigade Team is sending 600 paratroopers to Poland and 3 Baltic Countries. I hope everyone remembers this about Blue Star Families:

paratrooper-picturesLife does not stand still for families and local communities when our brave men and women are deployed, but we can make their time apart more bearable by recognizing their sacrifice and fulfilling our commitments to them.  -Mark Pryor

 

 

 
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Fundraiser: Send Military Kids To Summer Camp

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A few friends and myself, are having an online fundraiser for Operation Purple Camp.  OPC, a program of the National Military Family Association sends military kids to camp, for one week, free of charge in the summer. We hit the $500 mark, and we’d like to get $200 more.

What’s being left out of so many campaigns for veterans, are services for military kids. In one study in California, 70% of high school students who had a deployed parent were doing fine. But 30% were not. And 1 in 4 kids thought of suicide. Secondary PTSD is a very real thing, and we must not forget: kids serve too.  Operation Purple Camp gives all kids who have experienced a deployment to come together, and have a great time, with the secure knowledge that others like them have been through some of the same things.

A week of summer camp is the minimal payback we can give. It’s payback for the number of moves they’ve had to make, for doing their best in school when they know Mom or Dad is in danger. It’s what we owe them for taking care of a parent –who might not be the same person they once knew. And it’s our debt to a whole generation of kids for whom war is a personal event.  One week of laughing, hiking, running, singing, and being with others who’ve had the same experience is the least we can do.

$2, $5, $10.  Whatever you can afford. Please donate by going to our fundraiser: Send Military Kids To Summer Camp.  All donations are tax deductible. NMFA is a 501(c)(3).

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One thought about Fred Phelps

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StoreThe first time I saw Fred Phelps and the Westboro Church was at the end of the Rose Parade. Bringing up the rear, right behind Santa were the sign toters telling us we were all going to hell.  Year after year, he and his crew would show up, bringing their particular brand of fear-inducing Christianity to the parade that was otherwise scented with flowers. He knew no boundaries: part firebrand and peacock, he picketed the funeral of Mr. Rogers, as well as service members who died in combat (he had a particular hatred for those in the military).

Last week was Fred’s turn to offer himself to the Lord. What happens there is between him and God. I’ll leave it at that. But here on earth, Fred  will be remembered by how much he hated. That’s a pretty lousy legacy to leave, and fools are those who decide to maintain it.

His vitriol to the men and women who served our country, his mockery of their deaths,  managed to galvanize parents, sons, daughters, veterans, friends, and total strangers to come together as a community. We witnessed an outpouring of love for families of the fallen, much of this led by the Patriot Guard Riders in towns across America.

We had a chance to show Fred and his ilk that love is stronger and more unifying than hate.

That, my friends, is powerful stuff. Simply put: it’s victory.