A Game Changer: Rivers of Recovery

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Rivers of Recovery offers fishing trips in communities across the country. Guided by veterans, or supporters, the fishing trips make a huge impact on the lives of everyone who participates. Regardless of physical or emotional challenges, Rivers of Recovery accommodates everyone.  A community builds as the hours, days, and weekends go by. Men and women talk about their lives, the find others who understand and profound changes take place. From there, the healing begins, the understanding that there is a tomorrow and they are not alone. Edgar Duffey, in the video below, calls it a game changer in the world of therapy. Movement, Breath, and Community.

“You see your boys in front of you getting engaged. All you could is sit there and watch while your boys get messed up. I have never been so utterly scared in my entire life ever.” -SGT Edgar Duffey, US Army Veteran, speaking for Rivers of Recovery

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Counselor Writes: Many Veterans Recover From PTSD

ImageA note written by Michael Stoltz, executive director of the nonprofit groups Mental Health Association in Suffolk and the Suffolk County United Veterans, pushes back at the incorrect assumption that no one learns to cope and live with PTSD.  He writes in Newsday:

     “There have been far too many losses of our soldiers by suicide and other causes — even one is too many. But there are also veterans and nonveterans who have courageously found paths of recovery to happy and full lives despite PTSD and traumatic brain injury.

     Make no mistake, this journey contains many challenges, and there is no single solution. However, both the federal Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration and the Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD note dozens of evidence-based practices and “promising practices” that have helped.”  To read more, go to Newsday.

“What’s Love?” U.S. Army Veteran Eric Walrabenstein Responds

For Valentine’s Day, we asked movers and shakers in veterans’ service organizations: What’s LOVE?

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“Love is, at its essence, a kind of capacity…

to be present for others.

to allow for our differences.

to endure difficulty.

to go beyond our self interest.

Love is the capacity to do all of this with an effortless grace that allows us fully and spontaneously embrace all that is.” -Eric Walrabenstein, Veteran, U.S. Army, Bootstrap Stress Management System

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Eric Walrabenstein, U.S. Army Veteran

Eric Walrabenstein is a nationally-recognized expert in the fields of yoga and mind/body health and the founder of Yoga Pura, one of Arizona’s largest yoga centers. As a former infantry officer in the U.S. Army, he knows first-hand of the sacrifice and dedication the members of our armed forces make every day. 
 
His wide-ranging experience in the military and civilian sectors, combine with his profound understanding of yoga technology and mind/body health to make him uniquely equipped to help our troops and veterans end their struggle with chronic military-related stress conditions. 
 
In addition to his work with BOOTSTRAP and teaching at his Arizona center, he regularly travels the nation training yoga, meditation, and mind-body health teachers from around the world. 

Developed by veterans for veterans. Get your free kit!

THE BOOTSTRAP KIT:  Developed by veterans for veterans. CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR FREE KIT!

 

Study Links Traumatic Brain Injury to PTSD

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From Stars and Stripes:

“Traumatic brain injuries during deployments appear to increase the risk of troops experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder after returning home, according to Department of Veterans Affairs-sponsored research published Wednesday.

In some cases, a servicemembers’ chance of acquiring PTSD was doubled by serious head or brain injuries suffered while deployed, the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry found.

The findings add to a growing body of research on the long-term psychological and physical consequences of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where improvised explosive devices have often been the enemy’s weapon of choice, and head trauma — as well as psychological struggles afterdeployment — has proliferated. Past studies have shown the symptoms of TBI and PTSD overlap, and the research by the VA-funded Marine Resiliency Study made public this week adds evidence of a causal connection.”

To read more, go to Stars and Stripes

WarRetreat’s “Great Big Book of Everything” Giving Edition

Are you looking for a fantastic way to thank a Veteran, but don’t really know how?  Many people stop at saying they “Thanked a Vet.”  However, here at WarRetreat…we work with and have relationships with several non-profit organizations that support veterans with anything from yoga and meditation to adaptive sports…and just about everything in between.  Getting veterans to move is a key component to their general health.  Here are a few of our favorite non-profits you might want to consider “giving” to.

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The GiveBack Yoga Foundation has a simple goal…To bring our Yoga For Veterans Toolkits, developed by expert teachers with years of experience in working with soldiers with post-traumatic stress, to at least 10,000 veterans across the country. To help make that happen, they are currently hosting a crowdfunding campaign to bring yoga toolkits to 2,000 veterans by the end of the year? If you haven’t, we hope you’ll check it out – when you donate $10 or more through December 31st, we’ll send you a gift of thanks! 

Major-Missy-MeditationChoose from goodies like download links for guided meditations, inspirational books about the power of yoga, or a one-on-one session with Mindful Yoga Therapy founder Suzanne Manafort. Or join Give Back Yoga’s trauma-sensitive teacher training at Sedona Yoga Festival in February, while helping us to fund yoga toolkits for over 60 vets and service members. Some of our “thank you” gifts are limited, so act now. With your help, we can share the healing practice of yoga and mindfulness with veterans who are recovering from trauma. 

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Outward Bound Veterans just published their 2014 course schedule for veterans and have over 600 slots for veterans and active duty soldiers on courses all over the country. They help returning service members and recent veterans readjust to life at home through powerful wilderness courses that draw on the healing benefit of teamwork and challenge through use of the natural world. In the military many veterans experienced courage, and camaraderie  while deployed. Outward Bound gives veterans and service members the opportunity to re-experience these strengths in themselves in a different context, thus helping them to transition back to civilian life. All courses are fully-funded including travel to and from the course of their choice.
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Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation (WWIA) provides world class outdoor adventures to assist with the mental and spiritual healing of Combat Wounded Purple Hear Recipients.  WWIA takes small groups of heroes out for  long weekends as a way to help them re-integrate back into a community,  increase their self-reliance and self-confidence, form peer to peer relationships and enjoy the wonderful aspects of the great outdoors -all in concert with a cadre of expert sportsmen who share the same values and ethos of the Heroes they support.
Right now, Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation is participating in the “CrowdRise Holiday Challenge” starting RIGHT NOW! It is a fundraising contest where WWIA keeps all the money raised, but also gets to compete with other participants for the possibility of winning even more money and exposure through contests held within the challenge. How can you help?

Click HERE to donate!   Be sure to make a comment under “donor comments” and share with others about why you love WWIA.

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Help Our Wounded (HOW) is here to serve as a mentor, support system and knowledgeable resource to caregivers and wounded veterans.  HOW provides accurate and actionable information and guidance based on the collective experience of those who have already worked within the system for many years and know where to go, what to do, who to ask and HOW to ask.
Founded by Rosie Babin in 2009, Help Our Wounded’s mission is to help severely wounded service members, and those who care for them, by providing direct aid, resources and support – unique to their needs.  While there are many resources for caregivers, the needs of those caring for the wounded veterans are unique and more complex. HOW has helped me out (Chris E.) three times.  Rosie has always been very kind and generous.  She is an ANGEL.
YOU can help them out many different ways.
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Mindful Yoga Therapy has a multi-pronged approach to helping Veterans.  First, they provide clinically tested programs for Veterans in several in-resident Veteran Affairs programs.  Secondly, they have resources available to Veterans…specifically their “new and improved” practice guide. This guide is a collection of simple but effective yoga practices developed by the authors through practical and clinical experience working with veterans coping with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other psycho-emotional stress. MYT also provides training to yoga instructors to prepare them with the tools they need to work with Veterans with PTSD.  Lastly, they provide scholarships to Veterans who are interested in becoming Yoga instructors.
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Save A Warrior uses safe, innovative and evidenced-based resiliency programs, we offer an alternative to suicide so that returning veterans may thrive. Save A Warrior™ embraces our returning veterans in a healthy and nurturing environment that stimulates growth beyond any program available.

We can only help with your support; and we thank you for partnering in fellowship to bring returning veterans all the way home.

Through your generous donations, we team with evidence-based and innovative resiliency-training service professionals, clinicians and licensed practitioners who provide the following:

  • The Warrior Meditation Project™ shown to heighten cognitive function and promote a “threshold” experience
  • Art of mindful living activities to target core issues of post-traumatic stress
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  • Equine Assisted Therapy and Wild Horse gentling
  • Self-motivation strategies to inspire and create a “life worth living”
  • Leadership, Behavioral-typing and Team Building Rope(s) Course
  • Continued engagement and mentoring through community-based programs and veterans outreach
Every returning veteran who completes our training has the fighting chance against becoming another suicide tragedy. But we need your help to keep returning veterans on the road to recovery… make your pledge today to Save A Warrior™ .
ParadoxSports-vectorFinalParadox Sports offers veteran-specific mountaineering trips. This past year, we did Mt. Rainer, the Grand Teton and Yosemite National Park. In 2014, we plan to expand to five events. Our first 

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veteran climb was Wyoming’s Grand Teton on Sept. 11, 2012. This was spearheaded by Executive Director Timmy O’Neill and Exum Mountain Guide Mike Kirby, an experienced Special Ops Army Ranger who served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. After leaving the military in 2011, Kirby was involved in an avalanche which caused the eventual amputation of part of his frostbitten right foot. Since then, he has guided dozens of wounded veterans up mountains across the US. Most recently, Kirby joined two other injured veterans to successfully make the first all-veteran adaptive ascent of El Capitan with Paradox Sports on Sept. 11, 2013.
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Yoga Across America’s initiative, “Yoga for American Soldiers,” is saving lives and healing the wounds our soldiers are returning home with from war. YAA is sharing yoga, meditation and breathing exercises to active duty soldiers and veterans. We are reaching out to all branches of the military, teaching yoga to hundreds of troops.
“Yoga gave me faith that my body has more power than I believed it had.It gives me freedom to believe in myself,” states Tim Taylor, Army Specialist and Wounded Warrior, Afghanistan.
Soldiers are experiencing healing, inspiration and possibility through practicing yoga with YAA. They tell us they enjoy the practice and would like more yoga in their lives.
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BOOTSTRAP is a ten-week home-based program to help service members and veterans heal from post-traumatic stress and other chronic stress conditions. Combining the best of modern science with the ancient wisdom of yoga, BOOTSTRAP has been proven effective in less than an hour a day of use. Best of all, BOOTSTRAP is free of charge to troops and veterans in need. Learn more atwww.bootstrapUSA.com.
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MalaforVets is Chris Eder’s (WarRetreat Staff Member) Seva Project to raise money for Veteran Yoga projects like: Mindful Yoga Therapy for Vets, Save A Warrior Project, and the Give Back Yoga Foundation.  Chris is a certified Vinyasa and Hatha Interdisciplinary yoga instructor.  He is the Marketing Director for Mindful Yoga Therapy for Vets, a VYP Ambassador, Sivana Ambassador, and is currently working on his 500RYT.  He also has PTSD and A.D.D.
All November long MalaforVets is running a fundraiser suggesting you give back to Veterans wh

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o have already given so much to you.  They will donate $5 per Warrior Mala bead sold to Mindful Yoga Therapy. PLUS…all of the Warrior Malas sold will go to a Veteran currently in one of MYT’s yoga programs.  BUT WAIT…it gets better.  For every Warrior mala you buy…your name will be put into a drawing to win a Support Precedes Action Mala bead.

My Insane Life as a Marine Wife

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“Before PTSD took control of our lives, my husband used to make me laugh all the time with the hilarious random things he would say and do. He was a very fun and playful Dad to our 3 children and I used to love to watch him play with them.” – Rebecca M.

My Insane Life as a Marine Wife: A Conversation with the Founder of an Online Support Network

What would you do if the man you loved, the man you wanted to grow old with, the man who made you laugh, who made you smile, who made you feel special…changed?  By change I mean, “very empty, angry, depressed, explosive, and rather unpredictable.”  The man you knew like the back of your hand…now a shell of his former self.  What if…you add three young kids to this equation: 7, 5, and 3 1/2.  Not old enough to emotionally understand why “Daddy is sick!”  Too young to digest the daily and nightly chaos.  You and you alone left to mend their emotional wounds, while trying to maintain a healthy and stable environment for them. What would you do?

Too often in the military families…the answer is GET THE HELL OUT!  I’m not here to debate what is right or wrong in situations like this…as I’m not a licensed marriage counselor.  My name is Chris E. and I’m a 23 year Air Force veteran.  I’ve witnessed families like this and have mentored warriors in these situations. I’m also aware there are environments where safety is a concern.  In those cases…yeah…run don’t walk.  However, I do know first hand that leaving is sometimes the “easier” thing to do.

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Military families are “STRONG” by nature, design, and necessity.  I firmly believe having been retired now for four months and staying home with my wife…that her job is way more tough than mine ever was.  I would suggest, Rebecca’s job is tougher times infinity!

“Roughly a year after he returned from his deployment to Afghanistan is when my husband’s PTSD started to become a major problem.  He returned home in February 2011 and in February 2012, things began to go downhill very quickly.  It’s been a major uphill climb from there trying to pick up the broken pieces and do our best to stay together as a couple and as a family.”

Multiple deployments, long hours…and kids…let alone three kids under 10 can take its toll on anyone. Add to this, a special needs child.  Her youngest has Sensory Processing Disorder and high-functioning Autism.  Rebecca truly has the “warrior ethos” instilled.  Maybe because she married a Marine, or maybe because that’s just who she is.  She did not run.  Instead, she has hunkered down.  Drawing experience from each “battle” she faced to develop new or updated TTPs.  Her husband, a Marine Staff Sergeant has been through what I call the PTSD gauntlet.  He’s done an intensive six-week outpatient PTSD therapy, group therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, and medications.  He is currently on a high dose of an anti-depressant and a mood stabilizer.  Often times, finding the right meds, combo of meds, and dosage can be deadly. It is no walk in the park subjecting your body to these powerful “Black Box” meds.  “Finding the right dosage was difficult, I do believe the medication has really helped my husband better control some of his symptoms.  The therapy has also been a major necessity in helping him work through some of his inner demons.  My husband still has a long way to go, but has also come a long way from the person he was at the beginning of this.”

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“My husband very rarely discusses any information about his PTSD. I do wish that he would because communication is the key to understanding. I do know and understand though that my husband never intentionally wants to cause me any emotional pain or anguish.”

Rebecca took to the internet learning all she could about PTSD.  She educated herself and sharpened her “battlefield skills.”  She began journaling.  “In the beginning of my struggles with my husband’s PTSD, a neighbor suggested I use a journal to help me “get things out”.  I used it daily to help vent about the things I was going through or to say the things I needed to say to my husband but couldn’t.”   With the help of her husband’s PTSD Therapist and PTSD Psychologist (who happened to be husband and wife) Rebecca began the first PTSD Spouse Support Group for the Wounded Warrior Battalion and associated mental health at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, CA.   Still wanting to do more…she started a Facebook page called, My Insane Life as a Marine Wife.

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“I started My Insane Life as a Marine Wife because I wanted to reach out to other spouses of Veterans with PTSD.  When my husband’s PTSD initially took over and wreaked havoc on our lives, I felt very alone and isolated.  There was no one I could talk to who understood what I was going through.  I searched for support groups for spouses of Veterans with PTSD, but there just weren’t any in my area.”  She says that the page has helped her immensely by having others to talk to who actually understand what she is going through.  Collectively, these spouses take comfort in knowing that they are not alone in battling this beast known as PTSD.

Rebecca is no miracle worker…and she doesn’t “go it alone!”  (Neither should you)  She has a strong support group of family members, fellow spouses and loyal friends who have been by her side unconditionally.  She says their love and support have helped her through the darkest of hours.  Now, with the help of social media, she wants to be that “loyal friend” for others.   “I’m just really hoping that others will be able to take comfort in knowing that they are not alone while battling their loved one’s PTSD.  I want them to have a place to go to vent, ask questions or get advice from other spouses, to get resources and information on PTSD, and provide a place for spouses where others truly understand what they are going through. ”   The facebook page has only been live for a short while and Rebecca has shared some intimate details of this not so glamourous life.  She plans on sharing everything she can (within reason of course) in hopes it will help another spouse.

CLICK HERE for additional resources.

Study: Mental Health Gains for Veterans Assisted By Nature

6a00d83451b96069e2019aff6e8063970c-800wiPress Release:

Sierra Club, University of Michigan Study of Veterans finds link between outdoor activities and improved mental health

Thursday, July 25, 2013
Contact:
Rebecca Silver, 646-461-9831, Rebecca.Silver@Sierraclub.org

SAN FRANCISCO – According to the results of a new study from the University of Michigan, commissioned by the Sierra Club, veterans participating in outdoor group recreation reported improvements in psychological well-being, social functioning and life outlook, suggesting a link between nature exposure and enhanced well-being.

Participants were surveyed before and after a multi-day wilderness recreation experience in groups of six to 12 participants. The excursions emphasized a variety of outdoor activities, from fly fishing and backpacking to kayaking, whitewater rafting and paddling, and generally did not include formal, structured psychological counseling or therapy.

The results suggest many positive impacts for veterans engaging in outdoor activities, including:

  • Participation in an extended group outdoor recreation experience may be associated with numerous benefits; compared to pre-outing levels, participants reported improvements in psychological well-being, social functioning and life outlook.
  • Participants also reported being more likely to engage in other activities that involved exploration and helping others.
  • Findings also suggest that veterans with serious health problems can benefit from group outdoor recreation experiences.

Researchers hypothesize that the benefits of outdoor experiences may be attributable to the fact that participants are involved in physical challenges, camaraderie, and achievement of an objective – all of which correlate with military experience and training.

“The Sierra Club knows anecdotally the mental, emotional and physical benefits that come from spending time in nature, particularly for returning service members for whom the outdoors can be integral to their reintegration,” said Stacy Bare, Sierra Club Mission Outdoors Director. “The results of the University of Michigan’s study reinforce these beliefs and support our efforts to make these types of experiences available to more people.”

“The findings suggest that extended group-based nature recreation can have significant positive impacts on veterans struggling with serious health problems,” said Jason Duvall, a research scientist at the U-M School of Natural Resources & Environment, and one of the study’s lead authors. “Although more research is needed and many questions remain, the use of extended group-based outdoor recreation programs to ease veterans’ transition back into civilian life seems to be a promising approach.”

Veterans were surveyed one week before, one week after, and about one month after participating. In addition to assessing demographic and background information, the survey measured changes in psychological well being, social functioning, life outlook, and activity engagement over time.

To view the complete report, please visit http://www.sierraclub.org/military/downloads/Michigan-Final-Research-Report.pdf.

For more information about the Sierra Club’s programs for military veterans and families, please visitwww.sierraclub.org/missionoutdoors.

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About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation. For more information, visit http://www.sierraclub.org.

About the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment:
The School of Natural Resources and Environment’s overarching objective is to contribute to the protection of the Earth’s resources and the achievement of a sustainable society. Through research, teaching, and outreach, faculty, staff and students are devoted to generating knowledge and developing policies, techniques and skills to help practitioners manage and conserve natural and environmental resources to meet the full range of human needs on a sustainable basis.http://www.snre.umich.edu

 

Expedition Balance: It isn’t a building

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Carl Salazar, top with (left) I-am-Wallace, Sherri Smith, & Chris Wagmaster Leisinger at Camp For All. Photo: Expedition Balance

“Mission: We are committed to helping combat veterans who return home with emotional trauma regain their lives. It starts with a week in the woods and ends with veterans reconnected to their families, friends and futures.”

From Carl Salazar, USN Veteran, Founder & Director of Expedition Balance

Completely exhausted after another experience at Camp For All with some real-life heroes. Life-Changing. In our closing conversation, I told the Veterans and teachers of Expedition 10.13 this: Expedition Balance is not a building. There is no world headquarters, no ExBal street. It is not a t-shirt, a yoga studio, a slogan, nor other stuff.

Expedition Balance is people.

It is yoga and meditation teachers, big-hearted volunteers, people who come to fundraisers, people who help us spread the word, people who donate their hard-earned money, people who write nice things about us, doctors and social-workers at the VA. Veterans.

To all you wonderful people who built ExBal into something that has changed a few peoples’ lives – thank you. To the people who made Expedition 10.13 a living, breathing demonstration of love in action – thank you. It is a sacrifice for our volunteers to give up their time and expertise for free. It is incredibly brave for our Veterans to show up and open their hearts to new experiences so they can help themselves. I am proud of all of you. I love all of you.

Thank you for enabling me to live to my fullest. Thank you for bringing out the best in me. Thank you for giving my life purpose. We make a difference. Together.

For more information on Expedition Balance, please find them on Facebook, twitter @ExBal and go to their website.

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Grateful for big, loud, things

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Film Still from “Restrepo”  Photo by Tim Hetherington

“The Army might screw you and your girlfriend might dump you and the enemy might kill you,but the shared commitment to safeguard one another’s lives is unnegotiable and only deepens with time.The willingness to die for another person is a form of love that even religions fail to inspire, and the experience of it changes a person profoundly.” 

― Sebastian JungerWar

Yeah, I know. You’re circling the yoga studio in your car, not sure if you really want to go in. Everyone walking in seems so… bouncy, and they’re smiling, and what the heck are they happy about? Plus,  you’ve seen the “7-Days of Gratitude” started on FB, and a few of your friends have even posted things they’re grateful for.

What a bunch of goody-two-shoes.

After all, you’re intense. You’ve seen the most extreme part of life. War, poverty, suffering, pain. Violence, tragedy and danger.  You’re fierce in your beliefs, and so is everyone else you know. You walk on the earth.  But those people who go around saying they’re grateful?  You’re not so sure. Reality check?

You gun the engine, race ahead, trying to find a parking spot on the crowded street. Who the heck put this studio here, anyway?  What fool thought to put it next to a Starbucks and a hot dog stand? You shake your head. Honestly, you like your intensity. And you don’t feel like “letting go.” Besides, what is that? Letting go. Do they think there’s a window in your brain to open, and your intensity will just go away?  BIG LOUD AWFUL THINGS have shaped who you are now. And while there’s stuff you could do without –like the lack of sleep, or the reel that plays back and forth in your head …there were good things too. Like feeling you had a sense of direction, fighting for the person next to you, and knowing they’d do the same for you. Things were so certain ….and now? The only thing certain is everyone is talking about gratitude, and it kind of annoys you.

So now, you’re circling the block again, and you’re wondering…. yeah, you comprehend the meaning of gratitude. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness means more than it did before you went to war. Some of your friends lost the chance at all three in a gritty battle or alone, at home, when hope had run out. Will they understand war ushered in the best friends of your life?  That the brother and sisterhood is unquestioned? Yeah, sure, there was trauma, but there were funny things that still make you laugh. Will they get it? It was the best and worst time of your life, and you’d do it again (only this time you wouldn’t lose your best friend). Do they understand it was the intensity that kept you alive? Do they know how much it pisses you off to be tossed off as an ‘adrenaline junkie?’ It seemed that way, but you weren’t though it’d be a lie to say that war wasn’t exciting. You were fighting for the guy on your left and your right.

Finally, you find a spot. It’s three blocks away from the yoga studio, but it will do. You park, gather your stuff –the yoga mat with the wrapper still on it, and a towel. You follow the others with yoga mats strapped to their backs. Some look rushed and harried. One even walks into you and doesn’t say, “sorry.” So maybe some of these yoga people are assholes, which makes sense: in any given group, there’s always going to be one.

You reach the door,  no time to hesitate, there are people behind you. But you remember one thing someone wrote here on WarRetreat:

We know you miss your war. It’s fine. We’re not asking you to become anyone else. If you’re already grateful, maybe you’ll find more. But no sane person is going to insist.  And maybe you won’t like yoga. Maybe your thing is to climb a mountain, ride a bike, or write a poem.

You check in, find a spot. The music starts. You sit, and breathe. And then you do it again.

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Loaded words: Is contagious the right word for PTSD?

Photo: Mother Jones

Photo: Mother Jones

It’s no secret that the effects of PTSD are felt among family and friends. The agitation, hyper-awareness, lows and highs are taken in by everyone around the person with PTSD.

“Kateri’s eight-year-old son now also counts the exits in new spaces he enters, points them out to his loved ones, keeps a mental map of them at the ready, until war or fire fails to break out, and everyone is safely back home.”

What’s your take on this article?

Is PTSD Contagious?