Women of Warriors Retreat
Last weekend, I had the opportunity to go to a Women of Warriors Retreat in Tampa, Florida courtesy of Operation Homefront and provided by At EASE (Equine Assisted Self Exploration). The retreat was held at the beautiful Quantum Leap Farms, “a 501-c-3 nonprofit organization founded in 2000, [that] is one of only a handful of equestrian programs nationwide serving injured and disabled civilian adults and children, military service members and their families.” I had no idea what to expect from the retreat, and I was nervous what therapy and activities we were going to do, but it turned out to be one of the most impactful weekends in recent memory.
Only seven wives of warriors, from across the country (including Hawaii!) were at the retreat and the small group setting made it easy for everyone to open up and get to know each other. We were all from different backgrounds, different military branches, our husbands’ had a variety of military experiences and injuries. And yet, we were all very much the same. In one way or another, we had all experienced crisis situations, centered around our husbands’ injuries, and we have all been dealing with the aftermath. It was amazing to see that even with different backgrounds, when brought together with a common goal of recovery, we were very much the same.
The “weekend” actually started on Friday. I flew out of Bakersfield, CA at 6am and arrived in Tampa around 4pm. I immediately met one of the wives on the shuttle from the airport to the hotel (we were on the same flight and didn’t even know it!). At dinner that night, we all sat around the table and shared our stores. It was just amazing to me that other people were having the same thoughts, concerns and situations as us. As we have learned in the support groups what we attend every two weeks, “We can strength from sharing stories” and over the weekend we definitely did that.
Leading our group were three amazing women: Denise Grant, Carla Staats, and Jenna Miller. Denise Grant works for the Care Coalition and was instrumental in coordinating everything for us for the weekend through Operation Homefront and the Quantum Leap Farm program. She was supportive in our situations and had suggestions for how to manage the bureaucracy that we have to deal with in regards to our husband’s medical issues. Carla and Jenna were fantastic! What can I really say about these women… they listened, provided excellent advice and guidance, and were the main components of the therapy involving the horses. Carla, director of the At EASE (Equine Assisted Self Exploration) program, focused on helping us by replacing unhealthy habits (for example, trying to manage everything in our lives and not taking time for ourselves) with more effective solution-producing behaviors (see the hula hoop theory below). Jenna, co-director of the At EASE program and head therapeutic riding instructor at Quantum Leap Farms, was a beautiful spirit who always had encouraging advice and really made you think about how your actions affect the world around you. This program could not work the way it did without these women and it was a pleasure to be around them for the weekend.
On Saturday, we had the pleasure of meeting the founder of Quantum Leap Farms, Dr. Edie Ebbert Dopking, who discussed TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) with us, explaining the many functions of the brain and the different types of TBI. It was an extremely interesting lecture, and we had the opportunity to ask personal questions about our husbands to help us understand what they are experiencing.
Our second meeting was with Dr. Bridget Cantrell, a clinical psychologist who specializes in veterans with PTSD. She has writtin three books on the subject, “Down Range: To Iraq and Back” (co-authored with Chuck Dean), “Once a Warrior: Wired for Life” (co-authored again with Chuck Dean), and “Souls under Siege: The Affects of Multiple Troop Deployments—and How to Weather the Storm.” It is amazing how much she knows about PTSD and how it affected our husband. We had the opportunity to ask her advice and she was able to assure us that most of our situations are typical for dealing with PTSD and that solutions are available when we approach the correctly. On the plane flights home, I read “Down Range: To Iraq and Back” and it really helped me to understand what dealing with PTSD is like and how going to combat changes a person. It would have been nice to have read the book before everything happened to prepare for the aftermath, so I would highly recommend it to anyone who’s loved one is going on deployment.
The program is called At EASE (Equine Assisted Self Exploration) but rather than actually ride the horses at the ranch, the wives are instructed to work with the horses in a variety of activities. We had to get to the know the horses by approaching them, introduces ourselves, and then lead them around the arena and pasture. Horses live in the moment and are not hindered by the past or by the future, and observing them being their authentic selves reminded us that it was important to do the same thing.
Carla giving us our hula hoops
We discussed many things over the weekend, so much so that I really can’t put everything on here without either breaking confidentiality or filling up our entire blog with only one post. But one thing that really stuck with me was the “Hula Hoop” lesson. Seven hula hoops were placed in the arena and we were each asked to step in a hula hoop. We were told, “You can only control things that are inside your hula hoop. You can’t control other people’s hula hoops. You can link with another hula hoop, but you shouldn’t become another hula hoop.” It was like a light bulb had gone off. We all started discussing things in “hula hoop” lingo… when ever someone started to discuss something out of their control, it was ask, “Well is that in your hula hoop?” It was a life lesson that we are all continuing to apply to our lives after the retreat.
I was not sure what to expect from a retreat and could have never expected the tight bonds that grew from the experience. It was great to connect with other women who are going through similar experiences. There was a lot of laughter, a little bit of crying, and there were relationships that I know I will have for a long time as we continue our journey with PTSD/TBI. We have kept in close contact in the past week and I know that if I had any questions or needed some support, I could call one of the women for a sympathetic ear, life-experience advice and a reality check for my “hula hoop.” The program said that they would like to do retreat “reunions” in the future, and I definitely hope that will become a reality.
Working on maintaining my Hula Hoop
As I have started to implement what I learned on the retreat at home, I have already seen a difference in our home. I did not realize before the retreat that I was stuck in “crisis” mode and I didn’t know how to move on from everything we have been through in the last two years. The retreat really wasn’t not about JR and PTSD, it was about me and how I approach and deal with the situations at hand. I’ve now become very zen about situations and when something happens, in the home or outside of the home, I am learning to only control things within my hula hoop and I cannot control the actions of others or things that are out of our control. JR has appreciated this change in attitude and I think that we have both been calmer since I got back from Florida. I also expressed to JR how thankful I am for him and all the hard effort he has put into recovery. Now that we are both on board with continuing recovery and moving on from the crisis situation to education and advocacy, our outlook is looking good.
Thank you to Operation Homefront, Quantum Leap Farms and At EASE (Equine Assisted Self Exploration) for giving us so much! We hope that more wives get the opportunity to participate in the future! And to my new ladies…we’re in this together, both with our spouses and with our new found friends. Here’s something only you ladies would understand: May you continue to maintain your hula hoop, dump your bucket, and returning to grazing!