"Not all those who wander are lost" J.R.R. Tolkien

Friday, May 20, 2011

When War Comes Home Don't Retreat

I've had multiple queries about last weekend's retreat.  I don't have an easy answer to "how was it?"  It was not the sort of retreat from which one comes home refreshed and relaxed.  If anything, it was downright depressing most of the time.  I spent nearly the entire weekend with that tense feeling in the back of my throat that means I may be on the verge of tears.  As you all know by now, this is a Very Uncomfortable Place for me, even more so in the presence of strangers.  And yet, I cannot call them strangers; while our details may be different, our stories are the same.  Our struggles are the same.  Our questions are the same.  Our broken hearts are the same.  Our tears flow for the same reason.  And through the weekend we all discovered we are no longer alone.

About 140 other women attended the retreat; most of them spouses.  There were also mothers, daughters, sisters and caregivers.  All branches of the military were represented and when I mentioned to a career Marine wife that my father and grandfather had been Marines she quickly corrected me:  "Are Marines!"  The Marines are unquestionably a tough lot; what makes them so tough is that they train tough for tough situations and they fiercely stick together, even long after their tours of duty end.  Their motto, Semper Fidelis, is Latin for Always Faithful.  Like the Marines, we learned this weekend that we are a chosen few, the wives of Wounded Warriors.  We cannot leave each other behind because together we are stronger.  Unlike the Marines, we had no training opportunities for living with PTSD, no pre-deployment exercises or work-ups, no War Games.  For my family, because Donald was injured in a training simulation, PTSD happened rather like a flash flood.  One day we were normal and the next day hell broke loose.  I didn't get to try PTSD on for size to see if I could handle wearing it for awhile.

All of us are in various stages of acceptance; some of the women are very angry at their New Normal, all are sad for what has been lost and many of us, including me, have reached acceptance but need much encouragement to soldier on.  The pain present in the room during our seminars was palpable.  PTSD is a depressing topic to spend much time on; faced with it for an entire weekend was a big downer.  The blessing of the weekend came from sharing stories, sharing tea, sharing our lives with a Battle Buddy, someone who "gets it."  Family can be wonderfully supportive; both my parents and Donald's have been awesome.  Friends have frequently lent an ear, a shoulder, a glass of wine, all to my eternal gratitude.  To spend a weekend with 140 women who walk in my shoes and can affirm that I am not crazy is priceless.  The support continues.  We aren't leaving each other behind. We will be Always Faithful.  Emails and Facebook posts are allowing us to encourage one another daily, sometimes immediately.  We came alone to the retreat, weary, sad, angry, and scared.  We left as a sisterhood, a battalion stronger together than alone, able to return to the front lines once more.