Shomriel Sherman, a current student in Transformative Language Arts, has been studying the intersection between the trauma of war and the trauma of illness as well as ways to work with such pain. This is her report of attending several retreats on veteran/ civilian ways toward “….bridging the gap and taking our first steps toward healing the wounds of war.”
This past May, I attended the Soldier’s Heart “Restoring the Soul After War” Memorial Day retreat at the Rowe Center in Rowe, MA. This retreat was led by Ed Tick, himself a graduate of Goddard with an MA in psychology, and his wife, Kate Dahlstedt. The Soldier’s Heart organization was founded in 2006 with the perspective that what is now referred to as “post traumatic stress disorder” and which has been referred to by many other names over the years is in fact not a pathology but a “sacred soul wound” suffered when the journey from soldier to warrior has not been completed. Soldier’s Heart encourages the full participation of all community members in completing the journey together so that veterans’ experiences can be shared and transformed–and transform us all–in the process.
The motto of Soldier’s Heart is “Caring means sharing the burden”: the burdens of knowing the horrors of war, of personal and collective guilt, and of decision-making with regard to when, where, and by whom battles should be fought. To this end, retreats involve creating trustworthy, ceremonial space in which communal story-telling and grieving can take place. There is also the use of ceremonial practices such as singing, chanting, drumming, and sweat lodges, practices used by many Native peoples with a strong traditional emphasis on warrior homecoming, purification, and reintegration.
The almost 30 of us gathered together on this Memorial Day to honor each other and those whom we’d lost to war along the way, whether in combat or due to suicide or cancer afterwards, truly did enter into altered space over our four days together. People spoke truth in all its complexities and paradoxes; we cried; we laughed; we shared meals and walked and talked together. Our hearts opened enough to hold each others’ pain and anger so that they could be more manageable, and in a small but powerful way we were able to demonstrate to each other our care for each others’ experiences and to bridge the civilian-veteran disconnect that we so often encounter in our society today.
The second weekend in June I attended an all-women’s veteran/civilian retreat at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. This was also led by Kate Dahlstedt and a co-facilitator, and it was a much smaller group, with only 11 of us. We discussed the particularities of women’s experiences of war, both during and post-service and as mothers and/or partners of service-members, acknowledging and honoring both the warrior and the woman. The intimate gathering of women got very close during our four days together, writing, telling stories, singing, dancing, creating a fire of release together, and making collages to represent who we are and where we are headed. Once again, the opportunity was provided for civilians and veterans to come together in a safe, bounded space in which we could share and truly hear one another, bridging the gap and taking our first steps toward healing the wounds of war.