Trauma and the power of the human spirit

Yes indeed it is about time we start talking about this. Wounds of the Soul run deep and certainly are not a sign of weakness or of being mentally unfit for the job.

Trauma shakes us to our core and leaves us rethinking so many assumptions we had previously held onto.

We must come together in transparent dialogue to adequately dispel the inaccurate myths that have been formulated over the decades and now discuss how trauma such as this clearly reorganizes our way of being in the world.

Our Warriors, whether they be in a combat zone or on the streets in our communities, are deeply touched by these traumatic experiences as are the civilians and citizens who also live through these harrowing situations. We as a nation are also affected and the way we knew our lives to be has been revamped. Through this trauma we emerge on the other side with skills and ideas that perhaps we had never realized. The power of the human spirit to live is one that many of you who read this have experienced first hand. This will to live and to reexamine how we come to survive when another has been taken is where some of the guilt, shame and self doubt emerge and stops us in our tracks.

These are some of the normal issues that must be fully worked through as we all move forward in our quest to heal. This is only a part of of our experience and it is through these earth shattering moments that we come to our knees with an ability to survive on all levels.

It takes time, hope and unconditional love from all us to help bolster our loved ones who are struggling so deeply.

With gratitude and blessings for all who have been touched by these difficult and life altering events.

Bridget Cantrell

Granite Falls woman develops a retreat for veterans on her property

Bridget Cantrell.

Posted by Alfie Alvarado on Monday, May 23, 2016

On July 8, 1987, William L. Baird committed suicide on the couple's property.

In a 2001 Herald column, his widow spoke of how he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder. The year before he died, she said, he was signed up for a PTSD inpatient program at the Veterans Affairs American Lake facility near Tacoma. “He was too afraid to go,” she said.

A spot near her home, “Bill's Garden,” is planted in his honor. After his military service, he graduated from the University of Washington. He worked for Boeing and the Eldec Corp., but his wife saw him become increasingly isolated. She believes his war never ended.

In 2011, Baird opened the nonprofit Healing Hearts retreat center to help others suffering from war's wounds. Seventeen acres of her 23-acre property are set aside as a place of peace, inspiration and healing. There are campsites, a fire pit, the organization's vet-to-vet talking circle, and a small cabin.

On Friday morning, the place was buzzing. Down a hill from Baird's house, near an open area she calls “Flying Eagle Field,” about 50 Home Depot volunteers were working in the sun. Most were from the Snohomish store. They were there to build 10 campsites, adding to four already on the site. They also installed 20 picnic tables, expanded a talking circle in a fire pit area, and renovated a small cabin.

On May 22, the Healing Hearts in Hope Veterans Retreat Center plans its fourth annual “Spring Fling.” The event, 1 to 4 p.m., is a potluck picnic and gathering open to all veterans. The organization also puts on a veterans appreciation picnic every August.

During the Spring Fling, the structure being renovated will be dedicated as the William L. Baird Vet-to-Vet Talking Circle Cabin. Baird said the event has drawn about 60 people in years past, but this time she hopes for more than 200.

Jaaron Lauterbach, store manager of the Snohomish Home Depot, said at the work site that Brad Richard came about six weeks ago seeking donations for the project. Richard, a Navy veteran who heads planning and development for the Healing Hearts center, also was there helping Friday.

Lauterbach said he put in for a grant from the Home Depot Foundation, which supports the needs of veterans, and found employees to help. Home Depot provided at least $23,000 in supplies for the work, Baird said.

Baird, 65, has her own struggles. Suffering from multiple sclerosis, which robbed her of the use of her arms and legs, she has been in a wheelchair since 1988. She tried skydiving in 1995, and from that adventure came her nickname, “Flying Eagle.”

An activist for the needs of people with disabilities, she has served on the state's Independent Living Advisory Council and on the government relations committee of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's Seattle chapter. In 2007, she was given a National MS Society Advocacy Volunteer Hall of Fame award.

“I have MS, but it does not have me,” said Baird, also a champion of veterans. She was involved in the state's Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day, a remembrance that came too late for Bill Baird.

This Flying Eagle believes that all her previous activism, along with the heartbreak of her loss, led her to create the Healing Hearts retreat center.

“Come and heal. You don't need to stay in your dark place,” said Nancy Collins, a member of the nonprofit's council, who was also helping Friday.

Baird still has the 1966 Chevrolet pickup where her husband ended his life. She would like to refurbish it, and perhaps display it in parades.

I believe in making sad to glad. The more you give to each other, the more you give to yourself. Kindness begets kindness.
— Teresa Baird

Your Military Partner and PTSD: Tips From an Expert

Written by Kate Thieda
Click here for original article

Today I am pleased to bring you part 1 of an interview with Bridget C. Cantrell, PhD, a mental health practitioner and leading advocate for military veterans and their families. According to her website, Hearts Toward Home, in 2008, she received the Didi Hirsch Foundation Leadership Award for Erasing the Stigma of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

She has written several books, including Souls Under Siege: The Effects of Multiple Troop Deployments-and How to Weather the Storm; Once a Warrior: And Wired For Life; and Down Range: To Iraq and Back. She has worked with veterans for 20 years, and shares some of her wisdom and knowledge about how partners of military veterans struggling with PTSD can help.

1) Most people have heard about PTSD being an epidemic among returning soldiers, but few actually know what that means. Can you please give us a definition of PTSD that includes examples of how it might show up in someone who has served in the military?

PTSD is something that happens to an individual when they are exposed to a traumatic event or traumatic events. (You can find the DSM criteria for PTSD here.) The way I see this is I have an obligation to provide as much information as possible, so those with whom I work gain a better understanding of what PTSD means. I go as far to say that this is not a “mental illness”; it is a way of coping with something that has been so horrific that a person has become fragmented in their mind, body and spirit. These symptoms offer them a way of coping in order to just get through this event. I want them to see post-traumatic stress from all perspectives so they can embrace that which they fear and use this as a strength to go forward.

Post-traumatic stress manifests in a variety of ways: behaviors of avoidance, irritability, emotionally shutting down (numbing), sleep disruption, nightmares, intrusive memories, increase in drug and alcohol use, hyperarousal in terms of startle response, etc. There are also physical symptoms of stress: migraines, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, chronic pain, fatigue, etc. There is also interference in cognitive functioning: they have confusion, forgetfulness, poor concentration, etc. In addition, we see a disconnect with relationships: loved ones, themselves, their spiritual relationship, etc. There is an overall sense of feeling alone in this journey, and out of sync with their support systems and with what was previously important to them.

With our troops who are going through various aspects of their deployment cycles, we may see a tendency to be overwhelmed and shutting down from emotions, relationships, as well as anger issues, poor impulse control, road rage, increase in drug and alcohol use. They may just want to be with their fellow troopers, and not too engaging with family members or civilians. We see this particular generation using gaming as a means of isolating and forming artificial relationships that are safe and don’t have demanding requirements of them on any level such as emotionally, or physically. These relationships serve their need for connectivity on many levels, but these unique relationships can certainly be a threat to their primary relationships.

2) The day that a military partner returns home from deployment is supposed to be exciting, but many partners feel nervous about re-establishing their relationship and helping the military partner reintegrate into civilian life. What tips do you have for easing the transition, both in preparing before the soldier returns, and in the first few weeks they are home?

These transitions can clearly be disconcerting and create an under current of additional stress for those who are dealing with these deployments. I suggest, if possible, start discussing these concerns even before they return, although for some couples and families, this may be an impossibility. Just by beginning the dialogue regarding these concerns can ease the uncertainty of the outcome, although there are no guarantees. Each deployment offers a different experience and some may be very challenging, and with that they may bring home a new set of issues that were not previously part of any of their prior homecomings. So it is important to lower the stress level in the house by preparing the children and relatives in a way that creates a sanctuary from which you can spend quality time together if you are a couple just getting to know each other again.

This also goes for the single service members as well in terms of creating your environment so that you feel safe.

It is best when they return that things are as close to the same as they were before they left. What I mean by this is the predictability in their surroundings, be that living arrangements and the support system be as familiar as possible. Even routines that have changed such as a spouse going back to school may create from stress because it is different.  Remember to spend time with the children, but do set aside some quality time to reconnect with your mate. Change is part of the military culture, but when our service members return from deployment, it is most beneficial that there is something that is familiar that they can latch on to in order to anchor them in the present. This metaphor may represent a way of quieting themselves, which in the long run will benefit the entire family system.

Please have a good supply of favorite foods in the house. Having a refrigerator filled with alcohol is something to shy away from, as this can certainly have a tendency to complicate a situation quickly. Be prepared that your loved one coming home from the war zone may just need to have down time, and being around family members or having planned activities may not be on the top of their list. If people want to have a gathering, do it as someone else’s home and have a code word that you can use that would signal that it is time to leave.