“When War Comes Home DON’T RETREAT” is the battle cry of Hope for the Home Front and the women we serve!
Since the attacks of 9/11 and our nation’s consequent 12-year war on terror, the deployment tempo has been extremely high creating a deep strain on our military families. Many of our returning veterans have experienced combat trauma and they are dealing with the pain and confusion of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury. Their wives, mothers, daughters, and loved ones are deeply affected by their war experiences.
Hope for the Home Front, founded by Marshele Carter Waddell in 2002, serves to fortify women connected to a service member or combat veteran of any conflict by providing them with resources, books, seminars, weekend retreats/conferences, and community connections. We educate, encourage, and empower women to find hope, healing, and solutions for themselves and for their families so that they may not only survive the aftermath of war, but thrive on the home front.
“This retreat is not a solve-all-your-problems-overnight thing. The lights didn’t magically come on with a big arrow pointing to the nearest exit. But I feel like I met other lost souls in the darkness, and there were all of the speakers and retreat organizers set up at a table in the middle of it, handing out flashlights," says one retreat attendee.
Our weekend retreats specific to wounded warrior families present the opportunity to honor these women for their service and sacrifice and to help them find their sense of joy and laughter again. They participate in stress management, personal self-care, connection, and development of solid relationship strategies.
When they arrive at a retreat, the women are depleted and looking for someone to care for them for a few days. They are uncertain, seeking understanding and solutions. They ask, “Who is this man returning from war?” and “Where is my husband?” Marshele puts it this way, “Fort Fantasy became Fort Reality and we realized nothing would ever be the same.”
Desperate for respite, relationships, and resources for themselves, their warrior and their families, these women attend retreats from all over the country. For two and a half days, they share their stories with one another and discover that they are not alone, not crazy, and that they don’t have to walk this journey in isolation any longer. One woman described her retreat experience this way. "I am not alone and I am not crazy! That was the biggest gift I received, and it has truly been a life-changing experience. I feel like I was lost in the dark, alone, for so long. No one understood, heck, even I didn't really understand what I was going through.”
In addition to providing the opportunity to make new friends with other women who love and live with a combat veteran, we offer them the latest updates on medical, psychological, and spiritual insights about PTSD and TBI. We help them gain a better understanding of their own issues and how the invisible wounds of war can affect them. We talk about secondary traumatic stress and compassion fatigue in a safe, confidential environment where they can be honest and feel safe. For many, it is the first time that they are able to start connecting the dots and emotions can run high.
We help attendees build their own customized support networks and we guide them in constructing a plan for personal wholeness, which may include staying engaged with the women they meet at the retreat and beyond through social networking and through our Hope for the Heart peer-led support groups.
By the time the women leave the retreats, most are on their way toward rekindled hope and renewed strength. We see lots of smiles, hugs, and even dancing. Yes, we encourage dancing and a lot of laughing! These caregivers take with them new friendships, a sisterhood committed to each other’s well-being, a personal plan, and a commitment to accountability as they implement their plan at home. Some are inspired and motivated to re-engage in compassionate service as a part of their own healing through Hope for the Home Front and in other ways.
One retreat attendee said, “This retreat is not a solve-all-your-problems-overnight thing. The lights didn’t magically come on with a big arrow pointing to the nearest exit. But I feel like I met other lost souls in the darkness, and there were all of the speakers and retreat organizers set up at a table in the middle of it, handing out flashlights. They gave us tools to help us find our way, but it is our job to use them and our job to make sure our batteries stay charged. It [the retreat] sent me home wanting to give out flashlights to others, and to seek out those around me still lost in the dark. ‘Hey, did you know they have flashlights over there? Here, let me show you!’ And I take away new friendships, new connections to people who really know what it’s like to walk in my shoes. The things I can’t tell my civilian girlfriends because they don't understand. I can cry, vent, and ask questions to my newfound friends and know that they don't think I'm crazy. And I'm definitely NOT alone. God bless you all for the work you are doing!”
Yes, Fort Fantasy has turned into Fort Reality for many, but war does not define us. Hope for the Home Front is helping women embrace this truth at our retreats. We cry out, “When war comes home. . .” and everyone responds with, “Don’t retreat!”
Learn more about Hope for the Home Front retreats at www.hopeforthehomefront.com.