In this posting, Robert Simpson explains how he began his support group and lays down the groundwork for setting up peer support that works for both veterans /military/police and their families. BONNIE
HOW TO ESTABLISH YOUR SUPPORT GROUP
This week, I would like to talk about my Wallaceburg Veterans and Families Support Group, which I finally got up and running two years ago. I had tried several years before to set it up at Br 18 Legion in Wallaceburg. It failed and the reason was, to quote Veterans: “I don’t want the drunks downstairs to know I got a problem with my years of service.”
Good reason not to come. So the search was on for a good place to meet. The branch Padre is my pastor and during a talk we were having, he offered his Church. It turned out to be perfect. So in May 2011, we had our first meeting.
Eight people attended. The first thing I had everyone do was form a circle with our chairs. (This is based on the healing circle as I am part native.) Everyone felt two things: first, there was the safety of being protected by the Church, and second, it gave us the ability to see everyone, which gave us the feeling of and knowledge of: we were not alone.
These two things are most important to Veterans or Military personnel suffering PTSD. The feeling of being alone can be overwhelming.
As we are only five miles from the Canada / USA border, I opened up our group to all Veterans no matter the country, also Police Officers as we send Police Officers on Peace Keeping missions. With family members there, we have created a complete package. The family members learn about what goes on when we’re on tours. It allows them to start to understand what it is their Loved one has experienced and is going through. This is so important as too many times the Veteran or Service member doesn’t really know how to explain what happened or is happening or why.
From the start, we have kept things informal and more relaxed. Sometimes we are able to just tell amusing stories about our time in service. At others, we talk about the hell. Our Padre leads the discussions most of the time, steering us towards that which has caused our invisible wounds. He asks questions trying to clarify what we have been saying. He has said that he has learned so much with the meetings and our talks. Also he offers a prayer for the group – sometimes during the meeting, sometimes at the start, sometimes at the end.
We are able to open up about our tours, while family members can also bring up different things to discuss their experience in dealing with the Veteran’s problems. What works for them may help other family members see how to approach the Veteran during times of Flashbacks, etc. I know the one important thing I told my wife was to NEVER, EVER TOUCH ME during a nightmare or flashback. This can be so dangerous, as we don’t know where the dream ends and reality begins and we might lash out at our loved one. We don’t want that to happen EVER. When we return then and only then can you hold us. But we must be back first.
This is so important to know and understand: while you can see us, we are not at that moment there. We are back in our tours living in HELL. That’s the best way to describe it. You must wait until we feel safe, and that’s when we need your hug and your Love the most. I believe that that is a very important safety rule to always remember when family is dealing with a Veteran’s Nightmares or Flashbacks.
Over the course of the two years, we have made good friends. We have created a number of events as well: Helping drive folks home when they pick up their Christmas hampers with the Salvation Army is one way we halp. That is an important connection with our Military past as the Salvation Army has always been there for us. So it is our honour to assist them. We also have created several meals: One is at Christmas time, and the other is a BBQ in July prior to standing down for August.
While we don’t have a meeting in August, the group is still there for each other. The most important part of the Group is talking and sharing those events which haunt us. Talking lets each person know and understand they are not alone and their wound is not minimized.
We have faced our wound is serious and real. This Support Group is really a carryon of our unit training. In the Military and the Police, you are trained to work both alone and as a group, so the group reinforces that you are a part of a group and not alone. I want to close by saying: “Let’s talk, shall we?” I welcome your feedback and comments.
LEST WE FORGETREFERENCE: Sylvain Chartrand CD is collecting a Bank of Articles on PTSD. For more information, please see Canadian Veterans Advocacy.
Deal Site For Military Veterans Coming Soon (prweb.com)
New focus for Homecoming Vets to meet PTSD needs (homecomingvets.com)
PTSD FORUM: First Session with Dr. Dee Rajska (homecomingvets.com)
PTSD FORUM: First Session with Mary K. Armstrong (homecomingvets.com)