“No, but thank you for thinking about me,” was my initial response when invited to apply for the Wounded Warriors Weekend camp held in Northern Saskatchewan this summer. I said that there were others out there far more in need, and deserving of this honor than me. That was not false humility. Although I had progressed significantly in my healing from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD), feelings of failure, and unworthiness still lingered within, and haunted me.
Then, I received a telephone call from Blake Emmons, founder of the Wounded Warrior Weekend Foundation. He strongly encouraged me to accept the invitation. Reluctantly, I agreed to go at the urging of family and friends.
I arrived on alert, and not knowing what to expect. Very quickly, I realized that there was no reason to remain guarded. I was surrounded by people who genuinely understood, and cared. The volunteers went out of their way to make us feel safe, and at home from the start. It was an amazing, and cathartic week for me, and I judge; for others.
I discovered that I was not alone. Each fellow veteran, or first responder that I spoke with had suffered many of the same symptoms, and challenges that accompany a diagnosis of PTSD. Strikingly, most of them had been marginalized, or endured unfair treatment at the hand of their employer, and peers because of stigma. In the company of wounded comrades, I found healing and strength.
I gained some forgiveness, and love, for self. For many years, I believed that I had failed, and was useless because of my illness. I had invested my entire identity into what I did, and when my career came to a screeching halt; so too did any sense of self-esteem. Eventually, I succumbed to my illness, hanging on to every resentment and trauma for dear life; resigned to the fact that this was as good as it gets.
There were no formal groups, or medical teams available at the camp; just empathetic people who were ready and willing to listen when I felt like talking. There wasn’t any pressure to say, or do anything really. In taking a risk to be vulnerable, I shared some of my hurts and pain with others who truly understood, without judgment. I found a renewed sense of hope, and purpose. I came home markedly, and remarkably; changed by the experience. Within an hour of our drive from the airport, my partner told me that I seemed “different.” She said that I was calmer, and appeared to be happier.
I was not “cured” by virtue of my incredible stay at Camp Independence. The difference is that I use the term, “struggling” a lot less these days. I am not as quick to anger, and am “softer” in my approach with others, and especially, myself. I had reached a plateau in my recovery from PTSD, and was inspired by Camp Independence to commit to changing how I think about myself. I met some real heroes this summer, and I remain in contact with some of them. “There is no greater bond of friendship than a mutual enemy.”
I will be eternally grateful to the Wounded Warrior Foundation, its volunteers, the generous sponsors, and attendees for making this life-affirming event possible. My heart, and that of many others; was touched in a profound way by the kindness and compassion extended. It will never be forgotten.