WARRIOR RETREATS ARE CHANGING LIVES
what TWC staff wants you to know
Judy Davidson, TWC Facilitator
Judy Davidson has been a consultant and facilitator with TWC since 2013. Judy has tremendous experience in mental health services, with specialties in children's care, addiction, marriage, family therapy, as well as mindfulness and stress reduction. It is her tremendous experience in these areas that make Judy's contributions to TWC unmeasurable.
Judy has lived and worked closely in the Brattleboro area, home of TWC, a majority of her professional life. Having been involved in personal growth work since receiving her Bachelor's Degree from Manhattanville College. Judy studied the clinical practice and social work at Fordham University and received her Master's Degree in counseling psychology from Antioch University.
Some of my uncles had been in combat in WWII and one, my Uncle Dick, was shot down over Germany and ended up a prisoner-of-war for three years. None of my uncles spoke of their combat experience when I was growing up. However, as my Uncle Dick reached his 92 birthday and became frailer, he entered the Veteran’s Hospital in Bedford MA.
Here symptoms of delayed PTS (PTSD) emerged. He was extremely anxious at night and had frequent nightmares of being shot down. The staff, thank goodness, understood what was happening. In May 2011, I had the privilege to keep vigil with my cousin Kelly at my Uncle Dick’s bedside at the VA hospital during the last three days of his life. While there, I met an amazing group of people. Many of the nurses there came from military families and one told me of how her father had suffered from combat PTS before there was a treatment for him or for her family. She saw her work at the VA Hospital as a way to pay tribute to him and the other men who had served their country and suffered from PTSD.
Though Dick was now in a coma, many veterans stopped by his room and shared stories of him and of their own lives. One brought rosaries that he laid on Dick’s chest and said that he saw angels surrounding him. I experienced firsthand the sense of love and connection that can bind combat vets together into a true ‘Band of Brothers’. Dick died just after midnight on Memorial Day, 2011 and Kelly and I watched in the illuminated darkness as they lowered the flag to half-mast in tribute to his life.
I think that inspiring experience was one reason it was so easy to say a big “yes” when Dr. Anne Black, the founder of The Warrior Connection, asked if I would like to become a facilitator for TWC in 2012. Anne had shared with me the curriculum for the Retreat months before and I had been very impressed. It had so many essential ingredients for healing PTS (artistic expression, mindfulness, yoga, music, journaling, group sharing, Native American rituals) and I was curious to learn more and see it in action. I wanted to honor the losses that resulted from the veterans’ combat experiences and support them in their healing.
In June 2013, five trainees met with Anne and a veteran who was also a facilitator, Joe Doyle, for the first TWC Facilitator Training. Two were combat veterans who had already gone through the Retreat and the other three of us were civilian clinicians.
During the next three days, Anne and Joe guided us skillfully through the nine stations of the retreat. We were “learning by doing”, participating in the guided meditations, the art, the group sharing and, just like the veterans in a retreat, we bonded more with each other each day as we went deeper into the personal stories of our lives and described what had led us to want to become facilitators. By the end, I had admiration, for my fellow trainees and also for the power of this curriculum and of artistic expression to evoke intense healing emotions. However, nothing could have quite prepared me for the intensity of the actual Warrior Retreats!
Bill Hattendorf and I co-facilitated with Anne and Joe for the TWC retreats in July and again in October 2013 and it was an incredible experience. We observed the individual journeys of the vets as they explored their reasons for joining the military, the challenges and losses of combat and then the reclaiming of their strengths, their talents, and their souls. We watched the increase in trust between them and us as they shared their deepest vulnerabilities. We shared their tears and their triumphs. We celebrated their transformation at the end of the six days. And Bill and I watched, with awe and admiration, the finely-honed skills and huge hearts of Anne and Joe as they facilitated the process and helped each veteran go deeper into his feelings so that he could release and heal. Anne and Joe manifested deep respect, understanding and caring for each person, including Bill and me. Their intention was growth and healing for everyone. I salute them!
Being a facilitator is a privilege and a tremendous commitment and I hope there are others out there like me, who wanted to learn more, may feel called, or just want to help. It takes curiosity, warmth, and confidence in each person’s ability to heal and in the process of the Retreat itself. It also takes stamina as some days are long and full of emotions. Although, it is indeed well worth it. You know that you are engaged in something very meaningful and your reward is watching the transformation in the Veterans’ eyes on the last day.