Attending a TWC Graduation is a surreal experience. Naomi, TWC's Development Coordinator, shares what she experienced at her first TWC event.
As a first-time guest at a TWC graduation, you don’t know what to expect, much like the participants prior to their arrival. As you travel to the retreat location, your anticipation grows. Many questions mount-- Does what they do at a retreat work? How can a life change in a week? Can you truly heal or cope with post-traumatic stress? Is The Warrior Connection changing lives? These are the questions that swirled in my mind as a new team member of the TWC family and as someone learning the ins and outs of TWC via word of mouth. However, by the end of my weekend trip, the answers to every question became incredibly clear. And I hope that by giving you some insight, you’ll get a glimpse of the magic of TWC that I was able to witness firsthand.
A TWC Graduation
TWC Retreats are roughly about a week long. Veterans or spouses (TWC offers retreats for both) arrive at the retreat site with the hopes of making sense of the battle against the invisible wounds they incurred from combat-- a task that seems impossible. Throughout the week, they create a “safe space” where participants and volunteers can be honest and truthful with themselves and with each other. They undergo a series of activities and exercises. Participants begin to look within and sort through trauma from their past and military experience.
Connecting Heart and Mind
The most significant disconnect in post-traumatic stress, or trauma, is a separation of heart and mind. We replay events, react aggressively, and numb ourselves to avoid processing. Participants’ journey involves healing that severed connection and processing or making sense of the feelings they became accustomed to shutting away. They reconnect with the heart of who they are as a person.
It All Leads to Graduation
The hard work throughout the week leads to a celebration and graduation where the general public can witness the transformation. Before entering the “safe space,” participants, facilitators, and guests alike are cleansed with sage. Once seated and welcomed, the participants share their story and their art. As guests, we’re joined alongside them as they weave their stories of going from darkness to light. What’s even more telling than their story is how this reflective this is in their art.
One of the pieces of work that they shared was a free drawing that they did on the first day and on the last day to represent how they were feeling. Paul did a genuinely impactful piece. The illustration from his first day was a door with a crack, through which you could only see darkness. However, by graduation, his free draw was utterly different. It was a door, but now the door was fully open, and through the door was sunshine and beauty.
Experience of Turmoil to Peace
If you’ve been impacted by post-traumatic stress, whether directly or indirectly, you know that there is a familiar feeling of darkness and dread. It is a feeling that those affected know all too well and can spot it instantly. Being at a TWC graduation was anything but that, which genuinely makes it extraordinary. Instead, you feel love, understanding, warmth, and connection within the safe space and relationships formed. You instantaneously experience the peace the participants worked hard to achieve. As you speak with these Veterans, there is no longer a feeling of heaviness. Instead, you experience the connection between heart and mind that has formed.
See It to Believe It
A TWC graduation experience is one of those "you have to see to believe it" moments because it is awe-inspiring and breathtaking. It is something magical-- not in the way where your trauma disappears, but in a way where you find true acceptance and healing in grief and pain. So I invite you to see it for yourself. Attend a TWC graduation, and you, too, may find yourself moved and inspired.