Finding our tribe

Finding our tribe

It’s not uncommon that we see the best of people in the harshest conditions. It shows up in a number of ways: volunteers laying sandbags to fight floodwaters; communities taking in strangers to offer shelter from a storm; or in more extreme conditions, bi-standers risking their lives to protect or defend people they don’t even know.

It’s those critical moments when people show up when it counts the most. When we think back to those times, it is the moments of courage and compassion that strike us the most.

They say that North America is consumed by the search for happiness. Research studies reveal that it is, in fact, purpose, meaning, and social connection that are most important.

If you are reading this, chances are you are in some form of community service: military, policing, firefighting, corrections, paramedical, or medical. Perhaps your service is supporting those who have taken on these difficult roles. We take on these challenges for different reasons: to create something better for ourselves; to establish purpose or meaning in our lives; or even to be of service to our country. What’s interesting, though, is that ultimately when people are under fire it isn’t their country they are worried about – it’s the person standing next to them. It’s in social connection that we find the greatest meaning.

We all need someone who will have our back, in good times or bad. We all need a tribe, a family, or a group to call our own. Sometimes it takes something awful happening for us to figure this out.

Landing Strong is about creating a tribe: a place where we are all connected by our united sense of meaning and purpose. Our goal is to create opportunity for connection and movement for those who are tired of being where they are at and ready to move forward.

If you build it, they will come

If you build it, they will come

‘If you build it, they will come…’ that’s been my mantra over the last year, as renovations were underway in the new Landing Strong Center. Like a comet hurling through space, I set forth on a mission to see a world class treatment facility in Windsor Nova Scotia: a safe landing for veterans and first responders who have been injured as a result of their service. Last night on the eve of the grand opening, I suddenly got nervous.

What if no one comes? I worried. The place looked fantastic and everything was ready to go.

I needn’t have fretted. The moment the doors opened, the room filled with laughter and warmth as people engaged in the many fun activities we had organized.

I stood back for a moment, and took it all in. I had expected most of the visitors would be people from other organizations or businesses. Then it hit me. This was not the case. The vast majority of the people in the room were veterans and first responders. Talking, connecting… heck even doing mindfulness exercises and chair yoga together.

It was then that I realized it had already started. The Landing Strong community was forming. These men and women were claiming the space… making the program theirs. They did not come and leave quickly. They stayed, and connected with one another, renewing old acquaintances and forming new ones.

A group of them even brought me a most touching gift… a beautiful orchid. How fitting, I thought, that they should bring a flower that grows with a fragile beauty out of the harshest places.

Thank you my friends, for helping make this evening so memorable.

Mindfulness and the unexpected

Mindfulness and the unexpected

Recently things have been a bit hectic. I’ve a lot on the go, and am feeling pulled in a number of different directions. For that reason, I decided to spend last weekend centering myself. I thought nothing would be better than to simply spend a day just being: noticing and appreciating the beauty around me. Otherwise known as mindfulness. I’ve been trying to fix up some old chairs, but trying to reupholster them was starting to feel overwhelming. Joe, my supersonic husband, suggested a 25 km bike ride from our cottage to Bear River, and I naively said “great”.

I have to tell you, if you haven’t checked out Bear River, I would recommend it. It’s a quaint little artistic community known as the “tidal village on stilts.” It boasts the Sissiboo Coffee Roaster (fair trade organic trendy coffee shop) and a cute little café called “Myrtle and Rosie’s.” Determined to notice, appreciate and learn, it was here that the universe gave me my first teaching.

Wanting to fill my life sandwich with more knowledge, I ventured out into the countryside eager to expand my understanding of the cosmos. It was here, in the pastoral fields of Clementsville, that I witnessed wildlife that I had never seen before roaming free in Nova Scotia. Zebras.

Feeling I was on a winning streak of enlightenment, I pushed on in my odyssey, and was rewarded with other amazing finds. On the way back through town, I met Walter Wambolt, who appeared to be quite the man about town. Confident and assertive, he was a man of a few words and turned out to be a great listener.

I made the internal commitment to be more like him. Walter beckoned me into a nearby bakery. It was there, in a back room of the bakery, that I discovered a hidden upholstery shop. The baker, it turns out, is a talented fellow who is also able to help me reupholster some chairs I am reclaiming.

So all in all, it was a pretty great day. I did make it home, and could barely walk the next day, but no worries. I felt complete with all the new teachings. I’m going to keep working on this mindfulness thing.

Thriving Despite Adversity

Thriving Despite Adversity

I was going for a hike last weekend when I stumbled across the perfect example of resiliency. A magnificent mushroom, in the middle of a gravel road, pushing its way up towards the universe. Despite everything that says it shouldn’t exist, it appears to be thriving.

It made me ponder the meaning of resilience: not just surviving, but thriving in the face of adversity. Having that wonderful Indian rubber ball “bounce back” quality when life throws us hard knocks.

Many people I work with tell me that I better not expect them to get all emotional because they “don’t do that stuff.”

Ignoring the emotional impact of our experiences takes a bigger toll than we think. Dealing with the emotional impact of our experiences is often harder than carrying out the duties of our jobs in the first place. It’s a completely different headspace than being in operational mode.

When we aren’t able to experience or express our feelings, we create an emotional backlog that eventually catches up with us. It’s only possible to keep this up for so long. This is one of the reasons we see so many military members and first responders people performing at a top level in their careers, only to experience problems after many years of service or following retirement. They aren’t broken, they are suffering from emotional backlog.

By learning to clean our emotional closet regularly, we prevent injury.

How do we do this? By being vulnerable. Resiliency isn’t about being tough, it’s about knowing how and when to take care of ourselves so that we can continue to do our jobs and be okay.

We grow stronger by shining a light on the darkest areas of our lives, and understanding the emotional impact of these experiences on us. Going to those places that we least want to go. Our resiliency comes from fearlessly facing the emotions that accompany them.

So as you can see, courage is tied into resiliency. And the people who are doing the work of recovery are some of the bravest people I know.

We are hosting a Celebration of Resiliency in conjunction with the Grand Opening of our new Landing Strong Centre in Windsor, Nova Scotia. We’d love to have you join us in celebrating the strength of our community, and the military members, veterans, and first responders who serve them. Let’s also celebrate the families who support them, because they are indeed, as the Military Family Resource Center puts it, the strength behind the uniform.

The Strength of Community

The Strength of Community

This past weekend I was in Toronto visiting my brother, Martin, who also is the Artistic Director for PTSD Hero Comics. Together with his family, we enjoyed a lovely dinner at an outdoor restaurant at Pape and Danforth. We skipped our usual second stop of ice cream at a nearby store as dinner portions had been generous. Relaxed laughter and warm greetings were exchanged by strangers as we passed one another, mutually enjoying the beautiful summer evening.

On Monday, when I arrived home, I learned that there had been a mass shooting at that same location. The lives of 10-year-old Julianna Kozis and 18-year-old Reese Fallon were claimed. Among the 15 people injured was Danielle Kane, a 31-year-old nursing student who rushed to the aid of a shooting victim, with her boyfriend, not knowing that the pause in gunfire represented the shooter reloading. She lies in intensive care at St. Michael’s Hospital, uncertain if she will regain use of her legs. From this point forward, her life and all of those involved are permanently changed. For those first responders and individuals like Danielle who put themselves in harm’s way in order to assist others, the impact of this event will live on.

By what stroke of luck, I wonder, had we been elsewhere at the unfortunate time when things went so terribly wrong? My heart goes out to those who were not so lucky, and the families devastated by such senseless tragedy.

Landing Strong is a not-for-profit program and center designed to support military members, veterans, and first responders who have been injured as a result of trauma exposure. The goal is to have critical supports in place for people before they need them, acting proactively to mitigate the effects of trauma exposure. We want to be there for them when they need it, so they are not in a situation of scrambling for support after they are injured. Communities are only as healthy as the members who form them. We continue to do everything in our power to rally around those who have been injured, offering needed support.

Our thoughts are with you, our dear friends in Toronto. To those injured or killed and their families and friends. To the first responders who put themselves in harm’s way to assist with such a horrific scene, we thank you for working selflessly to make the world a safer place.