This morning started like many others. The alarm sounds, calling the dogs to the side of the bed. It’s almost 6 a.m. but there’s no sign of the sun just yet. Suited up in all-weather jackets, hiking boots, and headlamps, my husband and I head out on our morning walk. We travel along the first half of our familiar trail in silence since it generally takes 15 minutes before I can string together a coherent sentence this early in the morning. It’s a route we do almost every morning, roughly four kilometres of grassy trail that winds through the forest by our house. Some mornings we see a local fox and her kits, more commonly deer.
This morning, my thoughts gravitate to the Landing Strong Centre. Every day brings forth new possibilities. I’m happiest when someone new reaches out and asks to join our community. Today was a good day as Doug Allen and I worked collaboratively to create a series of workshops for Caregivers. As we take time on this Thanksgiving weekend to think of the people and events we are most grateful for, caregivers are at the front of our minds. These are the folks who stick with it, morning and night, through better and through worse, working tirelessly to support the recovery of their loved ones.
This weekend marks the launch of our caregiver campaign. Every week, we will be sending you tips and tools for managing the challenge of loving someone who has PTSD. They are the people who tirelessly continue to show up, with little expectation of thanks or acknowledgement.
No matter what news awaits me at work, I start my day with four kilometres of nature trails. Through rain, mist, mud or hail, the dogs need to go out. Through good news or bad moods, I keep moving.
The trail may stay the same, but each time I experience it differently.
Like you, I am on a journey. The work will never be finished, so I can’t put life on hold until I’m done. I’ll pace myself: working a bit on it each day. It’s through a series of repeated small steps that big things become possible.
Warmest regards for this Thanksgiving weekend. A special thanks to my family, the Landing Strong Team, and Extended Community (that’s you) for walking with me.
‘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.
I was deeply touched last week when I read an article about Skippy, an 10-month-old barn cat, who crawled home ten days after going missing. He had three broken legs and puncture and talon marks on his back leg. Carried away by an owl, Skippy fought furiously for survival until the bird of prey dropped him, leading to the broken bones. With his one good leg, he somehow managed to drag himself home.
Like Skippy, many of us have an equally strong desire to find our way home; even when it may seem impossible. Although the breaks and injuries might not be visible, invisible wounds can prevent an easy return. Once we have arrived at our destination, that’s often when the real work begins. Will we ever be the same? Is recovery possible? What must happen for us to fit into home as we previously knew it?
This is the work of Landing Strong. It takes incredible resilience to make the journey. We hope that you will join us on September 27th in celebrating the strength, courage, and fortitude it takes for service men and women, veterans, and first responders who are struggling to find their way home.
Another great restorative yoga class this week left me feeling calm and centered (thanks Lisa!). At the end of the class, we practice Savasana, a pose where we lie silently on our backs, eyes closed. This exercise isn’t a physically challenging one, but it is one where the mind tends to wander. During this part, our instructor played a wonderful rendition of the tune “Sea of Love,” the theme song from the 1989 box office movie sensation. In this moment, where we are supposed to be clearing our minds, I was replaying a scene from the movie involving Al Pacino, who plays the role of a burnt-out cop. He is part of a sting operation designed to apprehend people with outstanding warrants, luring them in with the promise of having breakfast with the American Major League baseball star Dave Winfield. Everything was going smoothly until one late-comer shows up holding the hand of his young son.
“Hey, am I too late?” he asks.
“You got an invitation?” Al Pacino demands. The father hands over a piece of paper.
“Ernest Lee, the invitation’s for you only,” Pacino asserts.
“I can hardly meet Dave Winfield without takin’ my boy”, the man pleads.
Not wanting to ruin what was clearly a positive relationship between father and son, Pacino decides to cut him a break.
“We’re all booked up.” Pacino discreetly flashes his police badge, signalling to the father that the baseball player event was a trap.
“Thanks man,” the father backs away with his son.
“Catch you later,” Pacino responds before driving away.
It’s a dark film, about a dark topic, but many years later that’s the scene I remember… someone in a dark place, showing an act of compassion.
Memory and association are closely related. It is not the actual events that create our emotions, it’s how we process and remember these events. If I were stressed out maybe I would have remembered the fact that Al Pacino was a drunk and that the movie was actually about a serial killer. Because I was relaxed, I just remembered the good bit… the compassion.
This is a reminder for me to take the extra time to care for myself. If I take this extra time the bad things I may have experienced don’t seem quite so awful. (And believe me, in my seven years acting as Chief Psychologist in a federal penitentiary, there was bad stuff). If I take the time to process these events, they don’t affect me as much. I am more able to remember the good aspects of my job.
Many of us have experienced or witnessed incredibly traumatic or dark things as a routine part of our daily work. Looking back, how we feel about them is largely determined by how we remember them. The lens of trauma only remembers things the same way, repeated over and over. By welcoming the perspective of others in a safe and supportive environment, we open ourselves to seeing things in a new light, often changing the way these events emotionally impact us.
Link to Al Pacino’s Sea of Love
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.
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.