It’s early Saturday morning, the final full day of our retreat. A few vets are sipping coffee in the dining room quietly talking; others sitting together in silence while journal writing. Down the hall in the great room, there is artistic chaos strewn over and under the tables after 3 days of creating under the guidance of an art professor. A few vets are finishing their projects. The once tidy circle of chairs in the middle of the room are scattered in smaller groups amid guitars, flutes, shoes slipped off and the vets’retreat folders.And on the far west end of this room with a 20 ft glass view of Mother Nature’s majesty,there is already a fire crackling. Feels like home.
The Warriors Heart to Art retreat uses the expressive arts to help vets struggling with post-traumatic stress tell their story, not with words, but with paint, glue, shards of broken glass, nuts and bolts, barbed wire and anything they find on their walks.They tell their story through song guided by our singer/songwriter; they tell their story by digging deep to find feelings that can only point to the unspeakable. These feelings morph into words arranged poetically on the blank page of traumatic brain injury. They tell their story during the morning Tai-Chi, moving shoulders stiff with moral burdens and legs that have walked among the dead.Their bodies surrender stories with soft moans under the healing hands of our massage therapists.
Often, the horror of the initial trauma renders one speechless, but right brain art activities can open the door to healing. Warriors Heart to Art is a Spokane based,all-volunteer, non-profit organization whose mission is to help vets heal through art and fellowship and to help the Spokane community understand military trauma.We welcome all vets, men and women, of all ages and eras whose struggles keep them stuck.
While we are not faith-based nor do we represent any political stance, we do welcome the hospitality of Immaculate Heart Retreat Center where each vet hast heir own room, toilet and sink; where hot coffee flows 24/7,the food is plentiful,the surrounding grounds come with an owl and the sense of peace is palpable.
The last night of the retreat, the Vets emerge to do truth-telling. We call it The Welcome. The venue for this public gathering is the Unitarian Universalist Church on Fort George Wright Drive, whose generous congregation has donated its space and sound crew for the past 7 years.The vets choose if and how to share their truth and the public bears witness.It is a powerful combination of fear and triumph of the human spirit surrounded by battle buddies,friends, family and strangers from their chosen hometown.
The retreat facilitation team consists of a diverse all-volunteer staff of veterans,many with professional degrees and/or combat experience, as well as other professionals. For those vets who believe our program might be a good fit, they quickly discover that it is not available anywhere else in the Pacific Northwest. After the retreat, we refer them to community resources including the Spokane Vet Center to ensure a smooth transition after what is often a peak experience.Comments from the retreat evaluation or from later
“Since the retreat I have reconnected with my spirituality and suicide is off the table. I have found purpose in life.”Vietnam Vet
“I felt the love and respect of all my vets, staff and community. It made me think I can do more.”Desert Storm Vet
“Finally, a chance to learn how to tell my own truth about what happened.”Desert Storm Vet
“The art broke me open to things I couldn’t say.”Iraq War Vet
This year’s retreat is November 20th–24th. And The Welcome, appropriate for High School Juniors and older,is Saturday, November 23rd, at 7pm at the Unitarian Universalist Church.Vets can visit www.warriorshearttoart.org for information and to submit a registration. If this project inspires you to help veterans, there are links for volunteers and to sponsor a veteran.The retreat is offered to vets at no cost with donations from Spokane area partners.The vets are often surprised, then deeply grateful when they learn that members of their military and civilian communities pick up the bill.It is a significant step towards them believing they are still part of something greater; that they belong.
Mary DeLateur, LICSW
Warriors Heart to Art Retreat