My grandfather Charles understood what he needed to do to heal when he came home from WWI. He took some family-owned land and started to dig a lake. It was just him and a mule out there in nature for a long time, digging. I have heard some people suggest that he was crazy and others who believe he was simply a good businessman because Pine Lake became a successful business for my family for many years. I believe he instinctively understood the power of nature, animals, and a sense of purpose as important components in recovering from the horrors of war. I never had the opportunity to meet my grandfather, and it has taken me a long time to learn what he seemed to know intuitively.
The effects of combat are often only seen when the threat is over – some of what we now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are the very things that kept members of the military safe while in harm’s way. It’s ironic that hypervigilance and emotional numbness are highly desirable qualities when one is under attack, yet become problematic after danger has passed if not released and healed. They become mistrust, paranoia, and aloofness – true barriers in everyday life that also prevent one from seeking help.
When individuals experience traumatic events, especially many in close time proximity as in combat, they often attempt to minimize the effect these events have on them. They want so badly to get back to normal that they strive to suppress those memories. This emotional silencing takes a lot of energy and although it may be effective for the short term, it invariably fails as a long-term strategy. Feelings of understanding, safety and comradery can help veterans find their voice, and speaking or writing about trauma can offer new ways of looking at, new perceptions, of past events. Learning to talk about what had been unspeakable, for years or even decades, is an important component of regaining the control that allows veterans to live more freely in the present.
Another veteran in the group recounted that he had a similar situation during the birth of his son. It was not until much later that he could process his emotions and realized that he feared seeing his wife and infant with blood on them, afraid it would bring back the horrific sights and sounds of the Vietnam War. The first veteran gasped to realize that this was the reason for his own enduring disagreement with his wife. It was not that he refused to celebrate the birth of each of his children, but that he feared watching a birth might bring about intrusive thoughts, flashbacks and nightmares that he had spent lots of energy trying to control.
My experiences living overseas on ‘downrange’ military bases, counseling veterans at a community Vet Center, traveling to Vietnam with veterans on a journey of reconciliation, and working as a responder on the National Veterans Crisis Line have all showed me the need that too often goes unmet. Equinox Ranch is the culmination of my experiences working with veterans. The idea for Equinox Ranch was conceived when a friend, a nurse at the VA, and I stopped to buy a Powerball ticket when the jackpot was well over 250 million dollars. This amount was more than any beach house or anything we could want for ourselves, so we started to envision a special place where veterans could begin to recover from their war experiences. Like millions of others, we did not win the jackpot but the idea remained. It has taken us three years of research and planning, and this year we finally secured a location for the ranch in Cullowhee, North Carolina.
There is much evidence that both traditional and nontraditional therapies have more lasting effects on the social, psychological, and physical well-being of combat veterans than the many medications that are prescribed. Art, music, exercise, and other nonverbal activities have all been shown to be effective, as well talk therapy and group support. The program at Equinox is centered on these non-medical therapies. We believe the opportunity to be with others who have shared similar experiences, and with those who understand, away from the demands of everyday life and relationships, can be healing.
We are in the midst of transforming this large riverfront property into the ranch and hope to welcome our first class of veterans next year. The Equinox Ranch program is unique in many ways and we welcome you to visit our website (www.equinoxranch.org) and discover what we offer those suffering from the invisible wounds of war. Please contact us with any questions or comments. We welcome your support of time, goods, or money to help us bring the ranch to life. Help us give veterans the homecoming they deserve!
Email Margo at: firstname.lastname@example.org