More than 50 women veterans and service members, who were serving or had served in the military, attended retreats at Omega in the fall of 2014, and for many it was the first time they were exclusively among other women warriors. A year later, participants have shared the impact of their time at Omega.
The first program, Stronger Together: A Retreat for Women Serving or Who Have Served in the Military, was held in September 2014, and the second program, Healing From Military Trauma: A Retreat for Military Women & Women Veterans, was held in October 2014.
Judy, a Stronger Together participant, served in the Army for 21 years. With two children and a soldier husband, her family experienced 10 moves and multiple deployments. Early in her military training, she says she learned a "suck it up and drive on" mentality that stayed with her until she retired in 2012. Throughout her career she dealt with multiple health issues related to stress but never got support for them through military channels because she believed it could tarnish her reputation as a leader.
"This was the first retreat I have ever attended, and it was life changing," she said. "I learned that there were other women who had experienced many of the same challenges and stressors that I had. We all spoke the same language and understood each other’s perspectives. I learned many new skills for healing that I can pass along to my family and other military veterans I come in contact with. I had not realized until the end of the workshop just how much I had shut down emotionally, always needing to put on a strong face as a soldier and leader. [The retreat] allowed me to finally feel safe and relaxed enough to feel my emotions openly with the group the last day. That was a huge breakthrough for me. The healing I experienced through this workshop will never be forgotten.”
Many participants also reported a new sense of community built with other women during their time at Omega, along with the opportunity to relax in a safe, peaceful environment on campus.
“This retreat has changed my life in so many positive ways,” said one Healing From Military Trauma participant. “Finding out I was not alone in my experiences and being able to be with women who understood the military aspect was something I could not have found anywhere but here.”
“I can only describe my time at Omega as paradise on earth,” said another Stronger Together participant. “The entire time was relaxing and I look forward to the next meeting and learning segment.”
Participants in both programs tried a variety of healing modalities such as large-group and small-group discussion, work in pairs, art and music activities, movement, and self-regulation skills, which are practices that focus on safety, adaption, and integrative functioning.
Surveys six months following the Stronger Together program revealed 75 percent of the participants continued to practice movement activities once a month or more, and more than half continued to use Social Resilience Model skills (SRM). Healing from Military Trauma participants reported similar takeaways with more than 80 percent continuing to use movement and more than 70 percent using SRM skills after the retreat.
“A safe space was created allowing these women to bond and trust one another to share at a deep level,” said Susan Lynch, primary faculty member for Healing From Military Trauma. “Through the mind-body movement and relaxation practices, the discussions and the connection with one another, they found tears, laughter, release, and connection to one another, which helped them feel like they are not alone.”
Omega's Veterans Initiative began offering retreats for former members of the armed services in 2007. In 2012, the initiative began hosting programs to create safe and healing spaces for women serving or who have served in the military. Laurie Leitch is leading the Stronger Together retreat again at Omega October 18-23, 2015, and additional retreats are being planned for 2016.
© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies