Day 6- At The Vine & Branch (for returning soldiers and their families)
0600 Fishing trip with Dave
“Jim, Mark, Terry, Anthony, this is Kate, and she’s one of our Best Practice Volunteers. Kate is a Road Construction Forman out of Portland with Benson Group. And….she says that she can ‘out fish’ all of you.”
“Whatever Dave! Nice to meet you all.”
Small talk is made among everyone as they load the pontoon boat with enough provisions for the day. Jim doesn’t say much to Kate but watches the other guys interact with her. The other guys are younger than Jim, accept for Terry. Terry is about the same age as Jim, both retired but at V&B for different reasons.
“I think she’s a lesbian…..Terry that’s horrible, but maybe she is. She’s not wearing a wedding ring or anything.” “Why would V&B have her here? It’s not like we have anything to talk about.”
Jim and Terry continue in these kinds of speculations for the first couple of hours on the lake. The boat is big enough to where discreet conversations are not heard, but Dave can pretty much tell that Jim and Terry have formed some false assumptions about Kate. Kate lives with these reactions all the time from older men, and she’s not surprised, nor is she deterred from interacting with them.
During her first week at the V&B, Kate was taught about the concept and process of reality testing. Kate understands how intentional reality testing helps her and the Veterans she interacts with. She breaks away from the conversation she is having with Mark, Anthony, and Dave, casting her line out next to Jim and Terry’s.
“Mind if I fish next to you guys? Dave says that there’s a good hole on this side.” “No problem with us Jim says.” The three fish in awkward silence for about an hour until Kate breaks the ice and begins asking Jim and Terry about their lives. The conversation starts off slowly at first. Kate shares with the men about her husband, three kids, and how she decided to enter the road construction business because she has a fascination with engineering. Pretty soon, Jim and Terry were enthralled with Kate’s story about her past, including her current job, and their perceptions of her were changed during the conversation.
Over the course of the next couple of hours, Kate gained Jim and Terry’s trust and was able to openly ask them why they were tentative about talking to her. She already knew all of the reasons because of her current work experiences. Once Kate gained their trust, she conveyed to them the importance of being able to step out of “comfort zones” and automatic assumptions, especially when it comes to co-workers or potential employers. By the end of the fishing trip mid afternoon, where not a single fish was caught, Jim came away with a sudden realization about how patterns of pushing people away and making assumptions detract from his ability to find meaningful work or relationships outside of the military culture.
0900 EMDR with Dr. Robinson
The EMDR session went well with Dr. Robinson. When Fran began to describe a specific element of the abuse at the hands of her stepfather, she describes herself as being around a 9 or 10 on the SUDS Scale. What Fran also begins to realize during the treatment is that her mother knew about the abuse but did nothing about it. The fact that Fran’s mother knew about the abuse and did nothing to stop it was even more traumatic then the abuse itself. The “Safe Place” for Fran, the safe place she chose for herself as a comforting thought in the midst of the chaos was to cook in a large kitchen. When intrusive thoughts or headaches would occur, Fran was taught to envision herself cooking in the kitchen. “The cool thing about my safe place is that I get to work on changing it and improving it every time I think about it,” says Fran.
1000 Session with Kamiah
Fran and Kamiah spend the hour talking about her experience with Dr. Robinson. Kamiah teaches Fran some standard breathing and relaxation techniques as part of V&B’s post EMDR session care protocol. Fran indicates that she is working on her picture but keeps “getting stuck” on the colors describing her mom. “Fran, getting stuck is fine. Your brain is processing a lot of emotions and thoughts at the same time right now, and it’s a lot to digest.” The rejection Fran felt by her mother is so painful that she has trouble remembering it. “Maybe it’s why I haven’t been able to share with Jim all this stuff. He was always gone so much or just busy with work, and I didn’t really want to bother him with all this.”
Note: Just like the civilian population, Many Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have similar stories that they attempt to escape from. Military culture does not lend itself to addressing these hidden issues, not out of a fear of weakness necessarily, but instead due to a culture of people that experiences constant movement between duty assignments. For example, most military families move roughly every 3 to 5 years. Incidentally, the higher your rank, the more you move.
1300 Staff Meeting Notes Highlights
Sexual Abuse as a child / manifesting itself in somatic symptoms now
Repressed anger / hurt at mother’s lack of action when sexual abuse was discovered.
Work on expanding the black dot in Fran’s picture.
Jim is not fully aware of the abuse. He only knows that something happened to his wife when she was younger. Intent is to work on integrating abuse issues into marriage counseling.
Couple desires to join Izzie’s Cooking Group and this is coordinated for at the meeting.
Jim crossed into a new level of trust with Counselor and gained a new understanding about working with someone he doesn’t know very well or understand.
Jim is beginning to see the value partnering with his wife in future career decisions post V&B.
Counselor will also encourage Jim to partner with Fran as she explores her past, engaging in dialogue that must happen as the couple transitions from military life to the civilian world.
Jim is starting to see that sex is not simply a goal.
1400 Trip to the Garden
With counseling sessions out of the way for the morning, Jim out fishing with Dave, and a long afternoon siesta, Fran decides that she would like to visit V&B’s gardens. She’s strolled past them numerous times already, simply admiring them from afar.
Fran has no idea why she feels the urge to visit the gardens, but she does, almost like she’s led there for some reason. She thinks about nothing, simply enjoying the blue sky, watching the stream that runs adjacent to the path leading too and through two of the vegetable gardens and one of the healing gardens.
V&B has three very large produce gardens and 4 “healing gardens” that are managed by a Horticultural Specialist who also holds a degree in “Horticultural Therapy.” Incidentally, V&B recently received a grant to build 5 large greenhouses on some land currently being used by V&B for cattle production.
From her bench next to a pond full of silly looking gold fish, their mouths making funny sounds on the water’s surface as they wait for food, Fran spots members of the cooking group harvesting produce that looks kind of like bell peppers, but it’s hard for her to tell from the bench she now sits upon. She would normally feel “obligated” to visit with the cooking group out of a sense guilt but doesn’t have that problem this morning. Instead, she’s content to sit by herself and is suddenly happy that she didn’t get up. “I don’t know why, I need to remember to tell Kamiah about this.” Fran knows that she will join this group on a more formal basis later and is excited about it, but the time right now is hers and hers alone.
The guilt about not joining the Cooking Group quickly passes from her mind and from the pit of her stomach, and she’s lost again in the beauty of her surroundings. She hasn’t reflected much about God recently or of her relationship with Him, and right now in this moment, she experiences a peace that she just can’t understand. “My head is not hurting right now.” She lets this thought pass too and continues to enjoy the quiet moment.
She begins to pray and cry at the same time, instantly pouring out anger towards God, the God who makes the flowers grow, the God who created these stupid fish, the God who does not leave Fran’s side, comforting her in ways that Counselors or husbands will never be able to. Fran understands that God uses everything around her and loves her, understanding her in ways that her mother never could.
1900 Dinner with friends
Prior to dinner with the Mike and Christine Anderson, Jim and Fran spent a couple of hours relaxing together by the indoor pool. Jim swam laps while Fran read her newest crime mystery novel.
Jim and Mike were in the same unit at different times. Mike is 15 years younger than Jim and lost both of his legs due to an IED explosion in Iraq. Jim was diagnosed with PTSD two years ago, and his Counselor recommended V&B due to reoccurring bouts of depression over the past two years. After earning a degree in finance during his re-cooperation, Mike is now working as a Certified Public Accountant and Christine is pursuing a Nursing Degree.
The Andersons have two teenage daughters whom they left with friends during their stay at the V&B. Jim met Mike on a visit to the fishing cabin one day and started a conversation when Mike noticed Jim wearing a shirt with his old unit crest. The two became instant friends and so did Fran and Christine. The Andersons are completing their last week at the V&B and will depart in two days. They are from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The Anderson’s cabin is on the other side of Otter Lake, a 15 minute walk from Fran and Jim’s cabin, so they leave about 20 minutes till 7.
On their walk, they notice a big crowd of people gathered around the outside of V&B’s large guest house along the house’s eastern wall. The house has about 30 guest rooms and family suites. Entirely made of stone and large lumber beams, the house sits majestically on the top of Crest Wood Hill. Because they are running early for their dinner with the Andersons, Jim and Fran go and see what everyone is watching and laughing about.
Crest Wood House’s eastern wall is white and perfect for viewing movies. Tonight’s feature: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. “Love that movie” says Fran. “Yup, looks like everyone is having a pretty good time. Wonder what they will be showing next week.” “Jim, I think tonight is a double feature. Maybe we can catch the next movie if dinner is finished early.” “Sounds like a plan to me, but it’s probably a chic flick or something like.” “Your point is Mr. Smith? Is there a problem Mr. Smith?” He smiles “No maam, no problem from Mr. Smith here.” “Good, I didn’t think so.” “Mrs. Smith, are you hitting on me?” “Maybe” she says in a tone of voice Jim hasn’t heard in years.
Jim wonders to himself if he simply hasn’t been listening close enough to the woman he loves. The two hold hands and continue walking past everyone, a simple gesture not lost between the two because Jim typically does not show affection in public.
Pass on Something We’ve Learned Before We Go
“Mike and Christine, thanks for inviting us you guys.” “Of course, Mike wanted to have the two of you over ever since Dave introduced the two of these guys. Come on in. Hope you like fondue.” “Where did you get a fondue set” asked Fran. “It’s a surprise! We’ll tell you over dinner.”
The Anderson’s are true entertainers and dinner is already prepared to share. The solid oak table comfortably seats six to eight adults b/c V& B knows that guests often entertain each other during their stays. To the Smith’s surprise, there are actually two fondue pots, one with oil and one with un-melted chocolate in it. Presented before everyone are pieces of marinated steak, chicken, and rabbit, the rabbit being caught during one of Mike and Christine’s recent hunting trips on the ranch.
As they sit down Mike is like “yup, that’s rabbit. Christine likes to hunt. In fact, she’s the one that introduced me to hunting believe it or not. Been soaking the thing in buttermilk most of the day to get the gaminess out of it.” “You can have mine Jim” Fran laughs out loud. They all toast to Fran and laugh.
Over the two hour dinner, the Smiths and the Andersons share in their experiences at the V&B. They do not dwell on the past nor do they worry about the future. Instead, the two couples enjoy the moment, the kind of evening that will be remembered for a very long time.
During the dessert of chocolate fondue, bananas, and strawberries, Fran finally ventures the “what’s the surprise you were talking about earlier?”
Jim decides to answer first, “Well, these fondue pots here, we are giving them to you to pass along to someone else.” “I don’t understand” says Fran. Continuing, Christine shares that “there’s a tradition here at the V&B that we were told about at the end of our first week on the Ranch.” Tears streaming down Christine’s face, she continues. “We are giving these pots to you guys because your example of love has meant so much to us.” Seeing that Christine is getting choked up Mike takes the lead: “People in their last week at the V&B pass down something special to others that they have grown close to. Christine and I watch you both interact with each other, and we hope to have a marriage like yours one day.” After composing herself with a smile “we know you guys struggle with things, just like the rest of us do, but we watch you with each other and know that you are working through a lot of stuff. We just admire you both.”
Sitting in amazement at what was just said, tears flow from both Jim and Fran. All they can say is “thank you.” It’s a rare moment in life when all is well, and quiet understandings and affirmations do not need to be voiced.
Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are exchanged; promises of future visits are made, and the Smiths leave for the evening. The evening was so good that Jim wondered if he would be able to escape Fran’s “chick flick” but he knows better.
Chris Allen is a counselor and an Army Officer just returning from Afghanistan. He is passionate about developing counseling practices that best address Veterans and their families. Blog comments are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense.