Meet Me on the Slopes: Reconnecting in Nature

Meet Me On the Slopes: Reconnecting in Nature 

When a soldier returns home wounded–grappling with PTS and plagued by nightmares–he may struggle to feel connected to his wife. Married couples who have been close for years, even decades, who are used to trading secrets and sharing life-altering experiences, suddenly feel like they are from different planets. Even like they’re living on different planets. The space seems vast, and the silence seems deafening.

Finding a way to reconnect is essential. Therapy and sharing, bonding over the struggles of a new way of life, and working through difficulties by talking them out are all helpful practices. But sometimes it takes something more–something unexpected and drastically different–to forge a new bond.

This was the case for Jane.

Jane met her husband Kyle while working as a park ranger at Vail mountain , Colorado. He was a big guy, bald and blue-eyed, with an appealingly athletic build and personality to match. Jane was an outdoorsy person herself, and they fell in love hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter together. They were engaged six months after they met and married six months later in October 1990. Kyle was in the Navy reserves then, doing his duty on weekends and two weeks a year. After they were married nearly 20 years, Kyle was put on active duty and was required to leave for longer periods. Eventually he was deployed overseas.

In Afghanistan, Kyle’s Humvee was hit by an IED explosion, and both of his legs had to be amputated. He was lucky to be medevaced out within an first hour or it could have been much worse. After bilateral amputations to the knees, he was fitted with new legs and had to go through intense physical therapy.

Once he was back on his feet, Jane thought their life together would be easier. She didn’t notice the aftershocks of PTS and traumatic brain injury until after Kyle was discharged and had been home for quite some time. He often got dizzy and had ringing in his ears; his eyes became light sensitive which forced him to wear dark glasses all the time; he was very distressed by noise and could not be around crowds. Jane believed they had a strong marriage – they had been married for over 20 years — but his injuries changed how they treated each other.

“We’re still very close and love each other very much,” she said. “But I feel I have to leave the room at times because of something he says or does.”

One of the changes that is most noticeable to Jane is Kyle’s temper. Whenever he became angry he had no filter when he spoke.

“He’s emotionally regressed,” Jane confided. “He’s not the man he used to be. Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with a two-year-old throwing a temper tantrum.”

Jane found that her husband’s PTS took a psychological toll on her as well. She would get depressed because she couldn’t always do the things she wanted to do. What bothered her the most was having to make excuses to their friends and family for their absences.  Sometimes she would cope in unhealthy ways such as eating more or not going to the gym. Self-care can fall to the wayside when all of your time and energy get used up caring for someone else. It’s natural, but frustrating.

She still puts time, energy, and effort into her relationship with Kyle, though, and focuses on cultivating patience.

“When I was younger I was a bit of a hot head myself, but age has mellowed me, so I can go with the flow better in certain situations.”

Jane has taken it upon herself to study up on PTS to get a better understanding of what triggers Kyle’s outbursts. She also formulates strategies for heading it off by removing him from situations that cause him anxiety or stress.

Jane was grateful that she’d had the chance to travel when she was younger, because when her life changed and she was convinced her globe-trotting days were over, she felt content to stay home and care for her husband and grandkids. But just when Jane had resigned herself to letting go of traveling and adventures, Kyle told her about National Ability Center.

And in the blink of an eye, they were packing their  bags to go to Park City.

The National Ability Center provides rehabilitation sports training to severely wounded warriors and their wives. Jane was excited about this organization because although it was focused on helping her husband heal, she got to participate too.

Kyle’s instructors at the National Ability Center strapped him into a monoski and put him on Deer Valley’s bunny hill, while Jane skied along with him. She watched him open up and transform before her eyes. This program got him out of his shell and added a new dimension to their life through their shared love of the outdoors.

“Gliding through the snow on ‘wings of wood’ is the closest thing to flying,” Jane explains. “We felt a sense of thrill and joy soaring over the shining crystalline whiteness.”

The healing process is a journey that lasts a lifetime—for wounded warriors and their caregivers. The four days Jane spent with Kyle in Park city skiing and sharing meals with other Wounded Warriors and their wives was a turning point in both of their lives. They met skiing, and it was skiing that brought them back together again. Now these two are healing their wounded souls through sharing new positive experiences, and gently forcing a world that can feel small and suffocating to expand and unfold.

As a physical therapist working with patients in rehabilitation, I have seen how most patients can’t wait to get out into the great outdoors after being in a hospital for months. I’ve taken patients skiing, fishing, hiking and horseback riding, and have watched their eyes light up as they experience the world beyond the hospital room.

Sometimes I think the very best thing couples can do is run like hell — as fast and as far away as they can possibly go. Because there are circumstances in which a change of scenery can change their minds.  There are times when spending time away from the hospital, away from the city, away from the stress, can be just the balm their wounded soul needs to recover. And when you feel trapped in the stifling space of a home filled with angry outbursts, flashbacks, and night terrors, leaving home together can be the key to unlocking a whole new level of recovery and reconciliation.

Taking a running leap can, at times, gives you a better chance of learning to fly. Leaping together can help you reunite in flight.

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Essential Archetypes: Why ALL Women Can Be Warriors

Last week, we continued exploring the four essential archetypes that inspired my foundation: Mother, lover, warrior, and sage. Today, let's discuss the Warrior archetype.

When life gives you something that makes you feel afraid, that’s when life gives you a chance to be brave.
— Lupytha Hermin

Do you consider yourself to be a warrior? Many of us don't. In fact, when I first started writing and speaking about the concepts of mother, lover, warrior, and sage, I learned that the “warrior” identity was the hardest for most women to embrace. The women I spoke with would tell me, “But I’ve never served in the military,” or “I don’t think of myself as a fighter.” I understood these comments and valued their honesty.

But in the big picture of women’s lives, being a “warrior” doesn’t always mean being a fighter.  It doesn’t always mean wearing a uniform and taking down enemies in combat. It doesn't always mean being physically strong and completely fearless. It certainly can, and many of the women we think of as quintessential warriors kick butt in the most literal of ways! Ronda Rousey, Tammy Duckworth, Harriet Tubman, and Grace Hopper all are valiant women warriors, and deserving of our admiration.

But the warrior woman in you—in me, in each of us—is simply our bravest, most autonomous self. She is self-sufficient, unafraid to ask for what she needs, and brimming with ambition. This brave self gives us the ability to set goals, to make decisions, to build our own lives.

The warrior woman in you is a planner, and she is a doer. She has fears and weaknesses and sometimes she stumbles and falls. But when she is weary, she doesn't quit, she merely rests. Pausing to replenish her energy and prepare herself for what comes next. She writes her own life story, one task at a time.

 

Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.
— Margaret Thatcher

Consider women like Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. Consider Clara Barton, a trailblazing nurse during the US civil war who founded the American Red Cross. Both were women of action, unafraid to enter dangerous territory so they could help heal the injured. They never took up arms themselves, but they were brave warriors nonetheless.

Consider Rosa Parks, who stood up for her rights as a Black woman during a time of tremendous prejudice. Consider Amelia Earhart who flew solo across the Atlantic during a time when women weren't “allowed” to be pilots. Consider Aung San Suu Kyi who was a political prisoner for 20 yearsin Burma, but became so beloved and respected for her bravery that she went on to lead the very country that had imprisoned her.

All are warriors, through and through. Courageous, self-reliant, ambitious, and visionary.

But all are extraordinary examples, and may feel out-of-reach for us average Janes. So what does the modern-day warrior in each of us do? How can we lead our communities in solving social problems? How can we follow in the footsteps of legendary women like Helen of Troy, Joan of Arc, or Cleopatra?

Here’s how: We can stand up and speak out when we see injustice. We can show compassion, push beyond our fears, and help those in need. The warrior spirit works in each of us. It’s the inextinguishable fire that drives us to fight unfairness, fight indignities, fight hopelessness. And it's the calm, wise, centered energy we need to set boundaries for ourselves, meet our own needs, and chase our dreams tirelessly.

 

I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.
— Maya Angelou

While researching my new book, Wounded Warrior, Wounded Wife, I spoke with dozens of women who had married warriors, but had to learn to view themselves as warriors, too. As they faced down life-changing decisions, wrestled with endless medical jargon and unending bureaucracy, and were forced to reconfigure their entire lives around a beloved and now-disabled spouse, they dug deep and summoned up their inner warriors. These women weren't fearless, but they knew how to face their fears with dignity and patience. Their spouses fought bravely on the battlefield, and they stepped up to fight bravely on the home front.

May we all draw inspiration from their examples. May we all stretch out a welcoming arm to our own inner warrior, pull her up, and embrace her wholeheartedly. The world needs warriors who fight with might, but also needs warriors who fight with words, with generosity, with big, bold acts of love.

Let us all charge into battle armed with determination, kindness, and the knowledge that our determination alone can move mountains.

“She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her her way, she adjusted her sails."

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