Friday, February 14, 2014

How to Become Romantic & De-Stress in 3 Easy Steps by Colleen M. Ryan of Armored Grace

We are fools.
            We leave the enchantment of youth, and are steadily conditioned to believe that romance only exists in long-stemmed roses and candle-lit dinners.  It is a debilitating, socially-constructed phenomenon that limits our senses to intermittent, fleeting moments of sweet clarity.  In actuality, romance is the conscious management of ordinary stressors in your most advantageous way.  In every moment, whether alone or in the company of another, romance is regulated exclusively by personal judgment.

Here are the steps to designing your very own course to everlasting romance:
Step #1 Test Your Rocking Chair
            Imagine that you are a vivacious 70-years-old, relaxing in your favorite rocking chair, atop your dream porch, in your dream home, in your dream town.  Every one of your unique self-ideals has been met: everything that you’ve wanted to achieve in fulfillment of your one-of-a-kind purpose is achieved; every relationship is thriving; every to-do, done; every bill, satisfied; and every item on your bucket-list, checked.  Then, involve your infinite senses: take-in the view, taste your refreshing beverage, feel the honeyed air upon your skin, savor your accomplished and grateful heart…

Step #2 Discover Your Wisdom
            Apply what you learned in your rocking chair to the now, and you will minimize disagreements between your present and future self; this will help to manage feelings of a stressful life.  Stress is merely pressure from the environment, and you decide its bearing: oblivious reactions to stress paralyze you with anxiety, but consciously directed responses to pressure will steer you into purposeful action.  Fall in love with your elderly self, commit to guiding yourself throughout your course, and you will minimize distress along the way.

Step #3 Maintain Your Course
            If you spend too much of your time appreciating insignificant details, you will mindlessly drift into the storm.  Instead, accept inevitable challenges as part of the wholly satisfying nature of reality, because the things that you judge as bad play a key role in motivation (see adage: everything happens for a reason).  Regulate your experience wisely by remembering your vivacious future-self in all of your decisions, and in all of your routine, and you will begin to draw those elusive and intermittent, fleeting moments of sweet clarity into every second that you truly do.  
Romance awaits.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again

The following is a blog I wrote for the Bush Center on the powerful way horses help veterans heal.  For those warriors struggling to find their place in the civilian world, this can be a very powerful therapy.  For many, equine therapy can help them turn the corner.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why I Write by Teresa Fazio

I started with the part of my life I least wanted to write about. When I was a communications-officer lieutenant stationed in Iraq, I had an affair which I hid from the world for most of a decade. In denying my experience, I let my heart rot under a mask of everything’s-okay. Pangs of guilt stabbed through relief at returning from war.
But writing was soulcraft. I have always found solace in words, peace in assembling an auditory rhythm of interlocking syllables. I was that kid scribbling in a diary at age six, sixteen, twenty-three. I wrote to make sense of what I’d witnessed and felt, to flush the river of anxious sludge undercutting my days. Words irrigated my memory-wounds so scar tissue could form.
When I first started writing about Iraq, I thought, “oh, I’ll just write a few vignettes about the war, maybe a book of short stories. I can’t possibly write about this illicit-relationship thing.” But it kept circling back. I couldn’t not write about it.
Then I published the whole sordid tale in the New York Times. The day after the article ran was, quite possibly, the most liberated day of my life. In letting go of shame, I made room for other feelings like happiness and gratitude. I felt like I had nothing to lose. The worst thing I’d ever done was on display, yet no mobs marched to lynch me. Friends, family, colleagues, and strangers demonstrated shocking levels of compassion, of which I am only rarely capable towards myself.
The most surprising responses were from fellow Marines who said, “you’re not alone; I have a story for you.” I never suspected these folks of holding secrets beneath their uniforms. Just as, I suppose, they never suspected me. Paradoxically, strength lies in admitting vulnerability. Exposing secrets lessens their power. 
In my head, I still marinate in terror of potential reactions to my memoir, both from people I’ll never meet and from those I’ve known for decades. Sometimes the fear is paralyzing. But I know that this is something I need to write.
If you’re anything like me, you will have spent years lying to yourself—“no, I’m okay, everything’s fine.” It is not fine, else you would not feel the compulsion to get it out of your head, your tapping fingers neuromuscular conduits from aching brain cell to blinking cursor. Write what is honest and true. It’s okay if it sucks. It’s okay if you burn it. Neither your mother nor your middle-school teachers will read your first draft. But you must write the story that only you can write.

Start here. Start today. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Heading Correction by Jeff Hensley

For eight months last year and into this Spring, I counseled veterans at the Denton County Jail.  Initially, I did it as part of my master's requirement for the counseling program at the University of North Texas.  But I felt so connected to the population, I stayed on as a volunteer after graduating. 
Almost 20% of the inmate population at the jail is prior-military. Somewhere in their post-military lives, these folks lost their way, and now our former warriors spend the days as wards of the state. 
When I heard their stories, though, I didn’t see criminals. I saw men who could have been standing beside me patrolling the streets of Baghdad. I saw men who still take tremendous pride in their military service.  I saw men who aren’t that much different than me.  I saw men who still have so much to offer. 

So why are they wasting away in jail?
It’s fair to say that most of us will face an experience at some point in our lives that rocks us to our core and might even challenge the very foundation of our beliefs. For many veterans, that traumatic experience is war.
Often, veterans come home from war to a life that feels foreign, one that no longer feels like their own. Some veterans manage to successfully integrate their wartime experiences into the larger narrative of their own lives. They are able to move forward, stronger and wiser than they were before. They are able to set an example for how to thrive in the face of adversity. 
For others, though, the legacy of war and reintegration is one of enduring pain, confusion, and fear. The trauma comes to define them. Their lives head down a path of increasing isolation and distrust, and they often become emotionally removed from family and friends. For far too many, suicide becomes a tragic response to their misery.    
What separates those veterans who make it out from those veterans who don’t? Why are some in jail while others aren’t? What saved me when I came home from Iraq just as angry and just as confused as they were?   
The answers might not be all that complicated. When I came home from Iraq, I had support.  That support may be all that separates me from the veterans I counseled at the Denton County Jail.
For me, the support didn’t come from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).  In my hometown, they were overwhelmed with veterans seeking services and couldn’t give me the help I needed.  Instead, a local non-profit stepped up to fill the void.  The help they offered came from an equine-assisted counseling program that introduced me to the healing power of horses. There were no earth-shattering revelations that occurred during my few months at the ranch.  The ranch simply carved out a safe space where I could find my center again. And, above all, being with the horses reminded me how to feel connected to others.    
These days, I am the Program Counselor at Equest Therapeutic Horsemanship in Wylie, Texas Equest is one of hundreds of community non-profits across the country trying to help veterans --- many of whom are suffering while they wait for the VA to process their disability claims.   While our nation waits for the VA to get a handle on this shameful claims backlog, we rely on organizations like to Equest to pick up the slack. 
At Equest, veterans participate in a program called “Hooves for Heroes.” Here they work with horses to master new challenges, which allows them to tap into those qualities that served them so well in the military. They spend time with fellow veterans, family members, and civilian volunteers. In this environment, they feel accepted and safe, just as they did when they served with their brothers and sisters in the military.
Most powerful of all, many of our program participants open their hearts, perhaps for the first time in years. I don’t completely understand it, but horses seem to be the key. The connections our veterans form with their horses are real. The horses become partners in the program; they become trusted friends. This new friendship often sets the stage for veterans to reconnect with family and friends outside of the ranch, just like it did for me.
I often wonder how different the lives of the veterans at the jail might be if they had come home from war to a place like Equest?   
Those veterans might have taken pride at having mastered one or two new skills instead of feeling lost and purposeless. They might have learned to trust instead of feeling suspicious of everyone and everything. They might have developed an emotional connection with at least one person -- or one horse -- instead of living a lonely and isolated existence.  
These seemingly subtle differences might have been the difference between jail and a master's in counseling.
When we, as a town, as a state, as a nation, embrace our returning warriors and offer them the support of programs like “Hooves for Heroes,” their lives change in profound ways.  Mine certainly did.
For my brothers and sisters-in-arms, I urge you to accept the helping hand of your family, friends, and neighbors --- those who are dedicating their time, energy, and resources to your successful transition back home. 
For everyone else, I urge you to offer that hand.  It might just save a life.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Armored Grace: On Control by Colleen M. Ryan

I am wholly responsible for what I experience in every moment.

The military environment relieved me of the inherent neuroses that come from being born into an Irish-Italian family in Jersey by providing me with one very concrete decision:  either slow down, be quiet, and pay attention, or reap the consequences.  With formidable consequences, I slowed down, became quiet, and paid attention.  In the absence of self-imposed noise, I discovered control.

I was part of the pre-commissioning crew of the mighty warship USS SHOUP (DDG 86).  That means that I, along with 200+ of my hardworking, unrelenting Shipmates, helped to build a Navy destroyer.  When a ship is new, it must undergo perpetual scrutiny until it is deemed sea-worthy, combat-ready, and is finally christened into the fleet.  As part of the team responsible for the computer network system that tied the weapon systems, and tactical display systems together, downtime was fairly non-existent during sea trials.

One particularly wavy night at sea, a missile test was brought to a screeching halt due to our system.  The circuit card that needed to be replaced sat in the very bottom of an armored cabinet.  I was pulled from a dead sleep so that my “baby-hands” could liberate the pesky bottom screw that was deadlocked centimeters from the deck, stuck static in its place.  By the time I arrived, the Commanding Officer and his boys were in an uproar and standing right in front of the cabinet, hands on their hips, muttering under their breath about tax-dollars and the future of theater ballistic missile defense as if it all rested upon that one screw. 

I snatched the screwdriver from my Shipmate, dove onto the deck with a vengeance, and nearly broke a finger as I attacked the screw.  My heart was racing, and I could feel the heat in my face despite it being pressed atop the ice-cold deck.  Then, countless other men were standing behind me, hands on their hips barking, and the little Jersey girl inside of me so badly wanted to bark back.  I was in an uncontrollable, shaking rush to finish the job before I reminded myself to slow down, be quiet, and pay attention; to control only what I could control, and to dismiss the rest.  Suddenly, everything fell silent, and I finally wrangled that screw, and so it was, that one tiny little screw made me accountable.

The fact is, that we are all responsible for what we experience in every moment. Constantly bombarded by infinite stimuli - by incessant barking - it is essential that we understand that we only acknowledge, or actually process, a very small fraction of what is happening around us, and that we have full control over what is included in that fraction. Through practice, we are capable of conditioning ourselves to slow down, to be quiet, and to pay special attention; to wrangle the static and tame our own noise. The most sea-worthy and combat-ready vessels run quietly.