Our retreat for women veterans (and one active duty Canadian) was an amazing and gratifying experience. A diverse group of 30 women came together to share perspectives and build community. What is so striking is how many women had not gathered with other veterans before. This kind of isolation from others who have a shared experience is something that often sets women veterans apart from their male counterparts. For some women, if they haven’t served in a combat zone they don’t feel entitled to call themselves “veterans.” For others, they have a distrust of others based on experiences they have had inside and out of the military.
Our staff for the retreat included Tina Haynes, a musicologist from Nashville, and Zuleikha, a dancer and social activist, as well as Loree Sutton and myself. Tina shipped many boxes of musical instruments and offered the women creative ways to explore their life experiences through song and music. Zuleikha (www.storydancer.org) is an amazing catalyst for healing and growth. Her huge heart was felt by all both in the movement exercises she led and her dance performance for us one evening. Using forms like dance and music that build trust and fun help to create a container that is strong enough to hold the many joys and many sorrows expressed over the 5 days together.
Since the retreat a robust network has been created by several retreat members on Facebook as a way to keep the community connected. We are very grateful to the Omega Institute and the corporate sponsors who made the retreat possible at no cost to the women attending. We are also grateful to Protect Our Defenders (www.protectourdefenders.org) for donating travel stipends for many of the women. The fact that so many organizations invested in these veterans was deeply meaningful.