Written by American Red Cross Reconnection Workshop participant Tonia Russell (posted with permission)

My first experience with the workshops was about two years ago when I met the Service to the Armed Forces (SAF) Program Manager at Fort Drum.  As a Caregiver Coordinator, my job is to support the caregivers of Wounded Warriors and offer activities that enhance and assist them with their daily lives, while building a strong support network of peers.  The SAF Program Manager and I felt that the workshops might be a good fit for a forum, so we invited the caregivers to bring their Wounded Warriors to attend an evening session of “Exploring Stress and Trauma.”

Tonia Russell

As a caregiver of a Wounded Warrior myself, I was excited about attending an interactive workshop that might help my husband and I begin a dialog about what he was experiencing.  The evening started like any other social event; a few snacks, light conversations, it was comfortable.  The workshop was well attended, and my husband seemed to respond to some of the tools that were presented.  It was nice to hear the stories from other spouses and Wounded Warriors.  I could hear my thoughts and feelings being voiced around the table; the echo of similar experiences and anxieties filled the room.

Outside of this workshop, my husband was only a couple of months into his medical retirement and we were both adjusting to the challenges of transition.  It was a very stressful time, and personally we were struggling to even communicate with one another.

The group of caregivers and Wounded Warriors chose “Working through Anger” as our next workshop.  This topic worried me as I knew my husband was experiencing some anger issues; I was unsure he realized why or if he was even ready to explore them.  A military couple I had known for years joined us at this meeting.  The Wounded Warrior had experienced trauma during her time in the military and had been medically retired for a few years.  She had always been very calm and quiet, she seemed in complete control of her new life as a civilian.

During the discussion, this sweet, gentle woman announced to the group, that she “hated the world and everyone in it.”  When she shared that, my husband said he felt the exact same way.  The discussion led by our facilitator dealt with these feelings and offered some ways to manage them.  It was at that moment my eyes opened to what life my husband had been living, his innermost feelings were now real.  I no longer felt that his anger was because of something I did or something I said, it was never me against him or him against me, this was us – us against the pain.  This was a pivotal moment for us as a team, we continued exploring this pain in more depth with our marriage counselor and have become stronger day after day.

It has been two years and my husband and I have attended at least 10 workshops together.  They always teach us something new that we can use in our life.  My husband is no longer a passive participant at the table, he offers advice and insights he has learned, and I believe this gives him a sense of belonging and purpose. He is mentoring those Warriors that fought just as he fought in conquering the anger and unnamed feelings that stir in the quietest of times.

Reconnection Workshops are a great tool for Wounded Warriors and military caregivers.  They not only offer real-world techniques but give the caregivers and Warriors an opportunity to explore issues that they may not have realized were affecting their daily lives.  It gives them an outlet and a refuge to rebuild their lives and reconnect with those they care about most.

To learn more about Reconnection Workshops and other Red Cross programs and services for Veterans and Military Families, please visit redcross.org/reconnectionworkshops.