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In the spring of 2008 we formed The Welcome Home Project and organized a five day healing retreat for veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam, along with family members. The retreat was led by the renowned story teller and mythologist, Michael Meade, and culminated on Memorial Day when the vets came into town to present powerful personal poetry written on the retreat to a sold out audience of (mostly) civilians who came to witness and welcome them home.
Each of the 23 men and women on the retreat struggled with PTSD, either from combat or second hand from living with someone who had been in war zones. It was a very complicated and often angry five days, but in the end these men and women came together and produced one of the most powerful public experiences any of us had ever been a part of.
The premise of this effort is that PTSD is both a personal and a societal problem, and that healing required going way past a focus on the usual symptoms carried by individuals. Given that combat PTS is a natural outcome of the very extreme stress of war and reintegration, our goal was not about removing these symptoms but in helping the veterans and family members to find some meaning and purpose in their experiences. This required the open emotional involvement of the public as they came to hear this poetry in a large welcome home ceremony on Memorial Day. Without this public acceptance the vets and families would be likely to live in isolation and solitude with their memories of war – basically what is normal regarding veterans in our culture right now.
The reading and listening to this poetry was an extremely powerful “conversation”, and left both the veterans and the audience in tears, in reverent silence and in raucous celebration at different points in the evening.
We documented this entire five day program in a feature length film called The Welcome. Here is the synopsis:
“The Welcome offers a fiercely intimate view of life after war: the fear, anger and isolation of post-traumatic stress that affects vets and family members alike. As we join these vets in a small room for an unusual five day healing retreat, we witness how the ruins of war can be transformed into the beauty of poetry. Here our perceptions are changed, our psyches strained, and our hearts broken. And at the end, when this poetry is shared with a large civilian audience, we begin to understand that all of us are a vital piece of the Welcome as Veterans try to find the way back home. Their examples of unflinching honesty, courage and love lift us up, inspiring all of us once again to feel our common humanity, always the first casualty of war.”
The film has won many festival awards already, the reviews have been fantastic, and our goal is to put this movie in communities, large and small, all over the country in a grassroots effort to bring groups, congregations, students and neighborhoods together to “witness” the local veterans and their family members as they bring the gift of their experience back into the communities they fought for.
This will not remove the usual symptoms of PTSD. But the film will begin to change the relationship that each of us has with our veterans and everything that they bring home with them. In doing that, we hope to bring our society, which has become fractured, angry, isolated and depressed (a direct cultural reflection of the PTS carried by so many veterans and family members) into a dialogue that matters, that is about bringing people together, not tearing them apart.
We invite you to go to our web site (www.thewelcomethemovie.com) to see the trailer, read reviews, meet the people, and to consider becoming one of the hundreds that are stepping forward to host a public screening in your neighborhood. PTSD is about all of us, and healing requires not just symptom relief, but a national sharing of the emotional burden of war.
Bill McMillan is married to Kim Shelton and is Co-Producer of The Welcome. Along with Kim, he directed and organized the Welcome Home Project, the retreat and public ceremony that is documented in the Welcome Film. He is primarily responsible contacting veterans organizations, publicity, outreach to the community and fund raising for The Welcome Home Project. He acted as co-producer on Kim’s first film, The Highly Exalted in 1985.
Bill is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over twenty years experience working with families, teenagers, veterans and trauma. He has worked with several programs organized around rites of passage, including Boys to Men, a program for teenage boys and mentoring, and The School of Lost Borders, which focuses on traditional rites of passage in wilderness settings. He has extensive training with combat veterans and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and has been a primary organizer in several programs for training of psychotherapists to work with vets and families with PTSD.
The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. To contribute to ‘Professional Perspective’ contact Michele.
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