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Healing the Invisible Wounds of War

By: Cheryl Thurston

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Dr. Kyle Horton and Jen Johnson have embarked on a project to heal some of the wounds our Veterans have suffered for far too long. So often, the greatest wounds are invisible and internal. They are not just physical, but emotional, spiritual, and moral, touching every aspect of the individual man or woman. In 2014, Horton and Johnson teamed up to develop the Invisible Wounds of War Project, and received grant funding from North Carolina Humanities Council, to move forward with this good work.

Jen Johnson has been teaching “Mindfulness Workshops” as a licensed councilor, for nearly 30 years , to explore the psychological, spiritual, and moral injuries of war. She has seen many successes teaching “Mindfulness” and “Meditation” in a secular way, for the reduction of stress, the management of overwhelming feelings and anxiety, as well as the management of physical pain. These “Mindfullness Workshops” are also extended to the spouses of Veterans. History of Mindfullness Stress Relief

Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment without judgment. It can be practiced as both a formal practice through mindfulness meditation and an informal practice through applying the principles to our everyday lives. Living mindfully allows you to stay in the present moment without getting lost in worry about the future or regret about the past. When you’re aware of the present moment, you have the power to respond rather than react and can cope more effectively with difficult thoughts or feelings.

Mindfulness is a practice that allows you to relate more skillfully with difficult bodily sensations, feelings, and thoughts without becoming overwhelmed by them. Once you learn the skills to cope, you become free to stop turning away from your experience and have the energy to embrace your true nature (which is to be happy and at peace) and live your full potential.  -Jen Johnson

“When I was a young girl, my basement playroom was filled with my father’s Army jackets, helmets, bags, and belts. I loved wearing all of his gear. My mother cut one of the belts to fit me, and I wore it for years. My father rarely talked about his experience in the Army other than a brief mention of his time as a West Point Cadet. As a child. I had no clue what war entailed, and I didn’t really understand my father in the context of his military training and service until much later, after he had died,” Johnson wrote candidly on her website.

“In 1990, while working as a Counseling Intern at a Mental Health Center for my Master’s Degree in Counseling, my very first client was a Vietnam Veteran.  But I still didn’t have a clue about the depth, severity and widespread occurrence of the invisible wounds of war until 2003, when I began working on a contract basis as the Coordinator of the Independent Living Needs Program for the Veteran’s Administration (VA) in Georgia. Words fail to describe what happened as I interviewed hundreds of Veterans and began to wake up to the reality of the aftermath of war. It was also during this time that I finally began to understand the ways that my father’s military experience had shaped him.” Johnson wrote.

She continues, “Kyle and I both are passionate about Veteran’s concerns and about working on a project that we hope offers healing for NC Veterans. We hope that this project serves to offer some measure of healing for Veterans through writing and mindfulness workshops and photography sessions. We also seek to educate health care and mental health providers about Veterans’ concerns and needs. We hope this starts a community conversation that results in the general public having a greater understanding of and compassion toward our North Carolina Veterans.”

Where is our compassion? Do tales of war make us turn away because of the number of dead? Often our Veterans don’t even talk about their inner pain because they think their troubles would be a burden to hear. This Invisible Wounds of War project provides a platform for those stories to be told by Veterans and heard by those with compassionate hearts, so that healing can begin.

Many of our Veterans joined the Armed Services, (or were drafted) as teenagers, and sent into harm’s way to fight for our American causes. They were trained to fight, to kill, and to die. They wore the muddy boots, shouldered the heavy loads,  and continued to march into battle, as commanded, by whomever happened to be the Commander-in-Chief at the time. They were not trained in how to reconcile their own humanity with all the horrors and hardships they experienced during wartime.

Help us get the word out to the Veteran community about the writing workshop and the opportunity to submit writing online. Any and all Veterans in North Carolina, are cordially invited to write their memories down and submit them anonymously.  If you are a Veteran living in NC, you should learn more about this project that has been developed for all of you.

The project includes the following:

  • Free writing workshop for Veterans Sept 12 contact info@invisiblewoundsnc.com or 910-208-0518 to register.
  • Opportunity for Veterans statewide to submit writing online anonymously through our website www.invisiblewoundsnc.com and we will transcribe the writing onto 5×7 wooden plaques that will be displayed at our final exhibit
  • Free photography sessions with Veterans from the writing workshop
  • Free Mindfulness for Stress Reduction workshop for Veterans & spouses/partners Nov 7 10:00am – 11:30am UNCW Education Building Room 162.
  • Book reading about women returning from war by Kirsten Holmstedt Nov 13 6:30pm – 8:30pm
  • Lecture series for health care and mental health care providers, Veterans & the general public.

TUESDAY NOVEMBER 17, 2015 6:30- 8:30PM
Kyle Horton, MD, MBA Internal Medicine Physician in Primary Care practice in Wilmington, NC  will speak about Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological, Spiritual and Moral Injury.
Marion Gittings, MSW, LCSW, Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Wilmington VA will speak about Holding Hope: Suicide Prevention as a Community and Public Health Concern.
LOCATION: UNCW, 1051 Multipurpose Room, McNeill Hall, College of Health & Human Services Building.

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 20, 2015 6:30 – 8:30PM 
Kennita Carter, MD, Integrative Medicine Physician and Acting Director of Integrative Health Coordinating Center, Office of Patient Centered Care & Cultural Transformation, Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, DC will speak about Healing Pathways: Bridging the Gap to Whole Person Care.
LOCATION: UNCW, 1051 Multipurpose Room, McNeill Hall, College of Health & Human Services Building.

  • Final exhibit of the writing and photography at UNCW Library Nov 5 opens 6:00-8:00pm

The mission of the project is to:

  1. Provide opportunity for healing for Veterans through writing, photography & mindfulness workshops
  2. Provide education to health care & mental health care providers and the general public about the invisible wounds of war
  3. Begin a conversation that encourages increased understanding of and compassion toward our NC Veterans

Please visit the official website for this project here: www.invisiblewoundsnc.com

Visit and like their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Invisible-Wounds-of-War/1453764771546755?fref=ts

Send them a Twitter: https://twitter.com/WoundsofWarNC

Contact Invisible Wounds of War

Jen Johnson, MS, MS, MFA, LPC

Kyle Horton, MD, MBA

910-208-0518

www.invisiblewoundsnc.com

info@invisiblewoundsnc.com

invisiblewoundsnc@gmail.com

Sponsors

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This project is made possible by funding from North Carolina Humanities Council, a statewide nonprofit and affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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