Veterans Helping Veterans
I am honored to be involved as a volunteer co-facilitator (also known as guardian) in a unique Healing Circle in Houston, Texas. Unlike many of our Healing Circles, which focus on a common health issue, this circle is based on a shared experience in the US military, with many deeply complicating factors, such as homelessness, addiction, trauma recovery, and service-related issues that have led to lives in deep need of healing. The challenges have included a lack of experience in communication skills and difficulty handling interpersonal differences and subsequent conflict. I am deeply grateful to the Healing Circles concept and process, which enable us—through agreements that we have developed, and through learning authentic listening and speaking skills—to make a difference in each other’s lives.
Through participation in a general grief and loss circle in 2016, our initial circle founder, former Sargeant James Pride, had a profound experience of his own wholeness and connection with life in the face of a personal loss. He felt moved to create an opportunity for veterans to share and experience this same kind of healing. He trained as a Healing Circle host in the fall of that year and, in January of 2017, he started the Healing Circle called Veterans Helping Veterans.
Like the founder, all the inaugural participants lived in federally funded veterans housing and participated in a box-lunch program through a Houston church’s outreach ministry to the homeless. Today, the circle includes a diverse cross-section of veterans with varied backgrounds, professions, families, and lifestyles. They include attorneys, contractors, skilled and unskilled workers, and those who are homeless, unemployed, or in recovery.
This circle is open, meets weekly, and offers a hot lunch to all participants after the circle concludes. Its purpose is to provide an opportunity for all veterans to be heard, seen, appreciated, and accepted, regardless of distinctions or differences in person, service, or circumstances. There Is no commitment, obligation, or expectation for attendance or participation. The circle’s mission is to provide a healing space, outside of ordinary time, where participants can experience themselves as whole. On the surface, their only commonality is that they served in one of the armed forces (Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force).
Although we initially focused our circle rounds and questions on service-related topics, we discovered that many in the circle resisted addressing the experience of their time in service directly and preferred to address their current circumstances. We learned to trust in the circle, recognizing that circle members would bring up their service when the time was right for them to address it with new awareness. As a peer-led support group, we have learned that we don’t need to push participants into a particular topic, but rather invite, allow, and support them in moving at the pace of their own inner guidance.
Many in the circle were not combat veterans or did not serve in war zones. These veterans often share mixed emotions about their assignments and the value of their service, yet all the veterans share several characteristics. They joined the military because they wanted to be part of something larger than themselves. They wanted to serve their country and wanted to enrich the value of their lives through contribution and service to others. They all report that this Healing Circle enriches their experience of their lives today and their time in service. Each circle creates an experience of camaraderie and belonging and each “harvest” is an opportunity to leave behind some grief, pain, or self-judgment.
This unique Healing Circle is a true manifestation of the simple and profound power of the intention to heal and what can happen in the safety of circle when it is dedicated to supporting deep and respectful listening in service to the healing of self and other, regardless of past or current life circumstance.
Header photo by Thomas Hawk CC BY-NC 2.0