Practicing psychotherapist Allen L. Roland, Ph.D., tells the story of a group of veterans he's been working with in Northern California this past spring, along with Sal Ueda, M.S.W., counselor from the local Vets Center in Concord, CA. Roland writes (bolding is Roland's own emphasis):
"Five Vietnam veterans, all with PTSD, faced their fears and not only opened their hearts but found and began to heal themselves in the process.The first meeting of the "Healing the Wounded Hearts Veterans Workshop" was on March 11, 2010 at 4 p.m.
They had never met me but they had been told about me, by their adjustment counselor Sal, and were prepared for an eight week commitment to face their fears and open their hearts in the process. They knew I was a Veteran and that made a big difference.
I told them that this was an action based workshop and if they did their homework they would reach a place of not only another choice but would open their closed hearts in the process. They would also begin to see through different eyes ~ eyes unclouded by fear, resentment and unworthiness. I also explained through my Cycle Of Life chart how psychic pain will override Joy to the extent that most people have no idea that beneath their deepest pain and aloneness is love, joy and connectedness ~ the Unified Field.
Of course, that first session I shared my own hearts journey to find a lost and alone little boy within myself who not only wanted to fly, and became a Navy Fighter pilot, but also to love as deeply as I loved my beloved grandfather before he was torn away from me at six years old. We didn't talk about the war ~ we all briefly shared our heart's journey and by the end of two hours ~ we became a band of brothers. Their homework was a life chart of the paths of their individual hearts.
The second session, a week later, we all shared a childhood picture of ourselves and shared our life chart with the group describing our individual journeys to find love and acceptance as well as ourselves. We barely talked about the war ~ we all realized our commonality in that our lives had all been a quest to find meaning and that all of our love relationships had significant meaning. We were a band of brothers on an inner journey of the heart.
The third session, a week later, they did the Vic/Acct exercise and had the chance to feel the lightness of being accountable versus the heaviness of being a victim. Their homework was to take the people they had resentment towards off the hook and realize that many of them they had deeply loved and were really gifts in their lives.
Al felt it was the most meaningful aspect of the workshop ~ " I let my ex-wife off the hook ! I hadn't spoken to her in over four years. I was harboring extreme resentment. After the exercise, I was able to call her and let that resentment go. That alone has made a huge difference in how I feel today with her and my life."
We barely talked about the war ~ we were a band of brothers on a common journey to find ourselves.
The fourth session, a week later, they met the child within by means of a powerful guided visualization. Every one of them saw that long lost innocent child who told them what they needed to do to fully embrace him in their lives now. Their faces literally changed and became younger as they made that inner connection ~ it was like long dormant flowers suddenly blooming. I was moved almost to tears to see these Veterans suddenly claim their joy and innocence after years of self doubt and despair. For Tom it was the most meaningful aspect of the workshop ~ "Just seeing the look on the other Vets faces as they met the inner child."
Their homework was to give that child a voice and hang out with him.
The Fifth session, one week later, was all about gratefulness and thanking the people who have been there for them their whole life ~ with the help of a guided visualization. Many of them had not thanked anyone and certainly not themselves. Thomas shared his homework from the previous session and had 12 pages of notes on his experience. Here are some excerpts ~ " Once again, I was so surprised when it happened at the group meeting that I could hardly wait for it to happen again and again. Just the thought made me feel like a weight was lifting my shoulders and mind ... I meditated and saw him again. I asked him again ~ What do I need to do to fully embrace you in my life ? He immediately answered ~ Since birth, I have always been with you constantly. You just weren't looking for me. You just didn't see me or believe in me but I see a change in you now ~ more than any time since Vietnam."
Thomas ended his notes by writing ~ " I can't believe that I have had this problem for some 40 years and I feel like a new born child. I'm still amazed that I had blocked out so much and yet this was the right key to change things for the better ~ and it was so simple to initiate ~ I feel good !!! "
By now the Band of Brothers were inspiring each other on their common journey through fear ~ they were beyond the point of no return. Their homework was to thank at least 25 people who had touched them before the next session. We still barely talked about the war for there was no need to. They were already healing themselves by taking responsibility for love and coming from gratitude.
The sixth session, one week later, was the Death Exercise where the group, through a visualization, were guided in a profound death exercise which helped them to experience the degree to which the people closest to them really knew them. The exercise actually simulates your death and the resultant shock of knowing that you did not truly share yourself with the people closest to you or that very few people really knew you.Obviously, it is a strong inner stimulus to open your heart with the people closest to you ~ and that was their homework to accomplish with the five people closest to them before the next session.
Most of them enjoyed the element of the unknown that they were continually coming face to face with in these sessions, especially Al ~ " I enjoyed the element of surprise. It was hard to know week to week just what the activity would be and how it would effect me. Every week was different and unique but it all came together "
The seventh session, one week later, reinforced that we are continually being called from within to the path of the heart, but few listen and fewer still respond. It is in this session that they understand that they have been called to the inner journey of the soul ( through Love) versus the outer journey of the ego ( through Fear ). This session ended with a visualization exercise in which they realize that the most precious gift they have always wanted is themselves ~ free from fear.
For Barry, this was the most meaningful aspect of the workshop " For me, getting in touch with my inner child and having it pointed out to me that the key was just being myself and to trust myself without any fear or fears of the consequences."
The Homework as well as ongoing homework was to share the gift of themselves with others but in the spirit of celebration ~ not deprivation.
It was in that same spirit of celebration that we had our Eighth and final session where everyone acknowledged each others common journey through fear to the joy, love and light beneath. As George said, "Now, I truly know I have another choice and I can be loved for just being myself and I don't have to enable people to win their love.... I see the growth in my fellow members but also how we learned to love each other ~ a true Band of Brothers."
It was also an incredible experience for both myself and Sal, a Veterans Readjustment counseling therapist (from the local Vets Center) who both formed the group and then fully participated in the sessions.
Sal's most meaningful aspect of the workshop was "To witness and see the burden of fear, guilt and pain of each group participate lifted. To see the youthfulness return to their eyes, faces and demeanors. It is a blessed experience to see the joy return to these war veterans after years of despair. It is simply humbling and a beautiful sight."
I was also humbled by this experience and validation of my empowering work as well as the receptivity of these veterans who obviously longed to be seen from the heart and not through eyes of fear.
They had been trained many years ago to kill and I, in essence, jump started their hearts by re-training them to love and they began to heal themselves in the process by realizing that they indeed had another choice.
And we never concentrated on the war for the real war had been waged within themselves ~ and they were now victorious."
-- Written by Allen L. Roland, Ph.D. Used with permission.
Editor's note: The accompanying photo is of five other Vietnam veterans from a different gathering, not the ones described in the article.