Therapist Winden Rowe Talks About Trauma and Mental Health in the Armed Forces
Winden Rowe, MS maintains a private practice in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania where she works with individuals, couples, families, and organizations. Her education, clinical experience, and passionate interest center around the study of, and work in, the field of trauma. Ms Rowe’s approach to securing sustained improvement and recovery for clients dealing with the effects of trauma, centers around linking the biological, psychological, and social implications of traumatic stress and the identified trauma. In addition to trauma counseling, she lectures, teaches, and consults in the field. Ms Rowe has been a guest on a variety of media broadcasts including National Public Radio’s ‘Morning Edition’, ‘Radio Times’ and others. Learn more about Winden and her practice here.
GABRIEL NATHAN: Could you give our readers the thirty-second elevator speech about who you are and what you do?
WINDEN ROWE: Sure! My name is Winden Rowe and I am a therapist in private practice currently. I did close to two years of clinical work in a dual-diagnosis facility, so treating not just mental health recovery, but also substance abuse recovery.
I work with a few veterans also have had their VA benefits had been revoked for some kind of criminal infraction of sorts, so they were in the state and county-funded tract. So, now, I’m in private practice. My current caseload age-range is five years old to seventy-five years old, and I do some consulting work.
So, I get contacted by organizations to help them kind of conceptualize community that they’re trying to work inside of. I do a little bit of consulting at that level as well. And then, in addition to that, I teach, I do a lot of advocacy work, and I do some public speaking.
GABRIEL NATHAN: Do you see veterans in your private practice?
WINDEN ROWE: Yes, I do.
GABRIEL NATHAN: Okay, great. Now, I’m always a little bit interested in how things begin, how folks got to where they are. There’s always a story, or many stories. Can you just tell me a little bit of your story— about how you got into your line of work?
WINDEN ROWE: Sure, I’d be happy to. Well, I say that I kind of had three lives, so far. Before I was a clinician, I was a high school teacher and before that, I worked in the corporate world, in textiles – import and export. But I think I was a therapist long before I was ever a therapist. I think a lot of us in this industry have a tendency to be very empathetic, compassionate, and curious.
GABRIEL NATHAN: One would hope.
WINDEN ROWE: Yes, well – you would hope. There are people in my field that don’t possess those qualities. That doesn’t mean that they’re not useful on the clinical level, by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s a useful quality to have when you’re working with people. So, I think a lot of different factors played into how I got here, in terms of my curiosity about the veteran aspects of my work.
I’m the daughter of a two-tour combat veteran who served during the Vietnam era. He did some Special Forces work with a branch of our military mission. Back then, there was a branch of service called Air America which, basically, was kind of what became Central Intelligence.
So, he had a pretty interesting career and, because of my experiences with him and the other people that I have been exposed in my family and my personal life, I had a lot of exposure to individuals who had served and then gained a quiet and curious interest about what that was like for them on the other side of their military career and combat experiences.
It held a fascination for me and then over four years ago I was at a party and someone asked me what I was doing in my life and I had this very routine answer. You know, I kept kidding myself and other people that I was being a “soccer mom” and I got the sense that there was something else, a deeper calling but I hadn’t found it yet.
And for some reason, it was a “universe moment” of, okay, I need a better answer to that question, like there’s work that I have to do on myself on a professional level. And so, I got online and I started poking around and found a clinical program in Philadelphia, through what is now Philadelphia University, it’s about to become Jefferson, that was a 100% trauma-focused clinical doctorate.
So, you get the whole gamut of everything you need to know to be a clinician in the mental health field, but every single aspect of the program is through the trauma lens and it is insanely unique there, very few programs left in the country let alone the world.
So, I applied; I interviewed. And before I knew it, I was in grad school and it was at the end of a very short day of class where I found myself thinking, “Okay, this is exactly what I was meant to do.” And that hasn’t changed for me since.
GABRIEL NATHAN: That’s wonderful when everything just clicks and you just know it.
WINDEN ROWE: Total click, clickage to the max — yes.
GABRIEL NATHAN: By the way, I think if you ever decide to write your book, the title should be “Quiet and Curious,” and then, subtitle, “A Journey through Mental Health,” or something like that. There’s something about those two words together, “Quiet and Curious.” I like that. Tuck that away.
WINDEN ROWE: Definitely!
GABRIEL NATHAN: What would you say your overall mission as a counselor, a therapist who specializes in trauma and trauma-related diagnosis? What is your mission and your goal in working with that population?
WINDEN ROWE: With each individual that I treat, it is to create stability, and just some kind of relative day-to-day consistent ability to find steady ground. And then, once I know that that has been established in the therapeutic relationship for them, I start to get deeper into treating the trauma itself.
But it takes a while; it takes a while for people who are recovering from traumatic experiences and that exposure to trust. But that’s life, that’s why that these individuals are using some maladaptive coping strategies, like drugs and alcohol. They’ve been through some of life’s absolute worst and so, to have that competency, I come up with that resource and there’s a lot of work in that for them. And then, I try to kind of guide that person away from that coping mechanism, if you will, and start to create more space for them to open, more to looking at the trauma and processing it.
When these people look back at their lives, what I hope they see is that trauma does heal.
This is the new place where I intended going in my concept of trauma at the systems level; it’s not necessarily about recovering as much as it is about un-covering. So, how you look at trauma, from a healing perspective of, “This is something that was so bitterly, terribly painful for me that now, it has become my – like power source.” So, that it’s what has made me a superhero on the other side, and how to give that meaning, how to create a life that is useful to myself and to others and where I can take what I’ve been through and effect positive change
GABRIEL NATHAN: And that’s fascinating to me, and I guess my follow-up question to that is, “How do you go about beginning that process with someone who has been impacted by something that they have witnessed or that they have experienced?” And they have that barrier of trust which is, I think, as you said too, that’s a basic human protective measure. I mean that we all have kind of inherently, a little bit of stand-off-ish-ness or a little bit of space to critically evaluate something or someone, “Is this person safe? Can I trust this situation or this person?”
Of course, that’s certainly heightened once trauma enters the picture. But how do you start to help a person believe that not getting them back to where they were, but getting them to a new place of usefulness or meaning, if that’s even possible?
WINDEN ROWE: Trauma influences us to adapt. So the very first thing that I do is I help people identify what it is that they have created defenses as a result of the trauma. They start to look at their defenses. This is really the beginning of starting to pull that person out of shame and guilt which is really at the core of this iceberg.
So, how do I help this person really start to see themselves in a more accepting and compassionate and empathetic light? I do that by modeling that from myself to them so that compassion and empathy that I have for that person shines the light on their capacity to see themselves that way.
For example, if I work with a substance user who has been sexually assaulted, they have been raped. Clearly, we want to move that person away from being a substance user and doing that level of self-harm. But there’s something inside of that that has been really resourceful for that individual. They have come up with a way to find immediate relief to dig deep to emotional pain.
I need to help them see in a more peaceful, quietly curious kind of way and help them see that what they have been doing has actually, in a very strange way, worked for them. So, it’s kind of like; you can’t change something that you can’t see. You have to find a really gentle way of showing people who they are, where there is some love, really.
GABRIEL NATHAN: So, you spoke earlier about systems change and individual change and I had a question for you related to larger change, to systems change. One of the populations as you mentioned, that you are – that you have experience working with is veterans and also law enforcement officers, and I think that those two systems, the United States Armed Forces and the sort of law enforcement sub culture, is systems that are perhaps slow to change or resistant to change, for a variety of reasons.
How is it possible to create a culture of empathy and openness, understanding, and we’ll go back to that “quiet curiosity,” in those two cultures that seem anathema to those ideals.
WINDEN ROWE: Right. So, individuals, clinically, are not necessarily difficult to access because, if they’re showing up in your office, it’s like, “Okay, so I have this person here,” and they might be placed in front of you because based on court-mandated into some kind of treatment. But there’s some kind of awareness that something is going on and this person could be demonstrating a high level of resistance, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t connect with that person. It may not be time for the actual treatment yet, but you can build a relationship with anybody.
The “system” is a different story and I think that plays out on several levels. Yes, I think there is something pervasively cultural about law enforcement and the Armed Forces where there’s a resistance to wanting to be vulnerable and self-reflective. So, that of course, is seen in service men and women in the Armed Forces, who are all about that exact word, “service,” being in service to others.
And the way that you are most effective as a service member is by being incredibly vigilant– hyper-vigilant– about everyone around you. And you are engaged in something tribal, where you know that the people who are there with you are also watching you and your back.
And so, it’s like, “Well, gosh, if I take my eyes off of my brother, I’m focusing attention on myself,” that there’s a lot of vulnerability in that. Right? There’s something that may be almost like ‘hardwired’ into our own background thinking to our schema that says, “My job, my duty, my priority is to be mindfully, constantly aware of those that are around me.” A duty to protect and serve.
So, I think there’s a resistance, a pulling away from that thinking and looking inside, looking inward. But this is where I think part of the stigma is. I think there’s a lot of external judgment from the general population about cops and those in the military. “They’re emotionally unavailable.” I would actually venture to say that from my experience working inside of veteran populations in particular, that these are human beings who are incredibly thoughtful about others and trying to break through that resistance to not being outwardly focused. You know? It’s really kind of sweet.
I also think just getting into the system is a more political piece. I have been getting more actively involved in politics a little bit lately and I think politicians, people who drive systems, are generally genuinely much of the time, good people. But many politicians, these “change drivers” don’t necessarily have experience with military or law enforcement population. So, sometimes, there’s a lack of understanding and not understanding doesn’t make somebody a bad person, but there’s a lot of vulnerability in the political world to say, “I don’t understand,” this is how you lose a part of your constituents.
So, hopefully, that’ll change but there’s more changing now, there’s more openness and some politicians totally get it, and finding the access point for information they need. But I’d say that’s definitely a big piece of it.
GABRIEL NATHAN: I think that’s a great point and I feel like there’s a misperception that the term, “I don’t know,” is a form of weakness or you’ve just revealed yourself to be an idiot, when really it’s confessing the truth. We don’t have all the answers; we don’t know everything. We can’t possibly specialize in everything and that it’s a way to reach out to members of the community that you serve who may have information or answers or skills that you don’t and that they can assist you and give you a broader role view to help you serve better.
WINDEN ROWE: Absolutely, and in terms of like the veteran population and behavioral health, it seemed to me like there are certain people who are working their way into that system, they are recovered and now, they’re working in the part of the system to try and affect change. But I can say that things like that take a long time.
GABRIEL NATHAN: So, there is, I think a perception that there is a wall or a divide between those in the Armed Services and law enforcement and civilians. Do you think that’s true? And if it is true, what work can be done to bridge that divide, that there’s more common ground.
WINDEN ROWE: I do think that there’s a divide, but I don’t think there is necessarily or a lot of mal-intent there. I truly, truly believe that it boils down to understanding. You know, the best way to understand is to communicate, and communication has to involve the leaving behind of assumption. I think there are a lot of assumptions that are made about military servicemen and women, and I believe the thing to be true about individuals in law enforcement. There’s definitely a lot of bravado and machismo—yes, that is true, to a certain extent. But that’s their survival mechanism.
Some people think that, if you served in the military, you’re just all about blowing people up, and we see that played out in the media. And that is so not the case.
It’s abundantly clear from the people with whom I’ve worked and known on a personal and intimate level that it’s all about not increasing the casualty count and keeping people safe and not wanting to increase the number of combat-related deaths.
So, I think hopefully, defined American culture will be able to see that more and more. And there’s tons of people in the military who really don’t see combat. A good, good percentage. And in terms of law enforcement, we are working with a population that, unlike a soldier who goes through a combat deployment, police officers essentially never stop being deployed, in the sense that, especially in urban environments, their exposure to violence and trauma is daily—there really is ever a break from that. And so, it’s really difficult sometimes for these men and women to do their job and then go home and be sort of more civilian-esque if you will, in the sense that they can’t be emotional in ways that civilians do.
Again, that doesn’t make them cold and heartless but they have to be able to stay very focused, mindful, and able to manage emotions and kind of keep them at bay. So, how do we create spaces for the populations to be able to access their emotions because, eventually, it comes around to that a lot of people need something that we’re not giving to them.
GABRIEL NATHAN: Yes. So, that really leads to a question that I had. About a month ago I had a conversation with a police officer who told me that a year ago, he had shot and killed an individual who was engaged in the act of completing suicide by cop. And he said the entire incident lasted 15 seconds from “my getting out of my patrol car and firing, and that was it.”
But he said something that I thought was really fascinating. He said, “You know, I’ve been in law enforcement for 17 years and they made me go to EAP after this shooting and they made me talk and they brought the CISM (Critical Incident Stress Management) team and I did all of that.” And I said, “Did it help? Did talking help?”
And he said it did and he said even having this conversation right now helps. But he said, “I’m going to tell you something. There are many, many, many things in my 17 year career that I think have traumatized me a lot more than that and nobody ever said anything to me or made me go see anybody or encouraged me to talk to anyone.”
So, that I think brings up the question and to the point that you made before about how every day is like a deployment for them essentially. How do we address these other events that perhaps in the minds of superior officers are not quote “worthy” or a “red flag indicator” that services are needed? How do we get that message across and sort of normalize the act of seeking help for these other issues?
WINDEN ROWE: Yeah, and you definitely want to promote help-seeking behaviors in organizations like law enforcement and the military. How to do that is an ongoing dialogue but I think, going back into the story of this officer, this person, I’m guessing that shooting was what sounds like what I call the “trauma that broke the camel’s back.”
So, at this point in my career clinically, being a human being on planet Earth, I hesitate to say this, but I really do believe it: every person, most people experience some kind of trauma, if not lots of trauma throughout the lifespan, but that is based on changing the dialogue about trauma in general. So, right now, diagnostically, we identify trauma as “Witnessing violence, being the victim of violence.” But I have learned that trauma is far more broad than this sort of narrow definition of how we see it through clinically right now.
The interesting thing is that stress and trauma happen in the brain, in the same parts, with the same chemicals, they’re just bigger doses. So, what happens when you have someone who’s already been stressed out and then you throw a trauma on top of that? What happens to our nervous system in that way? What happens to our spirit?
Is there something injurious happening for this person on a moral level? If there’s something happening for them where they feel like they can’t come to terms with, or mitigate the pain of, or cope with the difficulty if they think that they would mask the decision that they’ve made, the inability to save lives, but not when they give their best effort, etcetera.
So, I think we need to change the dialogue about trauma in general and again, not be so narrowly focused in looking at trauma on this like singular event level that is usually 99% of the time, far more complex than that. And so, it’s really promoting that through education in the system as much as we possibly can.
GABRIEL NATHAN: So, you mentioned that those feelings of not being able to come to terms with things that you’ve seen or done or experienced and of course, that not always obviously, but that can lead down the road to suicide.
So, I wanted to ask you, “Do you feel or is there evidence to support that veterans and/or law enforceement officers take their own lives at a disproportionate rate to compare with the general population?” And what are the factors that may contribute to that, to suicide in those populations and some interventions that may be helpful.
WINDEN ROWE: I don’t know the numbers right now in terms of a comparative analysis of the two. So, I would want to look at what those numbers are before I answer that. But I do know that the VA released a report and I can’t remember if it was the end of 2016 or the first of 2017 that they released a report and were able to confirm that twenty veterans a day apparently are dying by suicide.
So, regardless of what the numbers are comparison-wise, no matter what, we’re looking at a passenger plane full of people every week to two weeks, depending on the size of the plane, crashing and with no survivors. If this was happening in the skies, people would be freaking out. There would be a line out the door of the FAA, the NTSB, and to every single individual in charge of public safety in the United States. But veteran suicides do not get reported on frequently and, again, it’s that understanding piece. We are afraid to go to the things that we don’t understand. So, we come up with a way in our schema to define this problem, put it somewhere in their minds, and move forward.
Why do we have twenty veteran suicides happening a day right now? I think is important to address a couple of things. Not all of those suicides are combat-related. Some of those suicides are substance-use related, some of it is combat. Some of it is – a big part of that population is Vietnam veterans who are in their seventies and may have a lot to do with aging, you know, and losing that power and control. We lose control of our bodies as we get older. So, sometimes, suicide can look really attractive to people. How to address that? I think was your third question? Am I correct?
GABRIEL NATHAN: Yes.
WINDEN ROWE: So this is more difficult. This is the hardest part, how do we fix the leaks in the plumbing. Communication, education for getting in front of people, letting them know that there’s support and services available is the first and most important part. But there are two hurdles to that.
One is, if you’re working with someone who’s truly suicidal, they are already most likely doing a lot of isolating behaviors. So, accessibility to that individual becomes that much more difficult. And then here’s the next part. If you’re going to tell people that services are available, the services have to be available, and they have to be quality services and sometimes they are not available in the mental health industry across the board on the community level right now.
We are so desperate for delivery of good treatment and I would say that that in and of itself is a crisis. I have heard so many times from veterans and non-veterans, “I got to the place where I needed help and I walked in and they turned me away.” Or, “I called and they put me on a waitlist for a bed for three weeks.” Or, “I was using copious amounts of heroin and they told me I needed to go through the assessment process.” The assessment process took a week to ten days to complete.
You know what I mean? Like, I need help. I don’t need someone to give me a test on whether or not I need help; I know I need help. So, if the mental health community, behavioral health services and systems don’t want to lose traction and buy-in on a community and global level, then those services have to be available and of sufficient quality. That’s the bottom line.
GABRIEL NATHAN: Do you feel that there is an understanding in the mental health community that their system is broken? And do you feel that there is a motivation or impetus to address that? I think that I want to rephrase that a little bit – obviously, there’s inpatient, there’s outpatient, there’s community-based services. And then on kind of a higher level, there are the politics that go around with that, as you referenced earlier in our conversation. Do you feel – I guess it’s a two-part question. Is there an understanding of that in the mental health community and is there an understanding of that amongst politicians who potentially have the power to do something about it relative to budget allocations and things of that nature?
WINDEN ROWE: Yes, I believe that, in community mental health, there is a very deep understanding that there is a gap, a growing gap in service in terms of people who need help from a catastrophe to a people who have everyday mental health concerns. The best analogy I can come up with in the moment is — and I’m not criticizing McDonald’s— but there is a McDonald’s level treatment, like a fast food version of treatment.
We try to come up with these treatment plans and these tracks where people are given X amount of days, X amount of weeks, if that, in terms of the services that they’ll be able to access. When it comes to trauma, we’re working with — and I’m going to say this and really gonna kind of go out on a little bit of a limb here, but most people that I work with that are recovering from some kind of mental health diagnosis are also recovering from some kind of trauma. So it’s not just PTSD. I could be working with someone with an anxiety disorder or some kind of depression, or there’s borderline stuff going on, the heart of all of that it’s a wound, a deep wound. It takes a while to get to that wound, and it takes a while to do surgical work to get things on like a healing track rather than like the management track, if you will.
And that takes time and this is a sustained and consistent effort. And so, what has happened in this field as a result of this area like turn and burn approach to mental health is now, what we’re seeing is a lot of secondary or vicarious trauma. And so, now we’re just not working with multiple populations who are psychologically and emotionally compromised, but now our clinical teams are experiencing that and burnout is off the charts. And a lot of it has to do with the back office aspect of treatment and keeping up with the paperwork, and keeping up with the demands of what the system requires of clinicians in terms of reporting and all of the other aspects as treatments that happen beyond the session.
And so, I think, yes, the idea is a piece of it and I think clearly, if I can filter anything, is that increased funding goes to mental health services. We’re talking about mental health; we’re talking about the health of people’s minds, and how that people’s minds directly relate to their medical health. So, to me, it’s a no-brainer, pun intended, that a lot of dollars should be driven in this direction in terms of politics. But in the more long-term sustained effort and people high up, don’t like to hear that. They don’t like to hear that it’s going to cost money and it’s going to cost money for a while. But really, the investment needs to increase, that’s for sure, not decrease.
GABRIEL NATHAN: And, of course, mental health is related to physical health, but it’s also related to your ability to be a productive citizen employee to engage in relationships, to program – I mean it’s the whole thing. If you’re not healthy mentally, you’re not being effective in any of those spheres of your life. So, as you said, it should be a no-brainer, but often it’s not.
WINDEN ROWE: Right, and there are studies that, and this is where it gets a little neuroscience-y, I’m not a neuroscientist, but I found an earlier fascination with the brain. But it’s not the brain – it’s the brain and the body. It’s just an amazing organ that sits in their heads at the top of the system assessing literally, every single aspect of what we do and how we do it from the way that we breathe, to like you said, the ways that we have relationships, and the ways that we integrate ourselves in the communities.
I promote getting in front of someone who can help you come up with a daily exercise routine, and getting you in front of someone who can help you learn healthy eating habits and sleep patterns, because these things directly affect our mental health, and our mental health affects the body. So, that dialogue definitely needs to increase exponentially across the board, country-wise.
GABRIEL NATHAN: I think that holistic approach and that integrated services model would also help combat this ugly word of “stigma” because then, it’s not, “Oh well, I’m going to the therapist, strictly to address the brain.” It’s, “I’m going for my overall wellness.” But I guess, just in reference to that word, I think everybody has a reaction to it and I wanted to know, what is your reaction when you hear that word? What is the word “stigma” mean to you?
WINDEN ROWE: If I think about what the global conceptualization of stigma is or means, it’s judgment. It’s a lack of understanding. But if there’s one thing that people don’t like to give up, myself included, all of us, it’s part of our environment, is just control and saying, “I don’t understand something.” They don’t get it. It’s highly, highly vulnerable place be.
I think it’s like a loop, a cycle. If I don’t understand something, and I don’t want to admit that I don’t understand, I’m going to come up with some kind of framework or some kind of schema that helps me make sense of what I see from a distance, rather than letting myself get closer to it and approach it and really understand it.
Even for me, when I was first getting my clinical work and trying to figure out working in the detox wing, were mostly people who, on their first day, they’re recovering from heroin addiction, trying to figure out, “I don’t belong here.” But just like I said earlier, it’s like really being very curious, being a quiet observer and the story bearing witness to what was happening for people, what their process was and listening to what they were saying.
And I learned a lot very quickly but that it is a hard relationship to bridge as the person who’s exposing yourself and saying, okay, I’m gonna let you win to show you what this darkness is all about, what this difficulty is all about. There’s a safety mechanism in place there and have a resistance to that. And it’s difficult for the observer, for the person who wants to learn for the curious person, you’ll admit that lack of understanding and to initiate that dialogue while acknowledging major levels of vulnerability happening right there.
GABRIEL NATHAN: Dovetailing off of that with the return to the quiet, curious observer. My father is a veteran; he was in the Israeli army and fought in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
And when I was a young boy, he would tell funny stories, things that happened in the bunks. And there was a guy who snored and he’d put newspaper in between the guy’s toes and lit it on fire. I guess that’s a practical joke when you’re in the Israeli Army.
But things like that and so, as a child, it was, “Oh, let’s hear some funny stories.” But then, as I got older, it turned into more of my being quiet and curious and thinking, “God, what must he have seen? What must he have done?” And I found that as I got older and I kind of internalized those questions, I no longer asked him to tell me any stories.
And it certainly wasn’t that I wasn’t curious, it was that I was scared. I would be watching him eat dinner and watching him fall asleep on the couch and thinking to myself, “Who was this man 40 years ago? Who was he before and who did he become after as a result of what he saw and what he did?”
And I’m curious, if you had those kinds of experiences with your father and do you know how the experience of combat changed him and sort of what that dynamic was like for you?
WINDEN ROWE: That’s a good question, and I want to give a good answer, enough to respect his being who he is and what he has demonstrated to me. I think this applies to my dad and this applies to most military servicemen and women. There’s a lot that happens in life that changes us and that influences us to become who we are. And combat falls into that, but it might, it might not. It may be the trauma that breaks the camel’s back. But it’s not the only piece of the puzzle and I’ve heard my dad give several lectures on his experiences in speeches. He loved his time in the military, and he really evolved a lot is what happened to him when he was deployed overseas.
And a lot of people that I’ve worked with clinically say the same thing, like that really actually wasn’t so bad. It was actually pretty awesome, because, “I was there doing what I was trained to do and it was like this moment and this experience that I lived for.”
The military is really effective in training people how to compartmentalize. So that is a resource again and it becomes a defense mechanism for people dealing with post-combat exposure. I think the real difficulty is, once you’re removed from that environment where you have to compartmentalize to stay alive, to fulfill your role and your duty and your responsibility, the mind and the body and the human heart has this natural tendency to want to process some of those emotions that have been tossed off to the side and I think that becomes the deeper challenge. That becomes the harder part. And some men and women spend their lives not really letting themselves look those complex emotions. And that’s a very, very uncomfortable place to go.
So, I think there’s something that will always remain relatively dualistic about time spent in the Armed Forces. There’s such a deep love and appreciation for those times overseas, but at the same time, it’s a totally different world here. And I think that ultimately is what makes it difficult; I think that’s where the hardship really comes in. It’s not necessarily about the experiences as much as it is how the military world is so different from where we are that like there’s a missile line that maybe that’s where the difficulties are really fire off. Did I answer your question?
GABRIEL NATHAN: You did, beautifully. And so, my last question is related to that, Winden. You mentioned how well the Armed Forces trains folks in compartmentalizing and I think they’re trained very, very well, period, going in for what they have to do. I’m not sure that there is great training for when they’re coming out, when folks are decommissioned, to assist them back into civilian life.
And I think probably, the same holds true for law enforcement. I think there’s definitely an issue when the law enforcement officer retires and then, that identity – I mean it’s not a job. It’s an identity and so, when that identity is no longer there, I think a lot of police officers can feel a little bereft or lost, “Who am I now? What do I do now?”
And so, I’m curious to hear from you, what measures can be taken to assist individuals getting out of those careers to instill in them a belief that “Your life has meaning. You were something – you were someone before you went into the Armed Forces. You were someone before you became a cop. You’re still somebody now.” And how do we assist folks in kind of taking off that hyper vigilance for a more successful reintegration into civilian life?
WINDEN ROWE: Yes. So, I’m not at all saying my life as a mother, is anything like that of a military serviceman or servicewoman, but I have two teenagers and they’re both in high school this year, this coming year, and I am experiencing a little bit of a, “So now what?” kind of a moment, because I’ve been the nucleus of my family with these two boys — I’m a single mom, at that. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, develop mentally, which is I’m creating independence and a sense of self that’s separate from my mom: I’m growing up.
But I’m a woman, I’m a civilian. They have lots of girlfriends and they tend to be, you know, room for emotion, they spend a lot of time making sure that I have ways to talk through some of my experiences raising older children. I think that translates well conceptually into the military community. But in terms of servicemen and women; post-deployment, post-service, post-combat, post-career is easier said than done, because you’re working with a population that is very selfless.
So, asking these people to focus on themselves, relating to my experiences of my dad, he doesn’t want to focus on himself. He’s not comfortable focusing on himself. That’s not how he’s programmed. It’s totally counter to everything that he is, but getting him to be in service to others is easy. So he’s in his seventies, he has some health stuff going on but he still shows up for his Honor Guard burials and he gives lectures on his time in the service. And he still serves and he absolutely loves that and so, I think that’s kind of where the trick is.
How do you get these people to community and service, to be in service, to continue to be in service to others? The real easy way of doing that, there’s something that they’re deriving from it in terms of meaning and connectiveness and emotional availability but you don’t want to use those words.
For example, one organization that I do consulting work with is a link for a group called “The Weekly Fight,” and they work with retired sergeant-major Marty Kenny who served in the Marines and he had a lot of guys killing themselves and he was asking the question, “When are we going to stop going to funerals for people who served under me; this is breaking my heart?”
So, he started an organization called “The Weekly Fight” and what they do is they get together and they basically do a PT style weekly workout. And many times they talk about issues and, even after the meeting, people stick around and chat and you’ve got spouses who can talk to one another. And it just looks like a room full of people exercising, but there’s a lot more going on below the surface.
So, I think that’s probably where continuing support and treatment is going to go is grassroots based, because the VA isn’t cutting it. We know that. So, getting these guys keyed in to services is essential, and now we’re seeing men and women who served in Iraq are showing up for this kind of thing. We’re trying to get to the guys that are coming home from Afghanistan. They’re the ones that are still underground and undercover and trying to figure this out on their own. But we got to get them to these organizations. That’s the hard part.
GABRIEL NATHAN: Yeah, it’s time to get creative. Winden, I want to thank you for spending some time with me. I really appreciate your thoughts and your perspectives and thank you very much.
WINDEN ROWE: You’re so welcome.