A key component of working with veterans and service members affected by service-related trauma is combating debilitating effects of physical and emotional isolation, self-judgment, survivor guilt, and “shutting down.” In an adventurous context within a secluded natural environment, Melwood Veterans Services’ (MVS) Operation Tohidu® (Tohidu) retreat program reconnects warriors with their inherent strength of character – and with one another, to reframe their past experience and move forward with positivity.
Tohidu’s® motto is “Peace with the Past, through Power in the Present.” Experienced facilitators (combat veterans and trauma survivors), licensed social workers, and support staff use adventurous activities and group discussion to expose issues that often affect participants for decades. Working with peers, building camaraderie, and context through shared experience, Tohidu® participants confront recurring behaviors and self-destructive thought-processes, and learn holistic techniques to manage symptoms of service-related trauma and facilitate post-traumatic growth.
“I recalled my initial impression of one of my fellow participants and how wound-up he appeared; withdrawn, fidgety, guarded, and anxious. I also recalled how miserable I was some years ago, constantly being that tightly wound and without realizing it. It was a pleasure to see him and others become comfortable enough to open up and face their sources of anxiety and begin their journey. That was the best therapy for me!”
~ Operation Tohidu® Participant
DVNF’s support helps consolidate our focus and activities at the Melwood Recreation Center in Southern Maryland by underwriting the purchase of equipment for challenge activities designed to facilitate year-round use and improved accessibility for veterans with physical disabilities and hidden wounds.
MVS specializes in areas of military experience and realities of service that are underserved elsewhere. Participants frequently arrive struggling with some form of Moral Injury, arising from an experience they have been unable to rationalize with the military code of conduct and their personal honor. Examples include: combat action resulting in the deaths of the innocent, death or wounding of comrades, surviving sexual trauma(s), feelings of abandonment or disillusion with the chain of command or conduct of an operation or campaign, or any incident involving a violation of moral consciousness. Living with moral injury and/or surviving sexual trauma is not a disorder.
The profound suffering is often internalized as a function of the veteran’s innate pride, toughness or sense of duty. Participants cite feeling a fracturing of the soul; a sense of contamination, shame,
guilt, or regret; and other afflictions of conscience or affronts to self-worth, as being a constant part of their post-trauma life experience. This is where nature and camaraderie have a demonstrable and powerful effect. Bringing veterans together; grouping them by experience; and creating the conditions for challenge, teamwork, self-empowerment, and victory over circumstance promotes powerfully transformative healing.
Creating space around and facilitating a release from the grip of this particular trauma is an area of expertise for MVS. Since March 2017, MVS has served over 140 veterans, trauma survivors, service members, and several spouses, from 38 states across America.