Recharge and Restore: Purple Heart Spouses Self Care

WBP Staff Writer Helen Phillips

October 31, 2023

There are very few organizations that specifically support the spouses of combat wounded veterans and although they are very grateful for the support for their veteran, we are finding the need for the spouse/caregiver’s to be heard, seen, and fed emotionally is growing. Over the last ten plus years we have been serving Purple Hearts and their spouses, we have witnessed a rise in secondary trauma stress (STS). This occurs after indirect exposure to threatening events, while PTSD occurs due to a perceived direct threat to an individual. One example of what this looks like is when during the night, a combat veteran is having a nightmare, their brain having been programmed to take action to protect the body since previously the body was injured during a traumatic event, causes the veteran to defend, protect, or attack while still asleep. Their spouse wakes to chaos, fear, and sometimes physical involvement. The aftermath, especially after repeated episodes, takes a toll on their mental health, daily interactions, and sometimes physical health. This type of prolonged stress is never good for the body, mind, and soul, and there comes a time to do more that rest and relax. It becomes about recharging and restoring.  
Our spouse retreats that can look like a simple, beautiful and fun getaway, are designed to address this stress and remind those that are constant caregivers, that self care is incredibly needed. Situated in a gorgeous location on Lake Keowee in South Carolina, the Warrior Bonfire Program hosted a group of spouses of Purple Heart veterans that shared their experiences while we hiked, enjoyed the lake, and tapped into our creative side with some crafts.
Daily these women manage pending stressful situations utilizing risk management tools and scenarios, that protect their children and innocent bystanders. Always alert, to avoid an emotional explosion or harsh outburst, these women walk on eggshells searching for triggers and physical clues exhibited by their veteran. Combined with medication management, VA appointments, maintaining documentation, and basic family life, this 24/7 level of stress becomes the norm over the years and many do not realize they need to decompress and perform a little self care. The conversations on this retreat and really all our spouse retreats are always the same. They detail the scenes of their lives, sharing in the similarities with each other. The stories of hardship are always combined with deep love for their husbands and the desire for life to be lighter, and the support from the group for successful marriages is reinforced and very welcomed. By the end of the weekend they feel stronger together, recharged and restored, with the knowledge of their resiliency. “This trip helped me reconnect to who I am. It helped me realize I am not alone. And as a caregiver I can take on a lot, get overwhelmed and feel like I can’t take a break. I needed a retreat to take care of me so I can take care of my veteran,” stated Denise C.