Having the vocation of being a peer support specialist for veterans does have its rewards. Not the financial kind, though I am paid for what I do, but the spiritual kind.
Today, as I began a group I facilitate every week, there in front of me sat fifteen veterans recovering from PTSD, alcoholism, drug addiction, schizophrenia, manic depression, and a myriad of other mental health issues. Each one looking down in the dumps as they were caught up in a plethora of negative feelings.
As I start each group that has new veterans in it, I always introduce myself to include my past history and my own ongoing road of recovery. Some of the new people positively responded when they heard that I am a veteran of three branches of service and I have been in recovery for 26 years now. The majority though, were still unresponsive.
I, then delved into today’s topic: Using The Five Senses For Recovery. When the veterans heard the topic, most of them had the usual reaction of “Ah crap, another touchy-feely group of feelings!”
The first sense was the sense of smell, I started them with my own; “Whenever I smell meatloaf it reminds me of all the times Mom, before she passed away, made my birthday dinner of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, homemade biscuits, and finished off with a German Chocolate birthday cake.”
With that it took off! Each veteran bringing his favorite smell and why it was; “cut wood” because it reminds me of Dad and me cutting wood together.” “The smell of fried chicken Mom made!” “The smell of the air just before a thunderstorm starts.” With that, the spirits lifted a little.
Then, the sense was sight, I started with a photo I have with me asleep in a recliner with my grandson asleep on my stomach. “That photo is full of serenity. Thinking back to when that photo was taken and how when we arrived at my son’s house my grandson was really fussy. I asked my daughter in law to hand me the boy and I sat down in the rocking chair with him. I started rocking him and talking softly to him as he fussed. Soon enough, he was sound asleep lying on my belly and I fell quite content and fell asleep too. My son came in and saw us and took the photograph.” You could see the reaction in the veteran’s eyes as they thought back to their own children. Once again we went around the room letting each veteran share their own response.
We turned hearing and I asked what song took them back. I shared that I attach songs to memories and that helps me remember them better later. My favorite song that I shared was Tommy James and the Shondells singing “I Think We’re Alone Now” because it reminds me of my first girlfriend as a young teen. The mood lightened even more as each one shared a song with fond memories.
Taste, mine was Dutch Lettuce because it was a meal my family had when all we had was each other. It reminds me that even though we didn’t have money then, we had the love of Mom and our sibling love. Once again, as each shared their own story of taste, the others all listened intently.
Finally, we were to the sense of touch. A few had a knee-jerk reaction that touch can’t evoke fond memories! I shared that every time I touch velour I remember the Christmas when I came home on leave and Mom’s car had given up the ghost. On Christmas Eve I hitchhiked up to Grinnell, about 18 miles North of where Mom lived at the time. At the local car dealership I bought Mom a brand new Buick Century that had the popular option of the time of velour seats. I stayed in Grinnell until I was sure Mom had gone to sleep and then drove it back to her house. I parked it outside the kitchen window and crept inside. I put a ribbon on the key and put it underneath the tree. The next morning I waited until last and then gave Mom the key. She laughed thinking it was joke so I walked her to the kitchen and pointed out the window. Mom cried tears of joy for at least 20 minutes. She kept that car through two engines and until it was almost completely rusted out. When she finally got rid of it 15 years later, she told me it was one of the saddest days. Each time I touch velour, I remember that whole story. Then each of the group shared their story. For one it was sand because it reminded him of his childhood home on the coast. Another was a quilt his grandmother made for him. Yet another was his cat.
As we finished our session I told them that during the time today I watched 15 different glum people start smiling and they went from slumping to sitting up straight. As we straightened up the room they were joking with each other and giving each other feedback about one’s story reminded another of a good time. I told them they didn’t have to spend a penny to change how they were looking at life today. One walked up to me with a tear in his eye and thanked me for helping him find a little peace.
It is for this, watching someone else’s life improve, that I do this job.
So the thought for today is:
Spend a little time helping another and the reward you receive is greater than gold. ~ ME