Lifegiver Season 5

S5E2: Heather Ehle with Project Sanctuary

What we discuss:

In this episode, Heather shares her story about being a registered nurse and her introduction to the challenges military families face. Because the stress of the lifestyle affects the whole family, she wanted to find a way to help an organization that was caring for the family unit.

When she didn’t find one that was serving whole families, she created one. Project Sanctuary hosts 6-day retreats that focus on overcoming obstacles: financial, communication, family counseling, PTSD, and more. There are 10 different locations and in 2020 there are 32 retreats planned.

Two hours a day are spent in therapeutic sessions. There are incredible activities at each location including fishing, white water rafting, horseback riding, ziplining, and snowmobiling. Some of these are once-in-a-lifetime activities while other activities are able to be replicated once the family goes home (hiking or playing board games).

Licensed and trained counselors are on-site all week. Breakthroughs on the part of both the veteran and the spouse occur at each retreat!

Once a family has been on the retreat they are welcome to return as volunteers.

Resources and Links:

About Project Sanctuary

Apply to attend a retreat

PS: Jennifer here… My family was able to attend a Project Sanctuary retreat at Snow Mountain Ranch and I had two personal breakthroughs during the PTSD session. As a chaplain’s wife I figured I’d heard most of the stuff they were going to cover so the fact that I had two major breakthroughs I didn’t know I needed was powerful.

One is related to a minor change in my husband after deploying twice. After two tours he started bouncing his leg while sitting and it was incredibly annoying. (Still is, to be honest.) In the PTSD session the speaker mentioned that this is a common side effect of combat trauma. I constantly asked him to stop doing this. The PTSD session mentioned this was a natural and healthy way to release tension and that my asking him to stop was basically me asking him to keep that tension bottled up. The leg bouncing is still irritating, but after that session I rarely ask him to stop. I see it now for what it is.

The other breakthrough was having my own deployment traumas validated. I didn’t know that the supporting spouse could have legitimate traumas caused by deployment. I didn’t face war. I didn’t face danger. I didn’t see death. And yet, I was changed, and in some ways, the changes were strange to me.

I got mad when my husband mowed the grass. (It was my pet project during the 15-month deployment and he dared to touch it?!) I also didn’t like for him to drive once he got back. I had spent the entire time taxiing the kids around and once he got back I didn’t trust him behind the wheel. I had actual, physical manifestations of fear when he’d drive and he’s a really good driver!

Looking back, I can see so clearly that both of these reactions were trauma-based but I had no idea at the time. How much easier reintegration would have been had we both known these things about ourselves and each other.

These two breakthroughs were worth the time it took for us to drive from Texas to Colorado for our retreat, but there were many other benefits and experiences that made it spectacular. It was, in a literal and figurative sense, a mountaintop experience.