What Everyone Should Know About Military Caregivers

caregivers

This is what a group of caregivers looks like. We look just like you but the struggles we face on a daily basis are very different. We often suffer alone in silence as we do our best to be the thread that holds our families together. Our warriors left us as one person but came home as someone very different. What we once knew as normal is now just a memory that we wish we could relive. We have had to figure out our “new normal”, often alone and sometimes scared. We put on a brave face daily, for our warriors and our families, but often times the moment we are alone and have the time to take a deep breath we break down. It’s exhausting to try and do it all, but we do it. We do it all and we do it without complaining. We are grateful. We are grateful to still have our warriors with us. We are grateful to still have a piece of the memories of what our lives once were. We sacrifice. We sacrifice a little of ourselves daily. We do it willingly. We don’t want pity. What we want is compassion. Some days are harder for us than others. On those days, we just need a friend to acknowledge our struggles. Caregivers are strong, mighty and fierce. Caregivers are all Warriors in our own way. This is our journey.

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Reflections of 2017

reflectionAs I sit here on the last day of 2017, I cant help but reflect on my life as it played out this past year. This year was definitely a roller coaster ride. There were highs and lows, twists and turns and thrills and chills. Overall this year for me was a year of self discovery. My life in 2017 started out a little shaky. I was still struggling to find a job but I was also enjoying that time with Asa. It was a gift that I was not afforded with Devan, my oldest. When Devan was Asa’s age I had to grind. I was on a mission to finish grad school and move my little family to a better place. I spent a lot of time working and not nearly as much as I would have liked to with Devan. I missed a lot of Devans “growing up” as I was trying to build something for us. Several months of this last year with Asa were the complete opposite. I was home full time with him. I was present with him every day. I spent time volunteering in his class and working with him at home. We went to activities at the library found other things to do in our community including helping to take care of the Childrens garden at the Shorewood Community Garden.

asa mom and dad at library

If I’m being honest with myself the first half of the year for me was a bit of a blur. While I was enjoying my time with Asa I was struggling internally with me. I was struggling with where I felt I should be and what I felt like I should be doing. If I am really being transparent there were times I was battling depression and feeling cheated out of what I felt I had worked so hard to get to. I honestly felt like a failure.

At some point I realized that I was stuck. I needed something or someone to help me navigate the journey I was on. I needed to start doing things differently but I was stuck and I wasn’t sure how. Then a glimmer of hope. Out of nowhere an opportunity arose. I jumped at it! I applied through Hearts of Valor to work with a life coach. I had always wanted to work with a life coach but had never really made it a priority. Now that I was serious about it I simply couldn’t afford it. My application was accepted and I was gifted 27 sessions with a life coach through this program. In April I began working with Di. It was life altering.

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My sessions with Di were in so many ways therapeutic for me. It was one hour a week where I was forced to focus on me. That was something that I had stopped doing all together. All of my calls with Di were via phone although it never felt impersonal or phony. Di always started our calls by saying hello and then immediately asking “What are we celebrating this week?” She didn’t care how big or how small whatever I was celebrating was. Sometimes it was a job interview and other times it was something as simple as I made time to meditate. The point was that there was always something to celebrate. It wasn’t long before I realized I had stopped celebrating. I had stopped celebrating all together. Not had I stopped celebrating the big things but also the little. Di reminded me weekly that I have to celebrate everything. I now ask myself every night what I am celebrating and grateful for that day. Its funny…..somehow I always find something. This was the start of some serious work on ME.

Every session I had with Di was enlightening in some way. There were several Ah Ha moments….sometimes several in one session. Di helped me to “switch” my perceptions and helped me to “think” differently. It was a journey solely about me. In my almost 42 years on this earth I’m not sure I ever looked so introspectively at me, who I am, what makes me happy and what I want. It was exhilarating and frightening all at the same time.  But I was committed to the process. It was fascinating that sometimes I couldn’t answer the simplest questions about me. Answers to questions that you should be able to rattle off like….what brings you joy? or what do you have fun doing? I was struggling to come up with answers that weren’t just fluff. Di was forcing me to get to know me on a whole different level. Honestly before this, I’m not sure that I realized how much i was just going through the motions every day. I will forever be grateful for the blessing that Di was for me.

JPURNEY

I had a great support system through all of this. My husband was supportive of me and my journey of self discovery. He was encouraging and urged me to take time to figure out what it was that I really wanted to do. My kids supported me too…in their own ways. I also had a great deal of support from my mommy group. Just typing that is still a little funny for me. For those who know me know that 5 years ago you would have never have put me and mommy group in the same sentence. This group however is special. An amazing group of women some of whom I had never met and others who I had only met a handful of times were by far some of my biggest supporters. They were there for me, no matter what time of day. They would PM me, text me and call me to check on me, encourage me and sometimes just say hello. We share an unbreakable sisterhood. I will be forever grateful to each of them for their support, encouragement and even the kicks in the ass I needed to push through.

Then came August 2017.

In August 2017 I felt reborn in so many different ways.

At the beginning of August I accepted a position with Catholic Charities as a Case Manager with the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program. To be honest, initially, I wasn’t sure I had made the right decision. More on that later. I had only begun training when Brandon and I left the country for our 8 year wedding anniversary trip. We spent a week in the Dominican Republic together. This was the first time that we had spent even one night alone together since Asa had been born. It was an amazing and relaxing week and it was great to reconnect with my husband.

me and B DR

The day after we returned from the DR I got on a plane to San Antonio. I had applied for and been accepted to go on a Caregiver Retreat being put on by Operations Homefront’s Hearts of Valor Caregiver organization. it didn’t matter that a hurricane was coming, I was determined to be at that retreat. In just over a week I started a new job, went on a romantic getaway with my husband and now I was on my way to a caregiver retreat. I was in the middle of a whirlwind and I was loving every moment of it. I wrote a blog about my experience at the HOV retreat in San Antonio if you are interested in reading more about that experience. Overall it was AMAZING! I had not laughed so much in a really long time. Little did I know, but that group of women (which we named Harvey’s Angels) would become a huge support system for me. Now, four months later, we still communicate with each other daily. Not a single day goes by where I don’t text, FB, PM or talk to one of my Harvey’s Angels. We have developed a bond that can’t be broken. We will forever be connected by our shared experiences with our wounded warriors.

HOV heart and angels

I didn’t realize it immediately, but that retreat was life altering for me. I came back a different person.  Much like my sessions with Di that focused exclusively on me, that retreat also forced me to focus on me. One of my favorite quotes is “Your self care is not about you.” This quote had never been so true for me as it was on this retreat. It also sparked something in me that I had not felt in a very long time. That spark gave me life. Its almost like a calling. Its something inside me that tells me I have to use my voice for those, who for whatever reason, cant use their own. Its a calling to be an advocate for our nations veterans and those who support them. This feeling, this calling….fit perfectly with the job that I was going back to.

I came back to a job I had just started and was still uncertain about. I had all kinds of reservations. Was I going to be effective at the job? Was I going to like my coworkers? Was the work I do going to be appreciated? Was I going to be ok not being “in charge”? After all it had been decades since I had a job where I wasn’t someone’s boss. I think I was most in fear about this. I was afraid I didn’t know how to be a part of a team I wasn’t in charge of. After several reassuring conversations with my husband, other family and friends, moms from my mommy group and some of my Harvey’s Angels, I was in a much better place. I made the decision to just take things day by day. One of the things that stuck with me from my sessions with Di is that “everything is temporary”. So basically, if I got into it and didn’t like it, I could always get out of it. This is a stepping stone for something. Now I don’t know yet what that something is, but I do know that at that moment I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be and I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

one of the feeling

I remember in my interview I was asked why I wanted that particular job. My answer: Every one of those clients could have been my husband had he not had the support system he did when he came back. That answer was as honest and true as it gets. It has now been 4 months since I started my job working with Homeless Veterans and I am blessed to be able to say that I love what I do every single day. I have been chosen to assist our nations hero’s in some of their darkest hours as they are either on the verge of becoming homeless or they are already living on the streets. Our Veterans sometimes find themselves in very vulnerable positions. When they are at war there is a thought process of “leave no man behind”. Then they return to the lives they left only to be forgotten about and left behind when they need help the most. I get to be there for my clients when they are most vulnerable.

I have found a new home at Catholic Charities and I have become part of a new family. I work with some very special people. Others who like me are doing the job because they want to. You couldn’t really be effective doing what we do if you didn’t actually want to do it. God knows we don’t get paid what any of us are worth. Yet we all show up to work every day to help those people who need it most. I am blessed and grateful for my coworkers who support me and my sometimes crazy ideas. And I am thankful that they welcomed me with open arms into their world.

I am also in a unique position to be humbled every single day that I go to work. My office in Joliet is in the same building as our Homeless Shelter. Every day that I go to work I see what Homelessness looks like. For those of you that may have preconceived notions of what it looks like or who “those people are” that are homeless, I am here to tell you that you are wrong. The people who live at our shelter look just like you and me. They are mothers/wives/sisters/daughters/fathers/husbands/brothers and sons. We have clients who stay at our shelter who have jobs they go to every day. We have clients who are single parents who live at our shelter with their children. We have clients who are fleeing domestic violence situations leaving everything behind for the safety of themselves and their children. When you really think about it, most of us are only one really bad situation from ending up in the same place as the clients I see everyday. So every night that I get to come home to my warm house where I am greeted by my loving family, where I can open my refrigerator and get food whenever I want it and sleep in my own bed, I am extremely grateful and that is something I celebrate daily.

being humble

My clients are amazing individuals in their own right. Most of them have survived things that I cant even imagine.  My clients choose to trust me in a very vulnerable time in their lives. They share intimate thoughts and details about their lives with me. They allow me into their world. They allow me to assist them in finding housing, in finding a job, in finding other resources that may help them. Sometimes they reach out just because they need to hear a friendly voice. I am honored to be that person.

Since I started my job in August I have been referred to by my clients in several ways. One guy calls me sunshine. He asked if it was ok and said that he nicknamed me that  because I “bring rays of positive light” into his life. I have been told I was heaven sent. I have been called an angel. Just this week I got a text message from a client that said “I know I’ve said thank you a million times, but I am just so very grateful for the help that we’ve received. I realize you are doing your job, but I still want to thank you Ms. Courtney”. Then there are the huge hugs I get from my clients who are kids. I have one family that as soon as the kids see me they run and give me hugs and cant wait to tell me about everything that has gone on since I saw them last. That feeling of seeing those beautiful children with hope in their eyes. The feeling I get seeing one of my clients effectively close out our program. That is why I do my job. The funny thing is, I get as much from my clients as they get from me. They just don’t realize it.

goodbye 2017

Here are a few of the lessons that 2017 brought me (in no particular order) ……

Lesson 1 There is always something to celebrate

Lesson 2 Sometimes what you perceive as a bad situations is actually life giving you a gift of something that you may not even have known you needed.

Lesson 3 There is always something more to learn

Lesson 4 There is always someone out there whose struggles are worse than yours

Lesson 5 Everything is temporary

Lesson 6 Be open to new opportunities

Lesson 7 Take everything one day at a time (one moment at a time if you have to)

Lesson 8 Be Grateful for what you do have

Lesson 9 Be kind to others – you don’t always know what they are going through

Lesson 10 I AM A WORK IN PROGRESS

Five years ago if this is where you told me I would be today I would have said you were crazy. But, as this year comes to an end I could not be more grateful. Grateful for the people who have entered my life this last year. Grateful for the opportunities that I have been afforded. Grateful that I have found a new work home. Grateful I am able to make things a little easier for others. Grateful that my family is healthy and happy. Grateful for every opportunity that has come my way. Grateful that I have figured out (at least for the time being) who I am and what makes me happy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a work in progress. But I am proud of the progress that I made this year.

this year

As we enter 2018 I wish you life, love and happiness on your journey. I’m looking forward to seeing what mine brings! Happy New Year!

2017 2018

PS…….

The teacher in me wont allow me to not post the following web site. You never know when you or someone you know may need it!

https://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/

 

Serving Those Who Served

Initially I chose not shared my “news” of becoming part of the “employed” world again. Honestly I wasn’t sure how it was actually going to pan out (some of you may have been aware of this). After being in my position for a few months now, I am confident this is what I should be doing right at this point in my life. So here is my “announcement” for those of you wondering what I’m talking about.
If you know me, you know the Veteran community has been a part of my life now for some time (Brandon is an Army Vet). After we got married I became more involved in the Veteran and Veteran Caregiver community. This community quickly became a passion of mine. I currently volunteer with and am the Chicagoland Peer Group Leader for Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor and I spend time working with Brandon on his non profit The Rally Point Program – TRPP (both of these organizations clearly serve the Veteran and Veteran Caregiver communities.
Many of you may remember me sharing my #onesandwichatatime blogs about Joe (a homeless Veteran) who I used to make an extra lunch for every day while I was working at Chicago State. I made several posts about him and his story. Many of you (near and far) assisted with items that he was in need of. Little did I know this experience would help lead me to where I am now.
After lots of soul searching and several months working with a life coach and countless rejection letters because I was “overqualified” it started to become clear to me that I had to do something different. So after endless conversations with Brandon and other family members and the support of those closest to me, I decided to “jump” and take a leap of faith. I decided to follow my passion.
So here is the big announcement….
After more than I have officially left the field of Higher Education. After 24 years working in higher education and 15 tough months of being unemployed, I have accepted a position with Catholic Charities as a Case Manger for the SSVF (Supportive Services for Veteran Families) Program.
The SSVF program is a homeless prevention program that assists Veterans and their families from either becoming homeless or assists to house those veterans and their families who are currently homeless. Its an amazing program and I have already seen firsthand the success that Veterans who take part in the program can accomplish.
This position gives me an opportunity to get even deeper into a community that I was already passionate about. I am now aware of resources that I had no idea existed. I am able to share these resources with Caregivers not only here in IL, but also with Caregivers I am connected to throughout the United States. I am also uncovering resources that can assist Brandon’s non profit as well as he and I on a personal level.
So for those of you that have been wondering about me, that’s whats up! I honestly enjoy going to work every day. I work with great people – not only at Catholic Charities, but also at the local Veterans Assistance Commissions, Vet Centers and Hines VA hospital. I have amazing clients. I get to make a difference in my clients lives everyday. I am convinced that this is all part of a bigger plan. The work I do every day is much bigger than me but I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of “it”.
My first client was a 44 yr old Desert Storm Vet. He was literally homeless – living on the streets and sleeping in a friends car when he needed shelter. Together we identified an apartment for him. The joy on his face when he signed the lease and got the keys to his apartment gave me a feeling that I honestly cant put into words. It took everything I had to hold back tears. I remember commenting to him after it was over that I thought I might be more excited than he was. I was so proud of him for everything that he had to do to get to that point. When we moved him in to the apartment, every thing he had was literally in a duffel bag. Together, by tapping other resources, we have pretty much furnished his apartment with the basics. Today I stopped by his apartment to drop off some household items that he was still in need of (including a microwave donated to me by my girlfriend Karilyn). He was visibly touched when he saw my car literally full of stuff for him. Christmas came early for him as I delivered a microwave, pots and pans, cooking utensils, a humidifier, a rack for his bathroom, a floor lamp and lots of other stuff that he really needed. He also let me know that he got a $3 an hour raise at his job and that there is a possibility another raise will happen again within the next few months. Then as I was leaving he looked at me and said “Courtney I know you didn’t have to do all this. This is not part of your job description. I don’t know where you came from or how you managed this, but you are truly my angel. I am truly grateful for you.”
The funny thing is, he was the second client that told me this week I was their angel. I had a third client that told me that in his 61 yrs on this earth, no one had ever gone to bat for him in the way that I had. I honestly didn’t think that I had done anything special – but he was extremely grateful for my help.
So there it is. I LOVE MY JOB!
I am blessed every day to have the honor of working with and serving those who have sacrificed and served to protect our country and all of us. I could not be happier.
Thank you to those of you who continuously encouraged and supported me! I am truly grateful for you!

Harvey’s Angels

From early on in my career in higher education, part of my responsibilities was as a Veterans Certifying official. It was my responsibility to certify veterans for their educational benefits at the college that I worked for.  You may or may not know that my husband is also a Veteran. Because of both of these connections, I have been passionate about the Veteran community for some time now. About a year ago I started volunteering my time as the Peer Group Leader for the Chicagoland Chapter of Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor organization. Hearts of Valor is a Veteran Caregiver organization whose mission is to honor the service and sacrifice of the people who care for our nation’s wounded, ill or injured warriors by providing a community of support based on a foundation of empathy and mutual understanding. Through this opportunity I get to spend one night per month with some incredible women. We meet, share resources, share our stories, share our strengths and we also share our struggles. Ultimately, we try to support each other however we can. I am truly blessed to have this small yet impactful group of women in my life. I have learned a tremendous amount from each of them. They were a huge part of my support system when I was struggling with “life”.  They continue to be a strong part of my support system as I do my best to navigate my own personal journey. I am extremely grateful for them.  

OH HOVA few weeks ago, I had the honor of being selected to attend a caregiver retreat with Operation Homefront’s Hearts of Valor organization. This retreat was being sponsored by USAA. The Friday through Monday retreat was held in San Antonio, TX just as Hurricane Harvey was rearing his ugly head. I was fortunate to get to meet another caregiver headed to the retreat before I even left Chicago. She was coming from Cincinnati and had a connecting flight in Chicago. It turned out that her connecting flight was my direct flight to San Antonio. We found this out ahead of time and exchanged phone numbers. We connected at the airport and although this was the first time we were meeting each other (other than a few simple emails), we both greeted each other with a hug. There was an instant connection. An instant bond. At that moment, we didn’t need to exchange stories with each other. No words needed to be spoken. We were both caregivers of Wounded Warriors. We both knew what that meant. Needless to say, we talked the ENTIRE flight to San Antonio. I can’t tell you how much I learned from her! She was schooling me about so many things that I didn’t even know that I didn’t know about! Caregiver resources that are available, Veteran resources available, organizations that I should have been aware of but wasn’t and the list went on. I hadn’t even been out of Chicago for 4 hours and already I felt like if I got nothing else from this trip it was already SO WORTH it! Not only had I learned about different resources and organizations, but I also had made a new friend (and I don’t use that term lightly). Little did I know there was still so much more to come!  

Emily and I

We arrived safely in San Antonio and made it to our hotel around 11:30 am without incident. We were staying at the Westin on the Riverwalk. It was BEAUTIFUL – even with the gray skies and rain. We were the first caregivers to arrive that day. Nothing was really scheduled until 5pm so we decided to hit the streets of San Antonio! We started walking and headed toward the mall. On our way there we came upon a beautiful sculpture garden. We stopped and took our time looking at each one of the sculptures and taking pictures. It wasn’t very big but it was pretty amazing. It was calm and tranquil, a very different feel from my everyday life at home. It was fitting since the theme of the retreat was self-care.  

HOV riverwalk 2

sculpture park collage

From there we walked to the mall and walked through a few stores. We left the mall and were walking the streets when we came upon a wax museum. We both looked at each other and smiled. Neither one of us had ever been to a wax museum and we were both very intrigued. We decided to purchase a 3 attraction pass to get us into the wax museum, a 4k movie experience and the Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum. We were excited! We walked in not really knowing what to expect. We saw some great wax figures and some really bad ones too. There was one of our current president – whoever made that one clearly wasn’t a fan of his. It was terrible. We saw Oprah, Dr. Phil, Morgan Freeman, Michael Jackson, Will Smith, Ellen, Johnny Depp and many others. We took advantage of being the only ones in the museum and decided to be goofy and take a bunch of selfies with the “celebrities”. We had a BLAST! I had not laughed that hard in years. I was definitely channeling my inner child. There was no worry of judgement, no concern of what she was thinking about me, it was only about having fun and enjoying ourselves. And enjoy ourselves we did. From there we went on to the 4K movie experience and the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum and neither one of them disappointed. I think we laughed for 3 straight hours!  

wax museum collage

When we finished our museum tours we figured out that we were only a few blocks away from the Alamo so off we went. It was interesting. I was more intrigued by the massive oak trees and landscaping than by the actual buildings. But that was neither here nor there. We were having a great time and honestly that was all that mattered. I wasn’t thinking about my husband or kids. I wasn’t concerned with what we were going to eat for dinner. I wasn’t thinking about what I needed to buy at the grocery store or what household chores needed to be done. It was the first time in a long time that I actually was really focused on me and having a good time. I was living in the moment.  After hitting a few souvenir shops we headed back to the hotel. 

alomo collage

We got back to the hotel a little after 5 and I went straight to the first session. Our first session was on meditation. Meditation is not something that is new to me. I remember my mother meditating when I was younger and my husband meditates. I seem to go through phases, but recently I have been working with a life coach and she suggested that I meditate so I have been doing more of it in the last several months. There was some discussion of meditation vs relaxation and the differences, but the focus was on self-care. That I appreciated. Self-care is not something that I am particularly good at. I find myself taking care of others and not necessarily thinking about me.  

HOV meditation

Dinner was next on the agenda. Seats were assigned and I was at a table with 4 other caregivers I had not yet met. The speakers for the evening were also at my table. I sat down and introduced myself to the other ladies and our speakers (a retired veteran who was now a doctor and his wife who was a nurse). Although I was at a table of “strangers” again there was an instant connection. It didn’t matter that some of us were in our 20’s, some in our 30’s and then those of us who were older than that, we had that same connection that I had with the caregiver I met in the airport. There was an instant feeling of family. 

HOV dinner

 

We found out at dinner that 4 of our speakers for the week had cancelled because of the hurricane. I however am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. That reason became clear as day to me by the end of the retreat.  Dinner was great – but not nearly as good as the conversation. I was making great connections with some amazing people. I felt so blessed. At the end of dinner, we were all given the most beautiful handmade quilts that had been donated to the organization.  

HOV quilts

There was no better way than to end the night than 20 caregivers sitting in a hotel bar waiting for a hurricane to hit. We weren’t for sure whether it was going to hit us but we had an evacuation plan just in case. Somewhere around this time we decided to name our group Harvey’s Angels. It was fitting in so many ways and everyone agreed that it was nothing less than perfect! We spent the night at the hotel bar talking, joking, laughing and getting to know each other. We were all far from our “real lives”, but we were all exactly where we needed to be.  

HOV hotel bar

Saturday started with yoga. Participation in this session wasn’t required so you can imagine my surprise when I got there and there were at least 20 of us there ready to go. Twenty of us at 6am on a Saturday morning. It was awesome. This instructor taught yoga to pop music. I have participated in yoga, but I had never experienced yoga like this. It was amazing.  Many people were trying yoga for the first time. Some had more challenges than others but every single one of us was supporting each other. It was truly amazing. A group of strangers supporting each other while we practiced yoga. No judgement. No snickering. Just positive energy from a group of strangers supporting each other.  

HOV yoga 2

 

Since a bunch of our presenters cancelled the HOV (Hearts of Valor) staff were busy rearranging the schedule the best they could. But what happened next was the most impactful for me personally. I’m not sure I was really ready for what was about to take place, but I had no choice. It was going to happen whether I was ready for it or not. Thirty women in a circle with simple directions. Introduce yourself, tell us about what brought you to HOV and what you want to get out of this weekend. Simple instructions, right? Well, those simple instructions opened a flood gate of emotions. What came next truly touched my heart.  

HOV heart

 

One by one we each introduced ourselves. Everyone started off with their name and then it was up to each caregiver what they wanted to share. There were at least 15-20 people before me. As each person told the group about themselves, I found something in common with every single one of them. There was a woman who had a twenty something year old and a six-year-old. Another had teenagers. There were women working in education. Women that had been laid off and were unemployed. Women who sometimes felt isolated. Women who felt like they were losing their identities. Each caregiver told stories of the struggles they face in dealing with their wounded warriors. There were stories of attempted suicide, alcoholism, PTSD, VA issues, medical issues, domestic violence and feelings of isolation. I saw a piece of myself in EVERY SINGLE WOMAN there. Then it was my turn. I told myself I wasn’t going to cry. That didn’t seem to matter.  The minute I opened my mouth it was like I flipped the switch for my tears. I took my time. I told my story. I talked about my family. I talked about my struggle with finding a job and the industry change that I had just made. I talked about my new job as a SSVF (supportive services for veteran families) Case Manager.  It was so freeing to be able to be open about my feelings and not feel like I was being judged. It didn’t matter that I had met most of these women less than 24 hours prior.  The support in that room was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was beyond powerful.  

behind every woman

 

 

 

After that session ended as I was heading to the room we were going to have lunch in, one of the caregivers called my name. I stopped so she could catch up to me. What she said next was pretty powerful. She started by saying “I know that what you’re doing now for work may not be what you want to be doing, but I want you to know that the work you’re doing IS important.” She went on to tell me that she was familiar with the program I was working for because at some point her and her husband were homeless and utilized the program I am working for to get back on their feet. She simply wanted me to know that the work I am doing is appreciated by those that unfortunately find themselves in a circumstance where they have very little options. I’m not sure I adequately conveyed my appreciation for her words, but they have stuck with me. I remind myself of that brief conversation every time I am struggling with something at work.  

HOV candle

That night a group of a group of us decided we wanted to go watch the fight. We hopped in a few cars and set out for Dave and Busters.  We were going to make this a lady’s night! We got there and managed to actually find some tables. We rearranged the tables (dragging them through the restaurant) to make one big table. I couldn’t remember the last time I was out with a group of women. We were having the time of our lives. Many of the other caregivers commented on how they really never get to do things like go watch a fight at a bar. Most of their Wounded Warriors didn’t like to be around crowds or noise (common with PTSD). Many Wounded Warriors also struggle with substance abuse (self-medication is common among Wounded Warriors), so a bar is not somewhere most of the caregivers I know frequent. On this night though, this small group of women (including me) were living it up!   

HOV dave and busters

The next day brought more information, more lessons and more resources. It was awesome! They even had a Zumba instructor come in and teach a class. I opted out of that one because of my low back issues. I did however stay around long enough to be extremely proud of every woman participating. You had women of all shapes and sizes working out in that room. Again, it was a completely judgement free zone. We also had time to talk in small groups about goals that we wanted to work on. These were specifically goals for ourselves – not goals for our family – not goals for our spouses – not goals for our kids. When you are so wrapped up into making sure everyone else is doing well you often forget about yourself. We laughed with each other as we struggled to focus on ourselves. It’s not something any of us do often.  

focus on you

Just a few weeks before the caregiver retreat, I attended a mental health summit for my new job. I shared the following with the caregivers at the retreat. One of the presenters at the summit made a statement that has stuck with me since I heard it. Seven simple words that struck a chord with me and completely changed my perspective on how I think about self-care.  Are you ready for it? Here it is……”Your self-care is not about you”. When I first heard this statement, it took me a minute to grasp the meaning. Initially I was confused but when It clicked, I completely understood. The concept is actually very simple. If you don’t take care of yourself, you will be incapable of taking care of anyone else. When you allow yourself self-care, you are actually making sure that you are capable of taking care of others. Therefore, your self-care is NOT about you. When I think of it that way I don’t feel so guilty about it.  

self care

Sunday evening brought our final evening together. I had a wave of emotions going through me. It kind of reminded me of Girl Scout camp when I was a kid. You are nervous before you go since you don’t know anyone, half way through you realize you are having the time of your life and you don’t want it to end, then BAM – it’s over. I felt so blessed to have met these amazing women. The connection and bond we formed that weekend is something that only the select few who are a part of “Harvey’s Angels” understand. I was sad that the retreat was coming to an end. I wasn’t really ready to go back to my reality yet. There were lots of hugs, exchanging of contact info and of course lots of selfies.  

HOV dinner 2

HOV riverwalk

The next day many of the caregivers left early in the morning. I did get to see a few people at breakfast that morning. We ate, said our goodbyes and set out for the airport. I shared a ride to the airport with 2 other caregivers. The three of us were all headed to gates next to each other. Just when we thought it was over, we get to the gate only to find 5 of the other caregivers waiting for their flights. It was like a huge (very loud) family reunion! It had only been a few hours since we had seen each other, but we were so thankful to actually get to say goodbye in person to each other. I would be lying if I said that people weren’t staring! We admittedly got a little loud. The TSA K9 unit got a huge kick out of us! They were joking that they may need to search us a few extra times as we were a “rowdy bunch”. A few people in the airport asked us what we were there for. This gave us the perfect opportunity to tell them about Hearts of Valor.  

HOV airport

Soon after, flights started boarding. Slowly everyone started leaving. There were again lots of hugs and pictures. This was it. This was the final farewell. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have to hold back a few tears. That weekend for me was such an emotional, uplifting, supportive experience. We are a fierce group of women. So fierce that not even Hurricane Harvey could stop us. I learned so much from each person I met. I learned that I am not alone in my struggles. I learned that there are women out there who understand my unique challenges. I gained a support network of 30 brave and fearless women. I can honestly say it was life-changing.  

 

HOV heart and angels 

In the few weeks since the retreat I have been in contact with several of the incredible women I met that weekend in San Antonio. We have continued to share resources with each other. We continue to uplift each other with inspirational messages. We reach out to one another when we are having a bad day or just need a little encouragement. We continue to support each other from afar. Some of us have talked on the phone – others have sent text messages and all of us have stayed in contact on Facebook.  Thank you to Operation Homefront, Hearts of Valor and USAA for making the retreat possible. It truly was a life-changing experience filled with love, laughter, hugs, encouragement and support. I am honored and privileged to be one of “Harvey’s Angels”.  

HOV angels

HOV group pic

 A note to my fellow Harvey’s angels:

I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank you. I learned something from every one of you and each of you contributed to my journey in your own way. Thank you for the sacrifices that you so willingly make on a daily basis. Thank you for your continued service to our wounded warriors. Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your stories with me. Thank you for listening to my story and accepting me with open arms. Thank you for the laughs, the tears and the hugs. What happened that weekend for me was more powerful than any hurricane could ever be. I will be forever grateful for the sisterhood we formed on that stormy weekend in San Antonio. Thank you for being a part of “Harvey’s Angels”

Please feel free to comment and share!  HOV group silly**Note – This blog and the pictures were posted with the blessings/approval of

“Harvey’s Angels”** 

It’s My 4 Year Surgiversary! What A Journey!

fat picCan you believe this is the same person! Yep that’s me!

Four years ago today I began phase two of my weight loss journey. In 2010 I was at my highest weight ever of 298lbs. In 2009 I had Lap Band surgery. I was very successful with the lap band and got down to about 185lbs. In 2009 I got married and in 2012 we decided to try for a little one. I spoke with my surgeon, my obgyn and my regular doc about being pregnant with the lap band. Everyone assured me that it should be fine. We got pregnant pretty quickly and all was going well until the end of my second trimester. I ended up having a slip of my lap band which left me unable to consume any food or drink by mouth. I ended up being fed through a picc line for the last 2.5 months of my pregnancy. After several scary complications, Asa was born healthy on January 15, 2013! I had my lap band removed one week later. Then I found myself struggling again with my weight and now I added baby weight to the picture! I was back up to 245lbs and my back was giving me issues again (the reason I got the lap band to begin with). I called my surgeon and scheduled an appointment. We decided together that the best course of action for me and four years ago today on 8/13/2013 I had the gastric sleeve surgery.

ONE PUND AT A TIME

The last four years have not been easy! The surgery was a tool for me to help lose the weight and then help me to maintain a healthy weight. It was by no means a solution in itself. There are basic rules I need to follow and if I’m being honest here – I don’t always follow them.  And when I don’t follow them consistently I gain weight. Its a vicious cycle and the story of my life! Here are a few of those rules:

  1. I should be eating a high protein low carb diet. Oh wait….did I introduce myself? Hi my name is Courtney and I’m a carbohydrate addict. I would be fine only eating carbs all day every day. The problem is that I would weigh 500lbs.
  2. I should not be drinking any caffeine. Oh and did I mention coffee is my vice. I LOVE MY COFFEE!!
  3. I should be eating low sugar but dark chocolate is my downfall. I’m also a chocoholic.
  4. I should not be drinking anything for 30 minutes prior to eating or for 1 hour after eating….but I do!
  5. I should be staying away from carbonation…..but I love my beer.

By the end of 2013 I was down to 165-170lbs. It was the smallest I had ever been in my adult life. I was a size 10! To be honest it was kind of awkward for me to be that small. Then….well….. life happened!

I lost my job in 2014. It was a difficult transition for me. I found myself slowly starting to gain weight. To get a handle on it I started going to the gym 5 days a week. I was doing a different fitness class every day plus weights. I was in the best physical shape of my life!

In April 2015 I went back to work and I swear it all went downhill from there. I wasn’t working out at all and I wasn’t eating well at all. I became complacent.

In May 2016 I lost my job again. Now at this point I had already gained weight by being complacent and now I was back to the roller coaster of being unemployed. Ummmm…..did I mention I’m an emotional eater? Needless to say my weight has fluctuated between 190 and 198 for the last several months.

A few weeks ago a small group of amazing women (who all happen to be moms that I’m connected to) decided to do a group weight loss challenge. We weigh in once a week by taking a picture of the scale and posting it for the group to see. I started this challenge on July 10th at 198.2lbs. As of this morning I was 188.5. I’m just shy of 10lbs down! Officially 109.5lbs down from my highest weight in 2010. Ill take it!

188LBS.jpg

I have learned so many lessons over the last four years on this weight loss journey. Here are just a few:

  1. I acknowledge I have a love/hate relationship with food.
  2. I fully know what I need to do to maintain a healthy weight – I also acknowledge that I just don’t always do it.
  3. I am a carbohydrate addict. Its what I ALWAYS want. Kicking the carbs always results in a weight loss.
  4. I do better when I weigh myself more often. It helps keep me accountable.
  5. A food diary works great for me. It deters me from putting things in my mouth that I know are bad since I don’t want to write it down.
  6. I surround myself with positive and supportive people. I have never for one minute been alone on this journey. My husband and children have supported me from day one. I belong to a group on FB of people who all had the same surgery I did and we all did it in August of 2013. We support each other daily. I also belong to a mommy group that consists of the most supportive women I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. We also support each other daily.
  7. Losing weight is a slow process. I didn’t gain it overnight and I wont lose it overnight either.
  8. Portion control is key for me. When I start slipping I get out my food scale and weigh everything!
  9. In order to maintain a healthy weight, I WILL ALWAYS HAVE TO WATCH WHAT I EAT.
  10. My weight loss journey will be a life long journey. It is what it is! I have the tools to do what I need to do. Now I just have to continue to do it!

JPURNEY

I love food. Its a fact. For me its about making better choices and not eating so much. I’m learning to fill myself with other things besides food. I AM A WORK IN PROGRESS!

WORK IN PROGRESS

Free flowing and Effortless

Sitting on a rock watching the water flow down the river. Feeling weightless as I watch the reflections of the trees shimmer on the water.

The water moves effortlessly through the rocks below. A constant flow moving all in one direction. The water hits an obstacle and it simply moves around it without a hesitation. It’s like watching the present become the past. Each droplet of water will never be in that same place it just was.

I feel the breeze kissing my cheeks as it makes the leaves on the trees dance. The leaves are rustling as the birds sing an original song. They sing so freely while the crickets chirp and the dragonflies buzz around without a care in the world.

A plane flies above. Its a welcomed sound as it faintly comes, gets very loud and then slowly disappears. My focus is back on nature.

I close my eyes and try to be present in this moment. As the wind flows past me it takes some of my stress with it. Its almost as if the wind is a shower that is washing my stress away. The wind is blowing in the opposite direction of the river flow….but there is no fight. They are are happening at the same time but the have honor and respect for their differences. The smell of the river water brings back memories of childhood.

Its a reminder of how life should be. Free flowing and effortless.

Symphony of Life

Open space brings comfort. Gazing at the sunset frees my soul. I feel the colors in the sky vibrate through me. Ever so softly they breathe a calm energy into my core. Nothing else matters. My existence in that moment transcends my spirit.

Sitting in the middle of an open field, I hear music. It’s reminiscent of a symphony. The cattails dance while the birds sing.  The crickets chirp and the bees hum in agreement. I am but one ingredient in the recipe.

As the colors in the sky grow dim, so does the song. What was an effervescent beauty is now fading. The end is near. I remain calm. I linger in the moment. Accepting what is coming one breath at a time.

Photo Credit: Jim Chapman

wish stick