Are you in the club no one wants to join?

members only This is a loaded topic for me and mannnnny others, but today I want to talk about something that came up recently regarding family who doesn’t ‘get it’ in understanding the complexities and challenges of our lives after combat.

This is a sore topic with me on multiple levels. It’s one of those topics that needs an entire chapter of a book to explain or discuss….and could very well be an entire book if I really want to be honest about it.

So I’ll TRY to keep this short and limited to one aspect of the issue.

I had a family member (one of the ones who WANTS to learn more about our life) recently confess that she is still learning and had ‘no idea’ and thanked me for the continued reminders. God, I love her for that.

Then I have some family members I’ve had to literally BLOCK because they either refused to learn, or just refused to understand. I was the ‘bad guy’ and became a target for unkind actions on their part.

I am reaaaallllly tired of being the bad guy. I really am.

Over the years I’ve struggled with trying to educate the public, let alone family or friends, about what TBI does to a person. Or what PTSD does to a person. And then I further explain what it does to their spouse, their children, their quality of life, their friendships, etc.

This shit is hard, people. And the outcome in these situations is I continue to fall into the ‘bad guy’ category when I step in to provide correction, redirection, education and understanding.

BOTTOM LINE: The person you need to be listening to is ME. (Or any caregiver/spouse in an equal or similar situation.)

My husband is the most truthful, honest, pure person you will ever meet. He is honest to a fault. Even if it means admitting he screwed up, he’ll be the first person to admit it.


My husband is going to FORGET to tell you the truth because it’s escaped his mind entirely. He’s going to confabulate things to connect all the missing dots and fill in the gaps with things that probably never happened. He’s going to tell you things he thinks he’s supposed to tell you because he knows it’s the answer you want to hear. He doesn’t want to hurt your feelings or cause undue alarm by telling you the truth sometimes. He’s also too tired to explain it all, so he just summarizes it or glosses over the topic entirely.

And that means I have to go back and clean up all the messes it creates.

For instance, I overheard him today talking about how ‘healthy’ he is. My eyes bugged out when I heard it…but I GET why he made such a claim.

In his mind, he is healthy because he’s working hard at it. He’s losing weight a little at a time. He’s compliant with his meds and they are working the way they are supposed to. He’s more stable as a result. He has a good care team at the VA (which most don’t have the luxury of having!) and things are rolling along with his health better than expected.

But what he hasn’t shared is that it’s because of ME that these things are going on. I hate to burst any bubbles — but he’s not as healthy as he claims. Part of it is because I take that role on and shield him from a lot of it. And this makes me the bad guy/pessimist/realist in the equation and likely an enabler in the end. I don’t want to stress him out or add pressure by saying “Hey, love…your cholesterol is so high you are a heart attack waiting to happen!” Instead, I plan his menu as carefully as I can so that I can quietly address that issue without bringing fear into his mind. The last thing we need is for him to stress out on top of all the other stress he’s got on his mind and in his life. And guess who deals with that stress? Me. And the kids. And his aide. So I make damn sure not to add more of it if I can help it.

And then there’s the other stuff…

I was the one to get the in-home equipment he needs to do his workouts at home. It was me who arranged for the personal trainer/life coach to come see him regularly and add another 10+ hours of responsibilities per week that come with those visits. It was me who works with 16+ providers at the VA on a weekly basis. It’s me who pushed to get him leveled out on his meds, orders them, makes sure he takes them, etc. It’s me who tracks his labs with Excel spreadsheets to make sure nothing is falling through the gaps. It’s me who looks at the trends of his labwork to see declines so we can intercept quickly. It’s me who …dead tired and not in the mood… suggests we go for a walk and then has to CONVINCE him to leave the house in order to do it. It’s me who does so many other things in relation to this issue that I am too tired to even talk about all of it.

And that is a FRACTION of what a caregiver/spouse does for someone with a TBI/PTSD. A FRACTION!

I was recently asked to set aside time for someone so they could “pick my brain” about all the things Dan deals with on a daily basis so they could help him.

On the surface, this is HUUUUGE and amazing news. But there’s a catch…

This is the first time in 10 years they stepped up to ask that question. And then, I find out it’s because they are sure they can sell him something (or, maybe gift him? I don’t know) using products on the market that are supposed to fix damn near everything.

I feel so defeated. It makes me want to scream.

If it would help, of course I have likely already tried it. I’ve been the bad guy before making him ‘try’ something new (he hates it when I do that!!!). But we are talking about a BRAIN INJURY that isn’t reversed magically! We are talking about PTSD on top of it. We are talking about ten years of countless tests, exams, treatment plans, office visits, hospitalizations, 24/7 care by multiple people for over a decade.

I am trying really hard to see the gesture in the heart and kindness and concern it was presented, but it’s coming from a place of VERY limited thinking and understanding. It minimizes the true and actual reality. It also minimizes me in the end.

This product may very well help in some small way, but it would have been realllly nice if you asked me about his disabilities, challenges, injuries, obstacles, etc. ten years ago instead of just now.

So to all the family members out there who talk to their veteran loved ones and hear how great things are, how easy their life is, or see them performing well for a 15-minute phone call…. you got to see the BEST side of him and not the other side of him.

I am the one who gets to see that other side. And deal with it.

It’s also because of my hard work that you get to enjoy that best side of him.

SOOOOO…. to my point:

The first example of the family member I described above, the one who shows compassion and a continued desire to understand, means the WORLD to me.

The second example of the family member who closes their mind by choice…or just doesn’t know any better to open it a little wider…is quite an energy suck.

If you really want to know more, do more, understand more, etc. just keep listening to me when I tell you about it. Sure, listen to him too. I am not trying to minimize him in any way. But you have to see the WHOLE story to truly understand.

In the end your eyes have to be WIDE OPEN to really see the truth. It’s time to wake up, even if it’s a decade too late.

Be that kind of person who opens their eyes, mind and heart. I beg you. Please. Not just for me, but for EVERY veteran out there with TBI issues and/or PTSD issues.

Sound off! Do you belong to the club no one wants to join? Share your experiences in the comments below!


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About that meltdown I had on Facebook the other day…

Photo credit: via  (AP Photo/AIR PHOTO SERVICE, File) MANDATORY CREDIT


In my last post I talked about the two things I do each day to help maintain my sanity. Well, not too long after I published it, I was facing a meltdown of epic proportions that ended up as a public display — a rant that could only be described as me on the verge of hysterics. Even though I had my “two things” done for the day… I still snapped. This makes me a bit of an asshole that no one wants to invite to pool parties because I turned into somewhat of a hypocrite within a matter of 48 hours. I admit it probably would have been worse had I not done my two things, but it still happened.

It wasn’t one of my finest moments, let me tell you, and part of me felt really bad about it. I felt like I was making people feel guilty for having their own needs and not thinking about mine. A couple of people left my page entirely, which could be directly related or just a coincidence. As much as I vowed to speak my truth and live it, I even debated deleting it because there may be unintended consequences of laying it all out the way I did.

I decided not to delete it, but use it as a learning opportunity for not only myself but for you as well.

Since it happened I’ve put a lot of thought into WHY I snapped and I came to the conclusion that nothing I was doing could have prevented it, but there are things I CAN do from now on to help keep it from happening again.

At the rate I was going in my everyday life, it was only a matter of time before I was bound to snap. Let me explain why…

Let’s do a little review:

Here is a copy of the mini-meltdown. I will then explain the reasons and circumstances behind it that brought it on.

I don’t mean to offend anyone, and I truly appreciate everyone who cares, but I have to share something and you need to try to understand…Just like anyone else, my day can turn on a dime. One minute everything is copacetic and the next minute all hell breaks loose through no fault of my own.

 My stress barometer hit the red line today with new news that I need to mitigate. No one is dying or anything like that, so it’s just a matter of logistics on my part to sort out and put MY family first with our individual and collective needs.

So here is what YOU need to really understand and not get offended over in the process:

I am not answering the phone, door, PM’s or emails. I have an assistant to manage many of these things for a reason. If you really need me, email her at, but remember that your emails COST ME in order to pay her to take care of them, so please make sure it is important. I consider each and every person who contacts me as important, make NO mistake, but I have given of myself for free for so many years and make NO MONEY to do any of it. I bear the burden of many, so me asking you to bear a burden to just give me a few days to focus on no one but me and my family is all I ask.

 AND for those that get pissy and start gossiping because I got creative with my grocery budget to pay for that kind of help (an assistant) a few hours each month, you can kiss my butt, quite honestly. If you have nothing better to do than to criticize me for needing one or paying for one, you may need to reassess your own priorities and get busy enough with matters of real importance to need one of your own.

I told myself that I wouldn’t post status updates that say I am going offline any more, as it just makes people PM me twice as much trying to ‘catch’ me before I sign off, but this time I am sharing this because you have GOT to understand I am human and need to manage emergencies more than you realize. Please…I love you…but give me a day or two without adding more demands that can wait. Even messages asking “How can I help?” or “what’s is wrong?” turn into explaining everything or thanking you for your concern is time I need to be spending working on the actual issues.

I will be reaching out to certain people in the next few days to either talk about what is going on to get ideas I need, or to outright ask for help. If I am not reaching out to you, responding to your own requests for help, please don’t get offended. Also, if you see me online to zone my brain out on FB to chillax, it doesn’t always mean I am bored or have free time. Just because I am on FB does not mean I am at anyone’s beck and call. I have a LOT of things in my pipeline I am working on as it is. If I take 5 minutes to find something funny online, it’s me trying to keep my friggin’ sanity.

Thank you. Again, I love you all and will be back when I can.


Here’s the deal… my frustration stemmed from a few categories of my life that became a source of contention for me. I spent the last few days reflecting on these sources of frustration and sorted through a lot of guilt for feeling the way I did. What originally was a fountain of joy in my life became a cesspool of disappointment later on. For instance:
  • I do a LOT for others. I LOVE helping people and am driven to do it because I know what it is like not to have anyone to turn to. I know what it is like to not know where to start. I don’t want others to suffer the ways we did, and if I can use my knowledge that I have obtained over the course of many years and many relationships that I’ve invested and built over time, I’ll gladly share it.

You don’t get a reputation for being an expert in caregiver or veteran issues by accident. I’ve worked HARD to become a reputable source of information and resources, so it’s natural that people will come to me for help. I rarely talk about the things I have going on in my advocacy pipeline, so here is a quick glimpse of just SOME of the things I am involved in:

  • I’ve been honored to be selected as one of the 20 inaugural Caregiver Fellows working with the Senator Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
  • I’ve been honored to serve on the Department of Colorado American Legion’s VA&R Committee for the past two years.
  • I’ve been on countless segments on national news or in international publications.
  • I just wrapped up filming for a documentary with another in the works.
  • I have a 24-hour news source flying out here soon to do another segment/interview about veteran and caregiver issues.
  • I’ve worked silently with programs to help them get funding, develop initiatives, served on panels at national conferences and have top-level executives contacting me for my help, connections, input and advice.
  • I answer dozens and dozens of questions EACH DAY through personal messages via social media, emails, phone calls, via this blog or other electronic means. In doing so, I make connections between veterans and caregivers to organizations that have a huge impact on their lives. In many cases, and I mean many, I give more help through these connections than we’ve ever received for ourselves. People have free homes, free cars, thousands of dollars in financial assistance, free vacations, no-cost house repairs or in-home services, etc. just for reaching out to me as their starting point in the process.
  • I am part of a big initiative by a national veteran nonprofit to publish a ‘how-to’ manual for veterans, caregivers and their families. Out of all the collaborators in this project, big names that I am not at liberty to discuss quite yet, I identified that I was likely the only person not attached to a major organization or held a title of any kind, all of which are fueled by funding, volunteers, staff or other resources. I identified that I am just little old me and do a pretty good job on my own.

Part of me doesn’t want to ‘brag’ about these things, but I do admit I am proud of myself for all my hard work and dedication to serve people outside of our own selves. I do it all for free. I do it for a greater good, not just for fame or glory, let alone for any real recognition. The flip side of this issues is this: It becomes a double-edged sword because it also brings the following pitfalls:

  • Because I do it for free, people don’t put any monetary or intrinsic value in my time or my knowledge. Even after writing out my Rules of Engagement, people tend to overstep their boundaries with me. Not everyone (especially the list of examples above) does this. It’s just a select few that poison the waters surrounding my islands of reasonable expectations. Like the meltdown above, I can be harsh or insistent about my boundaries on what I can or can’t do, will or won’t do, and it goes in one ear and right out the other with some people.
  • When you become a public figure, you attract people who would love nothing more than to shoot you down, undermine your authority or otherwise sabotage anything and everything you work for or represent. As one friend put it “When you soar like an eagle, you attract hunters.”
I’ve struggled to find a balance through all this. I identified about a year ago that helping each and every person by holding their hand leaves me open for being taken advantage of, or enabling the very people I am helping into a habit of not helping themselves. Some questions I receive could be answered with a simple Google search. I try to remember that not everyone has a built-in quest for knowledge or have problem solving skills like I do, so I remain patient and help them.

However, I resented those who treated me like their own personal secretary, or viewed me as having nothing better to do than to help them with minor issues. The real insult is when, after only a few hours since a question is presented to me, the person waiting for the answer to a problem THEY created is “Don’t you even care?”

That makes me lose my ever-lovin’ mind, y’all.

The fact is, I have no one to blame but myself for the predicament I was in. I have branded myself by reputation as the go-to person to fix nearly every problem that is presented before me and have ALLOWED people to walk all over me in the process, despite setting boundaries. Helping others like I do is not a problem until the demand far exceeds the time I have in a day to get it all done, and if/when *I* have needs, it’s difficult to establish a line in the sand that says “Give me a minute…I am working on my own stuff right now.” It’s a bigger problem when people feel ENTITLED to my time and connections, like I owe it to them in the first place.

At the same time, I’ve been relatively silent on a topic that needs to be discussed. This topic is about the underbelly of the wounded warrior community, which has earned an entire post of its own (and once I have a chance to brace myself for the criticism it will surely bring, I’ll compose it and publish). Since this post is already getting long, let’s just say I become more and more aware of the who’s who in the wounded warrior community that would do anything to step on your neck to make themselves stand a little taller. It especially comes from those who overtly use the word “God” in their everyday vernacular, and it downright pisses me off.

I touch on struggles we deal with in our everyday lives from time to time, but I don’t go out of my way to share them all. Why? Because there are many worse off than us. I know that and it drives me even harder to help all of them in some way.

But I still have problems.

I especially have problems when you lay them all out on one place and stop to realize realize I single-handedly deal with them simultaneously and every single day.

For instance, I shared an example of a typical day in this post. I talk in circles sometimes because there is just so much going on in my muddled mind. The entire foundation of this blog is to give my own life as an example that no one is perfect, nor should they strive to be. I talk on Facebook in segments about the goings on in our life: The good, the bad and the ugly. But to be clear I think people need to see the bigger picture that I see — all laid out in one place to fully absorb and appreciate the chaos of our life. I think I need to be more clear about what I am contending with right now (on top of the hard work to help others outlined above) that you may not even know about or have considered, so you can understand the WHY behind the meltdown I had:

  • After months of fighting the Goliath of the Department of Defense, among cutbacks and unfair circumstances, our son was honorably discharged from the Army this past week against his will and despite his great service record. He and his wife are expecting their first baby (and our first grandbaby) in a few short months. This means they are now homeless (and coming to live with us as a result), jobless, and without healthcare for their unborn child and the mother who carries her. How could this happen? Part of it is due to cutbacks and loopholes the Army is using to cut the numbers of troops on their payroll, but the other part is the saddest of all… it is due to incorrect medical records from when he was 13 years old that put him in a category of needing mental health services while his father was traumatically injured in combat. It’s like he’s being punished for being a child of a wounded warrior. My fight was huge, as was his, and it will continue despite the loss of a career he truly wanted for the rest of his life. I am just sad that out of all the people I advocate for, my son’s outcome was not the outcome I worked so hard to get.
  • Because of the above, I am swarmed with a newly-revived and seething hatred for the Army, the very institution we dedicated our lives to over multiple generations. I become angry at the unfairness of my son’s circumstances. I become angry at how my own husband was tossed out like a piece of trash, never getting a retirement ceremony or anything to say “thank you for your service and sacrifice”. Which brings me to the next issue I am dealing with…
  • I am still fighting a bill from the Department of Defense in the amount of over $7,000 for Dan’s “free” final move. Even though he is repaying this amount (which I can prove is illegal to even collect the way it all came down) we are getting daily calls from the DoD appointed collection agency, who refuses to comply with the most basic elements of federal and state consumer protection laws. I either have to fight this fight on my own, or pay an attorney to fight it for us.
  • Our middle son has had health issues to the degree of needing specialty care by a neurologist, who has put him through MRI’s, CT scans, EEG’s and medication changes with trial and error results. As such, he is missing a great deal of school, struggling with the residual depression that comes with it, and may very well need to be homeschooled to avoid failing his first year of high school. The amount of pressure on me to resolve this issue is profound.
  • My parents are now in a nursing home, and due to the dysfunction of the structure of our family, I am put between a rock and a hard place to manage their end-of-days. I worked hard to let go of the anger and angst I had regarding my family’s role in the toxicity of our days after Dan’s injury, so opening this in-your-face wound with the demands that are expected of me is truly a struggle. I can’t bear to hear my mother beg for me to come visit, when the reality is I can’t just up and leave like everyone thinks.
  • Dan’s health is not where it needs to be. Neither is mine. I have to chase down doctors, departments at the VA, case managers, etc. to make sure they are doing their job. Then those providers change faster than we can be seen, which brings us right back to square one every time I get traction on an issue.
  • I am overdue on getting the children’s braces adjusted, as they both need teeth extracted before we go to the next stage in their dental care. I can’t pull that kind of money out of my ass right now.
  • I am still needing to fight the unfair situation with our cell provider, Verizon. It looks like the only way to deal with it is through arbitration, which means I have to arm myself as my own attorney to see this through. I just don’t have the time to proceed, or the energy. I may just have to walk away from this one, and that sucks even more.
  • I need to pursue some VA benefits for Dan to help improve his quality of life. Once again, it’s a fight and process that I know in advance will be exhausting once everything is said and done, and may take a few years just to see the benefits.
  • Our dog, Miko, is the best line of defense for Dan’s PTSD, but she is aging. We spent quite a bit on vet bills last month due to health complications she was having, and this month new symptoms have rendered her unable to get up on the bed or in the truck to go for rides…her favorite part of the day. She will be 8 this year, and I am having to come to terms that she won’t live forever and losing her down the road will be a catastrophe for our family.

I could give you more, but I’ll stop there before I depress the hell out of you and trigger a panic attack for me. Let’s move on to the next level of this equation — the things I want to be doing, but can’t do right now or am struggling to get done:

  • My 101 in 1001 list
  • Getting our book written
  • Finding a reliable source of income to offset the above needs
  • Having more time to enjoy my family and everyone in it

Can you see the recipe for a meltdown yet?

Shortly after I had my meltdown on FB, my friend and fellow caregiver, Uncle Sam’s Mistress, wrote on her own blog about her own struggles:
Some days I felt fractured, emotionally pulled away from my own mind and body and just so tired of it all. Other days, I wonder how I don’t keep from smacking someone. I began to start resenting a ton of things, anger seeped through my pores and I just wanted to walk away from it all and never look back. I think all of us have felt this way at one point or many other times in this life. I worried that I was facing a mid-life crisis, early menopause, or hell, I even considered possession. (Sorry Horror Fans, I am completely demon free) I just could not for the life of me get my shit together. I needed a break.


That’s a BINGO!

So, here’s the deal… I put a lot of thought into the overall situation and how I can fix it. I started with this post on Facebook:

I’ve put a lot of thought in over the last few days on how I can prevent myself from becoming frustrated to a point of breaking or snapping. As much work as I’ve put into giving myself permission for self care, finding balance, picking my battles wisely, setting boundaries, etc. the fact is we are all susceptible to overwhelm and frustration of things out of our control. Just a ‘normal’ life can dish that out to you like a Jenga game on steroids, where one missing piece of our life can make the entire stack fall down. But when you add in things like being a caregiver or an advocate, this compounds the situation immensely. Case in point: Just in the course of writing this single paragraph, I was pulled away no less than six times for the needs of others. I guess the point of sharing this is that we all have a lot on our plate, some more than others, and we need to be tolerant of each other in our unique situations. But the most important thing we can do is be tolerant of our own selves and be kind to our inner needs during our must frustrating times. Today, as you flitter about your normal days, try to think about those that don’t have any sense of ‘normal’ any more. And for those in the thick of it, remember to be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to slow down and take care of you.

This is where I stand, and what I am doing to make sure my needs (and the needs of my family) are met:

  1. I stand by my original post meltdown, though in a softer and kinder way. You may not be able to reach me for more than just a few days. I may carry this on for a few months in order to really catch up. This does not make me a bad friend. It means you get an opportunity to be a better friend during my time of need.
  2. I will pursue income-producing activities to cover the unmet financial needs of our family.
  3. I will compose a list of every resource I know of and post it here on my blog so others can take the initiative to fix their own problems. This way I can link to the resources page and those in need can get to work on helping themselves.
  4. I am going to stop dwelling in the past and worrying about the future. Deadlines will no longer be part of my life. I will live in the NOW and just remind myself that my best is all I need to give at any given moment. This also means I will build in more time for self care, thus leading to more rejuvenation and energy to get more work done in the end.
  5. I will continue to be thankful for God, who weeds my garden silently.

If you got to the end of this post, I want to thank you immensely. Your time is valuable and I know you could be anywhere else but here. It’s people like you, to be honest, that really fuel my fire to keep on writing, sharing, learning and growing. You have more value to me than you may ever realize, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Oh what a difference a year {or two} makes!

Or: “Don’t give up. Just give yourself more time to get where you want to be.”

Every year in February we participate in the Challenge Aspen program for a week of ski instruction for the family. As I was preparing for our trip this year, I had an epiphany I wanted to share.

We moved to Colorado three years ago, and this is how my pre-vacation and post-vacation activities went:

dirty dishes saturday evening post Year 1:

Dig through boxes still sitting in each room, waiting to be unpacked, trying to find ski gear. Give up. Spend money at the event to grab the things I hadn’t yet unearthed from our move, thus having more than one of each item in the end. Shove dirty dishes in dishwasher and forget to run them before we head out. Deal with a husband in near hysterics about leaving the house and not feeling prepared or ready for a week away from home, which leads to a husband wishing to get back home the first day we arrive at the event.

Take my laptop and spend all week responding to emails and not doing a good job of it. Spend another week trying to catch up on my inbox. Realize we forgot the youngest boy’s swim shorts. Drive 30 minutes out of our way to nearest Wal-Mart to find they don’t sell that kind of thing in February. Buy perfectly good pair of lightweight pants and cut the legs off of them to fashion into swimming shorts. We get through the week and have fun as much as we can. Come home to nasty dishes and unmade beds. Two weeks later, the well dries up. Dirty dishes and loads of dirty laundry become the norm.

Year 2:

Dig through unorganized and overpacked closets at 2am trying to determine if anything still fits. Look at dishes in sink and say “screw it” because you don’t have enough bottled water to clean them, nor the energy or patience to get it done. Go to bed and wake up at oh-dark-thirty to head out in sheer desperation for a much-needed break, thus forgetting to pack the laptop and having hundreds of emails waiting for me when I return. Deal with another repeat of last year with a husband in near hysterics because he has to leave the house again.

Due to poor prior planning, spend way too much on vending machines for drinks and snacks for the kids, explaining that this is the best we can do because we didn’t budget for eating out on our own at local restaurants. I remember swimming shorts this time, but forget other preferred swim gear for the kids. Buy more swim gear and blow budget on overpriced items. Come home to what seems like every item in the kitchen being dirty. Collapse into unmade beds and wonder if I can get a vacation after my vacation in order to get the house clean…ever again.

Year 3:

One month into the unofficial launch of what eventually becomes the Extreme Do-Over Experiment, I give myself some slack. I grab totes to put all our gear in and KEEP IT THERE in preparation for next year. Pack a tote of snacks and drinks to save money on vending machines. We take totes with us with all our gear, which proved to be more convenient than packing it in suitcases. Despite taking a roll of quarters to do our laundry at the hotel before we head back home, realize that I need to spend twice the regular price to buy laundry supplies because I forgot to bring it with us. Realize I need to do better about budgeting for unexpected expenses, as ski resorts are just way too expensive if you want to eat out, but eat out anyway and play ‘catch up’ on our budget for the next few months because I finally created a real budget the following May!

I leave the laptop at home and put up an ‘away’ message for when I am gone. People begin to understand and appreciate that I need time off and I will get back to them eventually. It still takes me about a month to catch up on emails, as my obligations are increasing.

Since we are the only ones at the event that drive in our own vehicle, I am horrified when the girls (AKA my caregiver friends) and I decide to go exploring for the day. I apologize profusely for loading everyone in a very dirty truck full of dog hair and nose prints on the windows. I make a mental note to add ‘car detailing’ on my list of things to do more regularly.

After a week of just relaxing and having fun, (I even remembered the swim gear and trunks for the kids!) we come home and deal with dishes and laundry with a whole new outlook of “it will eventually get done, so don’t stress about it.” I make a mental note to make sure I have pre-made meals ready to go in the freezer the next time we go out of town…after realizing I have nothing to make for dinner that evening and have to run to town to get last-minute groceries, but first have to toss out a bunch of leftovers that festered all week and had to be thrown out {thus becoming a waste}. Load totes of fully-cleaned ski gear into an organized closet, ready for next year. Well gets fixed in May after two years of suffering.

After experimenting with getting my life organized and reducing my stress, I launch the Extreme Do-Over Experiment to the public in late August 2012. However, I find I am so busy working on the Experiment that I don’t have much time to write about it, but manage a few posts here and there as I go.

Year 4 {this year}:

It’s the day before we have to leave, and thanks to the success of the Extreme Do-Over Experiment, I have the kitchen completely cleaned, laundry 100% done and ski gear organized and ready to go. In fact, the laundry is SO done that our bed linens are clean so we can come home to freshly made beds. I have snacks and drinks ready to go and even have money saved and ready for unexpected expenses. I am feeling a coup after I bought $300 worth of gift certificates for less than $10 during a special promotion. We will dine like kings all week without blowing our budget! I even have a good week’s worth of pre-made meals ready and waiting for us for when I get back, perpetuating my need to relax after our vacation. I even planned ahead to make sure nothing will fester in the fridge while we are away and become a waste in our food budget. Lunch today will be easy and will take care of any leftovers we have.

I will be leaving my laptop at home, this time on purpose, and this year I actually hired an assistant to keep on staff (thank you Anne Marie!) who will manage my inbox while I am gone.

Not only is the truck clean and as detailed as possible, my laundry supplies are already in place so there is no chance of having to rush out to buy more. I know exactly where to find swimming gear and swim shorts! Husband is actually excited about leaving the house for a week. I even have time among my preparations to write about the difference each of the past years have made. What’s really amazing is I have time to take a nap before the Super Bowl starts in a few hours. I am looking forward to actually relaxing during the trip, and coming home to a clean, organized and relaxing environment to continue living a life of less stress.

Now, I’d be lying to you if I told you that everything in my life was under control, because it is not, but I am feeling the relief this year in very pronounced ways because I dedicated this past year to reorganizing my entire life and my outlook regarding things that will always be on my plate.

Once I get back from this trip, I plan to dig in deep into my blog and produce more posts about how I got to this coveted place of having my life under control in many ways, and how I am going to get the rest of it under control once and for all. It took me almost a year to make it here, but now that I have arrived, I love where I ended up and want you to have the same in your life too.

Stay tuned, y’all! I am so thrilled to be able to share what I am doing (or have done) to organize my ENTIRE life…and do it from a place that proves it really works! Feel free to click the graphic below to learn more….and be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed to make sure you don’t miss a thing!


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Introducing: Free Your Mind Friday Blog Hop

Photo credit: drzx2 via Photobucket

Photo credit: drzx2 via Photobucket

On Kristle’s list of 101 things to do in 1001 days, you will find that one thing she planned to challenge herself with is to answer “50 Questions that will free your mind.” Even though I didn’t put that on my own 101 list, I wanted to join her in the fun and encourage you to do the same.

If you are not familiar with what a blog hop is, this is a great explanation by another blogger: How to Blog Hop

Each Friday I will answer one question from her list. This will repeat every Friday for 50 weeks. My own list got started a wee bit late on my blog because I was busy recovering from my carpet cleaning calamities. I hope that ‘better late than never’ holds true and you will join me!

Here is the list of questions; take them, think about them, write up your answer, and then come back here to link-up with others who will also be participating!

These questions have no right or wrong answers.

Because sometimes asking the right questions is the answer.

  • How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?
  • Which is worse, failing or never trying?
  • If life is so short, why do we do so many things we don’t like and like so many things we don’t do?
  • When it’s all said and done, will you have said more than you’ve done?
  • What is the one thing you’d most like to change about the world?
  • If happiness was the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?
  • Are you doing what you believe in, or are you settling for what you are doing?
  • If the average human life span was 40 years, how would you live your life differently?
  • To what degree have you actually controlled the course your life has taken?
  • Are you more worried about doing things right, or doing the right things?
  • You’re having lunch with three people you respect and admire.  They all start criticizing a close friend of yours, not knowing she is your friend.  The criticism is distasteful and unjustified.  What do you do?
  • If you could offer a newborn child only one piece of advice, what would it be?
  • Would you break the law to save a loved one?
  • Have you ever seen insanity where you later saw creativity?
  • What’s something you know you do differently than most people?
  • How come the things that make you happy don’t make everyone happy?
  • What one thing have you not done that you really want to do?  What’s holding you back?
  • Are you holding onto something you need to let go of?
  • If you had to move to a state or country besides the one you currently live in, where would you move and why?
  • Do you push the elevator button more than once?  Do you really believe it makes the elevator faster?
  • Would you rather be a worried genius or a joyful simpleton?
  • Why are you, you?
  • Have you been the kind of friend you want as a friend?
  • Which is worse, when a good friend moves away, or losing touch with a good friend who lives right near you?
  • What are you most grateful for?
  • Would you rather lose all of your old memories, or never be able to make new ones?
  • Is is possible to know the truth without challenging it first?
  • Has your greatest fear ever come true?
  • Do you remember that time 5 years ago when you were extremely upset?  Does it really matter now?
  • What is your happiest childhood memory?  What makes it so special?
  • At what time in your recent past have you felt most passionate and alive?
  • If not now, then when?
  • If you haven’t achieved it yet, what do you have to lose?
  • Have you ever been with someone, said nothing, and walked away feeling like you just had the best conversation ever?
  • Why do religions that support love cause so many wars?
  • Is it possible to know, without a doubt, what is good and what is evil?
  • If you just won a million dollars, would you quit your job?
  • Would you rather have less work to do, or more work you actually enjoy doing?
  • Do you feel like you’ve lived this day a hundred times before?
  • When was the last time you marched into the dark with only the soft glow of an idea you strongly believed in?
  • If you knew that everyone you know was going to die tomorrow, who would you visit today?
  • Would you be willing to reduce your life expectancy by 10 years to become extremely attractive or famous?
  • What is the difference between being alive and truly living?
  • When is it time to stop calculating risk and rewards, and just go ahead and do what you know is right?
  • If we learn from our mistakes, why are we always so afraid to make a mistake?
  • What would you do differently if you knew nobody would judge you?
  • When was the last time you noticed the sound of your own breathing?
  • What do you love?  Have any of your recent actions openly expressed this love?
  • In 5 years from now, will you remember what you did yesterday?  What about the day before that?  Or the day before that?
  • Decisions are being made right now.  The question is:  Are you making them for yourself, or are you letting others make them for you?

Hope to see you back here tomorrow when the link-up goes live!

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What to consider if your husband stresses out while you are away from home

Have you ever left the house by yourself, even for a short time, only to come home to find your PTSD/TBI husband having a tizzy, or in a bad mood, and neither of you really know why?

Photo credit:

Photo credit:

I didn’t know it at the time, but in 2008 the clues were staring right at me, smack-dab in the face, and I still couldn’t see it to understand it. Even with four years of practice with this ongoing issue, it took a few more years to fully understand the depth of this problem, let alone learn how to handle it.

Because I wasn’t able to see it, it only made things worse before it would get better.

I wish someone had told me what to look for and how to deal with it. We could have saved tons of stress, resentment, fights and misunderstandings.

I am going to share the insight we’ve had through that discovery process of understanding WHY this happens so hopefully you can learn from it too.

Our history of this problem:

The first year that my husband was home from being a patient in a hospital environment was incredibly hard. The transition out of the military presented many obstacles. He wasn’t the independent person he used to be. He needed help with a lot of things, but sometimes I wasn’t there to assist.

Back then, I ran a business that kept me outside of the home on a full time basis. I found it harder and harder to run my business because my husband needed me more and more, and part of me resented the fact that he couldn’t do simple things.

End result: I closed down my business and became his fulltime caregiver. Once I did that, things became so much smoother for him and for everyone around him. However, I noticed that any time I left the house I would come home to a fully-agitated husband who couldn’t articulate exactly what it was that got him riled up in the first place. In one particular incident, I was gone for less than an hour and came home to the worst PTSD episode I had seen to date.

How I reacted:

At first I resented the fact that I couldn’t leave for a coffee date with a friend for an hour. At times I took his agitation personally. Then I started to wonder if he was showing a side that I had never seen before, a possessive side.

Did he not trust me? Did I somehow give him reason not to trust me? I started to question whether a lack of trust was the reason for it all. (more on that later…)

Deep down inside I knew him better than that, but I was the only one who wasn’t willing to point fingers with blame or accusations. Even friends and family thought he was just a controlling and selfish asshole. All I knew was he was forever changed, and I still didn’t know who this man was that I was married to. I had to learn about him all over again.

I decided to listen to my gut in this situation. I started getting curious and watching his patterns closely. I decided not to take his outbursts personally. I had to set aside my indignation at the mere thought that he was trying to control me, and step outside myself to see the bigger picture.

It seemed logical to me that while I was gone, he was forced to manage things that were too overwhelming. If something required more than three steps to complete, or required fast thinking on his part…he would fall apart even if I was there. The pressure to be responsible for himself with no assistance on my part was just too much on any given day. Imagine the pressure I was placing on him if I was not there in the first place?

It didn’t help matters that in one case, while I went to town to get milk, our son had to use the fire extinguisher to put out a fire in our stove. Why? Because A) My husband forgot about the food he tried to make after the kids asked for a snack, and B) he has no sense of smell to notice the smoke billowing from the next room.

The irony is, that situation DID help us in the end. That day was the turning point of discovery for us to really understand the years of episodes that occurred if I ever left the house.

He was terrified that his inability to prevent or respond to the danger he created would have killed his family in a matter of minutes, and was able to SAY it and UNDERSTAND it for the first time in five years!

Fast forward to today: As a rule of thumb, I am with him 24/7. However, there are times I have to leave the house without him and there is no other way around it. I engineer my grocery shopping to be done just once a month, and our 16-year-old son is in charge while I am away. Even giving my husband reassurance that he wasn’t going to get a chance to accidentally burn down the house, he was still having episodes of stress and agitation, which came in the form of bad moods and lashing out at me later.

After a lot of observation and {gently!} coaxing him to talk about what triggers him while I am gone {which I must emphasize should be done when he is calm again}, we figured out one of the reasons why he got so upset in the first place.

It wasn’t because he was a controlling man, nor was it because he resented me if I took time out for myself. It also wasn’t because he still thought he would burn down the house by accident.

It was because he felt he couldn’t protect me and keep me safe.

Let me be very clear here: Dan is the bravest man I know. He’s also the most tenacious and independent man I know.  The only control he expects of anyone is the control of himself. He is not, nor ever was, a controlling person when it comes to me or the things I do or say. As a highly-trained sniper in the Army, it was his job to protect the innocent and make hard choices about life and death.

That background and military experience will leave an imprint that will last for the rest of his life.

We discovered that while I was gone, he was afraid that something terrible would happen to me and he wouldn’t be there to protect me. The thing he loved the most, his family, was something he felt he couldn’t keep safe if we were out of his sight. It’s one thing to have another adult in charge while I am away, or to have a fire extinguisher in every room, but being completely out of his sight and protection zone was too much for him to contemplate, process and handle.

The key to our discovery is that I had to remember a brain injury will tend to do that to a person.

It was the visions of me being stuck in a ditch, or — God forbid — me ending up in a fiery car crash that set him off. He couldn’t shake those fears of the possibility, even if the logical side of the brain knew better. He intellectually knew I was a safe driver and had a good head on my shoulders if there ever was an emergency, but logic is not part of the equation when you add PTSD or a brain injury to the mix.

Once we were able to narrow down the underlying and subconscious issue, we figured out a way to manage it.

Now when I am on a rare opportunity to be alone on my own, I call him with predetermined times or checkpoints so he knows I am safe. For instance, when I go ‘down the mountain’ to get our shopping done in the Springs (90 miles with only one stoplight in between) I call when I reach the gas station on the way. I call when I arrive at the store. I tell him where my next stop is and call when that errand is over. Then I call again when I am ready to head back home again. Then, right before I pass the last stoplight before getting to my house (which is 45 miles away) I call to say “I’ll be home in an hour.” Each time I call, I can hear the relief in his voice. I can also take that moment to mitigate his fears and say “I love you” before I hang up.

He doesn’t breathe easy until I walk back in the door, but this does help him manage his anxiety while I am away. He knows and I know that he can’t prevent an accident from happening, but knowing I am making progress along my journey means the world to him.

Now, some people will reel at the thought of having to ‘check in’ for simple things like going to a grocery store, getting your hair done, or taking a one-hour coffee break with a friend. I’d venture to say that some would resent it, or feel that it is too controlling on their husband’s part. But I am here to tell you that I do not mind it at all. It’s actually nice to feel loved enough that my absence is noted, or that my presence is appreciated all the more while I am by his side.

He worries because he is afraid. And, that’s pretty normal. We ALL do it every day!

Worry vs. fear

People worry for many reasons. We believe that if we chew on a problem long enough, eventually we will figure out a solution. Worry gives us illusions of control over the future. We dream up worst-case scenarios, thinking we can prevent bad things from happening. Sometimes worrying helps us get things done. For example, we worry about exams, thinking it will help us study. We worry about our appearance, hoping it will encourage us to work out or stick to a diet.

But most of all, and this is a hard concept to grasp…we worry because it makes us less afraid.

Worry is basically a body’s way of trying to suppress fear. However, there is a difference between the two: Fear is an emotional response, much like PTSD. It manifests physically in the form of tension, muscle aches, rapid heartbeat, sweating, etc. Worry suppresses that arousal. It’s the mind’s defense mechanism! It temporarily makes us feel better so we keep doing it.

Unfortunately, it sometimes backfires, because too much worry can take a toll on a person. It adds stress, mental fatigue and exhaustion.

And what does stress, mental fatigue and exhaustion do to someone with a brain injury or PTSD?

It puts them in a bad mood and exacerbates the issue like a big, vicious cycle.

His doctors know about these issues. Luckily they don’t find it to be a cause for concern right now to insist on treating him with more medicine {in a world of the VA over-medicating our veterans, this is huge!}. Yes, too much worry can be addictive, but there is good to be appreciated in this case. It’s considered growth on his part to not only identify and articulate his fears and anxiety, but they congratulate us because we found a mutual ground to manage the situation in my absence that we can both live with. They also understand that my calls inject a level of mindfulness into the equation.

Mindful… what?

Mindfulness. It teaches us to distance ourselves from our worries and stop engaging with them.

In short, mindfulness is the ability to take thoughts that enter our consciousness and ultimately let them go. You acknowledge those thoughts but you do not react or attach emotions to it.

Mindfulness. A topic worthy of another post entirely. (I really hope you click that link) The point I need to make is it’s another key to unlocking this mystery of how to handle my husband’s stress while I am away, both for him and for me.

So in summary, the more regularly I call him to check in, the more I break the cycle of worry and the more he can focus on letting it go. The more mindful I am, the more mindful he will be, and the better the both of us are overall.

We reduced his worry based on natural fears. That’s the best anyone can do!

But what if it really is a trust issue?

Well, let’s go back to my own initial reaction. I figured he didn’t trust me. I had to step outside myself and look at the bigger picture and not take it personally.

Could you blame him if he felt he would lose you to another man? Even if he doesn’t come right out and say it, it’s there.

He’s not the same man he used to be. There are others out there that are not broken. He probably feels like a burden in some way, and how easy would it be for you to just find someone else when he is not looking?

It’s not because you’ve given him a reason not to trust you. It’s not even because he doesn’t trust you.

It’s because he knows you deserve the very best, and he’s not feeling like he’s meeting that criteria to begin with.

If you are dealing with this issue, I encourage you to do as I did and really think about what may be going on that you might not see. Please don’t jump to the conclusion that your husband is just being an asshole, or controlling, or that he is just being a big old baby. Go easy on him.

I’ll be the first to tell you that it is annoying. It’s even frustrating to the point of wanting to scream sometimes. How can one simple thing like leaving the house be. so. HARD?

Ironically enough, he needs time away from you as much as you need time away for your own needs. Think about that. You have to find a way to make that time apart workable for the both of you.

Here is my advice:

Don’t take it personally. Breathe deep and put it into perspective. It’s likely not a matter of anything negative at all. It could be that he loves you so much that the very thought of living a life without you is too much to think about in the first place.

And that, my fellow caregivers, makes you the luckiest woman in the world.

If you are having trust issues or feeling resentful, if my advice doesn’t help resolve the issue soon, I encourage you to seek couple’s counseling so that you can find a better way to get to a happier place. We had to learn this through trial and error and it was damn hard, but fortunately for us this obstacle was fueled by a kind heart and an open mind to get us to the other side.

I am hoping I helped you find yours… but I know you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have both of those things in the first place. <3

Sound off! Do you have this issue with your spouse? Did you find ways to cope with it, or are you still trying to understand is in a bad mood for no reason at all? Share your experiences and questions here. If it is something we have worked through, I’d love to share ways on how we dealt with the same issues too.

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Torrey’s Top 10 Recommended Veteran Nonprofits


Over the years, I have come in contact with nonprofits who go above and beyond the call of duty to assist OEF/OIF (Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom) wounded veterans and their families in their road to recovery.  I have composed a list of my top 10 recommendations in no particular order. 

If you are an Iraq/Afghanistan veteran in need of assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact them and tell them that I sent you.  If you have received assistance through these programs, please comment below and share your experiences with others.  Your feedback is appreciated!

If you would like to provide support for these organizations, be assured that your tax-deductible donations will be put to good use.  You will see why I recommend each one in my notes below.  Donors need to use due diligence when choosing reputable nonprofits, as many programs are scamming you for your hard-earned dollars and/or not helping veterans as much as you may think.  If ever in doubt, visit to research any nonprofit you choose to support.

You do not need to donate money to support these programs!  You can visit their website to learn about volunteer opportunities.  It won’t take much on your part to make a world of difference for a wounded hero and his/her family.

NOTE TO PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE SUPPORTERS:  I also encourage you to do business with the sponsors of each of these organizations, as listed on each of their websites.  Your everyday purchases will further their support and not cost you anything extra.  In many cases, you may even find a discount or benefit, such as one example found via  the partnership of Spark Energy and Helping a Hero.  It’s a win-win for everyone!

Your recognition of each of these programs is greatly appreciated in more ways than one.  God bless you all…

Name of Organization: Type of Assistance provided: Website:
Challenge America Resource Directory/Resource Coordination
Challenge Aspen Adaptive Sports
Helping a Hero Adaptive Housing
Operation First Response Emergency Financial
Operation Second Chance Emergency Financial
Impact a Hero Emotional and Financial
Operation Recover Retreats and Resources
Operation Homefront Emergency Financial
Disabled Sports, USA Adaptive Sports
Team River Runner Adaptive Sports

Torrey’s Notes and Disclosures:

Challenge America:  I have been serving on the Challenge America Leadership team since their inception in 2009 because I believe in this program, their mission and the people within it.  My family and I have also served as panelists for this program during Operation Yellow Ribbon at Lipscomb University.  I am not a paid spokesperson so I receive no direct benefit from your donations.  Their dedication to American veterans and their families are evident through programs such as Operation Yellow Ribbon, along with partnerships with and  Their resource directory will list resources only after they have been vetted, which is the first I’ve seen done on any resource directory.  They’ve got their priorities, and their hearts, in all the right places.  You can watch a video about their program, hosted by Charlie Daniels, Gretchen Wilson, Kix Brooks and Amy Grant by following this link:

Challenge Aspen:  I first came into contact with Challenge Aspen while my husband was a patient at Walter Reed in 2005.  Their Colorado-based program specializes in adaptive sports therapy and focuses on one’s abilities, not the disability.  They have programs for both male and female veterans and their families all year long.  They taught my husband that life was not over, it was just beginning!  They are the reason why we chose to move to Colorado:  to further my husband’s recovery.  We have participated in multiple programs, both winter and summer, and actively work with them to refer veterans in need so they, too, can benefit as much as we have from this program.  I am not paid by Challenge Aspen for the collaborative work I provide to help their program reach out to more veterans.  Organizations like Sopris Therapy Services in Carbondale, CO contribute their services during the Horses for Heroes program, our favorite session of the year!  You can read more about what Challenge Aspen has done for our family and others by reading this article:  A Healing Adventure, Aspen Style

Helping a Hero:  I first met Meredith Iler, the founder and Chairman of the Board of Helping a Hero, during Operation Yellow Ribbon in 2009.  When you Google Meredith, you’ll find a picture of Wonder Woman.  (I am not kidding!)  She and her dedicated board of directors receive no pay for their work, a testament of their dedication to their heroes and donors.  Since we’ve met, I’ve referred a veteran/family of six to her program to receive a home they desperately needed and help them integrate into a supportive community.  In doing so, Meredith identified our own family having unmet needs and immediately went to work in addressing them.  We attended the Helping a Hero Gala as honored guests and recipients of their program and spoke at Six Flags Great America during the Spark Energy Helping a Hero day on September 17, 2011.  We are honored that this program would give back to so many families in meaningful and tangible ways.

Operation First Response:  This was the very first program to reach out to Dan and our family when we were living at the Mologne House (hotel) at Walter Reed.  Five to a tiny hotel room with two double beds and no kitchenette, we were washing our clothes in the bathtub and eating two meals a day because we could not afford the basics.  Peggy Baker, an ANGEL in my mind, found me sobbing in the corner because I just couldn’t deal with the stress of our situation that particular day.  They are responsible for providing the money we needed to get our marriage license and remarry at the courthouse.  Later, in 2009, they helped us transition in our move to Colorado.  I have since referred many veterans to their program and they are always willing to help.  I owe them so many thanks!  They literally changed our future with one small gesture of support. 

Operation Second Chance:  This is another of the “first” programs that were formed early in the war and have been consistently delivering support for about seven years.  I met Cindy McGrew, the OSC founder, while she was toting bags and bags of canned goods, supplies and items to provide comfort through the Malogne House.  The contents of the bags weighed more than she did!  In 2005 her program chose our family to sponsor as “Secret Santa” to provide Christmas for our family.  We had no means of our own at that time, and they created memories for us that we will never forgot.  They have also helped us transition in our move to Colorado and have gladly helped dozens of veterans that I have referred to their program.  They are truly making a difference every day!

Impact a Hero:  My husband met Dick Lynch while we were at Walter Reed and spoke fondly of him as a mentor and source of emotional support.  Dick never forgot about Dan, even after he left Walter Reed and kept in touch with him.  It wasn’t until 2009 at Operation Yellow Ribbon that I finally got to meet Dick and give him a hug to say, “Thank you” in return.  His program helped our family transition in our move to Colorado and continues to help high-risk veterans that we’ve identified and referred to their program. 

Operation Recover:  This is a newer organization that is doing great things by providing resources and retreats to veterans and their families.  Wendy Walker, a hero in my book and the founder of Operation Recover, has a dedication unmatched by anyone I know.  Her understanding of TBI and PTSD is very in-depth, and her program works tirelessly to reach out to high-risk cases with extremely positive outcomes.  I highly recommend anyone to this program!

Operation Homefront:  Operation Homefront is a large organization that serves the entire nation.  They are responsible for placing a homeless family that I referred into transitional housing and have helped us in our transition to Colorado.  With chapters in every state, their assistance is only a phone call or email away.

Disabled Sports, USA:  This is the parent organization for many adaptive sports programs, founded long before the war began.  They provide opportunities through their program and for smaller programs to offer adaptive sports therapy on many levels.  Thanks to this program, either directly or indirectly, they have given Dan and our family the chance to “live” again through activities such as water skiing, whitewater paddling, snow skiing and many other forms of therapy.  I highly recommend sports therapy to anyone with a disability.  This program makes it possible.

Team River Runner:  Joe Mornini is, in our opinion, a saint.  A school teacher by trade, he formed Team River Runner at the first influx of combat wounded coming in to Walter Reed.  Dan was one of the first Team River Runner paddlers to join the program and now 7 years later we are all one large family!  Dan has since started his Class 3 water rescue certification and their program now spans the nation in VA centers everywhere.

Please note that there are WAY more than ten nonprofits that I recommend, so not seeing a nonprofit on this list does not constitute a lack of endorsement from me.  You can look at my sidebar for additional mentions of nonprofits that are doing great things for veterans.  Examples include,, and resource sites such as www.vawatchdogtoday.comIf ever in doubt, feel free to comment below to ask about my experiences (both good and bad) with other organizations!

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Today I became a Blue Star Mom

Today we shipped off our oldest son for Boot Camp in the Army.  Following in his father’s footsteps, he will be in the Infantry and going to basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia.

I still can’t believe that I went from being a Blue Star Wife to a Blue Star Mom.  My gray hair makes it undeniable.

Here are a few photos of us before we had to say goodbye.  (Mine was tearful, I admit.)  We are so incredibly proud of him.  Bless you, Dominick, for being such an amazing son to us!

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We gained more than we ever lost: A 9/11 moment of reflection

{Torrey’s note: This was written in 2011 on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. The message still rings true today. Note that the young man highlighted at the end of this post went on to serve in the military in his father’s footsteps.)

Today I shared a letter to the congregation of Riverside Baptist Church in Greer, SC.  It was read by my former classmate, Rev. Marcus Buckley.   He read it on my behalf, for which I am thankful, and through his voice…this is what I had to say:

First, cue this video at the 9:50 mark found on this link, and play it until the 13:40 mark:

I encourage you to watch the entire video if you can.  Then read this:

What 9-11 means to our family

Today, as we take a moment to reflect on our lives over the last ten years, many will wish that we could go back and change everything for the better.  Myself, I wish nothing more than to go back in time to give back all the lives lost on that fateful day …and the thousands more lost over the last 10 years.

But, let’s think about this for a minute:  What would we, as a nation, have changed?  What would you, personally, have changed?  If we were suddenly and miraculously given a rewind button in our life to go back and fix things, could we have really prevented all the suffering and loss associated with the tragedy of 9/11?

Perhaps so.  Perhaps not.

We all know there is no such thing as a virtual “rewind” button on our lives.   There is no “fast forward.”  There is no “pause.”  There is just one button available to us:  PLAY.  God gives us that one option — and we need to use it.

Our ability to change things comes in real time in everyday life.  We have the ability to change our “present” and formulate a positive future EVERY SINGLE DAY.  So, let’s think about THAT for a minute:

How many of you are changing things for the better?  What, if anything, are you changing? 

We all have a responsibility to make sacrifices and change things for the better:  Not just for ourselves, but for our children, our family, our communities, and our nation.

What are your sacrifices?  What do you feel is your level of responsibility in making those changes?

Many people don’t realize that less than 1% of our nation’s population is serving in the military.  The other 99%, all civilians, are serving their communities in other ways.  They are comprised of business owners, professional athletes, amateur photographers, teachers, accountants, doctors, ministers, stay-at-home mothers and everything in between.  Their uniforms don’t involve camouflage or combat boots, but they all have the capacity to serve in their own unique ways

Now that you’ve had the opportunity to see the video about my husband where he recounted his experiences in combat the day he was wounded in action on November 13, 2004, you probably agree that he should be considered a true hero through his actions that day.  He clearly demonstrated his willingness to make sacrifices and assumed responsibility for the safety of others, even if it meant losing his own life.

My husband spent three years at Walter Reed getting his skull and face put back together again.  He went on to testify before Congress about the changes we needed to make to better serve our war wounded.  To this day, the patient tracking system that he created while recovering at Walter Reed is used in every Warrior Transition Unit at every military base in this world.  Because of his heroism OFF the battlefield, military healthcare has been changed for the better worldwide.

After a long recovery process, he is now rated as 100% disabled due to many injuries, seen or unseen.  The most disabling injuries of all are the ones you cannot see.  I could dwell on his limitations, but I won’t.  He wouldn’t want that.

You see, through it all, we gained more than we ever lost.

I no longer wish for a rewind button.  I am thankful that God gave us the “PLAY” button to use wisely.

Everyone has the “PLAY” button that they can use wisely as well.  You, too, can make a triumph out of a tragedy.

I’d like to share some of the milestones of our life since 9-11 and let you see how service and sacrifice came in other ways, far from the battlefield, and how you don’t have to wear a military uniform to be a true hero:

2001:  On the morning of September 11, my husband was already at work at his duty station as a US Army recruiter in Oregon.  I was at home with three children, one just a small infant, when the phone rang shortly before 7am.  We knew the moment we turned on the TV that our lives would forever be changed.

My husband felt responsible for putting all those young recruits into harm’s way.  Having spent more than 9 years in sniper operations before serving as a recruiter, he knew he had a responsibility to protect those young men and women doing what he did best.  The first chance he had, he volunteered to go to Iraq.  No one asked him to go.  He just did.

2003:  Before Dan went to Iraq, we had lost our marriage due to the strains of military service.  We forgot how to be friends and lost our ability to communicate.  The divorce was bitter, full of anger and hurt, thus becoming a final chapter in our ten-year marriage.

Summer 2004:  Dan was serving overseas in Korea when the first opportunity to volunteer to go to Iraq became available.  He wanted to be first on the list.  He was #2.  I knew he felt an incredible sense of responsibility to his country and to all the young servicemembers who signed up to serve.

By then we had learned to communicate and be friends again.  How ironic!  We never had any intention to get back together.  I had moved on in my life, as did he.  What happened was short of miraculous:  we just learned to be friends for the sake of the children.

November 2004:  I learned through a voicemail message left by the Casualty Affairs Office that something had happened to Dan.  They wouldn’t tell me how badly he was hurt, just that he was hurt.  When they realized I was his ex wife, they told me not to bother coming to the hospital.  I told them they couldn’t stop me.   I told my boss that I was going to be gone for the next two weeks, threw a few duffle bags of clothes into the trunk, kissed my boyfriend goodbye, and set off with the kids to Washington DC with nothing but my last paycheck to live off of.

It wasn’t until I got to Walter Reed after driving all night that I learned his skull had been shattered by an AK-47 machine gun bullet.

The day I arrived, a case manager assigned to Dan pulled me aside and asked me, “You are the ex wife.  What are you doing here?”  I replied, “What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t have his children by his side?  Why would I strip him of the very thing that would give him the will to live?  He may not need me, but he does need his children.”

December 2004:  The Army told me they wouldn’t authorize my stay or cover my food or lodging expenses.  I went into massive debt to remain at Walter Reed.  We had no kitchen and only ate two meals a day because that was all we could afford.  I gained a lot of weight and lost a lot of sleep.  I went to a doctor to get help with my sleep issues.  I was given a lethal cocktail of medications by Dr. Hasan, who later became the Fort Hood Shooter, and ended up in the hospital too.  I nearly lost my mind.  We crammed our family of five into two double beds in one small room.  I washed our clothes in the bathtub because I had no quarters to use the washing machines.  My boyfriend back in Florida kept asking when I was finally going to come home.

Dan needed his children and the doctors needed me to help them determine the extent of his brain injury.  I was the only one who knew him inside and out to explain the “before and after” differences.  There were many things he could no longer do, and it was clear he needed someone who would care for him on a fulltime basis.

We were still thankful.  Dan was alive.  We were a family again.  Dan never lost his sense of humor or the love for his children.  I stayed through the holidays.  That was the best Christmas ever, even though we had nothing to our name.

January 2005:  I called my boyfriend and my boss and apologized to them both.  I wasn’t coming home.  Despite not having a home, I was home.  I told Dan I would stay for as long as he needed me.

February 2005:  One day while talking, it occurred to me that everything that was broken in our former marriage had now been healed.  I joked about our divorce being the “most expensive fight we ever had.”  Dan thought I was crazy to think there was a chance we could remarry.  After he realized I wasn’t there because I felt sorry for him, he agreed that marriage was what he wanted as well.  We had nothing to our name, not even rings, but we were so grateful that we had each other and were a family again.  We remarried on February 28, 2005.

(We had a heck of a time convincing the court clerk that we were not related since we already had the same last names.  Thankfully, our sense of humor got us through.)

2005-2006:  Realizing how overwhelmed the Walter Reed Hospital system was with the number of war wounded coming in, we proposed changes to the command in hopes that it would give every servicemember the dignity and respect they deserved.  Dan created a patient tracking system to keep patients from getting lost in the system.  The changes we asked for never came.

February 2007:  After four months of helping the Washington Post investigate the conditions at Walter Reed, the Walter Reed Scandal broke.  My husband testified before Congress.  In his testimony he answered the question, “SSG Shannon, what is your biggest concern?”

He replied, “My biggest concern?  My biggest concern is having the young men and women that have had their lives shattered in service to their country…get taken care of.  That’s my biggest concern.”

Since that time, we’ve continued to “serve” others.  We’ve dedicated our lives to making sure that those men and women get taken care of, even if it means we go without for our own selves.  We are alive, we are together, we have our family, our children, and our love to hold us through the toughest of times.

Like I said, we gained more than we ever lost, and we are so blessed.  God gave us the “PLAY” button and we used it wisely.

Do you?

I encourage you to take this challenge.  Do it every day for the next ten years:

Don’t dwell on the pain or loss of the past.  Look at what you can do in the present.  Accept the obstacles placed in your way and learn from them.  Allow yourself to grow from them.  Take responsibility.  Make sacrifices.  Forgive.

I promise, you’ll be glad you did.  I know I am.

(Torrey’s note:  There are other things that I did not share in this letter, or else it would become a book.  For instance, our oldest son dropped out of high school during the chaos of my husband’s recovery.  By that point, he had attended five (5) different high schools in three (3) different states in the first two (2) years of his high school education.

At the age of 18, he stood up in front of a crowd to share his story about how PTSD has affected him in his life.  I was so proud of him for speaking openly and honestly in order to help and inspire others.  Here is some video for you to see for yourself:)

Part 1:

Part 2:

Now, at the age of 20, he’s graduated and has moved on to advanced trade school.  In January he will be shipping off to Fort Benning, GA, to follow in his father’s footsteps.  He enlisted as an Infantryman in the US Army.

Our son, once broken, has become a man.

No one asked him to do that.  He just did.

God bless you all.  May today be a day of hope and inspiration.

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Still, I Rise! Inspiration from Maya Angelou

It’s been one heck of a week here at the House of the Shannon Clan. Admittedly, it was overwhelming for most of the week and this set me back on my ability to blog. When I get sucked into these moments of time that consume me, I always remember the words of Maya Angelou. My favorite quote that has defined my determination through the years is this:

“I can be changed by what happens to me; but, I refuse to be reduced by it.”  ~ Maya Angelou

This week involved conflict coming from many directions, which I will get into as soon as I can carve out a few moments of focused writing time.  When this happens, I have a choice to let it drag me down or a choice to let it solidify my determination and strength.  I prefer the latter.

What happens to you when you are faced with conflict?  Do you let it drag you down and break your spirit or do you let it fuel your motivation to turn things around?

Today I am going to share something else from Maya Angelou that helps me get back into focus when conflict comes from different areas of my life.  I hope it will inspire you to do the latter, just as it does for me.

Still I rise
by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

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We are in the Aspen Daily News article: A Healing Adventure, Aspen Style

A healing adventure, Aspen style

by Carolyn Sackariason, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Most locals know that a week of adventure in the Rocky Mountains can feed the soul, but for many whose lives have been permanently and physically altered, it’s a life-changing experience.

It has been for Dan Shannon, who moved his family from Virginia to Colorado nearly two years after he participated in Challenge Aspen’s Military Operations (C.A.M.O.) program.

The 47-year-old retired Army sniper in 2004 suffered a gunshot wound to the head while fighting in Iraq, which left him with permanent damage, including losing sight in his left eye. After recovering and living at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. for three years, Shannon thought his life was over.

Enter Sarah Williams Volf, director of the C.A.M.O. program, who met Shannon at Walter Reed during one of her two annual trips that she makes to the hospital in the hopes of identifying soldiers who could benefit from Challenge Aspen.

“We started programs as a response to conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan,” she said one day last week, shortly before organizing a group of 10 vets to ride horses at the Aspen Equestrian Center in Carbondale with the nonprofit group Sopris Therapy Services.

Shannon, his wife Torrey and their two sons, Talon, 14, and Drake, 10, also attended the week-long adventure trip that included equine therapy, fly fishing and rafting, among other activities.

It was the third such trip for Torrey and Dan Shannon, and a first for their sons. The couple also has attended some of Challenge Aspen’s winter recreational programs.

“We met Sarah in 2005 when she was face-to-face with those who needed help,” said Torrey Shannon. “One week out here was more than all the therapy he did in that hospital.

“We were so impressed with the program that we keep coming back.”

Dan Shannon said his first trip to the Roaring Fork Valley with the C.A.M.O. program was what he needed in his recovery that he wasn’t getting at Walter Reed.

“It was the first time that I realized my life wasn’t over,” he said. “I know what this has done for me.”

Considering Dan Shannon’s survival rate was low with his type of injury, he beat the odds with the help of Challenge Aspen, Torrey said.

Dan Shannon served in the Army for more than 23 years, 16-and-a-half of which were on active duty before he was injured. He said he wishes he could go back to fight for his country. As a sniper by profession, Shannon missed the adrenaline rush of combat. As a longtime member of the military, he said he felt he had no purpose left in life. But he found both the adrenaline and purpose after whitewater kayaking during a trip sponsored by the C.A.M.O. program.

“The only thing I’ve done professionally is serve my country,” he said. “I got involved in whitewater kayaking and you fear for your life doing that. … It reminds you that you are alive.”

The C.A.M.O. program offers adaptive adventure camps aimed at providing therapy through camaraderie and action sports, and to get vets out of the confines of a hospital setting. This year, hundreds of vets will receive the benefits of recreational therapy through C.A.M.O., Volf said.

Challenge Aspen and Volf have recognized that there is a long line of combat vets looking for the adrenaline rush that they got in the field, and are lost without it because of the disabilities and challenges they now have as a result of being injured.

“Left to myself, I wouldn’t leave the house,” Dan Shannon said.

But now he does, and he said he feels particularly fortunate to be invited back to the C.A.M.O. programs with Torrey — sometimes in a mentoring capacity for other vets.

The “Horses for Heroes” is a favorite of the Shannons, especially because of the bond Dan has shared for the past three years with his favorite horse, “Montana” — a rescued wild mustang.

“Their backgrounds are similar,” Torrey Shannon said. “This therapy is just between a human and an animal.”

As the vets and their family members mounted their horses and participated in several exercises last week in the equestrian center’s arena, it was obvious the equine therapy helped them forget about their disabilities, and a bond was formed between one another and the animals.

Heather Rousseau/Aspen Daily News
U.S. military veteran Samuel Mays and his wife, Kat Mays, both of Georgia, get to know a horse during an equine-assisted therapy program offered through the Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities (C.A.M.O) program and Sopris Therapy Services in Carbondale. Samuel suffers from a traumatic brain injury that is not related to his service in the military.

“Horses are so good for recovery,” said Torrey Shannon. She has become the “go-to person” for many vets who need help navigating through the bureaucracy of government benefits, some of which they didn’t even know they were entitled to.

“They walk away with more knowledge and empowerment,” Torrey Shannon said.

Volf said she personally visits military vet hospitals around the country to identify service members most in need of outdoor therapy.

“This isn’t about a one-week vacation, but to have the hope and belief to go back into their own communities and believe in themselves,” she said.

But there are so many who are forgotten and as a result, they lose their way in life, such as a 19-year-old who Dan Shannon served with in Iraq in the same unit. The teen came back to the U.S. with a blown-off leg and after being released from Walter Reed, he slept in his car in the hospital parking lot and starting drinking. Dan Shannon brought him back to his Westcliffe, Colo. home and helped him get back on his feet.


Pioneers for warriors

The Shannons said Challenge Aspen is a pioneer in outdoor recreational therapy programs for U.S. military service members.

“Challenge Aspen has a broader range than most programs,” Torrey Shannon said. “There are other programs around the country but Challenge Aspen was the first adaptive sports program we were exposed to.”

Starting today, Volf has 10 disabled servicemen in town participating in a “vertical venture” rock climbing program for the week. After that is a women’s retreat and rafting down the Colorado River, among other activities.

“We have seven weeks of back-to-back programs this summer,” she said, adding that the C.A.M.O. program offers year-round opportunities. “When there is a season going on, there is a program going on.”

Since 1995, Challenge Aspen has been offering year-round activities that integrate therapeutic recreational programs with cultural and arts participation. But as outdoor recreation has increasingly been recognized as a healing tool for wounded warriors and  considered by many to be instrumental in their rehabilitation back into daily life, the Snowmass-based nonprofit launched C.A.M.O. in 2008.

Volf said when she realized in 2004 that Walter Reed and other military hospitals were at capacity with soldiers in dire need of a different kind of therapy, she began expanding Challenge Aspen’s reach. In 2005, the need for and success of the programs exceeded her expectations and inspired her to increase accessibility to them. In 2006, she took a group of disabled vets down the Grand Canyon. This summer, she’ll be taking a group down Westwater, a section of class IV rapids on the Colorado River.

In 2005, specialized programming was introduced to serve the increasing number of newly injured soldiers returning from war. C.A.M.O. is the biggest division within a nonprofit around the country to offer recreational opportunities for disabled military personnel.

It’s funded by grants through an anonymous foundation, which was established in 2005 and has recently re-committed for another three years. It pays for vets’ airfare, lodging and other costs associated with the program.

Volf partners with many businesses around the valley, some of which offer in-kind services like Sopris Therapy Services did this past week. Rafting, rock climbing and fly-fishing guides offer their services and several restaurants offer discounts for participants as part of the C.A.M.O program.

“We are just blessed with our community,” she said.

C.A.M.O. partners with a national program called the “Wounded Warrior Project” based in Jacksonville, Fla., which matches injured service members with the program. More than 750 wounded warriors have participated in C.A.M.O. programs, Volf said.

“We are going the extra mile to get them here,” she said. “Some have been in the hospital for two years and this gets them out of a clinical setting.”

Volf stressed the importance of getting the vet’s entire family to participate as part of the healing process.

“The whole family acquires the disability,” she said. “It’s pretty complex.”

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The 6 Life Lessons I learned — just from bowling.

In 2002, Dan was on a sponsored bowling league and placed 2nd in the city.  I had stayed home with the baby while he took the older boys with him.  I never seemed to get a chance to do something together with him, let alone learn how to bowl.  I could have stood in the crowd and cheered him on, but lugging a baby to a bowling alley after a full day was just too exhausting.

We divorced in 2003 after ten years of marriage.  What a coincidence!

Life lesson #1:  Hire a babysitter and do things together with your spouse.  Don’t make excuses.  Just do it. Start by bowling together each week!

Now, fast forward to 2005:  Good news!  Dan and I remarried.  We are one of “those” couples.  [winks]

After we moved to our sleepy little mountain community in 2009, Dan convinced me to join him for the weekly bowling league.

I promise you, I could not bowl.  I needed bumpers just to get any pins down.  I was terrified to join.  How embarrassing would that be?

Well, I joined anyway! I knew it would mean the world to my husband if I were with him each week to do this.  It would also mean the world to me.

Life lesson #2:  If you get a second chance, take it. You may get a gutter ball on the first throw, but you can always pick up the spare on the second throw.

My bowling ball! Isn't it pretty?

Dan bought me my own ball and my own shoes.  I never thought I’d be happy about wearing bowling shoes, but I was!

Now that I had joined a league as the new kid on the block, I figured my new team mates would hate me by the time I finished the 10th frame.  Boy, was I wrong.

Much to my surprise, my team mates really didn’t care that I could not bowl.  I mean I sucked at it and they didn’t seem to care!  They cheered me on every time.  Even the opposing team was happy if I did well.  They wanted me to be successful and learn how to bowl.

One day when my wrist started bothering me, the captain of the opposite team took the brace off her own wrist and insisted I use it.  Now that is team spirit!

Life lesson #3:  Don’t assume.  Even a stranger can surprise you with kindness.  People who bowl are especially kind.

Dan got me my own wrist brace after that day.  I continued to bowl every week until my average broke over 100 points per game!  Woooohooooo!

Then my elbow starting acting up.  Crap. I needed an elbow brace too?  Looking like the bionic woman, I trudged along with my two braces and watched my scores go down week by week.

Two weeks ago I had a really, really bad game.  I think I had a score of 63 going into the 10th frame.  It was brutal.  I felt like a failure in all ways possible.  Let’s face it, I had acquired two braces for my arm and I still couldn’t seem to bowl a decent game any more.

I lost my mojo.

The following week I forgot both my braces for the first time in a year. I was doomed!

Would you believe that I bowled my best game ever that day, three times in a row? We are talking more than 50 pins over my average, every. single. time.

There are TWO lessons to be learned from this.

Life lesson #4:  Don’t quit.  Ever.  Never let one bad day (or even a run of them) dictate the rest of your season.  Shake it off.

Life lesson #5:  Don’t convince yourself that you can’t do anything on your own.  You may find your abilities are better without any help than if you had just always relied on outside assistance the entire time.

With the success of the previous week, today I decided to bowl (once again) without my arm/wrist braces.  We were up against the top team in our league.  It was a huge gamble.

Well I’ll be damned!  I bowled even better than the week before.  Score!

I sure was glad the opposing team was cheering for me all this time.  We won all four games and stomped them.  Regardless, both teams had the best time today!

Life lesson #6:  Always return the kindness of others, and play nicely.  This way, everyone wins.

I am so very blessed to be a bowler.  If you haven’t tried it yet, or if you haven’t done it for a long time … I think you should do it too.  :)

Happy Bowling!

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