What Do We Do?
We study the history of trauma and coming home from war to better understand two things: (1) the ways in which veterans have always been affected by war and (2) the ways in which experiencing such trauma has helped veterans throughout American history become stronger at the broken places and to live inspired and purposeful lives.
We also aim to help veterans make that difficult transition from the military to civilian life by building a community of support where veterans can be open and honest with veterans and civilians alike about their experiences.
Stronger at the Broken Places was founded in 2014 by David Chrisinger, an Associate Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. That same year he developed a course titled “Back from the Front: Transitioning from the Military to Civilian Life,” for new student veterans on campus. When you really think about it, history is a collection of solutions that have been put forth to solve the problems we have always faced — some have, of course, worked out better than others. Not only that, studying history teaches us that things can change and that we should appreciate what we have. After all, even though they may be great, our challenges are not exceptional when compared to those faced throughout history.
Among the many lessons they’ve learned from studying the history of veterans coming home from war is that war has always altered in countless ways the bodies, minds, and souls of the brave men and women who have endured it. Such is true for the war of annihilation David’s grandfather fought against the Japanese during World War II, and it’s true for the shadowy, relentless wars of occupation his father’s generation fought in Vietnam and some of the best of his generation have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Another lesson David and his class has learned is that while many are forever traumatized by the undeniably hellish things that happen in war, many more survive and return home more resilient, with increased strength and resolve. Indeed, for those who have made the long walk home, there are many ways to find truth, a release, a solution. You have to find what works for you.
Throughout American history, veterans have found their way home through runningor hiking the Appalachian Trail. Others have let their faith lead the way. For some, a more conventional path — the Department of Veterans Affairs, medications, talking with a counselor — is appropriate. For others, they need to find a new sense of purpose, perhaps by finding ways to serve in their communities. Many have found solace in yoga and meditation. Others have simply focused on avoiding destructive behaviors by turning pro.
What Does It Take to Heal?
Healing in the wake of trauma can be a painfully slow process. As one post-9/11 veteran explained to David: “If I see someone struggling with the same kinds of problems I struggled with, I’d be empathetic. But I would also tell that person that the answer will not come from the VA. It won’t come from Congress. Every veteran has to make a decision. They have to wake up one day and say that, ‘This happened to me. It happened. But I’m not going to sit on my ass. I’m going to learn from it, from all of it, and I’m not going to let it define me or my future.’”
Keep in mind, however, that nothing published here at Stronger at the Broken Placesshould be considered advice — medical or otherwise. “To give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania,” wrote author and Air Force veteran Hunter S. Thompson. “To presume to point a man in the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.”
“All advice can only be a product of the man who gives it,” Thompson continues, “What is truth to one may be disaster to another.”
For those who have made the long walk home, there are many ways to find truth, a release, a solution. You have to find what works for you.
“As I see it then,” writes Thompson, “the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES.”
If “the essential thing,” wrote Dr. Arthur Brock during the First World War, “for the patient to do is to help himself,” the “essential thing for the doctor to do — indeed the only thing he can profitably do — is to help him help himself.”
Does Stronger at the Broken Places Work?
Since founding Stronger at the Broken Places, David has seen firsthand the power studying the history of American veterans coming home from war can have on new student veterans. At the end of his first semester teaching, he asked some of his students what they thought about the class. Here’s what they had to say:
Thank you for all of the work you are doing, David. You are helping a lot of veterans, including myself, in ways we may never be able to repay.
The first year seminar class, “Back from the Front,” was a pretty helpful class for me. I was pretty shy and socially anxious for whatever reason. This class helped me open up and tell some of my stories I have been holding in as well. If it wasn’t for this class, I would not have joined the track and field team here at UWSP, and I would have regretted that for the rest of my life.
This class allowed me to push myself mentally to get over the barrier that was holding me back.
I found I was not the only person here who thought and acted the way I do. That was the biggest thing I took from the class. That, and I am not fucking crazy.
This was the best and most enjoyable class I took.
The most beneficial aspects were feeling like a person whose opinion mattered again, and learning how to cope with and move past the things I carry from combat. Since taking this class, I have been able to help several other guys from my platoon overcome their issues.
Going through this class and doing these projects has been almost a second form of therapy for me. It has brought my issues up from the rear and forced me to face them again and gain better control of them. Through participation in this class, I have also learned about my predecessor’s struggles and what so many before me have gone through as they transition from war to life at home.
Now that you’re here, take a look around. I promise that you’ll find inspiration that will help you on your own path home.
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