There are many hurdles in life and, for veterans, many of these hurdles seem insurmountable. The war zone has scorched traumatic memories in their psyche that may sit buried and unreachable. Fortunately now there are innovative support groups that provide a cathartic relief through creativity.
Combat Paper, a New Jersey non profit, is an extraordinary program that travels around the country to help veterans’ relieve their stress from the effects of war. It fully embraces a creative process in three stages. Starting with “Deconstructing”, the veterans bring in their worn combat fatigues for shredding to begin the paper making process, then the shredded small fabric pieces are pulverized to produce paper pulp which begins the “Reclamation” process. They get to reclaim their uniforms as paper. The third stage is “Communication” because when the paper is dry, they can write poetry or draw images on it to communicate their feelings and/or stories.
As they are go through this transformation process of their uniforms and internally themselves, each person is encouraged to talk and share their war experience with facilitators who also have military backgrounds. For most of these veterans, it is the first time they have spoken about traumatic events from the combat zone. Since the workshops are closed sessions for veterans only, they feel safe to open up and process emotions and memories that have previously been untouched. This is a community of veterans helping other veterans to heal with psychologically, emotionally and physically through a creative journey of inner exploration.
Drew Cameron, an Iraq war veteran and talented artist, co-founded Combat Paper in 2007 with his idea to “liberate the rag”. He says "The story of the fiber, the blood, sweat and tears, the months of hardship and brutal violence are held within those old uniforms. The uniforms often become inhabitants of closets or boxes in the attic. Reshaping that association of subordination, of warfare and service, into something collective and beautiful is our inspiration."
With the success of Combat Paper, other organizations have formed to support veterans’ healing through art. Warrior Writers Project is a Philadelphia based non-profit that is a “community of military veterans, service members, artists, allies, civilians, and healers dedicated to creativity and wellness”. There is emphasis on writing although they also encourage other mediums such as painting, photography. To expand their reach, Warrior Writers also offers trainings, retreats, exhibitions, performances and alternative healing practices that include massage and yoga. They have recently published their third anthology After Action Review, which showcases more than 100 veteran poems, creative writing and art.
Inspired by Combat Paper and Warrior Writers, in March 2011, Veterans in The Arts, a Minneapolis based organization, began offering classes. Their direction includes literary, visual as well as musical initiatives. Although new to this approach of creative healing, they have already received the support of ten art partners to build on their mission.
Being deployed overseas will generate feelings of loss of family and friends but it is very difficult to predict what experiences the soldiers come back with. These organizations strive to heal those wounds through sharing, art making and heart felt support.
Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.