Roy Dennington remembers all too clearly the ordeals he had after returning from war, both immediate and delayed.
There was the initial homecoming, when Vietnam veterans were ostracized to the point that Dennington and his comrades went into hiding. Then there were the problems adjusting to civilian life, including stress, bankruptcy and “way too much drinking.”
Then, decades after Dennington’s service, things became problematic again. “What had not been apparent earlier became more apparent,” says Dennington, 73, of Clinton, Mass. He had monumental health problems, a heartbreaking family tragedy and was watching his life unravel in front of his eyes.
“I don’t like to say PTSD, but that’s my diagnosis,” he says.
A gift certificate for yoga classes helped start the turnaround. He went to a Yoga Warriors class near his home in Central Massachusetts and, while it was “terrifying,” he kept going, eventually increasing to twice a week. Then he met other veterans. Then he started having lunch with the guys, riding bikes, and even stopped drinking.
“My whole outlook on life has changed,” he says.
It’s part of learning resilience, Dennington is quick to add, and resilience is something he wants to help others acquire. Dennington is organizing “Almost Home,” a workshop for veterans and those who support them. He thinks it might be the first of its kind, bringing representatives from the Veterans Administration and other veteran services “person to person and equal to equal’ to talk about how to help troops transition into civilians.
“When joining a service at 18 or 21, you typically get 6 to 12 months of training and drill — you learn personal discipline, command response, military leadership skills and, above all, instant and confident reactions to perceived threats,” Dennington says. "But there's not time at the other end of service for dialing down the rapid reaction times, no classroom hours learning to be a citizen, no drills in taking responsibility for each personal decision. Those things are learned in going to work, building and deepening friendships, and becoming involved in the veteran’s new community."
Dennington hopes he and his fellow Vietnam-era veterans can become “a community bridge reaching toward the middle-age and younger vets.” It’s tough, he says, because even among his peers there are so many differences. “We could have all been in the same service, same battle, 30 feet away from each other and we each have a different view.” So even though Dennington found mental healing through physical healing, he knows that’s not the key for everyone.
Still, he hopes bringing veterans and their supporters together for the workshop will help find more keys to open more doors. “The traumatic experiences of our lives can lead us to strength and resilience,” he says, but it’s often necessary to have a guide along that path. And that’s where “Almost Home” can help. War veterans will share from their thoughts and experiences, and representatives of veteran-focused groups and organizations will outline work in progress, current research, and hope for future development at the workshop. “Almost Home” is scheduled for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 11, at Open Spirit, 39 Edwards St., Framingham. Pastors, chaplains, counselors, employers, medical service personnel, veterans’ agents, mayors and legislators are particularly encouraged to attend.
Advance registration is $10 and includes lunch. Registration at the door is $15. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 413-563-7282.