For veterans who have faced trauma, tragedy or injury during their service to our country, getting back into the routine of daily life can be a challenging and isolating process after being exposed to the horrors of war.
To cope, many veterans turn to visual art, poetry, or music to communicate their inner battles – and often their creations speak louder than words.
Locally, the Fargo Veteran Affairs (VA) Health Care System provides art as therapy for veterans who find the method effective in their healing journey.
A vital part of their recovery is sharing their stories in a supportive environment with people willing to listen.
Community members who would like to listen to local veterans tell their stories through a variety of art forms are invited to attend “Healing Warriors: Our Stories” at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7 on Gaede Stage at MSUM.
The Fargo VA and other community partners are hosting this event to “provide a bridge between our veterans and our community” and “begin the process of understanding more fully the kinds of situations we have called on our service members to bear the burden of (for) a lifetime,” says Dr. Margo Norton, a clinical psychologist at the Fargo VA.
At this one-night-only event, veterans will share their stories through music and visual art in the lobby and through poetry, oral storytelling and letters on stage.
Veterans created some of the artwork in their own homes, but most of the pieces on display at the event were created at the Fargo VA with Dr. Norton and Kim Douglas, an art therapist at the facility — particularly the poignant masks that will be on display in the exhibit.
“The VA has been trying to incorporate more art opportunities for a long time,” Douglas says. “Art and music access the deep, nonverbal part of the brain (where trauma is stored). Being able to create and externalize that bodily sensation into a piece of art or a piece of music can make it easier to process and heal.”
Steven Fraase is one of many veterans with a mask on display at the event. For years, he wanted the name on his mask to remain anonymous. But as the years have passed, “soldierly bravado has faded,” he says.
“It has been a truly humbling experience to admit to my fellow soldiers that I have suffered,” says Fraase, who struggles with PTSD. “Even more humbling, as I’ve come to know, (is) that they also have suffered.”
Fraase’s mask in the show has one hand over the mouth and one over the eye to “keep my demons in,” he says.
Fraase tried several treatment options for PTSD from the VA, but the mask project was different.
“I connected with it. I felt I could express to others, share my struggle,” he says. “The mask is a perfect metaphor for veterans and non-veterans struggling with PTSD. It’s an important step to be able not only to recognize one’s feelings, but to be able to share them in some form with others.”
Fraase has found it difficult to be vulnerable, but “art has always been one of my best ways to offer a look at that vulnerability without fully stepping out from behind the front I wear daily,” he says.
“I hope that people understand that although many wear a brave face, their struggle is never far from the surface, even years after an event has changed them,” he adds.
Other veterans will share their stories through writing at the event, including veterans who wish to participate in the Warrior Words workshop from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 7 at Atomic Coffee. All veterans who attend the free workshop will have the opportunity to share their work at on stage at the event that evening.
Warrior Words is facilitated by local veteran Tony Albright through the Red River Valley Writing Project and is “designed to help veterans share their stories in a comfortable setting and prepare works for public performance in collaboration with other veterans,” Albright says. No registration is required.
Overall, “Healing Warriors: Our Stories” is an opportunity to give local veterans a platform to raise awareness of the inner battles they face every day long after they’ve returned from war.
“This (event) is something that is needed,” Douglas says. “We need to continue to provide acceptance and conversation between veterans and civilians.”
What: Healing Warriors: Our Stories
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7. Doors open at 7 p.m.
Where: Gaede Stage in MSUM’s Roland Dille Center for the Arts
Cost: Free, but registration on mnstate.edu/tickets is encouraged due to limited seating. This event is recommended for mature audiences.
This article is part of a content partnership with the Fargo Forum and originally appeared in print on Monday, November 5, 2018.