Strong Bonds Retreat

One of my chief complaints during Stephen’s last deployment was that I wished I had the support of the military community. I was living in Dallas at the time, and although my family  was nearby and incredibly supportive, I often wished I could talk to other people going through what I was going through. Well, I finally got my wish when I saw an e-mail about a free event for spouses of deployed soldiers: The Strong Bonds Retreat.

Strong Bonds is an Army-wide program developed to strengthen and support families. Usually it is offered as a couples event, but since our men are away, the chaplain and FRG leader for the Stephen’s battalion developed something that would benefit us as we make our way through the rest of the deployment. (I have no idea why they call it a retreat since it was a 1 day event, but that’s what they call it.)

The retreat was held in a private section of Ardovino's Desert Crossing, a local restaurant. You like my stealthy iphone paparazzi photo?

The retreat was held in a private section of Ardovino’s Desert Crossing, a local restaurant. You like my stealthy iphone paparazzi photo?

I waffled for a while about going. I wouldn’t know anyone, it might be uncomfortable, I wouldn’t know anyone, it was a long drive to get there, I wouldn’t know anyone, I didn’t know what to wear, I wouldn’t know anyone. Sensing a theme yet? It’s no secret that I’m as socially awkward as they come with the great combo of being shy, introverted, and anxious. I signed up one night on a whim (Nightime Amy is much braver than Daytime Amy) and wouldn’t let myself back out. Besides, how will I ever find people to go to things with if I don’t first go to things and meet people?

I’m so glad I sucked it up and attended because the retreat was excellent!

First off all: food. I could end right there. The food was provided for free by the restaurant and it was excellent. Even if everything else was a bust, the food alone would have made it worth the drive across town. Second of all: prizes. I walked away with a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card. Score!

Breakfast: eggs, potato pancake, biscuit, fruit. Yum!

Breakfast: eggs, potato pancake, biscuit, fruit. Yum! No photo of lunch; I ate it too fast!

I had a bit of a bumpy start. When I arrived, I sat at a vacant table figuring that other people would eventually show up and join me. But no one else showed up. So it was two tables full of people…and me. The battalion FRG leader was so sweet and told me I should move to a table with people, so I did. Everyone was super friendly, but I was embarrassed. I guess I should have expect that I wouldn’t be able to escape an entire day of strangers without making myself look foolish at at least one point.

Once we dug into the work at hand, though, I was able to loosen up and enjoy myself. We played silly games (people bingo, purse scavenger hunt, a flower riddle thing) with the people at our tables and then had discussions with the whole group. We spent a lot of time just talking. Even though I didn’t know anyone, the other women were very nice. It was refreshing to sit and talk about the highs and lows of deployment with other people who were knee deep in it.

The "toilet paper" game.

The “toilet paper” game.

One of my favorite parts was when we were asked to talk about challenges we’ve faced during the deployment so far and how we’ve overcome them. Again, I felt myself nodding along with what everyone else was saying or piping in with, “me, too!” My experiences and emotions felt validated. I was reminded of just how not alone I am in this whole thing. The chaplain pointed out the fact that we are doing it, we are getting through, no challenge has been too much, we are strong. Maybe a tad cheesy, but I felt like I was sitting up a little taller and smiling a little wider. I am getting through it.

At one point, another chaplain came by to visit and speak with us. She mostly just cracked jokes and kept things casual, but at one point she said, “I’m very thankful that I have a safe place to lay my head at night. I’m blessed that your husbands have taken up arms to provide that for me.” I had never heard someone so sincerely say it like that before. No thanks is necessary, especially not for what I do, but it was touching to hear. The whole day was just a big reset button for me. There’s still a long ways go before Stephen comes home, but I feel more ready to face it now.

The whole group

The whole group.

I was able to meet new people, laugh, eat some good food, talk about relevant issues, and get my head on straight.  The whole day was just a big reset button for me. There’s still a long ways go before Stephen comes home, but I’m ready to face it.

If you ever have the opportunity to attend Strong Bonds, I highly recommend it!

15 thoughts on “Strong Bonds Retreat

  1. I don’t like going places and doing things where everyone is a stranger. It’s hard for me to get outside that comfort zone. I’m glad you ended up having a good time.

  2. yay for meeting new people! I hate going to things where I don’t know anyone, but usually I end up having a good time

  3. This is so great! So glad you went. It seems like I’m just like you in new social situations. Sounds like we need to meet up and be awkward together, haha

    • I’m so much better once I’ve gone somewhere or spent time with people before. But a completely new situation with no familiar faces is super intimidating! I think that now that I’m getting up there in age, I shouldn’t feel that way, but I have the feeling I’m going to be a shy forever.

      • I still have anxiety when I have to go into a situation where I don’t know anyone, so I’m pretty sure you won’t ‘outgrow’ it! The good news is that if you make yourself go, you usually end up having a good time and then wonder what all the anxiety was about in the first place. I’m glad that nighttime Amy prevailed over daytime Amy!

  4. Yay, I’m so glad you decided to go in the end! I attended John’s intern retreat a few months ago and one of the sessions was a spouse/partner meeting where we discussed life as a doctor’s significant other. I thought for sure I was making things too hard on myself and that other spouses/partners were coping better with the whole doctors-work-ALL-THE-DAMN-TIME thing but once the conversation got started, I discovered that we were all on the exact same page. It felt like such a relief even just knowing that other people were dealing with the same challenges as me. I hope you keep in touch with the spouses you met! :)

    • Oooh, sounds like y’all are getting serious! *Winkwinknudgenudge* (Forgive me, I can’t help but be awkward and annoying when it comes to boyfriends. Hahah!)

  5. “No thanks is necessary, especially not for what I do, but it was touching to hear. ” Nicely said!! Glad you had a good time.

  6. p.s. glad you left your jar-o’-farts at home for this one.

  7. The part about being introverted and nighttime Amy is braver than daytime Amy? ME TOO! That’s probably why blogging at nite works better for me.

    I’m so glad you went to this event!! You look so adorable by the way. I’d totally take you out on a date while Stephen’s off being Sgt Badass ;)

    I’ve never been one to have a lot of girl friends or hang in a group of girls but I can definitely see the value in this group of women getting together to talk, discuss issues, reassure each other, and support each other. It’s really quite incredible. You definitely have that on your side this go-round!

    We were scheduled to attend a Strong Bonds retreat (an actual weekend) last year but then John got sent to school. John’s brother and SIL have been to several. I hope you get to go to more and they continue to be helpful!

    • Thanks, J! It was a particularly good hair day :)

      I hope y’all get to eventually go to a strong bonds retreat. I bet they are even more fun with a partner. I get the impression they talk a lot about the 5 Love Languages and communication styles. Still, I think that it’s good to have a refresher.

      In Germany, they offered retreats to Edelweiss, which is an Army hotel in Garmisch. We really wanted to go, but alas, it was another one of those things we never got around to.

  8. We have thought about doing the couple one. I am glad you had a great time. I am sure it is different having being around the community this go around!

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