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Q & A With Storyteller, Poet, Author, Counselor and Viet Nam Combat Veteran Lawrence Winters about his new novel Brotherkeeper


Interview by Jude Treder-Wolff,LCSW, RMT, CGP
@JuTrWolff
I met Lawrence Winters - counselor, storyteller, poet, author and Viet Nam combat veteran - at one of the annual conferences of the American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama, and have long-admired his dedication to veterans' needs and to raising consciousness about the effects of war on all of society. I have attended his training workshops - including a Veteran-Civilian Dialogue at Intersections International - and read his work, all of it enlightening and important, which is why I am happy to share this Q and A about his creative work and mission Click here to read about his personal background. 
Do you use storytelling, writing or similar forms of creative expression in your work with veterans?
LW: In the work that I have done with vets I have used music, music writing, role play, poetry, drama, video, and of course sociodrama. What I believe is that metaphor is a more affective and less resistance provoking way to encourage people to speak about difficult experiences such as the war and its aftereffects. The oblique angle that metaphor travels often goes deeper that any direct questioning there for story, art and creativity are essential tools in my toolbox for digging for truth.
     One of the most effective ways I have found for helping vets is to get them to speak. Therefore one must understand active listening. The first step is sitting the environment that dialogue shall take place in. Safety is the first priority, and the way that I personally establish safety is to lay down some guidelines, such as: “This group is not about politics, it is about the emotional aftereffects of war. We to often get lost in the safety of political rhetoric to be able to reach down to the level of soul where wars profoundly effect us.”
     I learned early in this work that molding the emotional depth that I expect the audience to reach for helps a great deal to establish safety and rapport. So my co-leader and I would sit in front of the group and begin a dialogue that would be around the evening topic example: “How has war affected you family?” We would not have spoken about the topic before hand so it carried authenticity provided we had the courage to speak the truth. This is one way story has been used very effectively. When it is time for us to divide the group into dyads they have been
Lawrence Winters
warmed up.

How does storytelling and writing impact your healing and growth process?
LW The truth about storytelling and writing is that it has been the primary healing for myself. I have spent two retirements worth of money in trying to work out the issue war has caused in my life and developing a relationship with my own story, and being creativity in to deepen my understanding help me to make the most effective steps in my recovery.
I have also come to understand that community is the only true place that forgiveness for immoral acts of war can be forgiven. Community has lost it awareness of this fact and in my opinion the public need more education on how to treat and understand its retuning soldiers that the solders themselves do. Veterans have been dealing with the same issue since the first war was fought, with the advent of modern warfare the distance civilians have from the battlefields has created emotional distance as well. Native American’s honor their warriors before every ceremony; Americans push their veterans into VA hospitals so they do not have to walk by them when they go to the doctors.
     I have just read a book titled Kill Anything that Moves by Nick Turse which is about war crimes in Vietnam. Turse spend five year in the military archives and came out with over five hundred recorded war crimes. My lai was about the only war crime that reached the media. The title of the book “Kill Anything that Move” was a mantra that traveled from Westmorland down the grunt in the jungle. All of this was drive by politicians to be able to say we were winning the war, so Westmorland created the body count as the measuring tool. Women, children, water buffalo were all added to the enemy list. The holocaust that our Vietnam vets returned with in their hearts and minds is why over one hundred thousand of them have taken their own lives. Morality has been ignored by the military, veterans, and the public, which makes is so much easier for us to allow it all to happen again with our own children this time.

Q: Please share an example of an exercise or experience you do when working with veterans and civilians together:


LW: Before I start a group with veterans and civilians I present the following:

Public Recognition
If Americans civilians were to stand behind the consequences of their democratic policies they will begin every public gathering by removing all political opinions so to honor the individual lives of each active military man and women and all veterans.-
How many people in this audience are active duty military or veterans?
Please Stand:
I honor you for your service. Thank you for your courage, dedication, and commitment to my freedom and safety.
How many people in this audience are related to a veteran? Please Stand:
I understand the sacrifices you made when the United States placed your family member in dangers way. We are all aware war’s battlefields reach deeply into our families and communities hearts.
How many people in this audience know a veteran? Please Stand:
I support you right now in removing all politics in order to honor those who have sacrificed and risked their souls for believing yours and my safety and freedom is a higher good.
You folks who have not stood yet. Please stand:
You are the most courageous to have come to this Veteran Civilian Dialogue without having a direct experience of war’s affects. My deepest hope is that the numbers of
Americans with no war experience will grow. Your present at this event carries a message of honor.

ABOUT LAWRENCE WINTERS' NEW BOOK BROTHERKEEPER
No one goes unscathed by war, no matter how deep they have buried their head in the sand. The public denial of
war’s emotional effects on the enemy and us is astounding. The faint signal the public feels is most often the financial cost. Brotherkeeper unfolds one map of how wars aftereffects can tighten and sometimes break the family bonds. There are certain wounds of war that do not heal in the Veterans Hospitals but at family dinner tables, in living rooms and bedrooms. Women and children are both the unseen victims of wars as well as the designated healers. The novel Brotherkeeper highlights the courage and spiritual endurance of women, men, children, and spouses in the war after the war. Read Brotherkeeper and find the moral keys in unlocking healing. READ MORE AND ORDER YOUR COPY 

                                      AN EXCERPT FROM BROTHERKEEPER

Alma stretched saran wrap over the bowl of wilting salad greens. It was becoming a ritual to throw out the food that Howie never got home in time to eat. She’d just put the kids to bed and their voices were still echoing in her ears. “Is Daddy going to war again?” asked Andee as she lifted her up to the top bunk. The three-year-old hadn’t seen her dad for the first year of her life. Howie had been deployed to Afghanistan before she was born.
Bell sniffled, “Is Daddy mad at us? When he comes home he just stays in his office room.” Bell was eight and was heartbroken every time Howie shipped out. Alma remembered Bell crying at bedtime for the first month he was gone.
They’d been married twelve years and there had been some hard times with Howie’s first deployment. He left in March 2003 for Iraq. Money was tight. He was a corporal and not eligible for good base housing. When he came home he’d been promoted to E-5 and they moved to base housing. Life got back on track. At least that’s what everyone not in their bedroom thought. The truth was, Howie couldn’t sleep without a loaded weapon. They’d argued about having a loaded gun in the house with the kids. He’d turn the argument around saying, “That’s why the weapon’s loaded. No one will get through the doors or windows of this house without a 5.56 millimeter hole in them.” She’d thrown up her arms in frustration and move into a numb silence. Only after Alma said, “I’m leaving if it’s not out of here,” did Howie buy a gun safe?
To those looking at the Watkins family, all was well. Howie liked the work the Marines had given him. He even got to go to school to change his MOS from O311 infantry to an 8411 Marine recruiter. He never thought the stress would have gotten so much worse after the Marines promised him he’d be put into the field as a recruiter. The first requirement was that he must deploy to Afghanistan. It was 2008 and the U.S. was confronted with the rising crisis there. Alma hated to see him go, but there was another part of her that was ashamed for feeling relief. Even though she and the kids had to move off base to her parents’ house in Arizona she knew it would work out better for everyone. She hoped that Howie’s time away would help him to realize that the way he’d been behaving was deeply affecting those he loved.  
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Jude Treder-Wolff is a trainer/consultant and writer/performer. She is host and creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS storytelling slam.


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