5 Things I've Learned at SPA Day

Women never have it easy.

We've made huge strides over the years and are no longer viewed as mere objects of beauty destined for homemaking. (That is, unless you ask Donald Trump.) Today we are free to choose and pursue varied careers. And although we do so in a market that consistently pays us less than men, the very first bill that President Obama signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and in January of 2016 he announced further executive action on equal pay. More women than ever are elected to office, and Hillary Clinton is a viable contender for the 2016 election, making her the first woman with a fighting chance of becoming president of the United States.

But we've still got a long way to go. Especially when it comes to often-overlooked, unglamorous tasks, including the unpaid, thankless work involved in parenting, aiding aging parents, and other forms of caretaking.

And that's why I created SPA Day.

For the past eight years, my foundation has co-hosted SPA Day -- named for Support, Purpose, and Appreciation -- for the wives and caregivers of wounded warriors. Although hundreds apply, we're only able to accommodate thirty women at each gathering and those lucky enough to attend are treated to a massage in the morning, relaxing lunch by the pool, and a much-needed day of respite.

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For many women, SPA Day is the first time they've been away from their husbands, the first day they've had to themselves in months or even years. After taking care of their spouses for so long, they've forgotten what it's like to pamper themselves.

Most women don't come to SPA Day expecting to talk openly about their struggles, but almost all of them do so when they find themselves surrounded by others who truly understand their circumstances. They've all dealt with catastrophic challenges, both physical and emotional, and these shared experiences unite them in a kind of instant sisterhood.

SPA Day attendees come away with new friendships, new skills, and new knowledge about themselves. But they aren't the only ones learning; Talking with these women about their struggles and triumphs has taught me some valuable life lessons, too.

In hopes of spreading their wisdom, I want to share with you five of the most important things I've learned from my interactions with the partners of wounded veterans.

1. No One Is Alone
So many of us are wrongly convinced that we're isolated, disconnected beings, wrestling with our suffering in a vacuum. But as the SPA Day attendees have proven, all you need to do is summon the bravery to tell your story, and kindred souls will begin to appear in your life. Speak up and you'll quickly feel like you've found your tribe, and found your footing.

2. Accept Generosity So You Can Be Generous Yourself
The wisdom and insight these women offer to those they nurture always comes back to them during their own times of need. Just as it is important to pay forward any kindness done to you-whether it's a simple check-in phone call or an above-and-beyond offer to take your kids for the weekend-it is equally important to gratefully accept offered help. If you accept kindness and support now, you're guaranteed the chance to offer them back in the future.

3. Only People Can Heal People
In my years of creating physical therapy regimens for patients, I've discovered that institutions don't heal patients, individuals do. And although this is decidedly true for wounded warriors and their spouses, it applies to all healing and all people. Doctors heal your body, but you need the love and understanding of family and friends to heal your soul.

4. You Know Yourself Best
In sharing the lessons they've learned, these women have taught me to listen to my own inner wisdom. Like me, you may grapple with self-doubt and be influenced by the shoulds and have-tos that cloud your life. But your instincts are strong and true, and will seldom steer you in the wrong direction. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you should honor that sacred knowledge by trusting your gut.

5. Human Beings Are Endlessly Resilient
At SPA Day, women share memories of violent confrontations, hurtful accusations, and spouses made unrecognizable by post-traumatic stress. They share horrific hospital stories and awkward wheelchair anecdotes. And despite these traumas and stressors, they persevere. Life is hard and complex and trying, but the human spirit is nearly unbreakable.

My dream for the world is an end to war, and although I know that dream seems far out of reach right now, I believe it's a dream worth having. Along with these five lessons, perhaps the most important thing I've learned from the women who have shared their insights with me is this: love heals. And perhaps with enough understanding, support, and love, we can heal the world.