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First responders helping first responders dealing with PTSD at Alberta retreat

By Kevin Fleming

COCHRANE, ALTA. -- First responders who've been suffering from PTSD, including stress caused by social isolation, risk of infection and COVID-19 now have a new place to seek support in the Calgary area.

The facility, called the Wine Glass Wellness Retreat, is located southwest of Cochrane and was established by Paul Wagman, a detective with the Calgary Police Service.

He says he started it because he knows first-hand the struggled that police officers, firefighters, paramedics and military veteran face each day. Wagman also knows those issues have gotten much worse as a result of the pandemic.

"We’re going to be a place where any emergency workers and military can come post trauma, post debrief for things to settle so they can become resilient," said Wagman.

The initiative is made possible by the owners of the Wine Glass Ranch, the Wearmouth and Eklund family. They have kindly donated a century-old farm house to act as the retreat’s home base where a variety of programs will be run.

“Which are typically not accessible for a lot of people; aboriginal sweats, aboriginal healing, equine therapy, meditation, guided imagery and breathing,” said Wagman. Jessica Van Der Hoek, a Calgary paramedic who also is an equine facilitator, says being around horses can actually change the way your brain and body function.

“It takes you out of the fight or flight part of your brain and puts you into the frontal part of your brain where you can actually process complex thoughts and emotions,” she said. “It also changes the chemicals and hormones that your body secrete and changes it from stress hormones to hormones of belonging, acceptance, love, etcetera.”

Const. Nathan Moore, with the Cochrane RCMP, has worn a badge for 13 years. He likes the idea of a retreat for people in his profession. “So I found that you have to have ways to decompress or to debrief,” said Moore. “Not just operationally but what you’re feeling afterwards and some people don’t understand that but it’s super important to make sure you handle what’s going on.”

Even the volunteers at the retreat find it to be a worthwhile experience. Bryce Talsma served as captain with the First Battalion Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry from 2006 to 2011. His PTSD surfaced six years after he retired.

“Everyone’s journey is different, what causes them to go down is different but I’ve been there before and I can offer up hope that there is a better tomorrow,” said Talsma. “It’s hard as hell but it’s worth it and your best days don’t have to be behind you, they can and should be ahead of you.”

You can learn more about the Wine Glass Wellness Retreat online.

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