In this episode of Sofia Unfiltered, Riley and Michelle speak with Sara Wilkinson, Gold Star Spouse and the founder of The Step Up Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing veteran suicide
Sara's Story: Finding Hope and Healing After Tragic Loss
Sara Wilkinson, a military spouse, shared her profoundly moving journey of love, loss, and resilience during a conversation with Michelle Kole and Riley Rees. She described her 27-year marriage to her high school sweetheart Chad Wilkinson, who had a vibrant military career, and the devastating loss she experienced when he died by suicide at a young age. This loss not only took her husband but also shattered her own identity as a military spouse, a role she deeply cherished.
Sara highlighted the far-reaching impact of suicide on families, emphasizing that it affects not only spouses but also siblings, cousins, and neighbors. Despite the immense pain, Sara's authenticity and vulnerability have earned her overwhelming support and admiration from people of all walks of life, as she navigates the challenging path of grief, finding solace in channeling her love for her late husband into helping others. Her journey, which she openly shares, has resonated with many who have encountered loss, and it is a testament to the strength that can be found in vulnerability and the power of love to transcend tragedy.
Coping with Trauma and Rediscovering Identity
Struggling to define her identity beyond being a devoted military spouse of 27 years, she undertook a winding path of self-exploration. Sara's journey was marked by a mix of methods, from seeking professional therapy and participating in intensive retreats to embarking on solo travels and even adopting a pet pig. Her approach to coping ranged from seeking solace in isolation and silence to purposeful attempts at social connection.
Along the way, Sara demonstrated an inspiring willingness to accept help from her friends and her ability to adapt her support network based on her ever-changing needs. She emphasized the profound importance of human connections and the role they played in her recovery, advocating that people need people, not necessarily in large numbers but with a few genuine, dependable individuals. The conversation underscored the significance of allowing oneself to move through the healing process organically, embracing vulnerability, and finding diverse strategies for resilience.
5 Reasons Vulnerability is a Strength
- Enhanced Human Connection: Vulnerability opens the door to authentic and meaningful connections with others. By exposing our true selves, we allow for empathy, understanding, and trust to flourish in relationships.
- Personal Growth and Awareness: Embracing vulnerability is a pathway to self-discovery and personal growth. It encourages self-awareness by breaking down the walls of perfection, allowing us to explore, learn, and understand our emotions and decisions.
- Building Trust in Relationships: In both personal and professional settings, vulnerability fosters trust. Sharing our fears, hopes, and uncertainties creates a foundation for openness, transparency, and stronger connections.
- Courage and Resilience: Vulnerability is the birthplace of courage. Facing shame, uncertainty, and fear with openness and honesty requires immense courage. It builds resilience by acknowledging and accepting the discomfort that comes with stepping into the unknown.
- Empowerment and Setting Boundaries: Embracing vulnerability empowers individuals to set healthy boundaries and prioritize their well-being. It allows for the freedom to say no, make decisions based on personal needs, and surround oneself with positive influences.
Sofia Health connects you to traditional, integrative, nutritional, holistic, and spiritual healing professionals to help you personalize your healing journey.
Transforming the Language of Loss
Sara opens up about her healing journey after the loss of Chad, emphasizing the importance of changing how we ask about someone's well-being. Instead of the common, "How are you?" she suggests asking, "How are you doing today?" This simple shift allows individuals to express both good and bad days, granting them the space to be authentic about their feelings.
The Step Up Foundation
The Step Up Foundation, founded in 2021, is a remarkable testament to Sara's resilience and dedication to honoring her late husband, Chad, and supporting veterans. The foundation was inspired by a workout created in Chad's memory, the Chad1000x, involving a thousand step-ups with a 45-pound pack, which has gained global recognition. The Step Up Foundation's mission extends beyond physical challenges, promoting mental health awareness and support for veterans.
Their Live Big events encourage individuals to embrace life's challenges, emphasizing the importance of trying even when failure is an option. These events, exemplified by a 10k open water swim to a lighthouse, foster community and reconnect veterans with their support networks.
How you can support veterans
Sara discusses the complexities of addressing the rising issue of suicide within the veteran community. She emphasizes the need for a collaborative approach, highlighting that there's no single fix for such a multifaceted problem. Sara calls for a shift from waiting for the military or government organizations to solve the issue and instead encourages veterans and their loved ones to take the initiative.
By creating a network of support and education, individuals can identify signs, prioritize symptoms, and seek the most appropriate treatments. Sara's approach combines empathy, understanding, and practical steps to address the crisis, ultimately saving lives and supporting those who've served their country through organizations like the Step Up Foundation.
Efforts to Prevent Veteran Suicide
She emphasizes the importance of breaking the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health issues and encourages open conversations on this critical topic. Sara highlights the significance of seeking help and providing unwavering support for veterans and active-duty military members who may be struggling. The Step Up Foundation plays a vital role in raising awareness and supporting veterans through various programs and events. Sara's story serves as a poignant reminder that reaching out and embracing vulnerability can lead to healing and, ultimately, save lives.
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Disclaimer: The Sofia Unfiltered Podcast by Sofia Health is for general informational and entertainment purposes only and does not constitute the practice of medicine, nursing, or other professional healthcare services, including the giving of medical advice. No doctor/patient relationship is formed. The use of information on this podcast or materials linked from this podcast is at the user’s own risk. The content of this podcast is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Users should not disregard or delay in obtaining medical advice for any medical condition they may have. For any health concerns, users should seek the assistance of their healthcare professionals.