I wasn’t at Ground Zero on 9-11. I didn’t survive a shootout with six bank robbers and I haven’t been on a special task force tracking the aftermath of a serial killer. I am a cop, an everyday Joe who spent some time in patrol and detectives doing the best I could. I have nightmares, and am divorced. I have PTSD. I am just like many other officers in this country who go out day to day and attempt to protect their community from the evils that lurk in the shadows. After 26 years, I knew, it was time to pull the plug. I retired for the second time., Both times, when I said that final “Off Duty” into the microphone, I cried. That was the only time in years that I showed emotion, and of course, no one was around to witness.
I was one of those who don’t talk about it. Who were raised and trained to be a” man”. I don’t need help. I can take care of it. I have heard the old dogs say, “suck it up, Buttercup”, uttered in contempt as a rookie began to show feelings, after a traumatic incident was over. Subconsciously, teaching that rookie to close down and bottle those feelings up. I never talked about it because real men, just take care of it and move on. I bottled it up and moved on until I was divorced. Now the past catches up and breaks free, in nightmares.
I have past cases that bother me. I used to think about the what if’s or what I could have done differently scenario’s beating myself up along the way. I have learned I can’t change the past and it is a waste of precious time thinking about it that way. I now look for solutions so others can be free of this stigma and know it is ok to feel. So, they can open up and not put bricks in the wall. So, they can reduce PTSD by talking about the incidents safely. So, they can possibly save a relationship by talking about these incidents..
If we haven’t been in a major traumatic event, where do these problems come from? The daily, repetitive exposure with trauma, builds up. The term I have heard and use is cumulative trauma. Doing CPR on the 3-year old boy and not saving him, going through the door as shots are being fired, facing down a knife or firearm with weapon drawn, facing the car driving at you as you look over the sights of your hand gun at the driver’s forehead, seeing and documenting the body parts of the pedestrian who was struck and drug by a train. All of these things take something out of your heart and psyche, one piece at a time. If we aren’t careful, it can take us to the breaking point.
I get the opportunity now to share some of the things that I have learned, both good and bad. I get to point out the things that did not work. Even better is sharing the things I have learned that do work. I get to point out resources that can be safely reached out to in a personal crisis, or preferably before that crisis hits. Change the stigma and let people know it is OK to feel and to talk about it. I get to share ways to break down a traumatic incident, rethink it, and form it in a way that can be safely shared with a spouse, keeping that line of communication open. I get to help others build those bridges that span the self-imposed communication gap and open up their real-authentic selves, so they can go on and keep making a difference in their communities.
We get to make a difference by being there for each other. Let’s get rid of the stigma and make it OK to talk. Using our Peer Support teams and being open is a start. Talk to each other, talk to a counselor, talk to our spouses. It is OK to try things that are considered outside the box for us. Meditate, do yoga, exercise, write, EMDR. Do whatever it takes to have a great life.
Yes, I am retired, but I am not done. I too, get to still, make a difference.