Sep 15 2014

A Colorful Epiphany

 

Hot air balloon races

Hot Air Balloon Races, Reno, NV

Garnered with large doses of coffee and hot chocolate, and an unnatural enthusiasm for being awake at such an hour, we left our sleepy little town at 3:30 a.m. for what I was told, is the largest hot air balloon launch in the country.

We joined the masses at pre-dawn on a large grassy field dotted with tarps and giant picnic baskets. Several high-powered gas burners ignited a few feet behind us, and although the heat was welcome in the cool air of a high desert morning, the sound momentarily stopped our hearts. Extreme heat and noise brought life to a field of colors and the magnitude of it all caused me to stand in awe.

Hot Air Balloon Races

Early morning ascension.

The heat and noise needed to launch these massive balloons and provide amazing views, looked and sounded a great deal like conflict. I realized, the greatest vantage points in my own life have come on the heels of the greatest heat and the loudest chaos.

Conflict is hot and loud, but like the balloons, it is full of potential. It provides the prospect of reaching heights we never thought possible. We learn more about ourselves and more about the amazing people we get to share life with. Without the fire, the balloons would lie lifeless on the damp grass never realizing their full potential. Without conflict, I propose our relationships too, would lie lifeless, never allowing the realizations of who we truly are, or the beauty of the deepest, most tender places in the hearts of those around us, to come to light.

I don’t suggest the creation of conflict. It is organic. It will inevitably show up and it will leave, but maybe it’s possible to recognize it for the auspicious potential it contains and not just the momentary pain it causes.

 


Oct 11 2012

The Thin Blue Line — Frayed

The Thin Blue Line -- Frayed

Art by Isaac Qualls

 

The thin blue line is a symbol of solidarity with law enforcement.

But sometimes, the thin blue line gets frayed.

My husband came home the other day with an interesting story. He was in a meeting with some of the management of his agency and the topic of PTSD came up. Sniggers and huffs floated above the table like a cloud of skepticism. Imagine. On that day, in that moment, the thin blue line unraveled a little.

Solidarity. Like-mindedness. Mutual support.

It is difficult to explain to those outside this law enforcement community what it’s actually like to live in the law enforcement community. I understand their uncertainty or blank stares when our children start pointing out other vehicles that are violating the law and deserving of a ticket. They have been indoctrinated into this code and so have I. It’s difficult for outsiders to understand. But what about insiders? What about the brotherhood?

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

When my husband shared this experience with me, the “Joan of Arc” in me started waving the war flag and crying out for followers. “Who will fight with me against this injustice?” It was difficult to believe that men and women within a law enforcement agency thought a claim of PTSD was a load of malarky.

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

When an officer is tragically lost in the line of duty, the brotherhood wears a black band around their badge to grieve and show their support. But what happens when a law enforcement brother comes forward and mentions PTSD? What happens when an officer raises her hand and asks for help? Unfortunately, sometimes, the thin blue line frays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have any degrees or acronyms behind my name to offer any clinical credibility. Just my experience. But, my experience tells me that those who suffer from PTSD live under a menacing cloud. Images and smells and sounds are engraved into their memories and then set loose to haunt and torture.

The journey through the dark and murky waters of PTSD is a frightening and often lonely one. Even behind the thin blue line. My goal is not to become the poster family for PTSD. I’m not trying to wear the victim badge. In fact, my husband retires in less than two months and I would like to move on. But I believe in the thin blue line.

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

Maybe a family needs to hear they are not alone is this battle. Maybe an officer needs to be encouraged to raise his hand and say, “I need help.” Sometimes the thin blue line gets frayed. But we can fix it. All it takes is…

Solidarity. Likemindedness. Mutual support.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Oct 4 2012

The thinnest part of the blue line

Not being one to take things at face value, I looked up the “thin blue line.” Generally accepted as a symbol used to show solidarity with law enforcement, there is a fair amount of controversy associated with the symbol. Controversy? Related to law enforcement?

Perhaps the most current controversy involving law enforcement is whether they should continue to be compensated for the work they do whether in wages or retirement benefits. But don’t be deceived. There seems to have been a hazy cloud of controversy surrounding the shiny badge for some time. And to prove my point, I give you two words, Wyatt Earp. A law man of the wild-west and best known for his part in the shoot out at the OK Corral, his past is hardly exemplary.

Controversy. 

It has become a standard part of our culture. When asked what he does, my husband never says, “I’m a police officer.” Can you guess why? What follows is typically a story of unjust ticketing or “speed traps” or a whiny interlude about the total jerk officer that pulled them over last week. The Andy Griffith mentality has faded out like black and white television and in it’s place is high def.

Controversy.

My husbands professional experience has been dealing with people who break the law, snotty and rude people, and some who would rather see him bleeding out on the sidewalk. For him, life is measured in potential threats and worse case scenarios. It changes the way he views the world. That’s his training. And his training and experience do not shut off the moment he walks through the door at home. His badge is off, but his vigilance is not. And such a condition means that he will ask me to do things that seem strange to outsiders. And guess what comes from that?

Controversy.

Even being married to a police officer opens the door for some dissension. A law enforcement family, or any first responder family, seem to have a unique set of rules. And there are instances where this causes controversy among friends and family members.

There are times when the rules that govern our home are challenged. “Why would he ask you to call him before you are on your way home? Don’t you think that’s a tad controlling?” Or, “Really? You aren’t allowed to open the front door in the middle of the day?” I could list the different customs that keep the peace in our home and that “normal” people deem crazy. I have plenty of fodder. But that’s not the point. The point is this–stop the controversy.

We all have a degree of crazy. Superstitions. Habits. Traditions. The difference is, most of us don’t wear our crazy on a clean pressed uniform, marked by a shiny star on our chest. By following a few “rules” around the house, I help put my husband’s mind at ease so that he can focus on his job and come home safe. Seems like a fair enough trade to me.

The thinnest part of the “thin blue line” is where crazy seems unnecessary and pointless. But sometimes the crazy is necessary. Then we call it something different.

Heroism.

 


Aug 23 2012

WHAT?

Telephone.

Remember that game? Everyone sits in a circle.The beginning of all riveting games. One person whispers something into the ear of another person and it travels the circle. Usually, what is spoken at the end is a far cry from the original statement. Something gets lost somewhere in translation.

I like to call this marriage. Minus all the people in the middle. Unless you have children.

For example, I say one thing. My husband hears something all together different. (All right, and vice-versa.) Communication is challenging. But in our house, there’s another factor in the mix.

The language of law enforcement.

After years of having a toddler or two underfoot, I’m pretty fluent in tantrum and exhaustion. And likewise, my husband’s experience among the less than virtuous in our society has made him fluent in his own language.

Here are some examples. The first statement is something I might say. The second statement is what my husband hears after a lightning flash translation in his head.

Outing to the park. Translation, “ER visit.”

Grocery store. “Potential abduction.”

Solicitor at the front door. “Home invasion.”

The language of law enforcement.

This translation issue came to light again recently. I was returning from a weekend away. (My husband is awesome.) As we got on the freeway, I asked my friend to send a text to my husband so he would know were on our way. He likes to know these things, but maybe that’s another blog. Long story short, the auto correct feature kicked into high gear and the text that was sent was not a correct representation of the situation. It was kind of funny, I thought. So did my friend. We laughed and she asked if I thought he would decipher it. Within seconds, my phone was ringing. My husband was calling. His take on the message was that I had been kidnapped. He was not laughing. Between him dialing my cell phone and my friend answering, he had worked out which office he was going to call to roll out the rescue squad.

The language of law enforcement.

I used to think my husband was paranoid. Or that he didn’t find me competent. Those opinions made for some lively marital conversations. But I’ve come to discover that my law enforcement husband simply speaks a different language. And as I take the time to listen to the incidents that have transformed his thought processes, I find it much easier to give him grace. He loves us. And he fights to keep us separate from the horror he’s seen.

He took an oath to serve and protect. He takes that oath seriously every day. And at the top of that list are the one’s he loves. He doesn’t sit atop a white stead with shiny armor.  Somedays it’s a grungy uniform with just a shiny star on his chest. But the bottom line? I’m trying to learn his language. It’s one way I can show him I love him too.

Can you relate? What languages are spoken in your home?

 


Aug 9 2012

S is for…

Should I stay or should I go?

This blog needs to start with a preface or some sort of disclaimer. I doubt this is concurrent with blogging protocol but some things must be done. So here goes.

I am not trying to offer advice or counsel. This is simply my journey. If you have a similar journey, I hope my words resonate with you and encourage you as you discover you are not alone. If you have an altogether different journey, I hope this gives you a glimpse into the scenery from a different path.

A swift and tragic death is ugly. I’ve shared how there are days it wafts into our home like the faint smell of decay on a spring breeze. You expect to smell the wisteria outside the back door but instead…a fowl stink sends shivers running down your spine.

For so many years I didn’t get it. I pretended it was my imagination. Or it was just part of the territory. I was so blind. So blind to what was really going on. I saw the man I married turn into a different guy. I thought that was all there was to see. And that change ticked me off. And being ticked off lead me to a defining moment. A question.

Should I stay or should I go?

It didn’t take me divorcing my husband to leave. I was ready to pack my emotions in a carry-on and take the next flight out. Intentionally disconnecting and distancing myself from him. Pretend that everything was okay. Go through the motions. Discuss the day to day business of running a home and a family and leave the relationship out of it.

The way I saw it, it was about survival. My survival. Should I stay or should I go? It sounds a bit melodramatic. And I guess when you make a relationship all about yourself, you’re bound to find a bit of drama.

Our relationship had hit a place in time where I felt I wasn’t getting what I needed. And it’s one thing to say “for better or worse.” It’s an entirely different thing to live it out. My marriage got difficult and I wanted to disconnect.

And then I got hit in the head with a two by four. Metaphorically, but it hurt just the same. I was sharing my frustration with a friend and she summed up my situation in a poignant statement. “So, you are upset because he is human.” Going, disengaging, distancing myself was my way of saying that I was better than him. Healthier. And how dare he be human. How dare he be scarred and wounded.

The moment in time, where two people stand before friends and family and declare their eternal love, had faded into the past. Now, two people stood in a living room, staring into each other’s eyes and not seeing the other person.

In between the day we shared our vows and the moment in the living room, a great deal of living had taken place. A great deal of conversations and choices. And I had been just as much a part of those as he had been. But now I wanted to blame him. I like to think that I didn’t cause the PTSD but I can honestly say that for many years, I didn’t help it. I ignored it. But now, with it all out in the open, with wounds ripped open and hearts laid bare, a whisper of hope hung in the air.

Could I stay and be part of the solution? Should I stay and support him? Would I stay and own my stuff too?

I’ve heard it said that the hard choice and the right choice are often the same choice. Aghhh!

So I stayed. Physically and emotionally. I hoped and prayed. I cried a lot. I felt really lonely sometimes. But I chose to stay. I chose to love him as best I could. I don’t deserve a medal. I’m not looking for a pat on the back. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not trying to judge or make a social statement. This is just part of my journey.

I read this today. “…We are each called to love three people in our spouse–the person we loved first, the person we love now, and the person we are loving into being.” (Heather Kopp, SoberBoots.com) Loving someone in the now and loving them into who they are becoming is sometimes a painful journey. But my husband has done the same for me. So I guess that makes us even. But who’s keeping score, right?

There’s one more letter to go in our PTSD acronym. So next week “D is for…” Can you guess?

 


Aug 1 2012

T is for ticked off

That seems fairly obvious doesn’t it? I mean, do I really need to spell out what being ticked off looks like?

The small child in the grocery store. The tantrum thrower, lying on the vinyl flooring, arms waving and feet kicking. Unintelligible shrieks and sobbing noises come from the flailing body. We pretend not to see them and confine our comments to internal dialogue. “Oh, my yes. That’s a tantrum.” And we somehow manage to pat ourselves on the back for being far more evolved than that.

But are we? Okay, I won’t throw you under the bus. Am I?

As soon as I picked the acronym P.T.S.D., I knew the “t” stood for ticked off. A large part of my journey with my husband through the dark and intrepid waters of PTSD has involved anger. My anger. At him. At the world. At life. And yet, now that I’m sitting here, I don’t want to write about it. I didn’t kick and scream in the candy isle because my mommy wouldn’t buy me a chocolate bar. Because that’s absurd. But there was much shrieking and flailing internally. And really, what’s the difference?

 I got angry. “Why do I have to deal with this? This isn’t what I signed up for.”

And then I would hear it. That little sarcastic voice in my head that thinks it’s okay to parent me. “So when you said, ‘For better or for worse, in sickness and in heath,’ there were qualifiers to those statements?”

To which I repied, “Well no. But he isn’t living up to his end of the bargain.”

“So you are mad at him for being human?”

And then I would get angry at that internal voice for being right. Yes, my husband had some things that he needed to deal with. But my response, my internal kicking and screaming demonstrated that I had some things to deal with too. We are both human.

Shortly after our son was born, I started taking him to the park. Normal right? And I would get a call from my husband. Still normal.

“How’s it going?”

“Good.”

“Where are you?”

“We are at the park.” Wait for it.

“Are you watching Isaac?”

Seriously?

“Nope, I dropped him off. Since he can walk on his own now and I thought I would run across the street to the 7-11 for a Slurpy. I’m mad thirsty today.”

That’s what I wanted to say.

It ticked me off that he would have the audacity to believe that I would be that irresponsible with our son. I’m not looking for mom of the year here but a little credit would be nice. What was intended as concern came across more as gigantic votes of no confidence.

I saw enough to realize that he meant well. So I ignored it. Or at least I thought I did.

Anger is like cheese. It doesn’t turn fuzzy and green overnight. But eventually, it does turn fuzzy and green.

And here is the irony. I was mad at him. He was the one ruining our family. It was his behavior that caused me to feel the way I did. He was making me so angry.

And then that exasperating voice, “No one can make you angry just like no one can make you love. They are both choices.”

Blah!

I could choose to be angry or let it go. But that wasn’t the choice I wanted to make. I was ticked off and I thought the choice in front of me was “Should I stay? Or should I go?”

But I’ll save that for next week. When you can read “S is for should I stay?”


Jul 18 2012

PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Panic. Temper. Strain. Depression.

Several years ago, I had no idea how four letters could turn someone’s life upside down.

Today is my wedding anniversary. Thirteen years ago I married an amazing man. I envisioned having beautiful children and a beautiful life. For many years that is exactly what we had worked to create. And then something changed. Suddenly a monster was living in my home threatening to destroy all that we had worked so hard to establish.

For years, the monster remained nameless. But its presence was no less intrusive. This monster laid open a path for fear, anxiety, even depression. And I felt helpless. It was terrifying and overwhelming.

I have alluded to this issue in past blog posts but there has been a hesitancy in me to discuss it in detail. Maybe it’s one of those things that is so painful it’s just difficult to talk about. But, it’s my anniversary. And I have much to celebrate. I think it’s time.

It feels impossible to transcribe our journey in a single blog post so I intend to make this a series. As I pondered how to cohesively write a short group of blogs I thought of doing an acronym. I seem to like those. So this will be the first post of five. Each post after this will highlight a specific part of our journey. And what better acronym to use than P.T.S.D.

Please understand that I am not a doctor or psychologist. Writing about this widespread and debilitating issue is strictly based on my own experience. And even that being limited. I am not the sufferer directly. I am not the one haunted and tortured and controlled by horrific images and memories. I am the bystander. One who has had to learn to love in the midst of the paralyzing unknown. However, I am intimately acquainted with the condition. I had a first row seat as I watched my husband wrestle and fight a foe that was unseen. I watched as the father of my children was nearly taken from me.

I am the spouse of a highly decorated law enforcement officer. He is courageous and honorable and broken.

Happy anniversary to us and I hope you check out the next blog, “P is for partially blind” and take this journey with us.

 


May 15 2012

The Ultimate Fiction Writer: Part 2

 

Regardless of where you live or how old you are, your life has a cast of characters. They go by different names. Friends. Family. Co-workers. People whose lives intersect your own. People with pain and hurt. Joy and sadness. People who love you and people you struggle to love.

The Ultimate Fiction Writer is at work again. An array of characters have been specifically chosen to intersect your life. Is there that character enlisted to be the voice of encouragement? Who is the character with the sarcastic wit? Do you find yourself hoping that one of the characters of your life gets inadvertently hit by a bus?

My guess is you have a character or two or three who have been cast as the villains. The troublemakers. The thorns in your side. (See bus comment above.) How often do you think that life would be so much better without them?

But would it? Would life be better without them? OK. Yes! Emphatic yes! But would you be better without them? What kind of person would you become if you had no one to point out the areas in your life that needed work?

There is no story without conflict and there is no change without struggle. So the question isn’t, “When do the troublemakers get taken out?” The question is, “When does the main character change because of the struggle?”

As you live out the epic saga of your life, take note of the characters that have been written into your story. They have been hand picked to share your stage. And when you face conflict today with someone from your cast, resist the urge to envision the bus. Maybe their part is to help you find areas of improvement. It isn’t their fault. Their just playing their part.