Dec 13 2013

The here and why

*** It’s here!!! ***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A month ago, I wrote a blog post that detailed my reason for writing. Why do I write?

But why did I write this story?

First, I have to say, it is a novel. It is a work of fiction. And yet, it was birthed out of a period of time in our lives. Painful experiences worth sharing.

When I married my husband, I had no idea what it meant to become a part of the “law enforcement family.” I was aware that there would be holiday craziness on those days he had to work, but beyond that? I didn’t get it.

We got married. I changed my name. But so much more changed. And of course, marriage is an adjustment. And without trying to sound over the top, marriage in the world of first responders is an even bigger adjustment.

There is a reason they call themselves a family. They get each other. They understand the stress and the expectations. They rely upon each other day in and day out, for camaraderie and for safety. They will always have each other’s backs. Like family.

It’s difficult to describe or explain a dynamic like that. They are knit together by a thin, often blue, line. A line invisible to those who don’t walk it everyday. A line that becomes increasingly recognizable in the course of every day life with a first responder.

Case in point, there have been nights, dinner is minutes away from ready, the kids have worn mommy’s patience down to a mere nub and the phone would ring. Don’t wait to have dinner because of…an accident, a fatal, a shooting, a car chase, or at the hospital with another officer.

You answer the phone and hold your breath until you hear their voice. And then you hold your breath again until you can determine that they are okay. It isn’t the phone calls that are difficult. It’s the stress they create. And stress like that is next to impossible to translate. But it is nothing compared to the stress of death and destruction bombarding every one of your five senses. It’s one thing to see death on TV or in movies. It’s an entirely different thing to see it, smell it, hear it, feel it and even taste it.

After phone calls like that, I would serve dinner and get the kids into the bath. I would pray for David’s safety and my sanity. But all the while, something had been set in motion that I didn’t recognize. An invisible force that had far more power in my home than I could ever have imagined. The past.

Memories are tremendous. They connect us to happier moments and remind us of people and events. They link us to those we love. But their power doesn’t end there. They also hold the potential to forever tie you to tragedy and trauma. To haunt and torment and link you to a past event that is nothing short of horrific.

As a country, we have come a long way in understanding and treating PTSD as it relates to our military. But it would appear to me that we are decades behind in our treatment and recognition of PTSD in our first responders.

So why did I write Distressed?

Two reasons. 1. To authentically show the world of the first responder and those closest to him and 2. To bring awareness to the realities of PTSD as it pertains to first responders.

It is our story in part. But it had to be more than just our story. It has to be bigger than that. Because I know, there are a number of other first responders and their families who are currently suffering in silence.

It has to be about them too.

 


Nov 21 2012

Thanksgiving Memory

“Are you ready?” He smiled at me as I climbed in and he shut the door.

“Uh-huh!” I glanced at him so that he wouldn’t see the terror in my eyes. Calm down! He’s not taking you to jail.

And he pulled the patrol car out of the driveway.

“I’m probably not going to write any tickets today. It’s Thanksgiving.”

My terror turned to disappointment. Reinforcing an underlying belief that I thought myself crazy. Apparently, I felt someone should go to jail. Just not me. A shining humanitarian moment.

“Oh. Okay.” Attempting to mask my neurosis.

He pointed the car toward his beat. That stretch of road that he was assigned to cover for the day. He parked on the shoulder of the freeway. Giving himself a view. And then he started a conversation.

It was challenging to follow. An unfamiliar female voice kept chanting all manner of numbers and letters and random words. She vied for attention but he continued to talk. Zebra and Mary and King. What is she trying to say?

“Um, feel free to stop and listen.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’m listening.”

To who? Her or me?

But the conversation continued. My senses were a bit maxed but I tried to hang in there. Nodding where appropriate and still trying to act natural. The profuse sweating of my hands distracted me from the issue of what position to put them in.

“Darn it.” And the conversation stopped. He started the car and pulled out.

Remember Clark Kent? He would duck into a phone booth? (Remember phone booths?) Anyway, he would rip the front of his shirt and in seconds be transformed from journalist to superhero. I’ve seen something similar. David went from normal conversation to police officer in a fraction of a second.

I sat rigid in the passenger seat as he pursued an SUV barreling down the freeway. Lights flashing. An electricity charged the air. The conversation was gone. He was focused. Alert. And I was no longer a companion. I was a spectator.

I watched in amazement at this man I thought I knew. His composure and calm was mind boggling as he confronted the unknown. I became acutely aware of my lack. My lack of knowledge. My lack of authority. My lack of courage.

What would I do if the driver shot him right in front of me? Could I ever marry a man whose job required him to put himself in such a precarious position?

And then an amazing thing happened. I saw it. The razor sharp edge of the thin blue line. Sending him off to work meant endangering a part of my soul. He had my heart.

There would always be a part of him that I could not follow. I could give him my heart but I could never control where he took it. Or the possible dangerous positions he would put it in. That was just going to be part of the deal.

That was over fourteen years ago. (Difficult to believe based on the above photo. That’s not really me by the way and that’s not the really the car. Just in case there is any confusion.) My first and I think only ride along. A lot has changed since then. Children, moving, and now retirement. Oh, and moving out of state. That’s a rather big change. But one thing is the same.

He still has my heart. And on this Thanksgiving, I’m truly thankful.

What are you thankful for?

 

 

 


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 16 2012

D is for…

Most pictures say a thousand words. But this picture screams one simple word.

“Dauntless.”

I was drawn to this picture. There was something about it. So I bought it. My husband and I had stopped for food and a break a couple hours into a routine nine hour road trip. After hour 13, the routine faded into torture. Our eyes crossed or threatened to shut completely and exhaustion permeated the air like a heavy fog. We wanted to quit, but we weren’t where we needed to be yet. We weren’t home. So we kept our behinds in our seats and we kept driving.

When we finally got home we kissed the ground and then pulled the picture out of the car. As tired as we were, the irony was not lost. We had just lived a dauntless moment.

Stalwart Resolute. Indomitable.

We still joke about that trip and the picture. But as soon as I thought about my journey with PTSD and how I would put it into an acronym, I knew.

D is for dauntless.

It’s one thing to convey an emotion at a pivotal point in the journey. It’s another thing all together to impart a word such as dauntless. I’ve rewritten this post about five times now. As I try to describe what dauntless looks like, it keeps coming up grey and lifeless. Much like the painting. D is for drudgery. Just keep getting in the boat. Day after day.

But I wasn’t drawn to the picture because it evoked a feeling of drudgery. From the first moment I saw that photo, I felt hope. The picture doesn’t show each man bravely taking their place in the boat. It shows them in open water. Moving. Embarking on an adventure. Unshrinking to the challenges that may lie ahead.

The whole point of my last post was choosing to get in the boat. Dauntless has to mean something more. And I think back to the road trip. What about that trip demonstrates dauntless? Was it the drudgery of driving? And then I see it. Yes, there was drudgery involved. But dauntless is overcoming the drudgery in light of the port of call. We fought fatigue and committed to driving for the comfort of home. We looked forward to sleeping in our own bed. We were traveling toward a destination.

D is for dauntless.

I’m staying in the boat. I’m all in. That’s “S.” But more than that. I’m looking forward. I’m resolutely believing that good days are ahead. That an adventure awaits.

It is challenging to believe that the sun will ever shine again after days of endless rain and the darkest of nights. But dauntless means indomitable hope. Stalwart expectation. It’s not just repeating the vows and the commitments. It’s remembering what you believed in those moments. I fell in love with my husband because of who he is. Through the course of the ups and downs of PTSD, I fight to remain unshrinking. To remember the man I married. To boldly love my husband as he is. And to be audacious in my belief that an adventure awaits.

D is for dauntless.

That’s what dauntless looks like to me. What does dauntless look like to you?


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 25 2012

P is for partially blind

An outing to the zoo the other day warranted the taking of many pictures. My girls quickly took control of all picture taking devices and began to document our adventure. The above photo is one from that day. Can you tell what it is?

Yeah, me neither. After close inspection, I have made out some concrete and a shadow. Hardly a kodak picture spot. And maybe not a great representation of a day at the zoo but an apt representation of the beginning part of my journey into the world of PTSD.

P is for partially blind.

They say love is blind but I beg to differ. I think love is only partially blind. I was drawn to a man who is compassionate, courageous, and loyal. A man of honor. A man who takes his oath seriously. “I subscribe in word and deed to…fulfill my oath as a soldier of the law…” I was not blind to those things.

I was partially blind.

I knew my husband to have those traits. But I was blind to the fact that they came at a price. His loyalty and compassion are not bound only to the situations that he can control. He can not turn them on or off at will. So, to the little girl that died in his arms, he remains compassionate and loyal, even years later regardless of forced good-byes.

I was partially blind.

I can’t see her. I have heard about her and the tragedy of that day, but I have no vivid pictures, or smells or tastes associated with her. But my husband does. And the burden of those memories, of the hopelessness of the outcome, exact a heavy price.

The caring man I married grew more and more impatient and aloof. His sympathies began to turn sour like spoiled milk. One of our children would get injured and he would be rendered incapacitated. Nightmares, anxiety, and unending mantras regarding safety. Locks on doors, emergency drills and angst. The beautiful family I thought we had was changing. Or better said, the rules that governed our home were changing and I didn’t see it.

I was partially blind.

There was a new sheriff in our home. The past. Those moments in time when beliefs in justice demanded a different outcome. The little blond seven year old girl should have lived. But she didn’t. And that is only one image among dozens. Each tragic loss of life has a face, a name and a memory. The man of compassion and loyalty was being stretched to the breaking point. The past began to invade and it would take no prisoners.

I have since realized that although my husband has been diagnosed with PTSD he is not the only one who sees the past command unwarranted authority over the present. We stand in our situations. Our trials. Our issues. And we don’t want to let go. There is an obscure security in defining ourselves by our scars. Our battle wounds.

I saw my husband changing and I thought it was just his issue.

 I was partially blind.

And not fully seeing causes one to react. But my response to the unfamiliar and undetermined changes happening in our home is for next week. When T is for ticked off.


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.

 


Jun 8 2012

L.E.G.S.

 

Marriage is like a horse.

 

The potential strength and power of the relationship are dependent on limbs that are easily damaged. In my last blog, I posed a challenge.

What names would you give the four supports of marriage?

In presenting that question, I gave myself a great deal to think about. How do I quantify the essence of marriage in four distinct categories? What if there are five? Then marriage cannot be like a horse. Or, if it is, then it has to be like a five legged horse and I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that’s incredibly rare. But marriage isn’t rare. It’s common. As common as a four legged horse…It’s dizzying at times to be inside my head.

I’m not an expert on horses and neither am I an expert on marriage. This is just my opinion. But maybe, it isn’t about getting the list right. Maybe it’s about putting forth the energy and effort to recognize the investment required.

So, here’s my list. Set to the acronym “LEGS” for fairly obvious reasons. And, see? Four things!

 

Listening. Yup, got that one. Let’s move on…Wait, I mean really listening. I’m talking about more than just hearing. “I see your lips moving but all I hear is blah, blah, blah.” That’s not listening. Listening is an exercise in discovering what the other person isn’t saying.

 

Empathy. (Hey, I didn’t promise this to be a fun list.) What might it feel like to be the other person? What hurts and wounds do they carry that cause them to react the way they do? Put their shoes on for a day. If you catch their althete’s foot, you won’t complain about spending money on Lotrimin again.

 

“Great” expectations. Horses are strong. They can carry a great deal of weight. They cannot however, carry a dozen suitcases, ill packed and ranging in size. Don’t expect your spouse to be able to cart around all your baggage either. If the horse is struggling, maybe it’s time to start addressing the load it’s under.

 

Service and maintenance. A horse not exercised regularly cannot perform in an endurance situation. A marriage not maintained properly cannot keep going either. Spend time together. Do things that married couples do. Regularly. And if you see an opportunity to serve the other person. Do that too.

 

May you care regularly for the fragile legs of your marriage and may they, in turn, support you until it’s time for the glue factory in the sky. (Death do you part and all that.)