Dec 19 2013

Remnants of an ongoing battle with the past – Dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD

Bookcase in the secret room

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flashbacks.

Last weekend David and I were sitting on the couch watching the 49‘s game. One minute our team is winning, the next minute an innocent commercial rips through the comfort of our home.

The commercial depicts a boy with tire tread running the length of his body, meant to invoke laugher and jollity. Instead the images unleash distress and horror.

Next to me, I feel David’s body tense. The steady rhythm of his breathing is replaced with a shortness of breath and in his eyes, tears pool around the edges, vying for freedom.

David sees something different.

The Secret Room.

Heat and light in the secret room.

Heat and light in the secret room.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To deal with and control these memories David goes to a secret place. A room designed specifically by him to provide safety and comfort. At one end sits a well used, worn brown leather chair. A coffee table stands in front of the chair and beyond the table, on the opposite wall, a fire in the hearth burns bright and warm. A focal point where light and heat bring  tranquility and a feeling of security.

Both adjacent walls are lined with bookshelves containing volumes, magic anthologies, a documentation of events. Not just words but images, emotions, sounds and smells.

A Flashback.

Without warning, a book appears on the coffee table. And into the quiet room, the memory of a young boy with tire tread across his chest invades the safety and tranquility. Sights, a pool of blood puddles under his small head like a pillow. Sounds, the mournful shriek of a heartbroken mother who lost a piece of her heart in an instant. Smells, fresh blood creeping across black hot asphalt.

Unannounced and unavoidable, the unwanted remembrances float out of the open book and invade the secure, hidden space. Like rogue enemies, they launch poisonous arrows into the warm air and pierce the serenity.

David’s body tenses. His breath suspended in constricted lungs begging for escape, guarding a prayerful hope that the book will disappear.

But these are memories that will never go away. To contain and control them David has placed each one into a book. The memory of the little boy killed by a drunk driver is just one of many. David leans forward and closes the book.  With a deep breath, he rises from his chair, picks up the book and places it back on the shelf in its rightful place. Tucked away, surrounded by a myriad of other memories, both fond and equally horrifying.

While flashbacks cannot be anticipated or avoided, they can be controlled. David’s use of a room full of his memories has worked for him. Memories are impervious to destruction but they can be coerced. Forced back into storage. Driven back into the past, leaving room for the light and warmth to occupy the present and bring peace again to the secret room.

Healing and tomorrow.

Our connection to the events of our past is a two way street. We may mosey down the avenue and revisit joyful occasions. And, just as easily, the past can barrel down the road and crash into our present, bringing remembrances we would care to forget.

But we are not left powerless. David learned this technique at a retreat for first responders. The West Coast Post-Trauma Retreat Center. (www.wcpr2001.org) The past cannot be changed. But for those suffering under the weight of bygone memories there is hope. And hope is the fire burning in the secret room, giving warmth and security and a chance to live fully in the present.

************

Check out Rebecca’s debut novel, DISTRESSED, on Amazon.


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 9 2013

Why do I write?

3573941942

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To paint a picture. A picture that gives real perspective. A perspective that goes beyond our Sunday best and drives us into the heart of others.

For the last several years, since I started taking this writing journey seriously, I’ve asked myself this question often.Whatever you may think the writing life looks like, you’re probably wrong. No disrespect. Just saying.

Writers stare at the screen and wrestle. We wrestle with words. With plots and characters. And we wrestle with self-doubt. Which is perhaps the greatest understatement of the century. Self-doubt sounds like something you find in a Disney movie. But what I’m talking about is the kind of crippling uncertainty that renders a person slightly unstable.

So why do it?

I’ve heard responses that are close to the mark. “I’m ruined to do anything else.” “I love to write so much I can’t not write.”

But I stumbled today on my reason. An epiphany of sorts. I’ve danced around the idea for a couple years but it hit me square between the eyes today.

David and I finished watching a movie this morning. End of Watch. I still have tears streaming down my face. A movie about two LAPD officers who are ambushed. One of the partners is killed. We watched the graphic portrayal of his end of watch. The scenes are heart wrenching and the cop sitting next to me kept saying, “That’s so real.”

You can take the man out of the uniform but you can’t take the uniform out of the man. We sat and watched pieces of our reality play out on screen. It was more than a movie. It was a realistic portrayal of the life of a cop.

So why do I write?

Screen Shot 2013-10-30 at 2.32.58 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My first novel, “Distressed” which releases soon, is a story about what a cop life can do to a marriage. To a family.

More than anything, I want the world to see. To see and smell and feel what it might be like to walk in another person’s reality. We have all been taught to walk a mile in another person’s shoes but how often do we actually take the time to do that?

What if you could read a book that put you in another person’s shoes? What if you could read a story and really see and feel the life of someone else? The characters and plot may not be reality but the emotion is. And it’s universal.

So why do I write?

I write to move people from their comfortable into the hurting world. Anyone can sympathize, or imagine what someone else might be feeling. But the well of humanity is much deeper than that.

Sympathy wipes a tear, but empathy embraces.

I write because I want to feel what others are feeling. And I write because I hope others want the same thing.

 


Apr 1 2013

Things Change…

badge

Hey! Remember me?

I know it’s been awhile.

Believe it or not, I ran out of things to say. At least things I thought would actually be coherent. So, I dropped off the blogging grid. Took a hiatus. But I’m back. And before I go any further, it needs saying that I’m not guaranteeing coherent or profound. Just for the record.

The last year of blogging has been relevant to the law enforcement life. As the wife of a CHP Lieutenant, and writing a novel based on law enforcement PTSD, the topics that sprang to life for me revolved around those issues.

But things change.

My husband officially retired after almost thirty years. We moved from civilization to rural America. We remodeled a house and now we are leaving on an epic adventure. The law enforcement life seems like a distant memory. In some ways, I think that’s for the better.

I am proud of the service my husband gave and the support we were able to give him. His was a noble profession.

But things change.

I had a conversation with a friend today about the life of a professional sports player. They make a ton of money. But they cannot last for thirty years. The smart ones plan ahead. They sacrifice in the moment. Bring home the bucks. Then they buy a car dealership and give up the physical abuse on their bodies.

While a career in law enforcement is not technically lucrative, I think there’s a parallel. There’s a large probability of injury running the gamut of paper cuts to fatal shootings and everything in between. A cop puts their body in harms way to put food on the table for his family. And, the smart ones plan.

You will not be a cop forever. Just like you can’t pitch a ball at 90 miles an hour forever.

Things change.

We didn’t buy a car dealership. Just a small ranch in Nevada. And my husband planned. He invested in himself and his family through the course of his career. After thirty years, he still has a life to lead. His identity is his name, not his ID number. His value as a person isn’t reflected in his annual reviews or his ability to do his job. His value as a person is reflected in the faces of his friends and family.

So we are going to take a sabbatical. An adventure to see the unknown. We’ve never been to Europe so we are going. Being associated with a badge number for thirty years is enough to change a person and the people around them. But it doesn’t have to define them.

It’s just a number.

Because after all, things change. Even numbers.


Feb 1 2013

Life is Full of Misconceptions

the yellow brick road

the yellow brick road

Misconception #1: My parents are perfect and life is fair.

Misconception #2: My parents don’t know anything and life is way unfair.

Misconception #3: I will be a perfect parent.

Misconception #4: (After having a child) Misconception #2 was way off. Life is indeed unfair but perhaps my parents knew a great deal more than I was willing to give them credit for during the throws of teenage hormonal imbalance.

Misconception #5: Having a literary agent guarantees publication.

I have taken a sort of unannounced sabbatical from blogging over the past few weeks. Granted, there has been a great deal of change in our lives recently but the lack of posts has had more to do with my confrontation of misconception #5.

Perhaps I should be embarrassed to admit such ignorance. But seeing as this isn’t the worst of my naiveté, it seems safe to share. Deep down inside, I honestly believed that once I secured an agent, I would become a published author. And I thought I was being reasonable. I waited for months. It seems to me that if another human can take shape and form in the void in ten months, an editor can pick my book for publication in less time.

Oh wait, I think I just discovered Misconception #6: The editing process is timely.

Anyway, I received another rejection yesterday. “We like your writing, blah, blah, blah, but the story is too dark.” The story happens to be about PTSD. And yes, it’s dark. I lived it. I remember.

In the face of yet another rejection I had to finally confront misconception #5. And let me just say that this blog is in no way a slight against my agent. She didn’t write the dark story that no one wants. She’s just doing her job. (nothing but love, K)

So my first book may not make it down the golden road of publication. (Misconception #7: The road to publication is paved in gold.) But maybe there’s another story in me.

I wonder if I have confused my misconceptions as failure. If I believed that I would be published and then I wasn’t, isn’t that a reflection of my ability? Yeah, it has felt like failure. They don’t like my story, they don’t like me, I’m not really a writer…spiral, spiral, spiral.

“Pilot to co-pilot, I smell smoke.”

And so I stopped writing. Or blogging. (Which is kind of like fast food writing.)

But just as I learned to overcome the misconceptions I had regarding parenting, maybe it’s time I grew up in the writing world too. Having an agent doesn’t mean I’m necessarily closer to publication. I think maybe it means that God knows I wouldn’t or couldn’t do this without a cheerleader. Which annihilates another misconception.

Misconception # who’s keeping track: I am super woman and can do anything and I don’t need anyone’s help.

How about you? Do you suffer under the delusions of misconceptions?


Dec 14 2012

Today’s news in Connecticut

Yesterday, I started to write this blog. It was totally different. I was going to take a break. Let you know that I would be back after the holidays.

And then I saw the news today.

That in itself is a miracle. Since I live in the middle of nowhere we have no television. But today was a town day. We stopped for lunch and watched the events in play-back on the television above our table.

Horrific. Nauseating. Overwhelming.

Then, during one of the news clips of various shots of the scene, I saw a uniform. Several in fact.

Another day at work.

And my heart broke again.

They will write their reports. Possibly have a debriefing about the horror they saw. And they will go home. Their wives could possibly have also had a stressful day. Sick children. Broken appliances. The stress of knowing her husband was on scene.

But regardless of what it may look like on the outside. Life does not just go back to normal.

Being married to a law enforcement officer is like being handed a bucket. Every incident and trauma that your spouse witnesses becomes a brick in your bucket. Even if they don’t tell you about it. There is something you can see in their eyes. In the way they hug their children. In the way they bark security measures. What changes them, changes you.

The bucket gets heavier. 

I refuse to use the word burden. It’s not that kind of bucket. But whatever name you give it, it’s presence is unavoidable.

I’ve carried that bucket. In some ways I still do. Life changes us. There is no going back.  But I want to share a secret I’ve learned. A message to the wives of those officers from Connecticut. And to anyone else who carries the bucket.

You love your husband. You gladly carry the bucket. A sign of solidarity. You think you are alone in that. Your friends can’t see the bucket and sometimes your family can’t either.

But you are not alone. 

If nothing else, you have sisters who also stand behind the Thin Blue Line. We see your bucket and we are praying for you and your family. We pray too for the families of those who lost someone, but we don’t forget the one’s called to serve and protect and the one’s who love them.

You are in our prayers. You are in our hearts. We see your bucket.

May our prayers lift your load and may we all look to the day when Peace rules.


Dec 6 2012

Platform 9 and 3/4

“The Sorcerer’s Stone” Platform 9 and 3/4

Oscar Wilde once said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” I think that might be one of those chicken versus egg kind of questions. You know, which came first? But in this instance, I believe Oscar is right.

The other night we were watching the first Harry Potter movie (The Sorcerer’s Stone.) I think it’s safe to say that we view art through current circumstances. And in this case, I couldn’t help but feel as though that movie was imitating our life. Or our life is currently imitating that movie? Was it the chicken or the egg?

Anyway, we had grown quite used to living under the stairs. We were accustomed to meeting the expectations put upon us by ourselves and others. We followed the rules. And then something changed. An invitation of sorts.

We accepted the invitation. It meant David retiring and us moving out to the country. We made our way to the train station and stood perplexed at our ticket. There is no Platform nine and three quarters. Now what?

Oh! We run full speed ahead straight at a brick wall! Of course! Why didn’t we think of that?

Leaving behind all that we know, full speed and unlimited internet, the camaraderie of the department, and the security of a schedule, to name a few, has left us running at a brick wall. But we are running. Full speed ahead. Uprooting or making a change of any kind feels like running straight at a brick wall somewhere between platform nine and platform ten and hoping not to splat.

And it isn’t the first time we’ve done this. I remember  when David was diagnosed with PTSD and it felt like we were running straight toward  a brick wall. No idea what was on the other side or even if we would make it to the other side. But we ran. We ran toward help.

We made it through the brick wall and found help. And that helps us believe. It helps us believe that this time, what lies on the other side, is a magical place beyond our wildest dreams.

Reality check. Perhaps we won’t see that this side of heaven but maybe we will find an adventure. At the very least.

Are you running at a brick wall too? What do you hope to find on the other side?


Nov 1 2012

The Weight of the World

The annual Halloween party has come and gone. This year, it was held the night of our epic moving sale. Epic in the sense that all living room furniture is gone and all bedroom furniture from our bedroom is gone save our bed. I watched it all drive off to new homes. Saying good-bye to bearers of memories and probably a few lost coins.

With last vestiges of energy, I was tasked with transforming our eight year old daughter into a rock star and our nine year old daughter into an ice fairy. After makeup and clouds of colored hairspray, I had a few minutes left to figure out how to transform myself. This is not the first year I have tried to convince myself that haggard mom of three is actually a costume.

I thought I carried the weight of the world. 

And then my husband came to my rescue. “Here,” he smiled, “wear this.”

Moments later, clad in combat boots, bloused pants, a old tattered bullet proof vest and a cap, I was ready to go. From haggard mother of three to tattered security guard. All evening, I clod around in the twenty pound boots and pulled on the twenty pound vest, threatening to strangle me.

I thought I carried the weight of the world.

“Is it normal to suddenly feel like you can’t breathe?” I asked my husband.

“Yeah,” he said. “That’s normal.”

As we said our good-byes, I fantasized about getting home and taking off the heavy vest and the weights on my feet. And then it struck me.

I thought I carried the weight of the world.

But I don’t. I carry the weight of my own little world. Dishes, laundry, carpools. And it gets heavy. But my law enforcement husband, the one who puts on these weights everyday actually does carry the weight of the world.

The kidnapper, the car thief. The hostile woman late for work. The guy with the felony warrant who has a tail light out but pulls a gun because he has far more to lose than a fix-it-ticket. The accident scene where a mother realizes her baby didn’t make it. The notification to the parents of the teenager who was going to fast and struck a tree and wouldn’t be graduating after all.

I discovered a valuable thing. Yes, the boots and vest are heavy. Not to mention the duty belt laden with tools of the trade. But they symbolize something that weighs even more. The commitment to do the hard thing. To serve the public and keep them safe whether they like it or not.

A heavy burden.

I thought I was tired before the party. I thought carting around those boots and that vest was difficult. But in a room full of fairies and rock stars, my boots and vest were just a costume. I could set down the weights at the end of the party and simply hold on to the pictures. Fun reminders of a another year.

But for those who really do carry the weight of the world, they need no help to remember. Sights and smells are imbedded in their memories. And all those faces and all those incidents are difficult to forget.

It must feel like the weight of the world.

 

photo credit:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/infinitejeff/69254223/

 



Oct 18 2012

Collateral Damage

Death danced outside our door again.

His fingers long and reach beyond

the body that they claim. 

When my husband got home last night, he shared about his day. It began with a roll-over of a van full of kids and ended with a ninety-year old man being struck and killed by a motorist.

He posed a question. “What do you call it when you do the right thing but pay a price anyway?”

Two young boys witnessed the old man breathe his last. Their mom had stopped to be a witness. A good Samaritan. Death’s fingers found their way into her minivan and touched her sons. A picture they will never forget. An horrific image.

Collateral damage.

I have often thought to myself, “And that’s the last post on PTSD. Because, seriously, how many more can I come up with?” And then something happens.

“Unintended damage, injuries, or deaths caused by an action…”

Oh yeah. That happens.

Unintended damage.

Death takes one life but touches a sea of others.

Collateral damage.

I’ve struggled to explain what PTSD is like. Or better, what living with someone who has PTSD is like. In order to convey the width of impact it has in our lives as a family I end up sounding dramatic. I start talking about death and destruction and people’s eyes glass over. Who wants to deal with that?

Exactly. Who wants to? But some of us still get to.

And then I back off a little and talk about the affects instead of the causes and I sound like a victim. Look what it’s done to our family? Whine.

So when these two words came out last night as my husband was reliving his day, a light bulb went off.

What do you call it when you do the right thing and pay for it anyway? He was talking about the woman. The good Samaritan. She stopped to help but paid a price. But as he was talking, I realized he could just as easily be talking about himself.

What do you call it when you serve the community and do your job well and you end up dealing with unintended injuries?

Collateral damage. 

May we learn to respond to life’s unintended injuries.

 

God, give me grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time…

-ReinholdNiebuhr

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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.