Thursday, October 26, 2017

Saying Goodbye

Last week a family friend, Rick Norris, was killed in a motorcycle accident.  This is my first time in my recent adult life that I recall someone young (49 years old) and in good health being taken away from us.  

As someone who straps on a bulletproof vest and carries a gun to work every day, it isn't uncommon for me to think of death.    I can't count the number of times over the years that I've recalled looking at the Officer Down Memorial Page and thought of Officer So-and-So from Any Town USA PD who had somehow died that day.     I imagine that officer putting the collar brass on his uniform or strapping on his duty belt the morning of his final shift just like I am doing at that moment before I go off to work.  I imagine that he must have felt it was just a normal day just like this is a normal day for me.  

And then I give my wife a quick kiss and tell her I love her as I walk out the door.   I will tell whichever of my kids is in the room I love them as I rush out.  Just in case this is the last time I'm walking out the door.  

This doesn't always happen of course.  There have been plenty of times over the years when I've been in a rush and just headed out.   Or worse yet, been angry because of a recent argument and left angry without saying a word.  

That's just when I leave.   In the mornings, I come home and go to bed as everyone else is getting ready for school or work.   They all leave in a rush so I rarely get a hug and kiss before they leave.

So, I have two favors to ask of you.    The first, is to tell your loved ones you love them.  Don't assume they know.  They cannot hear it enough.  Certainly tell them as you walk out the door.   You may not strap on a bullet proof vest and carry a gun but you never know how your day will go.

Secondly, please remember Rick, and his wife Debin, in your prayers.   Finally, help support Dogs by Debin--the dog rescue that Rick and Debin co-founded.   You can donate here.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Running Sheep

Last week, I attended training called, "Building Resiliency: Surviving Secondary Trauma," which could be titled "How to Live as a First Responder."   In a nutshell, it teaches you how to deal with the stresses and traumas that first responders deal with day to day.  

In one of the exercises, the facilitator passed out post it notes and had everyone write down the three most valuable things in our lives.   We then passed the paper to someone else at the table and they were to scratch out the first thing listed--symbolizing that thing being taken away from us.

There was an audible gasp from someone in the class as they realized what they had to do.  I actually chuckled when I got my paper back.    I had written "faith" and it seemed appropriate because for the last several years, I had been trying to ditch my faith for a variety of reasons.

I had stopped going to Sunday mass, much less any daily masses.  I had stopped praying and I had even stopped going to confession and adoration.  The only times, I let God into my life was Sunday evenings when I was teaching confirmation.   That was because it was a responsibility I had agreed to.   There was also my annual retreats to Notre Dame.   Looking back, I'm not sure why I continued to go there every summer when my spiritual life was a wreck.

I've heard it said, that Hell is a choice or that Hell is the absence of God.   I believe that the loneliness and despair I've been feeling for the last several months felt like hell on Earth.

It's also been said, "the sheep can run fast, but the shepherd can run faster."   I knew that all God wants is a personal relationship with Him.  I also know the words of St. Augustine who said, "my heart is restless until it rests in you, Oh Lord."   But I kept running away and I believe God allowed me to feel lonely and desolate as an act of compassion so I would turn back towards Him.

The first cracks in my stoney heart started at Notre Dame this year at the opening talk with Mike Patin.  It continued by my going to confession, and being able to receive communion for the first time in years.   I was also aided by being able to talk to different youth ministers while I was there.

But I was stubborn and still tried to run away.

There were more cracks when I went to a Sunday mass in August and my parish priest welcomed me by name, despite not seeing me for years.   And even moret at mass for the Assumption of Mary when I felt God's presence and love.

But even then I was still stubborn and continued running.

I think the scales really started coming off of my eyes when I decided to take my therapist's advice and sought spiritual advice from a priest.   As soon as I contacted the good padre and made arrangements to speak to him, I felt like a light switch had been flipped and I began receiving spiritual relief.

At this point, God had to be shaking his head in disbelief and as I still tried heading for the gate because even after my meeting with the priest, I still wasn't there.   I've still had to go to confession every couple of weeks but I feel like I'm coming around more and more.   I've gone to Sunday mass the last couple of weeks.   My spiritual life is still a crap show but it's looking better.

As in the past, I've used the blog as a way to help me grow spiritually and I hope now that I've started it up again, it will continue to do the same and I hope to share it with you.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Loneliness Sucks

For some time now, for various reasons that I'm not quite ready to discuss, I have been suffering severe loneliness and depression. Let me tell you something--it sucks.   It's more than just being in a funk.  I don't think there is a simple way out.

How do I describe what it's like to be lonely and depressed?   I have to explain it because no one else has ever felt this way.   At least that's how it seems.   You are standing there, the world is going on around you and you are in your own head--which is a bad place to be--and you are thinking "no one has ever felt as low as I do right now."   It's a dark place to be.   There were times when I was laying in bed, trying to sleep, and I felt as if I was laying at the bottom of a pool--total silence, darkness, unable to reach out for help, crushed by my loneliness.    There were other times when I'd be around other people and feel totally alone.   I remember walking around a baseball stadium with 25-30 thousand people there knowing that physically I was not a lone but feeling it emotionally and spiritually---wondering how all of these people could be laughing and having a good time.

I know there are a ton of resources out there for people in my profession.   There are plenty of people to talk to.   If I nickel for every time I heard someone say in a class "call me if you ever need someone to talk to. . . "     I wish it were that easy.  I don't thinking opening up is easy for most people but it's even more difficult for people like police who but up barriers every day at work.  It can be a Catch-22, I don't want to talk to an officer I know, cops are judgmental, cops are blabbermouths.  Just---no.    But then the thought of talking to someone who isn't a cop is just as asinine---they don't have a clue what I'm going through.    (For the record, there are organizations out there where first responders can call and talk to other first responders.  I never used any of them so I'm hesitant to recommend any.)     In all my lonliness, I never had any doubt that there weren't people out there willing to reach down to help me up.     It is just such a huge mental obstacle to get over and it's difficult to explain if you haven't been there.

The resource I did use was my department's Employee Assistance Program.   And I was able to find the perfect therapist--a former first responder who specializes in first responders.   Despite any gains I had from going there, I HATED going every time I did.   Several times, I would see an appointment coming up and would find any excuse to reschedule it.  It was painful. I hated the advice he would give me.   I did not want to do it.  I did not want to be there.   But the loneliness was worse and I knew I had to do it if I wanted to get better.

As I said earlier, cops put up barriers.   It's how we make it through the day.   Most of the time, we just cannot show emotional weakness.  So, we put on masks.   We act as if everything is okay.  So, I was best when I was at work, even though I was alone most of the time.   At work, I'm expected to have my guard up so I didn't have to be emotionally vulnerable.   At work, I could keep busy and despite bad things going on all around me, it was an emotional reprieve when I was busy because I was anywhere but in my own head.

One of the things that helps me the most in my loneliness is this silly thing that I found on the web---I assume it was originally on Urban Dictionary, but in some of my darkest moments, it reminded me of what I already know.   Despite all of our despair and all of our loneliness, we really aren't.  This silly think would give me the courage to reach out in dark times to friends, to relatives--not for them save me and bring drama into their lives--but just to keep me afloat for a minute.   A couple people I opened up to.   Others probably never knew anything was wrong.

I'm doing better now.   I followed my therapists advice.  I took a trip.  I listed to a guy who sounds like a fortune cookie.  I remembered I am His.  I'm not cured and there is a long road ahead of me, but at least not there is some Light.