As I continue to do my work, I am often reminded that first responders are unlike any others you may know.
They are strong, idealistic, committed, and loyal beyond normal standards, which sometimes works in their favor and sometimes to their demise. Some hold on to these attributes as they suffer through great trauma. They manage to make a positive difference while living rewarding lives.
However, this is not as common as we’d like to believe. Many get jaded quickly, using their career loyalty as a way to insulate themselves from the rest of the world. They “protect” their own even if it means ignoring or participating in corruption. They struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) while maintaining a façade of strength. Their idealism becomes marked cynicism, leaving little room for the “naïveté” of the outside world. Home relationships crumble under this pressure, lives unravel and first responders take their own lives far too often.
Here’s a glimpse into the life of a client of mine, a 22-year veteran of both the military and the police force.
This gentleman is a former police officer and an 80 percent disabled veteran who served three tours of duty. He continues to give back now as a federal agent. His eloquent ability to articulate the internal dynamics one bears helps me forge ahead with my mission: to bring stress management and emotional survival tools to first responders as a means of preserving their lives.
My client saw his first bloated dead body at the age of 22, long before many of his peers had even experienced a death in their own families. It took him a week to separate from the imagery and smell of putrefaction. Early on, he taught himself separation techniques that he passed on to other rookies. These techniques (such as grounding, limbic brain regulation, and parasympathetic response) are some of the same ones my consulting group, Trance Personnel Consulting Group (TPCG), teaches when dealing with peer counselors and their vicarious trauma.
He recalled to me an incident in which he arrested a drunken grandmother for smothering her grand baby by accident. How does one maintain compassion, neutrality and a professional demeanor in the face of infanticide? How does one maintain the notion of “innocent until proven guilty”? How is that officer expected to go home and have mundane dinner conversation with his or her family?
Without healthy coping methods, that officer won’t go home to any sort of normalcy. He will stop off at the bar, or work overtime, or maintain a code of silence at home about what goes on at work. That officer will do this over and over again until a pattern of seclusion, isolation and separation from the rest of the world sets in. That officer might rough-house the next drunk involved in a death, or possibly take it even further.
I grew up with a family friend back in N.Y. who served as a Harlem emergency medical technician (EMT) and firefighter. In Harlem on Saturday nights, teenagers liked to call 911 for kicks. They’d sit on the porch and when the ambulance screeched to a halt, they’d feign ignorance. Over a short time, after one-too-many prank calls, my friend decided he’d never return to the hospital without a body. Why waste a trip, right? He found himself beating a teenager bloody and senseless to justify the fact that someone across town might have died without an EMT response.
Is it really OK that agencies deny the need for emotional survival coping mechanisms simply because it might imply vulnerability?
Maybe if we learned as children how to handle having to scrape a body off the underside of a subway train, or erase the image of a maggot-filled cavernous face, then we’d be armed with these skills. This isn’t Hollywood—this really happens. Great men and women really have to do this without proper preparation.
My friend told me this morning that he did 880 hours of academy training for his position in law enforcement, and not one hour was spent on the psychology of the brain and how it holds onto stress—not one.
I am privileged to come across amazing individuals with amazing stories of sanity survival. They all say the same thing—continuing to ignore emotional survival needs is killing our first responders, costing the tax payers enormous amounts of money, and ruining extended families.
I’ve often wondered what keeps me in this profession when agencies repeatedly say, “No thanks.”
I keep detailed logs of every conversation I’ve ever had with every agency. I noted last week I had called one individual in a key decision-making position at a local agency over 20 times in the last two years. Out of those 20 calls, two were returned, and one meeting finally ensued to discuss this issue. Meanwhile, this agency currently has an officer on suicide watch. If I didn’t have amazing individuals telling me their stories, I’d never make even the second phone call.
In the last five years I’ve been honored to train just over 700 officers in these Neurosculpting techniques, with 200 more scheduled this summer. I don’t know how many use them after I leave, nor do I know if I’ve saved any lives. I realize I can’t wait to gather that empirical data in order to continue approaching agencies with 100 percent conviction that it’s no longer OK to ignore this.
Can you honestly look at a cop the same way again?
Lisa Wimberger holds a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Stonybrook, NY and a Foundations Certification in Neuroleadership. Lisa is the founder of the Neurosculpting® Institute which is devoted to merging the teachings of neuroscience and mindfulness studies. She is the author of NEW BELIEFS, NEW BRAIN due out in November 2012. She is a certified MBTI consultant and a private healing and psychic practitioner, teaching clients who suffer from stress disorders. Lisa studied Ascension training for four years with Ishaya monks. She completed four years of psychic awareness training at ICI, applying the tools of the Berkeley Psychic Institute. Feel free to tell her your story and visit her website to learn more about her book and programs. www.neurosculptinginstitute.com
Editor: Jessica DeLoy
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