So yeah, another bigger topic and one that definitely needs to be discussed and highlighted – SANCTUARY TRAUMA. And, yes, it is something that I have personal experience with and know just how damaging it can be. But first, let me put this into context by explain what exactly it is and how it plays so nicely with PTSD.
From the Socialhealth.org blog, Steve Rose provides the following, which includes the definition of it by Dr. Steven Silver who coined the term:
Some Veterans experience traumas beyond the battlefield. One of these can be called, “sanctuary trauma”. A concept developed by Dr. Steven Silver, sanctuary trauma “occurs when an individual who suffered a severe stressor next encounters what was expected to be a supportive and protective environment’ and discovers only more trauma.” Some veterans who face mental or physical injuries from service are finding themselves in a second battle with the bureaucracy upon return.
And the best one liner found later in the article goes to:
Sanctuary trauma is unique because it is caused by institutions that are initially expected to provide care.
Now here is the tricky part. I am bound by the RCMP Act and policy to not publicly talk negatively about the RCMP in any way shape or form. So, I have to tip toe a bit as I talk about this knowing that I am in a real balancing act of explaining my personal situation while doing so in a non negative way that would paint the RCMP in an unfavourable manner. But the reality is that the examples I am going to share aren’t negative towards the RCMP but more towards individuals within the RCMP that used the organization’s policy etc to inflict the further trauma. Regardless, I’m up for the challenge and the only way that this stuff will get dealt with and changed is through education, so here we go.
After 18 years of policing in a variety of roles and locations, I seemed to have amassed my fair share of traumas. In fact, at one point during my stay with Project Trauma Support I realised I hit bottom and acknowledged just how “fucked up I am” as a result of these traumas. But I soon saw a pattern that was present with my more serious traumas (as if there is an actual ranking system of traumas) that fit the concept of Sanctuary Trauma. Instead of chronicling the entire library of events, I’m going to hit just a couple to show the damage done by an institution after the initial trauma. And no, there’re not going to be graphic examples but I must confess, this will be my fifth attempt at writing this post. I won’t lie, I have been struggling.
So at the 3 or 4 month service point, this newly minted Mountie found himself going after people who would buy bootlegged home-brew on a dry reserve. One ingenious individual decided to jump into the river, which was just breaking up from the winter freeze, with his thermos full of homebrew. As you can image, the cold water temperatures quickly started to get the best of him.
From the shore, I watched as the life was definitely draining from the individual and I made the decision to go in and get him. When I was about 6 feet from him, I was hit by a large chunk of ice and knocked over. Nothing like a full dunk into a freezing river. Long story short, I got the guy back to shore and he was taken to the nursing station. I was told to go home and change incase another call came in (supportive institutional response). After the dust settled, my trainer informed me that he was going to put my name forward for a commendation for my actions. Okay cool I thought.
Well, about a year later I reached out to the Sergeant to ask what was happening. In response, I got a lovely worded internal memo that said “by all accounts, Jason’s actions saved so and so” and this wonderful tidbit “that due to the transitioning of one detachment commander to another, the investigation required to support the award for merit was not done”. There you go, Sanctuary Trauma. A kick to the nuts so to speak. You did good but me and the other detachment commander didn’t get along so here’s you memo.
In 2003, my mom passed away after a short battle with cancer. On the day we buried her, my dad suffered a heart attack and was admitted to the hospital. I called my Detachment Commander to see if I could get some time to process everything. I was quickly informed that I was one of two members working evenings over the long weekend so I had to report for duty for my Friday night shift. So, being the good Mountie, I shelved my personal pain (Mountie Up) and headed to work. Within three hours of being at work, I was shot at, not once but twice, by the same guy as he tried to evade the police.
It was at the end of the shift that I was talking to the Corporal about my week. He looked at me and said “why are you here? ” I told him I was ordered back to duty to which he quickly responded that I should have called him as he would have worked my shift. So to recap, I just went through one of life’s worst moments by loosing a parent, had the other parent have a health crisis, get ordered back to work only to be shot at twice…… And, I’m then told that I shouldn’t be there and that the Corporal would have worked for me if he knew what happened. Just a bit of Sanctuary trauma wouldn’t you say?
And, my last example will be the execution of a search warrant at a bike gang’s business. I was the exhibit guy for the search so I was responsible for documenting all the exhibits. Someone brought me a box with a handgun and other items to go through. After rending the gun safe, I proceeded to the rest of the contents. The first thing I picked up was a pipe bomb. So there I was, holding one of the most unstable, homemade, explosive devices known. With my free hand, I was able to discover a second pipe bomb along with a bunch of TNT sticks remaining in the box.
I calmly stated that we have a bomb which prompted the evacuation of the site with my Sergeant being the first one out the door, literally leaving me in the building by myself, holding a bomb. I ended up putting the bomb down, conducted a sweep of the building to ensure no one was present and walked out. The only thing that was said to me was by the same Sergeant about 4 hours later when the bomb squad was having difficult accessing the building was “Next time, put the bomb outside of the building.” Do you feel the love and support.
Taken separately, each situation doesn’t seem so bad. But, when they begin to compound on top of each other, they quickly add up and deepen the damage. What I learned after only a few months in the career of my dreams was not good. Each time I did my job as required, I seemed to get slammed by people within the organization I wanted to work for since I was a young child. You start to learn that you better either Mountie up and keep your mouth shut or get a reputation as whiner and complainer. In the end, both have the same effect on a person’s psyche, it starts destroying it. You begin to second guess everything you do and say, wondering if you will be met with applaud or with criticism. Or, if you are lucky enough to have a special kind of boss, you might get both reactions.
I look back on all the situations I was in and the Sanctuary Trauma was truly the only consistent variable. It makes you wonder if the impact would have been different had the support been real, genuine and timely. The hardest part is realizing that you can’t dwell on thinking that way and instead, you need to “forgive and forget” in some ways so that you can move forward. That’s what I am in the process of doing and it is fucking hard to forgive people for treating you like shit when you were at the lowest point following a trauma. I helps to think about the few people around you during those times that offered support or were simply there with you.
What’s the solution? I’m not sure but it is slowly becoming something that I believe will guide me on the rest of my return to work journey. It is also something that I know I can begin to change in how I interact with my co-workers and those I supervise.