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Do triggers really exist?

trigger

I am going to say something that might upset people.  Heck, it might even piss off a few people and cause people to think that I am full of shit and don’t know what I am talking about.  But as always, hear me out til the end.  If you don’t believe I made the point, tell me.  Lets work through this and come to a common ground.  But first and foremost, read on.

When dealing with PTSD we always talk about triggers.  Actions, words, sights, smells, foods, situations or what have you that cause a reaction within us.  We tell ourselves and others that it’s a trigger.  For me, babies under the age of 3 months were huge for me.  Watching a Huggies or Pampers commercial on TV would set off a panic attack of epic proportions.  I would be frozen in fear.  It was ugly and these moments controlled my life and forced me to change-up how I would do things to ensure that I would limit my potential exposure to babies.  It was bad and it was a textbook “trigger” according to the professionals and every piece of research and commentary out there.  But here is the reality……..

Triggers aren’t real.  Literally and figuratively.  They are not real.

I know you are thinking that I just said that I was triggered by babies.  Go back and read that paragraph again.  Did I say that babies were MY trigger?  I did say that it is considered a textbook trigger according to the conventional PTSD theories but I no longer see it as a trigger to me.  So, you are probably a bit amped up right now at this statement and are wondering what the hell are they smart guy if it isn’t a trigger?  Well, simply put it is a MEMORY.

I know you’re thinking that this is wacked.  A memory that causes you to react is a trigger as per the definitions out there so I’m describing a trigger.  Nope………  a trigger is something that you don’t have control over.  Something else is telling you that you are supposed to react to what is being presented and that removes any and all control you have over the situation and how you will deal with the memory.  By buying into the “trigger” concept, we limit ourselves and prevent ourselves from moving forward because we are stuck in fear, terror, anxiety, panic or whatever other emotion cascades over us.

Throughout our day, we are usually bombarded with lots of memories from our past, both bad and good.  But, we aren’t set off by all of these memories.  Why is that?  It comes down to us not giving up control of those emotional memories and living through and with them.  Even when I think of times that I might have gotten hurt as a kid, as bad as the memory of the pain and fear might be, it ends with the memory of my mom taking care of me, nurturing the pain away and cleaning up the wound.  Sure, I could sit there and focus on the injury, the pain and the fear but the focus becomes the mother’s love given at a time of need.  So, in essence, I controlled the narrative of the memory and shaped it to my liking.

Now consider that same scenario as it could apply to a PTSD memory or by definition a trigger.  What if instead of allowing the memory to dictate the narrative, you decided to focus on a positive from the memory and keep that focus while you rode out the memory?  If you can’t see one right off the bat, the easiest one is “You made it through it once, you lived”.  That’s the biggest positive so focus on that to start as you move forward.  You will see more and more moments that are actually positives that you experienced.  You will also begin to take control over the memories and dictate how they impact on you.

Believe me, I know this sounds simplistic and far-fetched but it does work.  And it is hard work but we all have a choice to make and sometimes, it’s the uncomfortable choices that we need to make to move forward.  Remember I said babies were bad jub-jub for me?  Well, I practice what I preach and with a combination of prolonged exposure, talking and some hard work, I took that memory and made it mine.  I accepted all the bad that happened, got mad and then took control over the memory by saying it was “sad” that it happened.  It is still a memory that comes up every once and awhile but I control the narrative and what part I want to focus on instead of allowing it to control me.

To explain what I mean is actually pretty easy.  I can now watch any Huggies commercial and see the beauty of a newborn child.  Hell, I even watched an episode of Greys Anatomy where a 21 week old premie was born and died (This is identical to my moral injury with the exception of what happened after the birth) but I watched the whole damn thing, without going off the deep end.  Afterwards I simply thought to myself, that this is such a sad situation and I know exactly how they feel.  Full stop.  Nothing more, nothing less.

There are so many aspects of PTSD and it’s associated behaviours that we can’t control.  Yet one area that we can begin to take back that control is one of the scariest.  And, I am not saying to go all radical and put yourself in front of a screen and play a loop of your triggers.  That is a set up for failure and not recommended in any way shape or manner.  Instead, when you are triggerd by a memory, take the first step and stop calling it a trigger.  Call it what it is –  a memory.  Next put the adjective to it –  a sad memory, a scary memory.  Then you will start to do the hard work to recognize that even in the worst moments of our trauma, there are positives that happened that we need to find and learn from them.

So, yes, our triggers aren’t real.  They are simply memories of things that have happened in the past.  By controlling the narrative of our memories and focussing on the positives, we start to move away from Post Traumatic Stress and begin the journey to Post Traumatic Growth.  And let me tell you, Post Traumatic Growth is a beautiful thing to experience.

 

Why is this happening?

Well, I was actually going to be writing about the power of music but the events of this past week made me change it up.  And, before I go any further, this might be a trigger filled post for some.  Heck the pic is enough to cause a reaction or two on its own.

Another member of a law enforcement agency in Canada took his own life this past week.  He died from suicide.  He killed himself.  The reasons for him believing this was the only means for him to help himself end the pain he was enduring will probably never be known, as is usually the case.  Suicide leaves a lot of unanswered questions in its wake and there is absolutely nothing that can be done to change it.  I am sorry that he didn’t see any other route.  It saddens me that he saw this as his own viable option to help himself.  I’m hurting that yet another Brother within the policing family and more so of the human family decided to take his own life to end his suffering and pain.  But, I want to make this absolutely clear, I’m not mad at him for doing this.

What I am mad at……  No correction, what I am FUCKING PISSED about to the depth of my core is what is going on behind the scene.  The inaction by agencies, including military commands, to step up and deal with the issues that are causing the respective members to seek out suicide as a means of stopping their pain.  Pain, which in many instances is exacerbated by the ongoing sanctuary trauma that is inflicted day in and day out.  But as has been the case for the past while, the “leaders” step up to the pulpit and decree that we “are awaiting the results of a study” or “we are researching ways to help” or “we are looking at how we can support our members”………………  Well, here’s a news flash, the answers are already right in fucking front of these “leaders” but no one is willing to step up and do what needs to be done or said.

So, without receiving any of the millions in government funding to look for the answers, I will give the solution that every first responder agency and military is avoiding like the plague.  Ready for it?

The leaders of these groups, or even the government, need to come out and clearly state that “We have a mental health crisis on our hands brought on by the service these women and men take upon themselves to help others.  We are failing in this battle.”  End of statement, full stop.  That fucking simply.  I know you are now wanting to call bullshit that it isn’t that simple but please indulge me a bit further and you will see how such a small and simply statement would make a difference.  When I’m done, if you still want to call bullshit, feel free but keep reading first.

The simply act of admitting that there is a crisis opens up the issue for everyone to see.  It takes away the power from those that are trying to cover up the reality of the crisis and forces them to acknowledge, against their professional or personal desires, that there is a problem.  It also opens the conversation up in a big way with the rank and file, knowing that the bosses have come out and said we have a problem.  There is no more hiding behind the vail or waiting for a study or review to be completed before comment.  The band-aid has been ripped off and oozing scab is there for everyone to see.  Don’t hid the fact that some members make a choice to end their lives by suicide.  Do you get the idea?

Once the leader of any organization says that there is a crisis in regards to mental health, it can no longer be denied in the open forum (although I fully believe some would still cry foul that there isn’t a crisis).  Meaningful steps can be put into place to help deal with the crisis in a fulsome way and not the lipstick on a pig approach we now have.  If the message comes from the top down, the change starts happening from the top down (I am a firm believer that change at the working level has already begun to take hold).  And with the change, there can start to be healing and hope brought into the picture.  At some point, you achieve 360 degree communication on the mental health crisis and it becomes normalized in everyday conversation.  And, that is when the true battle can be fought and won.  The leaders need to admit that their respective organization / agency is broken so that they can start to fix it.

But, sadly, this will never happen, regardless of how simple it would be to start.  The reason is unfortunately equally as simply but uglier than having to deal with another member who took their life by suicide.  The reason is LIABILITY.  The almighty dollars and cents.  The only reason why no “leader” has stepped up and publicly said there is a crisis and we are failing in dealing with it.  That would imply that they recognize that the traumas endured through doing the job and the trauma inflicted via coworkers and supervisors is causing unheard of numbers of members to be diagnosed with PTSD  and a few to take their own lives by suicide.  It would be a financial suicide for the agency / organization or I should say that they think and believe it to be…….

Well, fuck LIABILITY, stand up, do what’s right and make suicide an “ON DUTY INJURY”! Recognize it as such, pay out the benefits entitled to an on-duty death, full regimental/agency honours,  and take ownership that the agency failed one of its own.  Imagine what would happen if an agency leader did that.

I would work for any leader that had the guts to stand up and say that they failed the member that took their own life by suicide.  Or that they took their own life because we didn’t do enough to normalize the conversation about mental health, didn’t make the process of getting help easier and allowed bullies to remain in positions of leadership.  That would be a true leader looking out for their charges.  Sadly, the fear of admitting liability is keeping the appointed leaders from stepping up and doing this.

So there you go.  One simply statement that could change the mental health crisis battle if it came from the leaders of the agencies, organizations or even governments that hold power.  The rank and file have been screaming this for years yet no one higher up is willing to join the screams.  And unfortunately, until they do, suicide will still be an answer that some see as away out of the pain and countless others will continue to suffer from the damages their service has caused.

RIP Brother.  May your death by suicide help bring the change needed to end suicide as an option.

As a post script, go back and re-read the post.  Count how many times I used the word suicide.  It needs to be said openly, all the time, without hesitation.  It is not a dirty word or an offensive word.  If you want the suicide of first responder, military and any human being to stop, you need to use the fucking word.  Suicide – it is only deadly when we don’t talk about it.

More love, less judgement.

The sound of Music

yelling marmot

A great warrior once told me that “Pearl Jam” has the depth of emotional range that really hits you”.  Now I am not going to spend the entire post speaking the values and benefits of Pearl Jam (which I believe to be one of the better bands out there) but I am going to talk about music.  And more particularly, the power that music can have for us and over us.

When I use to work in the treatment centre before I became a police officer, you could always tell the tone of the unit by the type of music that was being played by the kids.  Up beat, happy, dance type music and you were walking onto a unit that was good and settled.  Angry gangsta rap, metal, death metal or worse, the slow love ballad and you were guaranteed to be in for a no stop evening of issues and problem.  When you actually sit down and look at it, it wasn’t so much that music set the tone but more aptly told you the tone.  But what if I told you that it wasn’t that the music was telling the tone in so much as the music was expressing the tone of the individual kids for that day.

In the course of my treatment for PTSD, I have personally experienced the power of music in regards to the good and bad it can produce.  Music, regardless of genre, can lift your day, elevate your mood and put you on the right track.  Unfortunately, it can also do the exact opposite and push you further down the rabbit hole.  It tends to be the latter that PTSD tends to drag you towards as it always easier to slip then climb.  The trick is learning what power music has over you and how to try to use it for your personal growth vs destruction.

The challenge then becomes how can we use music to alter our mood and lift us out of the darkness vs keeping us down.  I wish I could give some detailed list of steps to use but it isn’t like that.  There is no trick to it but is very hard to grasp at times because we like to seek out our comfort at times of anxiety, pain and discomfort.  If we are made, we go to the hard-driving tunes to push us along because that is what the Itty Bitty Shitty Committee tells us to listen to.  Once the Committee takes hold and gains that control, you go with the flow and the deeper you go.

But, what would happen if in that moment, you shut down the Committee in your head and do a 180 degree change with the music your are listen to.  Push away from the hard-driving tune and find something upbeat.  And yes, I know shutting down the Committee is fucking hard and sometimes it feels comforting to just ride the wave.  It is known, it is what we perceive at the time as being a comfort to us as we convince ourselves that it is letting the anger and pain out.  Yet, the only thing the hard-driving song is doing is escalating our trip into the darkness.  And please don’t get me wrong, it isn’t necessarily hard-driving tunes that will do this.  It is as individual as PTSD is.  Some people are triggered by slow, descriptive songs about love, lost and pain.

That’s the power of music and PTSD.  It doesn’t care what genre you like, it will find the weakness and run with it.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say polka tunes will set someone off but that’s the point, you don’t know until it happens.  Heck, if I am going to be honest, I might be pushed to anger if I was subjected to polka.  It’s individual and specific to the person listening to the song.

Knowing this power of music, I have made sure that I have a variety of music on my phone which includes Buddhist meditative chanting.  When I notice that I might be slipping because of what I am listening to, I change it up and pick something that I know will have a more positive impact.  For me right now, it is Weezer’s Teal album which is all covers of songs that I use to listen to growing up, including my favourite, Africa.  That’s my go to as I know it will pick me up.  For others, including my Warrior brother, it is Pearl Jam.  But, as I am typing this, i am hearing Weezere’s version of Take On Me by Ahha.  The happy memories are flooding in and it’s hard to keep focus on writing.

That’s the power of music.  It can be a wonderful tool for our growth and benefit and yet if we are not careful, it can be our bane.  And yes, that is a singing beaver picture…….

Wait, I didn’t explain how the power of music pushed me….

Before I shut this on down, I guess I should explain how music helped me in my treatment.  I harboured a lot of anger that related to my involvement with the baby death.  When I say a lot, I mean a lot.  I kept it suppressed and refused to let it go.  It was a comfort in some ways.  I now know that it was actually what was holding me back from moving forward.  Through the use of music, that anger came out and it was cathartic.  Luckily, it happened in a very controlled and safe environment as it was one of the most powerful thing I have ever experienced.  I felt the anger build up inside of me and it ripping out of my body.  All from music.

Shortly after the release of anger, I then experienced the beauty of music and it was the most uplifting thing I have ever felt.  With the anger released, I was open to the experiences around me and I felt true, unconditional love, peace and calm.  Think of a mother’s compassion for a sick child.  Music was that powerful for me.

I know people are thinking that I am off my rocker but I also know that it has and had the same effects on others.  Music is powerful and that power can be harnessed to aid us in our growth instead of exacerbating our pain.

Did I ever tell you the time……..

warface

War Stories. War Porn, Trauma Talk, Choir Practice, Shooting the Shit, Remembering the Old Days and Sounding Off.

They all mean the same thing and I would be willing to bet that any and all first responders and military members have done it.  You know those times that you get together with co-workers, new or old, or you ran into an old buddy and you start talking.  (This happens with or without the presence of alcohol but more often than not there is a few beers or bottles involved.)  And, after a little while, you being to talk about the good and bad times.  After a bit longer, you begin to focus on the bad, the shitty calls, the near misses and the evil that you have come up against.  Things evolve fast and the next thing you know, you are reliving your trauma all over again.

But here is the kicker.  These moments aren’t entirely bad in the short term but can quickly turn into something more devastating as time goes on.  So, the not too bad part about these sounding off moments is that they serve as a bit of a pressure release valve.  You are with people you trust, guys and gals who have lived through the same shit you have and have always been there for you.  You don’t have to explain every little detail and they just get you.  So, you share your War Porn with them and they share theirs.  Everyone lets out a little bit of that pressure that is building up inside of them and then they carry-on with life.  Things calm down for them for a little bit and all is good.  (almost like a peer support group…..)

The only problem is that after doing this over and over again, you begin to get desensitized to the real impact of your trauma.  You begin to shut it down the impact and you suppress your true pain.  The need to release the pressure become a more common thing and you find yourself setting up these “bitch and stitch” type sessions more often.  Heck, I can remember times where I have looked at a co-worker after going through something and ask “when are the drinks” knowing full well that we needed to debrief what we just went through.  So, you finish your shift, get together with your co-workers and get right into the War Porn.  You get the automatic release without having to process it.

Wait right there one cotton pickin’ second (say that in the Yosemite Sam voice), what’s this “process it” you through in at the end?  Ah yes, that’s right, telling War Porn stories over and over again as a means of releasing the pent-up angst about the situation but you don’t process it.  Why’s that you ask?  Well, it’s really quite simple.  When you do the War Porn talk, it becomes a situation of always trying to one up one another and trying to show others that you are not bothered by what happened.  Hell, for years I joked about getting shot at twice in one night.  But, without looking at the situation and processing it by attaching emotions, perceptions and expectations to it, you end up messing yourself up further.  Now, I don’t laugh or make light of the fact that I was shot at twice in one night.  Now I see it for what it is, down right fucked up.

Now, I’m not saying that all War Porn chatting is bad or wrong.  But what I am saying is that if you are doing it as a means to vent and release a bit of build up, its wrong and  it carries with it potentially dangerous outcomes.  Say the wrong thing, release too much or not be ready for what comes out of your mouth and things can turn ugly for you.  It is a dead end street, literally, to dealing with your issues.  But, you can turn it around to your favour.  How you ask? Well, its simple.  It really is.

The two easiest things to do if you find that your drawn more and more to War Porn is:

1) Find a therapist –  if you have a need to talk about your War Porn, find a professional to help you process it.  Learn about the emotions attached to the situation and their impact on you.  (plus it is a status thing to say that you have a therapist……Bhahahaha)

2) Find a Peer Support Group geared towards First Responders and Military if possible.  THere, you will learn to talk about things in a PG rated version without the R rated add ons.  You will find others in the same boat that will support you and help you understand why you trauma causes you to have memory loss, or what to do if you start crying while picking out bananas at the store.  A good Peer Support Group is like Trauma Processing Lite.

Hell, I understand that there will be times that we have to sound off just for the sake of sounding off.  It just that when we do, we really need to look at why and is there more to it that needs to be looked at?

Sanctuary What?

office-space

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.

My Brain Hurt

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So, the time has come for me to do a bit of a hard-hitting post that explains my PTSD and more importantly, the Moral Injury aspect.  I don’t think that I would have been able to do this had it not been for my week at Project Trauma Support and the processing and growth that I went through as a result.

Before I go any further though, I think it is import to explain what a Moral Injury is.  One definition, from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) website, I found explains it like this:

Moral injury is a loss injury; a disruption in our trust that occurs within our moral values and beliefs. Any events, action or inaction transgressing our moral/ethical beliefs, expectations and standards can set the stage for moral injury.

and from the Real Warriors website, their definition is:

Moral injury occurs when one experiences an act that conflicts with or violates a core moral value, or deeply held belief, and leads to an internal moral conflict. It is the betrayal of what you may feel is morally right. It might arise from your own actions or inaction, other people’s behaviors or by witnessing the suffering of others. Moral injury can occur either during or at some point after the event, and may be associated with feeling shame or guilt.

Examples can include participation in direct or indirect actions such as; Killing or harming others, Witnessing death, Failing to prevent immoral acts of others, Giving or receiving orders from authority that are against one’s moral values.

The Real Warrior definition I believe is more accurate and they go on to add;

While there are similarities between moral injury and PTSD, moral injury involves guilt and shame while PTSD is a result of fear from a life-threatening or traumatic event. PTSD requires a diagnosis and moral conflict is not necessary for PTSD to occur.  A moral injury is not established by a formal diagnosis and there is no set threshold to mark its presence.

So yeah, Moral Injury is an add-on to PTSD.  The double whammy of a traumatic event or incident.  I feel so lucky (actually being somewhat serious on this as I have begun to reframe my PTSD as a Badge of Honour).

So with the definitions out of the way, below is the letter I wrote earlier during the course of my treatment as a way of wrapping my head around the emotions that I had dealing with the moral injury aspect of my PTSD.  I will warn you, it is ugly and some might have a hard time reading it, or even accepting that it happened.  But, it is my reality and the result of a number of human errors and misjudgments on what was the best way to do things. So, without further adieu, here is the nitty-gritty but I have altered it slightly to protect those that were involved.

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Well kid, you don’t really know who I am but we have met once before.  And that meeting, regardless of its length, had a huge impact on me.  Actually, you have had a huge impact on me and it is only within the last week that I learned your name.  Heck before that, I had spent the previous 12 years thinking that you were a boy. In the greater scheme of things that actually doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you were a living, breathing human being with a heartbeat and a will to live. 

We came into each others lives completely by accident as a result of your birth and me being a police officer.  You see, you were born at home, well before you were suppose to be ready to be born.   And because of my job as a police officer, I was the one that responded to the call for help that your parents made.

I have sat here in front of the computer as well as other times throughout the day wondering what I should write and say.  Regardless of how much time I take to think about it, I always come back to the same thing.  Kid, I am sorry.  I am sorry that you were not provide the chance to feel the love of a parents touch, that you were not given the chance to be held, that you were left on a counter with no one giving you the attention that you deserved.  And lastly, I am sorry that I couldn’t have been the person I was raised to be and give you those things by simply picking you up and holding you in my arms as you slowly passed away.

My heart hurts with the guilt and pain that my inaction has caused.  I became complacent in the inactivity by simply sitting there and watching you die.  Watching you die without knowing what the loving touch from another human feel like.  For that, I will always fault myself for not doing or saying something about how wrong you were being treated.  You deserved so much more than what you were given by the hospital and the people around you.

You showed your desire to live by fighting to breath as your life slowly slipped away. You laid there on you own and you fought.  Your heart pumping, you arms reaching out and your little body fighting to live.  But despite all this effort, no one reached out to help you  No one stood up for you to say how wrong this was.  We all just simply sat there and let you pass away.  Lonely in a room full of people that could have given you the love that you should have had in those final moments. 

But in the end, I can only say I’m sorry for my inactivity.  I’m sorry for not being the person that you needed in those moments as you slipped away from life.

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So yeah, there it is.  Now as I read it back I see how irrational my thoughts were about it.  I had no control over the situation.  I did not cause the situation nor was I complacent in any part of it.  But, that is not how your mind tries to make you understand it.  What it is now though is one of the things that happened that graced me with PTSD and will allow me the chance to grow.  To grow into a better person and to help others grow as well.

And I apologize to anyone that read this and viewed it as war porn or it triggered a memory for them.  I thought long and hard about posting this and in the end, I needed to do it in order to help myself grow further from the experience.

Be safe.  Be well.

What the Hell Just Happened??

fourthawakening

No I am not referring to any NEWS article or story about a world leader getting caught doing something they shouldn’t be.  Nor, am I thinking about anything going on in my neck of the world.  I am simply thinking about my past week and all the things that happened.

This past week, I went to a residential (live in) treatment program designed to deal with PTSD and Moral Injuries (more about moral injuries will be coming, trust me). Being removed from the program for two days now, I can honestly say that I am still trying to process what exactly went on and the depth of the changes that took place within me.  The despair of PTSD has been morphed into something completely 180 degrees from it and as exciting as it is, it is also scary as all hell.  And now here is the rub, I’m going to tell you about the program without telling you anything about it.  Confused?  Good, now we are on an even playing field.

The program I went to is called Project Trauma Support (PTS) and it is based in a little town called Perth, Ontario.  PTS is geared towards military and first responders suffering from moral injuries and/or PTSD and it takes a completely fresh approach to dealing with the issues attached to both.  After arriving, you quickly learn that you are no longer in Kansas, although there were a few dogs kicking around, and you just have to go with the flow.  Over the following days, something begins to change within you and you start to see things in a very different light.  Your perceptions change and evolve and before you realize it, it is time to pack up and return to your everyday world.

For me, the most impactful part of the week was being able to sit in a room with 7 other individuals who just know exactly what you are going through without having to tell them about it.  We became a tribe of warriors taking on the battle of a lifetime.  I was humbled, brought to tears, emotional beaten up, laughed, cried some more, formed bonds and walked out with my head held high.  I experienced the true meaning of Brotherly (Human) love and felt the support of those around me, who just a few days prior were perfect strangers.  Saying that there were changes and evolution during this time is truly an understatement.  But one thing I realized was just how damaged or to use my exact words “How fucked up I am” from all the things that I have been involved in.

So, after I left, I was thrown into a trial by fire.  As I was heading back to the highway, I was involved in a minor accident.  Did it piss me off, yep.  Did I lose my shit over it, nope.  I just let it happen realizing that I did everything I could (swerved to miss the on coming car) that I could and the rest was out of my control……  Sure I’m sore and stiff but the funny thing is that okay mentally with it.  It didn’t result in some flashback to an accident scene nor did it bring up memories of injuries or death.  I just did what you do after an accident and carried on my merry way.

I suppose it would be fair and safe to say that I now look at my PTSD as a Badge of Honour.  I got it from doing and seeing the things that humans shouldn’t have to be part of.  Basically, I did the dirty work so that others wouldn’t have to do it.  The unfortunate part is that it left me with these battle scares so to speak which will be with me for the rest of my life.  But that is not to say that they will control me for the rest of my life as I am focussing my energy on reframing the negative and using it as a means to grow beyond my current state.  I know, it sounds like a whole bunch of hippie, long hair, drum banging horse shit but I’m going with it.  In a week, it has caused changes to take hold and it is now a part of my journey, a tool if you will, that will help me on my way.

As an example of the results, the other night, I talked in-depth with my wife about some of the incidents I was involved in.  Sure I got sad at the memories as they came flooding back but they didn’t terrorize me.  They didn’t make me freeze up.  They were just there.  I allowed them to happen without consuming me.  And yes, I am aware that I am riding a wave right now and eventually it will crash into the shoreline.  But, I fully believe that when it does crash, it will not be the tsunami coming to shore but more of a gentle rolling wave, hitting the shore and slowly returning to the ocean.

This week, leading up to an important trauma anniversary, I will be discussing moral injuries and sanctuary trauma/injuries a bit as these are two of the main contributors to my PTSD.