Good morning, Sunday, December 8, 2019
Trauma for military, law enforcement and first responders is inescapable. For many others it occurs as victims of crimes, abuse, violence or torment. These incidents forever scar our minds, impact our emotions and damage our souls. The resulting sadness and depression have a devastating effect; sometimes even suicide.
Mental health is an increasing concern, not only with adults, but with our children. The decline can be attributed to various causes and factors. We all experience stress, anxiety and health struggles during the course of our lives. When these are not addressed or resolved they can lead to depression or ill health. The resulting sadness can have lasting and negative consequences. How you resolve these issues impacts your life. The process and resolution has repercussions for those near to you. What can you do to better your own mental health, assist others and inform the people around you?
When someone is struggling with any variety of life or mental health issues, you only want them to feel better. Our fast paced lives only serve to create more stress, unhappiness and more chaos in our life. A 2014 study by the American Psychological Association report 77% of people polled felt symptoms associated with tension and anxiety regularly. Stress around the world is higher. It can cause physical and mental fatigue. It can also affect our immune system, leading to stress induced illness. When you couple stress with poor eating habits and lack of exercise, none of it adds up to anything good.
I know this all too well. I have dealt with the struggles of others and some of my own. A war waged within my head for years. Trauma, sadness, suffering and anxiety ruled me. I functioned on the outside, but hurt on the inside. My struggles are real and my successes are even better. Now is the time to make mental health our priority.
As a boy growing up, I learned crying or showing emotion was not manly. Boys are tough and always in control. Expressing emotions or tears mean weakness. This began at an early age and carried throughout my life. It took some time before I realized that statement was and is far from the truth. Boys and men need to express and share their emotions and feelings. Suppressing them and holding them inside only serve to create negativity within us. It creates a toxic tug of war.
I entered the Los Angeles Police Department Academy (LAPD) in 1980. Training and instruction covered a variety of disciplines. I learned about the law, policy and procedure, police operations, field tactics, defensive tactics, firearms, cultural awareness and so much more. There was no discussion regarding my mental health. The Behavioral Science Section (department psychologist) was discussed briefly and available if needed. That was the extent of my mental health training.
I encountered people during my career that could have benefited from counseling, including myself. Somehow counseling had a negative stigma attached to it. The prevalent atmosphere made individuals feel less tough or courageous if they sought it out. My years of suppressed emotions and continual trauma created negativity within my mind and body. Emotions need to be expressed and felt. Trauma must be processed and released so we can heal. We are all at fault for creating such a sad situation concerning mental health. We need to create a healthy and open atmosphere for our children, teens and adults to thrive.
I want to share my journey with anyone who might benefit. I grew up in Los Angeles. My career with the LAPD spanned nearly 34 years. Los Angeles is a busy metropolis. As a police officer, you are intimately involved in each incident. I shared struggles, dealt with anxiety, depression and trauma. Personal and work trauma, divorce, alcohol, stress and many other factors compounded my life.
Police work is fraught with brutality, violence, abuse, victims brutalized during crimes, car accidents, suicides, carnage, death and more. Children, women, men and animals fall prey to the wickedness of humanity. The consequences of these encounters make an impact. They leave vivid mental images and damage you physically. The trauma witnessed and emotions suppressed become locked inside the mind. You wish your mind could forget the sights and experiences it has witnessed. The stress and negativity create toxic harm in your body.
I retired from the LAPD in 2014. Retirement brought freedom from the confines of work. I never realized the extent of trauma I had experienced. After a year of navigating retirement, I met an amazing woman. She quickly recognized the difficulty I had expressing myself – communication, passion or emotion. It was nearly impossible to open my heart and soul to her. My years of violent dreams and nightmares become immediately evident to her. She suggested integrating yoga and meditation into my life. I built a physical practice which has enhanced all aspects of my life. It brings new clarity to my mind and strengthens my body.
Yoga and meditation spark a passion and inner peace. I completed my yoga teacher training a couple of years later. Inspiring others in the benefits of yoga and meditation are my new gift. My heart and soul began to open. My newfound passion could not resolve the trauma and negativity that continued to swirl around my mind. Years of grisly images, death and ghosts are stored deeply away, but not processed by my brain. My fears of being good enough or being able to express myself rattled my confidence. The lack of opening myself and communication in a relationship filled me with anxiety. I wanted to share all my fears with her. I wanted to release my demons. I kept telling myself, “You are a man. A cop. You are strong. You can talk and open yourself up. You can bare your heart and soul, especially to someone you love. You can do this.” It was scary to admit, but I realized I could not do this on my own. I needed professional help.
In January 2018 I sought help, found a therapist and began counseling. We discussed relationships, work, trauma, family and childhood issues. She tells me about Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR). She explained how it is used to treat trauma victims and PTSD patients. It is her belief it will be a tremendous benefit for me. Being a cop, I’m skeptical, so I did my own research and discussed it further at our next session.
The years of negative issues and trauma suffered by life and career are stuck in my brain, cycling over and over. They were never allowed to process completely after each experience. Now they are creating more toxic thoughts within my mind. These memories need to be processed and released. She explained that, “Merely talking about these thoughts won’t resolve anything or release them,” and that, “There is no way I could ever resolve this on my own. Think about it as if you are going to work. Putting on your body armor, uniform and locking yourself up safe and secure. Each day and the trauma suffered gets locked up within you. If you do not process these experiences and let them go, they remain inside only causing more trauma and stress.”
My first EMDR session lasts two hours. It is difficult, vivid and filled with tears. We focus on a work traumatic event that occurred early in my career. It is a grisly murder of a young woman. My partner and I discover her body in the middle of a lonely road late one night. The therapist guides me through the event. I re-live the horrific experience all over again. I am seeing it, feeling it, hearing it, all as if I am there. I recall conversations with my partner verbatim. The tears flow, but I begin to feel better and lighter inside. When the session ends I am worn out mentally and physically. It is as if a huge weight had been lifted from me. My mind feels less cluttered, free and happy.
I arrive at home exhausted, but feel at peace. That night there are no dreams or nightmares. One EMDR session has brought a halt to the nightmares and violent dreams. I continue for several more EMDR sessions; focusing on work trauma, childhood issues, relationships, and love. EMDR therapy is a true gift and my salvation. I never considered the importance of my mental health. Now it is just as much a focus as my physical well-being.
If you have experienced trauma, violence or a serious negative event in your life; EMDR therapy is an incredible instrument of relief. It definitely saved me. Talking and open communication are always important, but some issues need more than just talk. EMDR therapy helped me overcome my lack of communication, especially in relationships. Too much of me was suppressed inside for too many years! Now I am open and willing to share, express and experience emotions, feelings and passions.
I am typically self-confident, self-motivated and positive; but we all can use a little encouragement. It is amazing what a few words of inspiration can do for your mind and soul. Now I have added writing poetry and motivational quotes to my repertoire. I wish I could have opened my heart and soul sooner. Sometimes prying off the lid is not as easy as we wish. It remained tough and often frustrating for me. Now I am and feel so much better. Verbally expressing my love for another is wonderful and special, but it is not nearly enough. Demonstrating my love, coupled with communication goes hand in hand. I am happy and grateful for new beginnings.
Even now those silent fears attempt to slip into my mind. Now I know better and do not listen to those negative falsehoods. Staying positive, present and engaged is what we all need to make it all work. Amazing relationships should all be so simple to achieve. Keep those positive thoughts flowing my friends. Together we will all get there and find peace, happiness and love. Do not allow negativity or stress from outside issues influence who you are or your relationship with your partner. Do not allow your mind to make up stupid or untrue stories. Our mind has a silly way of doing that stuff! Do not allow or believe it! Daily communication is key and super important all the time. Always be honest and direct with your partner. Be loving and kind, but share all of your thoughts, good and bad. Communication is something I still need to work on. First you must love and be happy with yourself. This is where all the magic begins. When you achieve that, then it will allow you to share your love with others. This allows them to share their love with you.
Now I am living in the present. It is easy to look back on my life and career; how choices and events alter our path. The EMDR therapy has kept me nightmare free. The past is gone and my future is with every new breath I take. I am grateful to be here as each new day unfolds. The possibilities and opportunities are mine to seize. My heart and soul are open and loving life. Our time here is limited and far too short. It is imperative to live in the present, while enjoying each moment that passes. I do not know what the future holds for me or with love. I am not going to let myself worry about it. I am a romantic and forever hopeful. I do not know why my transformation occurred how it did or why it took so long. I am forever grateful for the encouragement and love that helped change my world. It opened me to happiness and the possibilities. I finally took control of my life and am free. I live my life in the present and move forward into each new day. Happiness, joy and contentment are just the beginning. I am happy with me. My path is positive and that is the first step to my future.
Have you have experienced trauma, violence or a serious negative event in your life? If you know or encounter someone who needs help, open yourself to them. Reach out and lift them up. Tell them your story. Share my story. Let them know they are not alone. Together we can help them conquer their fears and bring happiness back into their life. Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing therapy is an incredible tool to bring relief, resolution and peace.
Our time on earth is limited. Live in the present and enjoy each moment. Be wise and smart about mental health; our own and of others. I am grateful for the encouragement and love from others that have helped change my world. I have control of my life and the possibilities are endless. My path is positive and that is the first step to my future. Together we can be the difference, assisting and helping everyone we contact. Spread the word and make mental health our priority.
Please tune in and join me again next Sunday for more!
Thanks for your love and support! Embrace life. Be sure to get outside and enjoy nature!!