You Are Not Tough
You never think it’ll happen to you. At least that’s what you tell yourself. In fact, I used to make fun of guys who “struggled”, guys who needed help, guys that lost it.
Turns out that was all tough-guy bravado.
I’ll explain. If you know anything about me and my story, you know I was a police officer for many years. I’ve talked about it quite a bit. Here’s what I didn’t know. I didn’t know that, even after I left the job, it wouldn’t leave me.
There are some things you never really move on from. At least not in this life.
I didn’t know that until a couple years ago. I was just kinda cruising along with life, not really thinking that anything was wrong. One day we got a package in the mail. After opening it and giving that delightful bubble wrap to my daughter to play with for a bit, something happened. I don’t know if it was my wife or my daughter but someone popped one of those bubbles.
I don’t know how or even when it happened but somehow I dove to the floor. I don’t remember doing it. I just realized that I had just dived to the floor. My wife was like ‘what just happened?’ I think I may have even said out loud ‘What just happened?’
This was kind of the beginning. My wife and I began to talk a little about it, how she could help me avoid that type of thing happening again. I found that, as long as I was looking at it or expecting it, sudden loud noises didn’t bother me.
But recently other things have happened. I’ve begun to experience a really driving need for control and to contain my environment. I’ve had intense nightmares, woke up weeping. I’ve developed anxiety in some areas. I don’t sleep much.
These and other things led my wife and me to discuss and realize that, although not officially diagnosed, I am struggling with some symptoms of PTSD.
When that term first got sort of thrown out there with me, I rejected the notion outright. I had been a tough guy, a SWAT operator, an undercover narc…like I had this image to uphold.
I wasn’t broken.
But the reality is that I am broken. I’m tired of trying to hide this fact because of shame. See, in the culture, I lived and operated in, weakness was a bad thing. A shameful thing. Something to hide. Or at least mask. Maybe hide it behind a certain bravado…drink more, cuss more, get in more fights, chase more bad guys etc.
But, in the last two years, I have come face to face with my own “weakness.” This morning, in church, while our pastor was preaching, he gave an illustration about a guy pulling up on a house fire. He talked about the guy pulling out garden hoses to put out the fire. This is the weirdest thing. When he said the word “garden hose” it was like I had an out of body experience.
See, many years ago, I pulled up on a house fire while on patrol. Two people died in that fire. One of them was a lady that was 9 months pregnant. I couldn’t save her, despite being able to see her and even put a hand out to grab her. The fire was too much, the smoke overwhelming and she was unconscious dead weight. I tried with all my might to lift her out a window. My sergeant pulled up and began to spray me with a garden hose so my uniform wouldn’t catch on fire.
When my pastor said “garden hose” I was at that house again. I could hear that woman’s breath rattling in her smoke filled lungs. I can still feel the hotness of her skin as I grabbed her arm to try to pull her to safety. I can still hear the screams of her fiancé as he begged me to save her and their child. I can still smell the stench of burnt flesh. It all came back in a flash.
And I began to cry sitting there in my chair at church. I wiped my eyes and fought back tears for the rest of the service.
I want you to know this, not so that you’ll feel sorry for me, cause I don’t want your sympathy. What I do want to do is say to the men and women who struggle with symptoms of PTSD from years of fighting crime or terrorists, “You are not alone.” I want to encourage you with three things that I’m learning.
1. Admit you need help.
Don’t be that guy. You know who I’m talking about. That guy who doesn’t ask for help because you think that makes you weak or you’re afraid of what other people will think. I was that guy. And now I am in a place where I have to admit that I need to talk to somebody. So I’m going to talk to the elders at my church and seek their counsel and go from there.
Don’t be silent. Your silence about what you’re going through helps no one. Admit you need help and go find it.
2. Learn to grieve.
I really wish that someone had taught me years ago how to grieve properly. When my sister died, I didn’t know how to grieve and it cost me. When all these horrendous things happened around me during all those years in law enforcement, no one told me it was okay to grieve. So let me be the first to tell you, friend.
Grieve. Violent death is unnatural. It’s okay to cry about it, be confused and seek answers. Grief is necessary if we are to move on from some of these horrific things in life. Learn to grieve. Tears are not a bad thing.
3. Turn to Jesus.
If you hear nothing else I say, please hear this. All that pain you carry or hide or pretend like it’s not there won’t go away by itself. You can’t drink it away or take enough pills to make it go away or run away from it. So maybe you should turn to the one person who can offer you the healing you so desperately crave. Turn to Jesus.
Throw yourself on his mercy, grace, and tenderness for you. He may not take away your pain and your issues. He may not help you sleep more. He may not take the nightmares away. But what He will do is redeem you. And with that redemption comes promise.
See, He promised that one day He would return and that when He returns, He will wipe away every tear and take away all that pain. For those who are in Jesus, what you’re going through now will pass eventually. Today is a drop in the bucket of eternity, friends. When Jesus comes back, all this bad stuff goes away.
Then you’ll be free. You’ll be free from your pain. You’ll be free to run wildly in the love of God for you. Live in that hope friends!