Sing Me Home, Back to Me

Archive for December, 2013

To Their Deaths of Despair

Let Me Introduce You to an An Amazing Human Being

My second cousin Steve Elms is an amazing human being, incredible photographer, and dedicated police officer. With the recent passing of S/Sgt. Ian Matthews of the Hamilton Police Service, Steve posted his comments on Facebook where he shares that he was diagnosed with PTSD three years ago. This after his mother committed suicide four years earlier and he in his police capacity shot two people. It was all just too much. Steve is currently receiving treatment at a health care facility for an 8 week program to help treat his PTSD. Onward indeed Steve and thank you for choosing life.

Behind the Mask

In his post Steve speaks to how he is, “tired of hiding behind the mask.” His post was both moving and motivating for me to do and be more in the effort to support people suffering from PTSD in all ways. For me, it starts with this blog post here and my appeal to Police Leaders and Chiefs everywhere to do and be more in this effort.

With respect to the “mask” of which Steve speaks; so many police officers for all kinds of reasons, not the least of which, the fear of ridicule, abandonment, stigmatization and labeling that would follow if they did not hide behind that mask, with heavy heart and weary mind, choose to wear it, day in and day out. That doesn’t even begin to touch on the matter of fearing being assigned desk duty, told to go home because they’re not stable enough to be at work, or removing their police firearm indefinitely, further burdened with the label of, “crazy”. We have to remove those barriers to disclosing their need for help.

State of Ready

I am very confident that the front-line staff are more than ready for the kind of internal support in both their recruit and career development opportunities that will allow them to see and be the human beings that they are instead of the Super Heroes it is intimated they are expected to be. I don’t mean as it relates to saving lives, because that is a part of the job, I mean as in, “never let ’em see ya sweat” while saving that life, or where they may have to take a life in order to save another.

Having been a police officer for twenty years, I know all too well what that profession is like day in and day out. Having left policing and in doing the work that I do now, it keeps being reinforced for me over and over again that front-line police members, sworn and civilian alike are not only wanting to start being supported by way of taking opportunities of training and development to learn more about themselves and why they do what they do, but that they are ready…they are so ready…because they know instinctively their life depends on it.

I know this because it has been my privilege to be in the room with police officers in my current capacity of creating healthy and respectful workplaces, sharing critical information  in an experiential way that often times is their first opportunity in a very long time if ever to acknowledge their human being-ness that not only deserves to be considered but is imperative if they are to move beyond surviving in this profession to thriving in this profession. In one of the workshops I facilitated, a seasoned officer who was due to retire four months from the day he was in the training raised his hand saying words to the effect, “I am retiring in four months, I’ve been in policing for almost thirty years, and can you tell my why I’m just learning this about myself now?” This is just one example of the degree to which police professionals are ready to be in these conversations.

When the leaders of Police Services say to me, that their, “members aren’t ready” or “wouldn’t go for that” , and I can assure you, many have, they are not speaking for their members they are speaking about their own ready state, the degree to which they are willing to be in discussions about their human being-ness and why they do what they do. I’ve had one high ranking police member tell me, “they’ll eat you up if you start having those conversations with them.”  Well I’ve had those conversations with them and that’s just not the case. In fact they make it clear that they want more. It’s time.

It’s Personal Now

I can no longer sugar coat my words or make nice so that the decision makers won’t slam their doors in my face or because it makes better business sense. This is not a business I am in, this is a passion for me, seeing people move from a survival to a thrival mentality. Because  you see in a thrival mentality survival can exist, but in a survival mentality,  thrival cannot and that puts every single officer at risk in the theater of policing.

As I read Steve’s post, I realized that it just got very personal for me. Leaders in the policing profession and I mean the, International, Canadian and Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, Police Service Boards, Federal and Provincial Ministers, Chiefs of Police and their Deputies and their Superintendents and Inspectors must stop assuming that their members are not ready for this kind of professional support; conversations about themselves, how they’re feeling, why they’re feeling something so strongly when another of their colleagues may not be. You see we all come into the workplace with our histories firmly intact. That means there is a good possibility that we will each respond slightly or more differently to the exact same event. Steve came in with his history, I came in with mine and my life-partner with hers, firmly in tact and it has impact.

Appeal to Police Leaders Everywhere

To all Chiefs of Police, your members are ready to start having those tough conversations, in the workplace, with each other, whether in the context of respectful workplace training, debriefs after a serious incident, recruit training, annual training….we need to include an experiential opportunity that will make it safe for all police professionals to be in tune and in touch with themselves, their authentic selves, what is going on in their emotional body, shields down, not shields up.

As Dr. Candace Pert discovered, emotions run every system in our body….so though we may shut our emotions down in the throes of having to save a life, make an arrest, remove a child from an environment that is dangerous, do CPR on a twelve year old who has just hung themself in the family basement, do a death notification to the parents of that child, attend scenes of crimes and accidents where body parts lay strewn everywhere…you can be assured, the very fact that they’ve had to shut down their emotions to do their jobs and in many cases get through the call without breaking down is indicative of the fact that they are having an emotion(s). We must do more. It’s time.

It is time to take our head out of the sand on this…though it makes us feel better to say the words, “hero in life”, when we’ve lost a colleague in the line of duty or otherwise…there really are no heroes, only human beings doing heroic things….every day in the policing profession, for the good and the love of human kind. Steve is doing that, I did that, my partner is doing that and most certainly as we hear Ian’s story, so did he. And because we are all human beings first and foremost, we must create a safe space for each other when it is the emotions are no longer willing to be/stay shut down. We don’t prepare police professionals for this, their emotional body I mean, the one that no matter how hard the intellect tries to quiet it, it will not be, and nor do we make it safe for them to acknowledge their emotions and the impact those emotions are having on them. It’s time.

I appeal to all Chiefs of Police, when you are sitting at your budget table, trying to figure out how to make your workplace operationally efficient, effective, productive and professional, the place to start is with the health and wellness of your personnel…right out of the gates in their recruit “training”. And when you do that, you won’t have to try to figure out how to make your workplace operationally successful, it will be a naturally occurring event.  Your service can only be as healthy and as well as the personnel working within it. To say “we don’t have the budget for that“, no longer cuts it. So, it’s time.

In the context of what they see and do each day, just as you would have in your day, it is time to treat your personnel with the respect and dignity that every one of them as a human being deserves as it relates to their quality of life. These people are not robots, they are human beings, being human in this place called, “work”. It is no longer enough to support them after they’ve gone. We do that well with all of the accolades and pomp and circumstance of the police funerals, failing to notice that perhaps, certainly as it relates to officers taking their own lives that we should have done more. Indeed, taking ones own life is a choice and we can’t control if people choose to do that, if that is what they want, they will find a way….and the evidence is clear, many don’t want that, but the despair in their bodies is simply no longer manageable. With no safe place to let it process and release in a resourceful, thriving way, to their deaths of despair they go. In essence we are not doing enough to give them the will to live and subsequently they become the priority one call we arrived at too late. I know that place having had my own experience of PTSD.

Honoring, Steve, Ian and All Police Professionals

Steve, let me just say, you are so brave, and so courageous….a brilliant human being and I’m glad you are choosing to thrive in your life. And to S/Sgt. Ian Matthews of the Hamilton Police Service and to his family, I’m so sorry we were too late for you. May your choice to leave us  not be in vain Ian and most importantly now, may you be at peace.

I appeal to Police Chiefs everywhere, let’s do what we can to prevent any further deaths of despair.

For you Ian and for Steve, I will try harder.
Kae RobertsA November River 21 Nov 2013

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