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How To Love Your Cop
How To Love Your Cop

Chp 8: Stuff Happens – How to Handle His Crisis

How to Deal with His Crisis

Whatever crises our husbands undergo, they need us, and they need us to be strong. Depending on the circumstances, we could be the ones who are there for him to talk out some of the emotion. But when it’s too big for us, we can come alongside and love them enough to get them the help they need. Whatever they are dealing with, they need to know they aren’t alone.

Our husbands, however, may not want to be “fixed.” It’s their deal, and they want to work it out. In this situation, perhaps they don’t understand the effects on us and our children. Maybe ego is a factor. Maybe they have adopted a cultural view that police officers are supposed to be tough and not show weakness. Sometimes they need space to work out the answer rather than depending on us too much.

Depending on your husband’s department, there may be a stigma against bringing up stress. In some cases, doing so may jeopardize their career. For many years, the culture of law enforcement has been to ignore responses to trauma. These responses have been labeled as weakness. Fortunately, the thinking within law enforcement circles is gradually changing into thinking that trauma is a natural response to the unnatural incidents that our cops experience. While this new way of thinking is slowly making its way throughout the country, it isn’t yet universal. If this is the case for your husband, he’ll need a safe listener, and it may need to be you.

There are three stages of dealing with his crisis. First, identify the problem beneath the symptoms. Seek the cause to the effect. I’ve listed some things here, but this is by no means all there is. Do some research online. Talk with a seasoned wife or another officer you trust. If your department does have resources, by all means take advantage of them.

There are a few practical things you can do as his wife while dealing with his crisis:
• Create a safe place to come home to. Be ready to listen without judgment or fearful reaction. Spend good, quality time with him in his off-duty time.
• Make an appointment for him to get a physical. Stress can take a toll on his body. Nip health problems in the bud.
• As much as you can, create delicious, healthy meals for your family. Stress tends to increase a desire for junk.
• Discourage making important decisions when he is overwhelmed.
• Maintain normalcy with life. Routine can keep balance in the midst of trials.
• Write down your feelings through the journey. When you’re on the other side, you can look back and see how far you both have come.

Second, deal with it head on. It is so important for us as wives to support them in a way that is not codependent. We want to understand and support them as our husbands, but that doesn’t mean making excuses for their behavior. If there is a problem, treat it as reality and work toward a solution. If it’s an issue like burnout he’s dealing with, that could be easily identified and worked through without professionals. But if it’s bigger and deeper, seek help.

Resources Available

Talk with someone safe. Find out if your husband’s department has programs designed to help in each of these issues. If so, make sure that there is confidentiality and then proceed. A police chaplaincy program is another potentially valuable resource. There are many avenues of crisis intervention, and they are designed to discreetly come alongside.

Check if your department has an employee assistance program. They are designed to help police officers get the help they need, sometimes even paying for counseling. Inquire if your husband’s department has a peer support program where other officers have gone through something similar, and join with your loved one to help them through the recovery process. Some departments also offer support groups for related issues.

Religious communities and organizations throughout the country and abroad have many different resources as well. Counseling, support groups and programs, books, and radio programs are designed to come alongside and provide encouragement, support, and guidance.

If these avenues have been tried, and still your officer is struggling, consider an intensive retreat. Two facilities exist in the United States to treat problems related to PTSD and critical incident stress. In California there is the West Coast Post-trauma Retreat. The On-Site Academy is located in Massachusetts. These three- to five-day retreats are held monthly and are designed to help emergency personnel who are overwhelmed by a critical incident or other job-related trauma. The resources section at the back of this book contains contact information.

Through these resources, build your support system. Don’t hesitate if you feel your man is in trouble. His life and your marriage depend on it.

August 7th, 2013

Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder

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Chp 8: Stuff Happens: Suicide

Fifteen Is Enough!

A few years back, Brent and I were getting ready for bed at the end of the day when he checked his Blackberry one last time. Another suicide. It was number fifteen for our department in a period of four years. I cried out, “Another one?! What are we doing?!” I didn’t know it at the time, but it was quite a prophetic question. I was referring to the department—how will they respond? But actually the more I asked the question, I realized that I might be able to do something as well.

I don’t know what it was about the number fifteen, but it seemed like everyone jumped into action. Number fifteen pushed the panic button, and we awoke. The department began talking about suicide openly. Our officers’ association published a double-page ad in their monthly newsletter: “Call for Backup,” with a picture of a glass of alcohol and a gun. We implemented awareness seminars across the state and set up debriefing sessions with those who knew the suicide victims. We educated ourselves. We decided as a department to hit suicide head on, deal with it as the reality it was, not a deniable secret hovering in the shadows.

In my own research, I learned that almost always the one who commits suicide just ended a significant relationship. When a life is going sideways, others are affected in a big way. Helplessness, blame, an inability to get a handle on problems, and depression (among other things) will push away those who are close. When things are falling apart, and hope seems to have been lost, the natural tendency is to get out quickly. The boat is sinking, and our survival instincts say, “Abandon ship!” Sometimes this is one more reason for those contemplating suicide.

This book is part of my own action against suicide. I care about the mental and emotional health of my husband and those he works alongside. If by sharing my own struggles I can encourage other wives to hang tough through the hard stuff, maybe suicide won’t be such an attractive option to their officers. If educating law enforcement spouses about these realities equips them to deal positively with the negatives, then perhaps marriages will be saved. If our officers know they have backup at home, perhaps they will be more courageous to get the help they need.

Symptoms of Suicide

So how can we discern if our spouse is contemplating suicide? By watching and listening for the symptoms. Sometimes there are signs of PTSD, whether from one specific incident, or a collection of events over time. If they don’t deal with the trauma, they risk depression, which can be a precursor to suicide. If your officer is having trouble reconciling these thoughts, he may be at risk. According to several articles on police suicide, a typical profile of a suicide candidate is a white male, 35 years of age, separated or divorced, using alcohol or drugs, and having recently experienced a loss or disappointment. They may have made out a recent will, bought a weapon, or appear to be getting their affairs in order. There is generally a significant mood change—either better or worse. They may exhibit signs of anxiety, frustration, or confusion.

I once heard suicide referred to as a permanent solution to a temporary problem. But in the midst of it, the problem seems permanent. Sometimes it takes another level head to discern what is going on in the big picture. This is where you come in. Learn to recognize the symptoms. If your officer seems like he’s at risk, don’t abandon him or ignore the symptoms. Fight for him! Find help immediately.

July 29th, 2013

Posted In: A CHiP on My Shoulder

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Christmas Thoughts for the Hurting

Christmas Thoughts for the Hurting

Last year Christmas was very difficult for our family. In the midst of the culmination of a dream – the release of my first published book – our family experienced a very painful season. In light of so many life-altering events that we hear about and experience every day, I want to share our story – humbly and vulnerably – in hopes that it will bring hope to those who are hurting.

In the fall of 2011, my son, fresh out of high school, left for USMC boot camp. We had invested a 2-year journey of exploration, prayer and gut-searching talks about this decision, and Chief and I were very supportive, as were our other three children. We were ready – even a little excited – about being a Marine family.

Five weeks in, it all began to fall apart.

My son called me from an ambulance – he and several others had pneumonia, but they also suspected he had meningitis. His boot camp brothers were given antibiotics and sent back. My son underwent a spinal tap, which paralyzed him from the knees down for three days. He was subsequently separated from Bravo Company, a devastating blow.

This set into motion a downward spiral of ill-fated circumstances that stripped our son of everything. He fought back with a burning intensity, but in the end, he was medically discharged from the Marine Corps, and arrived home shortly before Christmas.

To add insult to raw hurts and insecurities, our reunion in the airport sparked the interest of some nearby. He was mistaken for having come back from war, and was thanked for his service. He looked, talked, walked like a Marine, but he was not a Marine.

Our journey had only begun. We were not fully aware of the things he’d undergone. We just knew he was deeply confused, lost, and hurting.

We had planned to postpone Christmas until the second week of January, after his graduation. The kids were totally willing to wait. We were gonna keep the tree up no matter how dry, and have people over for dinner, and do the whole thing in January. But that didn’t happen either. We spent Christmas Day together in a fog. We went through the motions, very glad to have our son home, but there were questions lingering, and pain that oozed from our confusion, and we passed over it in the spirit of the season.

“Fa-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la…”

I suspect that many of you will do the same this year. We’ve lost several of our blue brothers recently, one only on the job for four months. Just this month, California Highway Patrol lost two of our own – one from his own hand, the other in an off-duty hit-and-run. There are 27 families in Connecticut that will be without their loved ones, and in Colorado 12 more. Losses, cancer, people without work, broken dreams, broken lives, broken people.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining…”

Some words I wrote in this season:

“Oh, Lord, I come to you this morning with heaviness of heart. With longing for peace, for answers, for direction… As always I look for quick answers – for resolved revelation, so we can move on from this dark, confusing place…

“Can I, in this Christmas season, have joy in the midst of hardship? Can I rejoice – return to joy – amidst my circumstances, by faith? Help me to understand this: there is unfinished business in our home, but You know all about it, have a plan, had a plan, and are carrying it out now. The solution will not be wrapped as a gift under the tree at Christmas Hollywood-style, but yet help me return to faith, return to joy, return to the knowledge I have of Your character. It is in this place, bolstered in the assurance of Your sovereignty and individualized love for my family, that I dare to re-joice.” – (Journal Entry, December 23, 2011)

Five months later, I was at the Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington DC. It was Mother’s Day – and the Candlelight Vigil was to begin in a couple of hours. My phone rang, and my son wished me a happy day. And then he told me that while in boot camp, he witnessed a suicide attempt, close enough to get blood splatter on his uniform.

A cold chill went down my spine. And then the thoughts that had been a jumbled mess for months suddenly aligned. Oh. Now I get it. My son had post-traumatic stress from a violent act he witnessed firsthand.

I listened. I prayed. I called Chief. I called our Marine recruiter. And while I was on the phone, a Marine in his uniform hobbled by on crutches at the Vigil site. He had only one leg.

Finally, the truth was known. Now we can do something.

When I got back, we got our son into EMDR therapy. We journeyed alongside him through nightmares, anger, grief, sadness, and the aftermath of difficult sessions.

And then, slowly but surely, he started coming back. And our relationships deepened. Trust was built. Genuine, unguarded hugs were exchanged. And the darkness has lifted.

My thoughts this year:

“Lord, I am amazed by Your faithfulness. This past year has been a walk of faith through many trials. And although life isn’t perfect, it is good.

“I have trusted Your character, Lord, and You have been completely faithful. I have been imperfect in my trust, but You have been perfect in Your love and guidance, in Your vision for us, and Your plan in the midst of our pain.

“This Christmas season has a renewed hope within our lives. We’ve been through the storm – tossed and shaken, uprooted and battered. And now we are rebuilding. My trust in You has grown; my inner panic in the midst of circumstances that seem so bad on the outside has subsided as I learn how You work. You are the Master Potter, the Chief Weaver, the Patient Artist. You have Your vision, and You carefully, faithfully, lovingly bring it together in Your time.

“I am peaceful in the midst of this process – still afraid, still moved by circumstance, but anchored by the hope of Your Mighty Hand.” – Journal Entry, December 1, 2012

Losing loved ones in the process of human life is so difficult. The grief can be devastating. Walking through unknowns in our marriages, with our health, our kids – overwhelming. But there is One who is very much concerned, very present in your pain, and very able to comfort. He will help you rebuild, from the inside out.

Life’s solutions are not wrapped in pretty packages. They unfold in time, as we dare to emerge from the shadows, knowing there is the light of hope beyond the dark.

“O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee…”

December 21st, 2012

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