Now that the body is better… (Part 1 of The Chunky Kid Story is here.)
Now that my physical well being was taken care of, I needed to get my mental well being taken care of also. Most of us in the Law Enforcement/Corrections know that our divorce rates are far higher than anyone else. No one knows this better than our families.
We go to work, have a bad day, come home and snap and the spouse and kids. We refuse to talk to our spouse. We start to distance ourselves. At first you ask us how are day was and we make the fatal mistake to tell you when we’ve had a bad day. We sometimes don’t realize how much you worry about us when we are at work until it is too late. We start to spend more time with people at work because they understand what we are going through.
It’s not that you don’t want to understand, it’s just that the things that we go through and see would make your gag reflex go into high gear and force you to run to the bathroom.
You don’t want to know that a fellow officer was injured. Or that we were assaulted. Or how close we came to see our final moments on this Earth. You just want to know that we made it home, and more importantly, alive. Due to our inability to communicate effectively with you, aka talk, you start to distance yourselves from us. And so the pattern begins…
The elderly couples that I have spoken with over the years have all told me the same thing: You have to talk if it’s going to work. All the divorced officers that I have spoken with have all told me the same thing: they stopped talking and grew apart. There’s an old saying that goes “If you don’t take care of what you have at home, someone else will.” As human beings, we need companionship. Someone that makes us feel needed and wanted. When we don’t find it at home, we will find it somewhere else. Not just the officer, but the spouse as well. Who’s to blame for this? We are…
Now back to the story…
I was going through a really rough time at work, and at home. I found myself working more and more hours on a daily basis, not because I didn’t want to go home, but because we needed the money. My wife believed in a dual income family (that’s why I had 2 jobs) and she worked also. I wouldn’t talk about anything going on. I kept things bottled up. Things that I had no control over were taking over my life. The stress was starting to become unbearable. I did everything that I could to make it go away. It is now 2006 and I was having a hard time finding reasons to live (that’s how bad the stress was and it almost won). I moved from Vermont in an effort to save my marriage (I knew it was a lost cause but we were moving closer to my family also and needed an exit strategy anyway- hey 8 hours away is better than 3 days). I can’t blame her for everything that happened. I was just as guilty when it came to the communication. And I needed to find ways to cope with stress.
I had never really realized what I had lost throughout all those years. So many days that I didn’t see my daughters. So many things I didn’t do: put them to bed at night, be there for soccer or softball games, or recitals. So many things that I can’t take back or make up for. So now I had another lesson to learn: how to take care of myself mentally.
First lesson learned: You can’t do anything about the past. Learn from it and don’t make that mistake again, and more importantly, don’t let it consume you (stress loves it!)
If you can do something about it, and chose to do it, do it. If it didn’t work, try something else. If that still fails,its OK to complain about it.
If you can do something about it, and chose not to, don’t bother to complain because you are part of the problem, not the solution.
If you can’t do anything about it, LET IT GO! Why let it take over your life if there is nothing you can do to change it? Don’t let the stress get to you.
Now that I had learned these lessons the hard way, I was starting to feel much better about myself. It didn’t matter that I had had a successful career. My self esteem had been in the gutter and had drowned 3 times over. Not any more. Once my marriage had finally ended I was able to take a step back and see that things were, for the most part, not as bad as I thought they were for me. Oh, my marriage WAS that bad, but me personally? No. She might have been a good woman, but she wasn’t a good woman for me. In our profession we find ourselves using different coping mechanisms, both good and bad.
Lets start with the bad ones:
1. We turn to self destructive behavior. Have you ever had such a bad day at work that you say to yourself “I need a drink!”? We all have (OK, most of us have said it). The difference is whether we have that drink or we choose not to. And if we do, how many do we have? If one turns into either a fifth or a 12-pack, that’s not good.
2. Others resort to drug use. Although some go with the “hard stuff,” others go with the pain killers. Pill poppers. Medicine cabinet raiders. We fail to realize that stress, although mental, does have some serious physical effects: Chronic pain, high blood pressure, heart disease, just to name a few. Does it make sense that if you are in chronic pain you may go to the doctor and they might prescribe a muscle relaxant? Of course it does. But use can lead to misuse and abuse.
3. We take our frustration out with our families.
4. We choose not to talk therefore starting a downward spiral that is almost impossible to escape from if we don’t correct it as soon as it starts.
5. We become involved in self destructive behavior at work. We sabotage other people’s work. We become involved in the rumor mill (some people ARE the rumor mill).
6. We call in sick to work therefore forcing others to pick up our work load, which in turn causes them to call in sick.
Now for the good ones:
1. We learn to communicate (go figure!).
2. If you are too tired in the morning (or your “morning” for you graveyard folks) when you get up, go to bed 30 minutes earlier. See if that helps.It may just do the trick.
3. Have a routine every night. Doesn’t matter if its watching TV, reading a book, listening to the radio, doing a hobby. Its whatever you want that relaxes you! And no, the bottle doesn’t count.
4. Become involved in community activities. You would be surprised how much this can help some people. Not just about giving back to the community, but the feeling you get when you have done something for someone else.
5. Exercise! Even though most of us hate the idea of working out, ask someone who does how they feel after they do. They will tell you that they feel great!
6. Find a hobby that you enjoy doing. It doesn’t have to cost money for you to enjoy it.
7. LAUGH! The old saying that laughter is the best medicine is so true! Have you never noticed how good you feel when you have laughed so hard you had to go to the bathroom? Exactly my point.
This is one topic of conversation that has been around for years and has been discussed even more. Yet somehow we still can’t escape it’s grasp. In order for the body to be healthy, the mind must also be healthy. We must learn to communicate. Not just talk, but COMMUNICATE. Listening is the biggest area that we fail in. We have to make the conscience decision to stop talking and start listening if we want to succeed. I learned it the hard way, just as others have. I can only hope that you don’t have to.
PS: We may not always show it or say it, but believe me when I tell you that you are the reason why we get up in the morning and come home at night. You are the pillar of our strength when we feel like we have nothing left in us. We may not say that we are hurting inside, but we are. Sometimes terribly. We may seem cold at times, but its not you. Its what we have to see and deal with daily. And finally, and if we haven’t said it recently, or enough, WE LOVE YOU!
Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He is currently a Correctional Training Instructor- Sergeant of Correctional Officers, at the TDCJ Region III Training Academy located in Rosharon, TX.