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Sunday, November 11, 2007

The burden of shared pain

I have been asked to share this story in a book project I am working on. I have been reluctant to do so because it is more revealing than I have been comfortable with. I think I am choosing to "test drive" it here and see what the feedback is before I commit it to the book. I really try to focus on positive stuff. I guess this is because of stories like the one that I am about to share.

The transference of pain is a daily occurrence that when noticed, make us emotionally and socially uncomfortable. The effects of these events are not enjoyable and have destroyed many good lives. It is a deep dark secret of the occupation I find myself in. How can anyone survive a career where exposure to constant pain and anguish is a daily event? This story touches on a situation I had to deal with only once, but I have endured many other events where the pain caused many of the same symptoms. This one, however, left me dealing with many other emotional events in my life. So here we go.....

The cold night air cut through my heavy all-weather parka. Driving around the sleepy city streets with the windows down and the heater on high, we struggled with the night's exhaustion. The wintry night's unusually busy routine was winding down and we had time to grab one more steamy cup of coffee to help keep our weighted eyelids open. A text message came across the small automated box smartly installed between my partner and I. "Contact the Watch Commander asap." Short confusing glances are shared, and served as an introduction to comical quips like "what did you screw up now". Little did I know that I would be dealing with next hour's emotional wasteland for the rest of my life. A bookmark in time to remember just how horrendous life can be. The Watch Commander had to choose someone for a very tough assignment, and we got it. Not because we were good, but because I was new. He said it would be good for me to get the experience. Yea, he was selling bovine scat at a high rate.

The call was in direct relation to a fatal traffic accident that had occurred in a nearby city earlier in the shift. The Coroner was unable to make the notification to the next of kin. We were to contact the wife and advise her of the nights events. We drove around the block a few times trying to develop a sympathetic plan, but no plan came. We knew this was going to be rough and direct. What we did not know is that the wife had a preexisting panic disorder. Nor did we know there were three small children in the home. To this day I can hear her screaming. The agony of her shattered heart still echos in my moments of silence. As she came apart, she begged me to tell her children. Her tear filled eyes pleaded with me not to make her be the one to tell these small children that their daddy will never come home again. As my own eyes welled up, I knew I was screwed.

I never really figured out why this call effected me the way it did. Maybe it was my fear that life was foreshadowing my own mortality and I could only helplessly watch as someone told my family of my demise. Maybe it was the wife's reaction and complete rejection of everything about me in that moment. I can not blame her, and I realize that it was the message not the messenger, but it still was way more than I was equipped for. However, I do know that for the next several nights, at home, the only way I could get to sleep was to drink myself to sleep. Consuming large quantities of alcohol trying to silence her pain and make those so small and saddened faces disappear. The more I drank the more I would remember past pains, and the more I wanted to chase it all away with another drink. I had to make a choice. I had to find another way to deal with my reoccurring emotional nightmare. I experienced the emotional disequilibrium caused when we cant find any reconciliation of life's mean spirit. Trying to mask my inability to care, no, I was trying to mask my fear of caring, with anger and hate. I found myself making unbelievably calloused statements towards everyone, even my own family. I was allowing the pain of others to destroy my life simply because I had allowed my self to care without accountability of the costs. Where was the off switch? Where was the pressure valve to vent my demons? Life was drowning me and I had no rescuer.

Today, I have a mantra, not my pain, not my pain. I care, but my caring has a limit. My journey into the emotional abyss has taught me a lot about me, pain, survivable boundaries and the need for balance. Most of us do not realize that the men and women who defend our freedom and keep us safe in the face of danger bear a burden that does not just go away. Our pain in these moments does effect them. Their calloused approach to life is nothing more than a survival mechanism. It is the cost of having someone ready and willing to rush into harms way with a predisposed mindset that their life may be sacrificed for our freedom and safety. I have yet to witness any one of these individuals walk away from standing on that line because the cost is to high in the heat of the moment. Instead, they run towards the danger, they accomplish the impossible, and then they retreat to their private places and deal with the pain we shared with them.

Thoughts?

4 comments:

storyteller said...

Whew! I'm relieved it was YOU and not ME who had this experience, but I'm moved by the sharing today ... and am reminded of a quote about the reason we tell our stories is to help others remember and share their own. I recall that doing my "field work" for a Counseling Credential in a Child Guidance Clinic one summer (while seeking a Masters Degree at a local University nights ... ten years into my career) made me glad I could return to a classroom because conducting "Family Therapy" sessions was much too intense for me. The program made me a better teacher, and I never thought the grass was greener elsewhere again. Walk a mile in another's shoes to experience life from their perspective and all that.

Previously you asked me to comment on what we should be teaching young men about relationships and my answer addressed things we need to teach young women also.

Boundaries are essential for living on this earth. When we don't know where we end and others begin, relationships get messy. On the other hand, if (as I believe to be true) we are not alone, but "all one" ... our experience IS shared.

Acknowledging this paradoxical condition addressed by the Beatles so long ago in the Walrus Song ... "I am you and you are me and we are all together" ... Mister Eckhardt's prayer comes to mind where we're encouraged to ask for guidance, strength and courage to do what we can, leave what we can't do anything about alone, and be granted the wisdom to know the difference.

I suspect we each learn this lesson in our own ways ... some with more difficulty than others.

You do some intense thinking in that Bear Cave of yours.
Hugs and blessings,

Talking Bear said...

ST, Thank you once again for your kind words. I think for me, although I welcome others stories with eagerness, I am seeking a more selfish end with these types of stories. I am seeking the healing that comes from sharing.

I think you are right on point with the boundaries issues. These are our safety nets, but once we come together we realize we do not need them. That is true oneness of souls. Complete transparency and vulnerability. But unfortunately many of us never experience such unity of spirit and never achieve understanding of its importance.

I have never thought of myself a deep or intense thinker. I am only an observer of life. My wife would agree with you about my thought depth, but I honestly was under the belief that we all think about things. I guess a two hour commute one way gives one a lot of time to ponder on everything. Some of the times the time is wasted on silly stuff, other times it is layered in perceptional differences.

Blessings back at you, TB

etoainshrdlu said...

Wow, that's a rough one. I'm reminded of a quote by Spider Robinson "Shared joy is increased, while shared pain is lessoned."
While it may seem a small comfort, I can only consider how difficult it could have been if someone less enlightened had been there to help her through that moment.

Four Winds

Talking Bear said...

Eto, Thanks for stopping by, hope to see more of you. Also, thanks for the kind words of encouragement. I took a look at your site and loved it. I noticed you are asking if your site should be "more private." I hope you keep it open. Many non-martial arts folks could learn much from such a site. TB

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