This article is courtesy of Patrick McCurdy, Retired Sergeant/Deputy.
Being a First Responder is difficult.
You see and experience things on a regular basis that would send most people reeling in shock.
Most people cannot even begin to imagine the depths of sorrow, tragedy, evil and darkness that you witness and deal with.
Despite this, you courageously continue to go to the places that others would never dare to go, simply because you are driven by a deeply rooted sense of honor, commitment and loyalty to protect, save and serve others.
Serving others, though, is not without cost and consequence.
Those images and memories don’t just fade away when you’re done at the end of the day.
You carry them with you and continue to stack one upon another like heavy rocks that you carry around with you. Each rock is a memory or experience. Some rocks are jagged and harsh. Some seem smooth and their weight can surprise you.
Though the average occurrences of a day are merely soft pebbles that melt and blend together into a blur, the clarity of what happened with each large rock that you carry is poignant and clear and they haunt you while you are off work and trying to live a normal life.
Whether the rocks are large or small, their combined weight is still a heavy load that we shoulder.
Some of us started gathering heavy rocks to add to our load when we were children, and we’ve carried them so long that we’ve grown used to the weight … until that weight is added to and multiplied…
Some shoulder a lot more rocks than others.
Some of us begin carrying rocks for others who are unable to do it themselves.
And many start their careers in Law Enforcement or as Medics, Dispatcher and Firefighters with their bag already half full.
We can’t help but notice that some people in the world seem to have a much lighter load, but we don’t wish to be more like them. We simply wish to be able to handle the weight that is upon us. We don’t wish our experiences to be upon another. They haven’t had to carry a load like this. It would break them.
Those memories come back to you while you are spending time with your spouse, or trying to read books to your children.
At sporting events and band concerts and dance recitals and birthday parties.
Your family and friends are watching you struggle under the weight, and they’re reaching out to you to help, but you’re so focused on looking down at the difficult path in front of you that you can’t lift your head up to see them.
…and you certainly can’t unload any of the rocks you have onto the people that you care about…
They can’t handle the burden.
Though the rocks break you down, you know no other way, but to keep carrying them around.
At first, you begin to gather strength with the load as it grows heavier. After a while, you just get worn down and fatigued and cannot find any rest from the strain.
As the number of memories increase, you recall them more frequently. Sometimes they sneak up to you and catch you unaware. Sometimes you can see them coming, but you can’t stop their approach.
Sometimes they come in an anxious sweaty flood that can’t be stopped or controlled.
They disrupt our sleep . . .
And our lives.
And they through us they hurt our families and damage our relationships more than we know or care to acknowledge.
You seek ways to dull the pain and to shroud those memories in a fog, …for a while.
Working more often and pulling more shifts seems to help a little bit. But, the busyness and adrenaline are not a guaranteed constant and during moments of quiet we find ourselves seeking more noisy distractions. Working more often also brings the very real possibility of incurring more memories that we store away from more events that are difficult to process.
We know that it makes us irritable and angry, but that is better than being sad or distraught. . .
Or helpless. I know. I carry my own bag of rocks with me. I understand you, what you’ve done, where you’re at and who you’ve become under the sometimes unbearable weight of all of those rocks that can crush you. At first they seemed to make you stronger.
Tougher. Better. For me too.
But, you can’t carry that load and keep adding to it without something breaking. If you don’t learn to deal with the rocks and lighten your load, it may cause a tear and spill out noisily onto the ground when you least expect it…or the load may crush you.
You don’t have to carry that weight alone. There are a lot of people like me who actually do understand. They want to help you to unpack some of those rocks. Once they are unpacked, we can teach you to leave some of the rocks behind.
Some you will always carry with you, but you can learn to unpack and unwrap them only on your terms, when you choose to revisit and honor those heavy memories. Then you can put them away again for a while.
Call me. I’ve been carrying my own rocks around for a while as well. I may not know your rocks, but I understand the weight of the load.
Allow me to walk with you for a while. I can just be there quietly with you. Or, if you want to, we can talk while we walk. When you’re ready, let me have the honor of helping you to carry your load.
Maybe over time, we can help you to make the load easier. Don’t wait until the load pulls you under and makes you sink. I know you’re strong, but two are always stronger than one, and a group is stronger than two. If you wait too long, the load may crush you. It has crushed me, and only my friends could help me out of the rubble.
Some of my friends were never able to claw their way out. They simply succumbed to the weight and darkness and eventually were crushed.
Reach out. Before it crushes you too.
The First Responder Wellness uses trauma-informed strategies to cater to the unique needs of law enforcement, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders with substance use disorders and co-occurring mental illnesses. We recognize that first responders encounter job-specific barriers and obstacles that come with the culture of their careers. Existing stigmas may make seeking help for addiction and mental health issues especially tricky. If you or someone you love is struggling, call us now at 888-443-4898.