In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m writing this behind closed doors in my office on a beautiful Saturday afternoon while my wife and kids go about a day without me in it.
It’s not because anyone is angry with each other. My wife knows and is fully aware of why I’ve once again isolated myself in the office. I woke up and realized why it was that I’d been near impossible all week. Even up to the night before, my wife said some of the things I had said were “strange” and aggressive. Of course at the time, I thought she was just being overly sensitive.
In the past I would’ve defended myself and made up some alibi why it was her fault before storming off and into a few days of silence. It was what I thought men were supposed to do. You know, walking off so it stayed bottled up inside.
One of Those
But when I woke, it hit me. It was another one of “those” anniversaries. Not the ones we forget to buy flowers for, but the ones that make us feel ill or anxious without understanding why our behavior has changed for no logical reason at all.
I used to suck it up and go about my days in hopes of the effects lessening or that I wouldn’t do something to myself in those darkest moments of grief and despair over the conflicting feelings brought about by another of those anniversaries. They’re so embedded, that without remembering the date or watching the calendar, my mind knows exactly what time it is and begins a process of reacting to the trauma I’ve managed to shove deep down over the years.
Time does not heal inner wounds
This particular anniversary is linked to the horrific murder of a wheelchair-bound little boy. His father sawed his head off while he was still alive and then dismembered his body before tossing his head onto the shoulder of the road and stuffing his body in thin plastic kitchen bags that were also set out for the garbage.
I lived through a rather violent career in law enforcement, but without a doubt, this was the most horrific thing I’ve ever experienced. This is but one of the trauma anniversaries that even though I forget the date on the calendar, my spirit knows that I still have the pain stored inside.
I have many more of those anniversaries that are linked to the line of duty deaths for seven of my close friends, Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, officer involved shootings, violence and serious injuries. And then there are the events that have no specific date but still contribute to sweeping feelings of sadness, despair and hopeless anxiety.
I used to push them down as deep as possible, pin the badge back on and head out to solve everyone else’s problems but my own. But since retiring, I no longer have that mask with which to hide. What I’ve been forced to do now is what I wish I’d learned to do back then—talking about it.
Bringing light into my darkness has helped me heal from the injuries on the job. You know the same personal wounds that we once thought were noble and a badge of honor we carried as the price for protecting others. In reality, carrying the pain is an albatross around our neck that rots the spirit and chokes joy out of a life meant for so much more.
So why have I holed up in my office away from family? Well, healing takes a process and in my process, I need the time to do what else? Process! Some may find healing instantly, but most require the process of becoming aware of the hurt, identifying the source and what it is causing us to feel, talking about it, allowing emotions to manifest themselves into a healthy outlet, and then accepting whatever it was that we experienced is now a part of us.
Those anniversaries can be horrific, but they are what has helped shape us from the very instant we were first exposed to it. We can find light in our resilience, and reclassify our response to the memories. Replaying the incident and feeling pain, shame or guilt is not a proper or healthy response. Identifying the positive takeaways help us see the light in the midst of even the darkest moments of life.
The simple fact that you are alive and able to read this shows that you are indeed alive and blessed with life. With this as the most basic foundation, it’s up to us to build upward and claim a practice of healing from each and everyone of those anniversaries. It doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten anyone, but it does mean we’ve chosen to honor the events, the victims and the lost by living with it as part of who we are instead of a byproduct of what we were.
The old saying is true, “You’re no good to anyone else unless you’re first good to yourself.” In my case, as I sit behind closed doors actively processing the conversation my wife and I had about that murder years ago, I hear our kids heading out to the pool and I think I’ll join them. This morning’s time invested in healing helps me to now go and be a healthier husband and dad to them.
Invest in the time to identify those anniversaries in your life. Commit to healing from them by allowing light to expose darkness. You’ll see much more clearly as you move along in your career and life. And remember, no matter how bad you may hurt, the fact that you are alive to hurt is a gift of life itself. We can always heal from the pain, but we can’t rise alone from the dead. Stay in the fight to find healing.
What Do You Think
Why do we carry so much pain?
Are we better off by peeling the scabs off of past pain and allowing it to heal?
What should we be doing differently?
Any other thoughts about this?
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