THE PATHFINDER RESILIENCE PODCAST
Acclaimed Experiential Artist, Sarah Rosetti
Award-Winning Photographer, Walter Elliott
San Francisco Undersheriff, Joe Engler
Creator Of Navigating Adversity, Dr. Renee Thornton
Professor & Poet, Dr. John Raymer
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My first taste of trauma came when I was ten years old. My parents divorced and my entire world came undone. As a matter of necessity, my mother returned to the work force and my sister and I spent the next years essentially raising ourselves. And although my early adolescence was not without some joy and occasional moments of levity, I remember it being chaotic.
Despite the chaos I found my way into a variety of creative endeavors from writing to art to playing drums in a teenage rock band. I found that music in particular and creativity in general were my strengths. This creative capacity has served me in a personal expression as well as problem solving as a professional. As it turned out, I would need it get me through my middle teens.
As my junior year of high school began, it was clear to me that I needed to break away. I was smart but undisciplined: capable but unmotivated. I abandoned high school with just two years complete and took a job in a warehouse.
My time working in a local distribution center helped me understand what I perceived to be the real value of education. I could see that without the ability to think logically and express myself in words, my potential would be wasted. I had already secured a high school equivalency degree and on a wing and a prayer applied to Holy Cross College. And thanks to the generosity and charitable nature of the admissions director, I was permitted to attend on a provisional basis.
Where I found chaos and limited thinking in high school, I found freedom of thought and limitless curiosity in college. After two successful years at HC, I transferred to Aquinas College where I would take my degree two years later.
After graduation I found myself restless, listless and without purpose. Graduate school was not without its appeal, but I wanted something more than arguing with professors and other students. After moving back to my hometown, I took a job at a local gym. This gym is where the course of my life was altered forever.
This particular gym was frequented by a number of local cops. I'm not sure what my thoughts were regarding cops prior to meeting these guys, but they made a profound impression on me. They were tough, smart, worked some mean streets and encouraged me to join their numbers. I soon applied, was hired and joined a profession I knew next to nothing about. The next nineteen years taught me too many lessons to list. They also ruined so much of what made me who I was, it damn near killed me.
I was hired onto the department in the year 2000: a year before the global war on terror kicked off and years before any meaningful understanding or discussion of PTSD would occur. As I went through my career, all of which was spent on the midnight shift, I was exposed to unending trauma. Needless to say, in the early days of my career guys used virtually every unhealthy coping mechanism available in order to numb the pain. It rarely solved problems and often created more.
Compounding the effects of a steady stream of trauma was my gradually declining ability to sleep. I would come home from work at 6 AM often unable to rest. These prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, mixed with haunting tragedies at work, succeeded in dismantling the man I had been and was trying so desperately to become again. My heart, mind, spirit and soul were crumbling. And as much as I tried to look out for the people who worked for me, I failed to look out for myself.
Taking care of my health was my responsibility and I failed. I allowed myself to slip into depression and spiritual ruin without taking the appropriate steps for self care. As a result, I made an unhealthy decision while on duty and in doing so prematurely ended my career. The consequences of that decision were painful, embarrassing and life-altering. But failure is never final. I am turning tragedy into triumph and using the sum of my experience to help others.