By Bruce Lacillade
March 4, 2015, Beamsville, Ont. - I believe that we all share a common destiny. I further believe that as we grow we are to become more aware of that destiny. Life is a journey and periodically we need to check in with ourselves to see how we're doing. This is the main point of this edition of my blog.
As first responders you know the work you do is worthwhile; you know that you love and care for others and you know that you have a certain amount of courage. First responders also understand the dignity of human life and fight to preserve all life.
While not everyone always appreciates what you do, your lives do have meaning. Never forget that. Yet you may still suffer anxiety. Anxiety is an intense dread, a nagging worry. To me, anxiety indicates a sense of restlessness and a spiritual uncertainty.
Anxiety can also be very tricky; it may lead you to do all sorts of dangerous things. There are a number of subtle self-harming activities that we use to work against ourselves. These can include, but are not limited to, smoking, drinking excessively, drug use, and driving too fast. There is no need to further endanger or degrade you life; your job does enough of that on its own.
As a chaplain I believe that it is important that we find a happy and accurate connection between psychology and spirituality. Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung was one of the first to make the connection clear. He argued that more than one-third of his clients were looking for meaning in their lives. He further stated, "A neurosis should be understood as a suffering of the soul that has not discovered its reason for being."
Often your job as a first responder can be difficult and scary. But you have the skill set, the compassion and the courage to keep moving forward and to make a difference.
On the fire ground you focus on the mission - activities such as size-up, rescue and knockdown. You try to focus on the positives as this reduces some of the fears you may have. I believe that each one of us also has a personal life mission. I recommend that you take some time to reflect on the mission of your life.
In my last blog I mentioned the term post-traumatic-growth. Today, I ask you to consider the term compassion satisfaction; this is the pleasure you derive from the work you do - fighting fires and saving lives. These two terms have actually been around for a decade or so but are just now starting to find their way to the front lined of critical incident stress management. These two terms, although subjective, focus on the positive.
Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event will suffer predictable psychological harm. Trauma can profoundly change your fundamental thought patterns, beliefs and goals. Survivors often suffer an identity crisis. They search for themselves. They often ask, "Who am I now after I have experienced this? And plead, "Make me who I was before." No one can. It is a wound of the soul.
Trauma can also affect your ability to manage emotional distress. However, with a certain amount of work you will be able to grow from your distressing feelings and memories. Remember the old saying that whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger? Well there is some truth to it. Accordingly, we need to eliminate the stigma associated with post traumatic and cumulative stress.
In the last few blogs I have mentioned that you may feel powerless to battle against your negative feelings and distressing memories, and that they may make you question the meaning of life. You may also need to build trust again.
The concept of compassion satisfaction is the point in our journey at which we work on our self-inventory – the point at which we extrapolate the positive from the negative. When you start going through your self-inventory you may at first find yourself aware of many negative qualities. Don't let this dissuade you. Ask someone you trust to help you see your positive qualities.
You may want to ask yourself what you are spending and what you are being spent for. What commands and receives your time, your energy? There are a number of self-inventory check sheets on the Internet; you may want to peruse them.
Jung (yes, I do like his work) once wrote, "One's identity is the origin of one's mission." He further wrote, "Your vision will become clear only if you see into your heart. Whoever looks outward loses themselves in dreams; whoever looks inward awakens."
Bruce Lacillade is retired from the Burlington Fire Department in Ontario, where he spent 10 years on the floor as a firefighter and the next 15 years as an inspector in fire prevention. He’s also a U.S. Navy veteran and the chaplain for the American Legion in Ontario and the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton and area). Bruce helps first responders, military personnel, veterans, and their families deal with what he calls moral injuries, or internal conflicts. Contact Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org