Is there a time to toss in the towel, and say enough is enough? And if so, why? It’s a question I’ve begun examining in my next novel.

As many of you know, the second in The Lawman series will be coming out soon (I was hoping around Christmas – I’m pushing that back a bit). And I’ve been examining some of the themes threaded through the novels. So far we’ve looked at abuse and leadership.

Now we look at fear. What happens when you’ve been hurt, not just to the body, but the mind?

In the novel, during a raid, one of Will’s people is hurt. She takes a bullet to the chest, but thanks to body armor, all it does is knock on her butt, knock the wind out of her, and leave a nasty bruise. What would such a thing do to the human mind?

Being injured in the line of duty isn’t so much an if, for a police officer, but a when. The injuries that can be inflicted cover a large range of possibilities, to include simple bruises right on up to something that can threaten your life.

My first injury wasn’t even that much (at least compared to stuff that would happen later). Some guy tossed a beer pitcher at me from behind, and it caught me in the back of the head. No blood, no knocking me out, but looking back, it was the first time in my life that a fellow human being had tried to hurt me. I referenced this a little in an earlier blog called Sometimes an Alpha Charlie Just Happens (Alpha Charlie = Military speak for Ass Chewing).

I did start feeling sick over it. But looking back it was simple fear. In short, an anxiety attack.

Now having an assault upon you, even a simple one plays hell with a person. You amplify it in your head, and you start playing what-if games. I tried my best just to let it go, but couldn’t. Such a simple thing had started a process I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be part of.

Everything around me started falling apart. I went to the Police Academy and ended up washing out. Me, a guy with a degree in astrophysics, and I washed out. I decided to try the Air Force, only to find that the fears surfaced at night, and I was screaming in terror. The good news was that it started to point out what was wrong. I visited a psychiatrist and he got to the root issue. But I was told, come back when you’ve put your demons to rest.

So now I had three big strikes against me. I’d failed three times in a row, and something I hadn’t fully understood till years later was that this was much more than an assault against my body. Whoever threw that beer pitcher hurt me in ways I hadn’t appreciated. I’d been injured not so much on the outside, but had been left cut and bleeding where it counted most, in my mind and soul.

I was afraid and didn’t want to admit it.

Now one of my favorite cartoons has always been the Coyote and Roadrunner. I’ve always laughed when Coyote would go flying off the edge of a cliff, plummet thousands of feet to the desert floor, and you see that little dust cloud as he impacts the bottom. Of course thirty seconds later, Coyote was back in action, usually with the same result at the end.

What I hadn’t thought about is how many times Coyote must have wandered in the canyon, bruised and broken, and trying to find his way out. And that’s pretty much how I felt. I was at the bottom of the canyon, mentally and spiritually beat up, and with no roadmap out.

I remembered praying about it because I was being tormented by the fall. I wasn’t even a serious believer, and I was doing what King David and so many before me had done. I was asking my Creator for a lifeline out. I was in a maze of my own making, and I had no thread to follow.

My parents were no help. They coddled me and refused to discuss it. What they should have done is taken me aside and told me to cowboy up, get back on the horse, and give it another shot. That didn’t happen.

It took a cousin to do that.

I was out jogging one day. Jogging, if you’re not aware of this, is a great way to deal with things. You beat the body up, and it’s too tired and hurting to allow the mind to think of much else. I’ve always liked distance, and that’s what I was doing. I was around mile marker eleven and running down the Capulin Highway when he saw me and pulled over.

I stopped to talk to him, but his first words were anything but nice. He expressed his deep disappointment in me and thought I was made of tougher stuff. And before I could defend myself, he just drove away.

That son of a bitch, I thought, and anger welled upside me. The anger began to grow from an ember of hurt to a forest fire of rage. If he hadn’t driven away, I’d have dragged him out and kicked his sorry ass up and down the road.

And that’s when that small internal voice we all should listen to asked an interesting question. Are you angry at him for what he said, or because you’re angry with yourself for giving into fear and tossing in the towel, and he just told you the truth?

The sudden realization sent a chill down my back. I was the one who had quit. Worse, I’d allowed myself to do so. I’d let fear take over my heart. I stood on the side of the road and realized I had the thread in my hand that would lead me out of the maze. I’d had it all along. I just needed to follow it.

So I did. I cowboyed up, oiled my pistol, and went out and got a job as a police officer again. It was in one of the roughest towns in the valley, and here I was working it. I began to realize that its reputation wasn’t that bad. I soon went over to the Sheriff’s Office because of the opportunity to have a bigger arena of investigations appealed to me. Along the way, I found a good support team, and I owe them each a debt of gratitude for helping me along.

Years later, I got back into the military and checked that one off the list. Failure was not an option this time, success was.

So lessons learned:

  • It’s hard to soar with eagles when you’re surrounded by turkeys. If you think you’re made for better things, don’t surround yourself with the naysayers. Get yourself around people who are willing to kick butt and take names. In short, achievers themselves.
  • Good friends are tonic to the soul. I don’t think Solomon ever said it in the Bible, but he should have. Just having people around you who accept you and won’t judge you is vitally important. If you’ve been hurt, they help sooth the wounds.
  • Mean words are sometimes the shot in the arm you need. Solomon wrote this down perfectly in Proverbs 27:5: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Words aren’t always meant to put you down. Sometimes a swift kick in the pants is just what you need.
  • God answers prayers. Oddly, he’d answered the prayer long before I even uttered it. What I should have asked for was the courage to start moving.
  • Draw a line in the stand, and defend it. If it’s what you’re called to do, you’ll step it up and do it, even if it hurts to do so. Expect a battle, stand by it, and you’ll win. Oddly, when you do that and hold the line, the line moves. Not backward, but forward, and you get to reclaim the territory you’d lost.

I often think about that road experience. And I’m very grateful to my cousin for telling me what he thought. He made me swing back up into the saddle and become the person I was meant to be.

In the coming novels, I’ll be looking closely at all even more themes.