In Dead Friends, (since retitled The Judas Tree) Marshal Pam Harmon takes a bullet. Her body armor stops it, but while not being badly injured, it opens a mental trap door she finds herself stepping through. We get a hint of what she’s going through in Dead Friends, but it won’t be till Cold Dead we actually pull up a chair and are privy to her deepest fears and counseling.
Oddly, you don’t have to be a police officer or even be shot at to go through what I’m going to outline here. Survivors of domestic abuse, men and women who were sexually assaulted, survivors of fires or car accidents, all can find themselves stepping onto that trap door and falling head first into something they can’t understand.
I am very thankful that today, PTSD is recognized as a problem. The first time I got hurt in the line of duty, I was told in essence to man up and keep going. I did.
The second time I got hurt, the same advice.
The problem is, a human being is a finite quality. We can only man up or cowboy up so many times. And everyone’s different. Some people can take it and take it and take some more. Others, once is enough. All of them have one thing in common. Eventually you got to let it out.
But using Pam as my model here, let’s looks at some of the things she might go through:
Nightmares: We’re not talking zombies coming through the door or such. We’re talking about running the incident over and over in your sleep. The individual may dream they’re frozen in place. They can’t run. They can’t fight back. And these nightmares happen often. When I had the dreams, I’d wake up shaking in fear, crying out, and God help you if you tried to wake me up from one. I’d probably come up swinging.
Intrusive thoughts or memories: You see something on TV, read something in the paper, and there it is. Some people talk about flashbacks. No stranger there. Something happens, and suddenly there it is, playing over in your mind. Or it might trigger simple fear or depression in the individual.
Avoidance: To this day, I stay out of bars. If I go with one to friends, I’m hyper-alert to what’s going on around me. We’ll do whatever it takes to avoid being put into a situation that reminds us of the places it happened.
Fear and anxiety: Interestingly, the sound of gunfire, fireworks, or care backfires that so many have related to be a trigger has never been one of mine. Or maybe it has seeing that I hear a sound like one, and I go into hyper-drive to figure out where it’s coming from and what’s going on. One of the more interesting reactions I ever saw was from a woman who had been abused by her ex-husband. She remarried and the guy she married is a good man. He turned to grab something falling and she cowered into a corner. He’d moved in a manner that reminded her of what her ex would do before hitting her, and that triggered her fear and anxiety. Hitting her was the last thing he wanted to do. That just goes to show that PTSD survivors are everywhere, and not just those who are shot at.
Constantly on edge: These are people who might be afraid to leave their homes, very cautious in everything they do. They’re the ones always looking around (which to me is a good thing) wanting to know what’s going on, and being overtly vigilant. There’s a difference between this and good old fashioned situational awareness. Situational awareness is me walking downtown, being aware of what’s going on, avoiding potential dangerous situations, but still being able to do what you set out to do. This is the guy who goes to see his favorite band in concert and can’t go into the concert hall because there’s too many people to watch and he doesn’t feel safe. Or the guy that walks downtown and is so frightened that he watches so intently and is so fearful that he gets physically sick.
Sleep disturbances: We all have occasional bouts of insomnia, but their sleep pattern will be wrecked. Either they aren’t sleeping much at all, sleeping with the lights on, or up and checking every little sound.
So what do you do about it?
PTSD isn’t limited to just people involved in shooting situations, or to people in the military. As I pointed out earlier, they come from all walks of life. All it takes is an event. It doesn’t even have to be a man made event. People who have survived tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods have developed PTSD symptoms.
Watch yourselves for any of the aforementioned behaviors. Also watch for things like changes in eating habits. Are you drinking or smoking more than normal? A lot of people will try to mask or dull the feelings with alcohol or drugs. All they do is put the problem on a temporary hold. It does nothing to fix it. What a lot of people fail to understand, you’re dealing with a monster here. The only way to get ride of a monster is to attack it head on.
When I finally decided I needed to do something, I had to stop listening to the people who were telling me to man up, etc. I’d carried the load as far as I could. I really think part of the problem with their telling me this was they were walking wounded themselves. As the Bible puts it, the blind can’t lead the blind. They’ll both fall into a ditch.
I was also warned the I’d be labeled crazy. I had to decide which was crazier. Not sleeping or possibly doing something about it. I’m not going to say it was easy. It wasn’t. In some cases, I discovered whatever I was carrying defined me. I had to decide if I wanted that to define who I was.
You have to do the work.
It took a lot of talking, and a lot of tears. One last parting shot. I’m looking at this from a Christian perspective, and we’re told by Jesus to cast all our concerns on him. Do that. But don’t take them back. Like I said, some people let their hurts and fears define who they are. Leave them behind. You’ll never forget them. You just don’t have to keep picking them up over and over.
All that to say, I sleep well these days.