This is the 911 Shift Ready podcast episode 16. Before we dive in, I would like to give a bit of a disclaimer that we are going to talk about some traumas in this episode today. If you are somebody who is triggered by the talk of traumas, this episode may not be for you.
So this week has been quite a week. As far as emails coming in from many responders who are really struggling. And in more than one of these emails that came in, I was asked or it was mentioned that they felt they were too broken to get better. Too broken to get out of where they’re at. And I knew I had to do this episode because from everything that I have observed, you are not broken.
The thing is, is that no one has told you how much it sucks to work to get back to yourself and getting your life back and no one’s ever explained what’s involved. I’m hoping to change that in this episode, I’m going to give you my observations of what I see, how misinformed many of you are and I’m hoping to fill in some question marks for you and some missing pieces so that by the end of this episode, you will have some direction on where you can start going and understand what’s going to take in order to get out.
I am not a PTSD expert. I’m not a therapist. This is going to be my observations of what I have seen. I ask tons of questions. I have interviewed therapists who have been former responders. So I’m going to give you my view of how I’ve put all of this together and this is similar to some of the replies that I was giving in emails this week as well.
The first thing is understanding about traumas. I had, Dr. Trevor Wilkins also known as the Viking therapist. He is, looks like a biker dude, the goatee, like the long beard, the mohawk. He is a therapist that is a former police homicide detective. And through his traumas actually the biggest trauma for him was off shift. Driving on the highway at an accident and him spiraling to where he was going for treatments and therapies and all these things.
And nobody was able to help him that he did feel broken. Once he either left service or was medicalled out, I believe he was medicalled out. He decided to become a therapist. And he is now a phenomenal EMDR therapist that works with first responders. What I learned from him was that traumas are situations that have happened in your life that you did not have a file for.
So we actually get a lot of traumas as children, as kids. And one of mine I’ll just let you know, was that I wasn’t good enough. And this had been reinforced over time through different things in my life that it actually was affecting me now cause I didn’t have a file in my brain for people that I really loved and respected to be telling me that I wasn’t good enough.
So when you have a file in your brain, what he said is it’s like, there’s an elevator that goes up and down whenever situations happen. And when you go up and down, the elevator door opens when it gets to that filing room and the file goes in there and you’re good. But when it’s something that you don’t that it’s kind of stays in that elevator just sits in limbo in your brain. It’s just floating around in your brain.
So it’s constantly there always. So we get into situations where early in your career, you may have had a trauma. The most common calls that haunt you guys. These are the ones I hear there definitely are others. And you may have a different scenario or situation. Absolutely.
The ones that I hear the most is something involving kids. Especially if it’s a fatality of a child and you were not able to save them. Suicides, infants especially and when you have a child. There’s been more than one that I recall through the years that has told me of going to a suicide call, where the kid was the same age as their child and the room was decorated similar idle posters on the walls and things like that.
So that is one of the big ones that I hear over and over and over again. Being shot at or actually shot and hit. A fatality that was on your call. For officers, that’d be a fatality with somebody’s gun on your call. It doesn’t have to be your gun. For EMS, fatality of not being able to save. So it’s a fatality that is on your call. And the other one is traffic homicides.
And so these are the four that I hear that really tend to create the most flashback that I hear. And so as Dr. Wilkins explained it, when these traumas occur they’re going in, they don’t have that file, so they continue in your brain. So however long that trauma is that trauma is continuing over and over and it can create patterns. So if there was a drowning, you may avoid going anywhere where there’s pools. You may with your kids avoid anything with pools. You may avoid any TV shows or anything that is coming up where there’s any sort of situation you may get up and leave the room.
You might start certain behaviors that start to go in there because your body goes into this survival mode where it’s like, “Oh, we need to keep this safe. This is not a safe situation.” So the thing is that many of you came into this profession to save lives. And when you have a life that you can’t save quite often, none of you had the file in your brain for that. And so that’s quite often when we hear that I hear a lot of those ones and you did not have that file in your brain.
Now we need to start thinking of how long ago that trauma was. So you may have quite a few of those in your career but the one that was there the first and that was the longest sometimes is the one that hits you the hardest. Sometimes it is another one. But they’re all floating around. So EMDR, the therapy that Dr. Wilkins does, I actually tried EMDR myself cause I wanted to see what it was like.
What EMDR does is you are focusing with your eyes. So it’s Eyes Movement Desensitization Reprocessing. And what it does is it starts to give a file to that. So as you’re going through EMDR, you have a word. For me, I am not good enough was actually the word that we did use in my EMDR. And as I was doing that, as I was going through my processing with my eyes, every time we’d do a certain number they’d tell me to stop. I had to tell them the thought that was in my mind.
And it was actually interesting cause there was things that I hadn’t even linked together that were all linking together to I’m not good enough. And so in EMDR they may find one of these words or triggers or things you have to vision it as well. And as they’re going through and it starts putting all of those links to that one feeling. So it could be, I didn’t save them. Or I can’t save somebody. It could be something like that if that’s what you’ve been telling yourself over and over and over again.
So as you’re going through that you’re going through one of those traumas may keep coming up over and over again. And when one of them keeps coming up that’s the one that has most likely affected you the deepest and you need to keep going through this process back and forth, back and forth with your eyes until it finally gets a file.
And it may not happen in one session. It may. Absolutely. It may, but it may not. It may take multiple sessions. You might actually start getting to other traumas are coming up and then that one keeps creeping in. So in going through EMDR, you are basically finding files in your brain that those don’t affect you as much.
Now, this sucks. I have one client who we used just talk about how much therapy sucked. Who wants to relive these traumas? Nobody does. Nobody wants to. Most of you have built up walls and protective around you to protect yourself and anybody else from having to experience that trauma again. Therapy sucks. There’s no way around it. It absolutely sucks.
And it can get to the point where with this one client that I did have, when he was going through and processing some of his traumas, he did it through a different style. It wasn’t EMDR that he went through. I actually can’t recall that the style he went through. He also worked with a former officer who was his therapist and they worked through each trauma of his and they talked through each trauma. Talked through all of the things that he was saying to himself and putting himself down for on that call and beating himself up about on those calls.
She said he had the most horrific trauma she had actually ever experienced in her career as a therapist working specifically with military and first Responders. And so with him, there was one particular therapy session where after that he did start spiraling so much where he did have an attempt to take his life. He kind of knew he was spiraling. He let his wife know his wife was keeping an eye on him. This was his third attempt. He had had two before we started working together. And the reason I’m telling you this is so that you do understand that therapy sucks.
But this guy said he would not change a thing of it because he feels so much weight off his shoulders to have processed those traumas. It sucked but he knew enough, like he was messaging me that day that he was spiraling. And I’m like have you told your wife? Is she there? She was a former officer herself. And he’s like, “Yep. I’ve told her. So she knew. He was messaging. Whereas he didn’t for his first two. He wasn’t even at that point. And he was getting more in control of his stress system in order to be able to process those traumas.
We had worked together for a couple months by this time. And he was having flashbacks every two to three minutes. And we got him in two months down to two to three a month. Once he finished his therapy, he stopped having nightmares and he has maybe one flashback a month. That to him is having his life back. One a month and he knows how to get himself out of it with the tools that we’ve worked on, the tools he’s worked on in therapy, the tools he’s worked on with us to get him out of that stress state as soon as he feels it coming on. And then he starts thinking, “Okay, what got my stress system so amped up to get there?”
That was just the first couple of months of just getting down to two to three a day. And then about four months after he was going through more and more therapy that they were gone. And this is a guy who had actually been left for dead twice. Stabbed shot once stabbed once peed on by one of the guys that tried to kill him. Infant traumas and tons of childhood traumas as well. He had such a traumatic childhood.
So there was a lot to work through and it took quite a while to work through all of those things. And then through working with me, we were able to get him outta that stress state, but therapy sucks. So I am not going to sugar coat it, it sucks. Nobody wants to relive these things. So I don’t want any of you to ever think that going into therapy, it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be quick and it’s going to be painless because it’s not. It really isn’t.
Let’s say a guy got into a motorcycle accident and he is in a coma for a while and he had to have a leg amputated. He had a lot of other injuries. He spent over a year, rehabbing himself once he came out of his coma and getting used to his prosthetic over time. He had a lot of hard work. There was a lot of pain. You know, there’s frustration in that. And you know, there were going to be days for him too that he wasn’t sure that he had anything left and his choice was either to dig deep and get some strength in order to get his life back or to stop.
That wouldn’t have been easy. Right? But do you think it was worth it? Do you think that it should have been easy for him to have gone through that rehab to get back to healing all of his injuries, being able to work through his limbs, get all of his muscles back and work with a prosthetic, learn how to walk again. Should that be easy? Absolutely not.
So why should it be easy for you to work through the traumas that you’ve experienced? Right? It shouldn’t and it’s not going to be. So I think that we need to stop saying therapy is the solution to everything we need to just stop it or it’s just going to fix everything without talking about that crappy horrible part in between that it’s going to help you part. Right?
Because it’s not going to help you right away. It takes a while to build a rapport with your therapist, to even trust them and to start opening up that takes a while. And then to start diving into traumas takes a while and it sucks. So I don’t want any sugar coating in there.
Therapy absolutely sucks and it’s supposed to, so if you’re going through this and it is hard as heck, know that you’re doing the right thing. That what you’re doing is working. And that gets us to another piece too then is, as we said, you get this file and then you start getting these behaviors. So with, as we talked about with that infant, you’re getting these behaviors of avoiding all swimming pools, avoiding anything on TV with like little kids and stuff, too. Right?
So CBT cognitive behavioral therapy will help you start realizing certain behaviors that like, so after the EMDR you’ve been able to get file in your brain for those things then you can do the CBT the cognitive behavioral therapy that will help you with some behaviorals that have happened because you have developed certain behaviors to protect yourself. When you are at the park with your kids and you can’t shut off when you can’t go to a restaurant with your family even if you’re sitting in a corner where you can see every entrance, every exit, the whole restaurant and you still struggle.
When you can’t go out with your family those are behaviors that you have imprinted that even when you get some of those files into a file with EMDR these behaviors need to be worked on. And I believe too, Dr. Trevor Wilkins works on those things as well. So understanding that you may put those files in and those things may not affect you as much but then you need to start working on the behaviors that have occurred.
So me, I’m not good enough. I have stopped myself from doing things. I won’t ask to be a part of things. I wouldn’t do these things that now I’m like, “Okay, I am good enough. I can do these things. I am going to put myself out there and I am going to do these.” So it’s understanding how these behaviors have now affected you.
So how long ago were these trauma? That’s a bunch of years of behaviors that you now will start working on changing, right? On fixing those behaviors. And then we get into the meds. The meds antidepressants, any anxiety meds. Absolutely, if you need them. If your anxiety is so through the roof that you could get into that anxiety state where you could take your life or you can’t just do daily activities of daily living, take it. Anti Depressants. If you are so depressed, you can’t get outta bed, you can’t do anything. Take it.
There is a reason that these meds are there. Are they forever drugs? For most, no. There are going to be the odd person with PTSD that may always need to be on some sort of an antidepressant and anxiety med. There may be. We have in our program, been able to get everybody off and the reason is that your gut is actually responsible for 90% of your seratonin.
Seratonin is your happy feel good? I’m calm, I’m not anxious hormone. Antidepressants and any anxiety meds are synthetic serotonin. So they’re giving your body the serotonin that your body needs. And until we start working on people’s guts, which we don’t do right away until we start working on people’s guts and getting them to where their body can start creating its own natural serotonin then the antidepressants and anxiety meds are definitely, definitely important. They’re needed. So there’s a time and a place for everything depending on what level you’re at with things and where you are.
And so with me, where I come in is helping with that gut, that switch that switches you in and out of the stress state. So the thing is, is we have guys coming to us struggling in their EMDR and they can’t process anything in EMDR. And that’s because they cannot at all switch in and out of their resting state. So helping them do that which actually just had a thought right now, because one of these emails that came in this week was somebody who had been struggling with EMDR.
And I’ve been working with them on some of the things to switch out of their stress system and they said they hadn’t felt it yet but when we first started, they weren’t making headway. They could not do anything in EMDR. And now they actually are able to do the EMDR process. So they may not be noticing that shift physically yet but it may have actually made that difference in their therapy. I’m going to have to check in with them on that but the thing is, is that studies have shown that if somebody is in too much of a stress state, if your stress nerve is so strong then you cannot process things in therapy.
So this is where different puzzle pieces come in at different places. We would help work with getting you out of that stressed state trying to calm that. Getting your sleep starting on track, but if you’re having nightmares and night flashes or then flashbacks then that is going to disrupt your sleep as well. And that’s something that I can’t do. I can help get the other parts of your sleep worked on but the therapy, the EMDR is what will help with the flashbacks.
We all need to work together. There’s different pieces to this puzzle. And so if somebody in EMDR or some therapist is saying that therapy is the only thing you need and you just need to work on the mindset, mental but you’re never working on getting your hormones back for sleeping and waking like we’ve spoke about in other podcast episodes. When we get the sleep and wake hormones, when your body doesn’t know because of shift work, when to sleep and wake, your sleep is going to be disrupted. You’re not going to get enough deep in REM sleep. All of the hormones aren’t going to be working and you are going to be shutting off your gut. And decreasing your body serotonin.
So that’s going to put you in an anxiety state, regardless of how much mental stuff you’re working on. But if you’re not working on the mental then when you’re constantly in this survival mode in your body where your body always needs to be on high alert and be aware then your slowing down those hormones that are messing up your sleep and you are slowing down your gut and decreasing your guts digestion.
So I, in my end can only make it so far with what I do if those traumas aren’t dealt with. So that’s why too, there’s different piece of puzzle. And that’s why so many people feel that they’re broken when they’re being sold on there’s one way and you have to do it this way and this is the only thing and not fully understanding how all of these pieces work together with your stress system.
And then the other thing too is there’s no quick fix. I mean, how long have you been in your career? We have guys 30, 35 years. We have some five, six years on very different how quick I’m going to be able to get somebody who’s six years on if depending some of them may have prior military background. So we have to factor that in some of them may have had really traumatic childhoods. We have to factor that in.
So somebody who has not had a lot of traumatic childhoods, who has not had a military or another career before this one and is maybe five, six years into this career without any huge traumas before that. I can get their system switched fast. We can get their gut back on track. We can get all these things fast and it’s going to take only a few like EMDR therapists in order to be able to make sure their system’s working great. So that will be faster than somebody who is 30, 35 years. Somebody who’s 15, 20, or somebody who’s had those backgrounds and traumas happening where they’ve lived in a stressed state.
So there’s so many factors as to how quick it’s going to be. I will say the longer you’ve been in your career, the longer it will take us. We can get you there but it’s going to have ups and downs. What happens is we can do some things to release some stress off your stress system. But then as soon as you get like a shift that’s extra hard or something tough happens in your personal life, extra long shift, or you just have a crappy sleep. It may set things back again and we need to pull out the tools and get things back.
So it’s not going to be a straight line with any of us. But you’re not broken. And like, let’s go to that guy who’s on the motorcycle with his leg amputated. Would you think that he is a weaker version of himself after he pushed through for over a year to get himself back? Like he may have had his moments where he was feeling broken. But he proved that wrong by picking up the pieces, putting them back together again.
And I’m placing bets that any of you, if you were to see this guy, you would see the strength in him and admire him and you would look up to him, wouldn’t you? So that’s no difference for any of you that have PTSD. Right? It’s going to suck. There will be days that you wonder if you have what it takes, but when you do get out the other side and you can be that parent to your kids that you’ve always wanted to be and haven’t been able to be because of how much these traumas were keeping you in a stressed state. Like you can get your life back.
The thing is our life, when does it ever, ever look the same? Right? Who you are going to be at the end of this is going to be a different person. You get to choose who that person is but if we look back, go back five years, go back another five, like look at who you were in high school. Look at who you were in elementary school. Those are all different people.
We are constantly growing and changing and evolving. You get to choose how you want to grow and change and evolve. Honestly, like I’ve seen guys in the deep depths, the deep, deep, deep depths, and they hit walls. They tried things and it didn’t work and they tried other things and it didn’t work, but they didn’t give up.
The one big thing I will say is they communicated. At the start quite often, it was solely with me. Where they opened up and they were talking about really what was going on but eventually they opened up with their spouse. And that’s when things really changed was when they were truthfully honest, brutally honest with their spouse about how much they were struggling and what was going on.
Their spouse already knew. And once they were a team working in it together at times where I’ll get in and chat with the two of them still hit roadblocks, still a bumpy road but we get there. We get there in the end. And this doesn’t mean every day’s perfect cause nobody’s day’s perfect. But it really does mean that we’re going to get out of this at the end.
I do wanna also say something about services is that when you got into your service, most services, even to this day are unaware of how how much EMDR can play a role in your longevity in this career, how much what I do working on your gut, making sure that you’re sleep like many of them don’t know. They just think that your body just naturally knows when to sleep in wake. And that the shift work isn’t going to affect it at all. That they don’t know that every call that you go to your gut slows down and it starts getting gut issues and it changes your serotonin.
They don’t know these things. Five years ago, 10 years ago like, I don’t even know, like these were not out as much. I don’t know anybody else that does what I do in the way that I do it. That it’s not your service’s fault they don’t know. But some things that you can start doing, if you are somebody that is in the steps where you feel you may be broken, give me a shout. I will help you with directions. Or start looking into your insurance may cover EMDR. See if you can get into an EMDR. Make sure they are an EMDR therapist that specializes in first responders or they’re not going to get you. They’re not going to get your life. They’re not going to be able to really dive in and that I’ve heard stories where therapists have had their jaws dropped when some of these guys started telling them their traumas.
So make sure they are trained. Check with your insurance. A lot of your insurance covers it. If you are not at the stage where you’re broken, I have these conversations with my husband all the time. Where if somebody was to go once a month to EMDR, you start learning a therapist. We all have childhood shit. We all do. I actually thought that I grew up with a really good childhood because I had a roof over my head. We were middle class. I just thought that everything was happening in my house was normal. Right?
You don’t know anything different except for what you grew up in. And then once you start, seeing “Oh, okay. That’s how I was talked to you every single day. That’s probably not the best for my self worth.” But the thing is, is as parents, we’re all going to screw up something with our kids. We always are.
So going back start dealing with some of whatever those things are. And anything like admin stressors start going to EMDR just for admin stressors and just the small, basic things. But if you do that once a month then if a huge trauma call does happen to you, you already have a rapport somebody. You already know where they are. You’ve already done all that other stuff. So that’s all out of the way that you can dive into that trauma right away and that means that it can start getting a file and it’s not going to float around in your brain for long.
It’s not going to start creating behaviors that you then need cognitive behavior therapy to help you with. It’s not going to be setting off your gut, setting off your nervous system, messing up your sleep with what we do. So doing that will really be helping you for the longevity of your career, if you are not at a PTSD level.
So definitely that would be my biggest thing is start looking into that. And then what I do is make sure your sleep is on track. I do make sure that the nerve that is often affected by PTSD is really strong. That nerve that we strengthen the resting nerve is the one that’s damaged by PTSD interesting, eh?
So if we strengthen it, I don’t know, there’s no statistics, there’s no studies out there but if we strengthen that nerve that’s damaged by PTSD, wouldn’t it become stronger against PTSD damage as well? And then help make sure that you understand how to keep your gut as strong as possible so that you can be emitting your natural serotonin so you can shut in and out. You can sleep all on shift doing that plus that EMDR honestly that would be my recipe for any new responder.
It’s like sports. They always have a physiotherapist on hand. So you always know this physiotherapist already knows your body. They already know what’s going on with it. That whenever there’s any injury, they already know what they should be doing right then and there. That’s the way that an athlete that their life is designed. Where they do have all of these measures in place so that if something does happen, they are on top of it and can get back in the game the fastest.
All right. Now that you know, the solution, you have a choice. You can get your stress system strong and you can push through this crap. And depending on how deep you are in the traumas, it’s going to suck more and more but you can do it. And getting out of there is so much better than staying in that crap place where you are wondering constantly if you are broken.
So this episode is a little bit different today. I don’t normally talk about therapy or the mental side of things but it is a big piece of the puzzle. And it’s really, really, really important for you to know that you are not broken.