An Unexpected Journey, February 9, 2017 – published with permission of Author

Like Bilbo Baggins and company, the other day I wrote about an adventure I was taking out into the world, away from the comfort and safety of my wee home and the emotional security it provides. It was to be an exciting thing, scary and wrought with danger, but hopefully just as rewarding. I may not have been venturing into the lair of a fire-breathing dragon to find a fabled jewel, but for me, and people like me, stuff like what I was planning on doing can be pretty much the same thing: I was going to be surrounded by people I did not know making all kinds of noise in a confined space I’d never been to before and for the bulk of an entire day. The horror!

The motivation was not about pushing my comfort bubble, though that was certainly on my mind, but rather to attend a conference sponsored by Badge of Life Canada on Surviving Trauma and Building Resilience for first responders. Which I suppose is the same thing, now that I think about it. Come, let’s share a bit of second breakfast while I tell you of my feats of heroic questing and the terrible beasts I came to slay on the great journey to the Lonely Mountain.

Though I do have valid automobile insurance, I don’t have a valid vehicle registration. In Ontario, you can do that, and when the time came to re-register last October, I had to choose between the two things, and I’d rather risk a chunky ticket than an accident without proper insurance. This means I am constantly on edge watching for the fuzz and it’s why I do not, as a rule, go further than the Walmart just down the road or my GP’s office on the other side of the city. Lynne Rusk, one of the director’s of the organization and the person who’d reached out with a free ticket for me, met this excuse by offering to arrange a ride with someone attending from a smaller town very close to me.

Now, I wanted to go to this thing. I wanted to begin getting out for events like this with other first responders, not only because my little hole in the ground was becoming constrictive, but because it’s important and I am eager to become more involved in my own healing, and that of others. It took a few moments of arguing with Hieronymus the hippocampus and Amy the amygdala (that’s me, always original), before I agreed to this outrageous demand.

The night before I had maybe four hours of dodgy sleep and when I woke up 45 minutes before the alarm, I just shut it off and stumbled out of bed. I expressed my anxiety on Facebook as I’m known to do, but used my healthy tools to get ready and be at the door when this stranger pulled up to get me. Bruce is a retired firefighter who had been a navy corpsman in Viet Nam, so there was no dearth of things to talk about and the hour and a half drive went by quickly. He was also very aware of the trouble I might have and told me that if I wanted to leave early, to just let him know.

People are good. One barrier broken.

One more, only perceived, was that there’d be people attending I’d only ever known through social media, and I had terrible visions of being swamped by them all at once the moment I walked in the door. Because, you know, I’m that special and important. Someone did walk up to me right away, but only because we’d come in through a side entrance and not the front of the building by the registration desk. Gary Rubie, another BoLC director, introduced himself with a firm handshake and a friendly smile. When I told him my name, he said, “I didn’t recognise you with the funky hair.” (Haircuts are expensive.) At the desk, I finally met Lynne, with another warm smile, and if not completely at ease I was feeling remarkably less anxious. Even more so when two people in line behind me, who I did know in person but had not expected to see, called out my name. Good hugs all around and anyone who follows me knows how I feel about those.

The morning lectures were technical in nature, on psychology and psychopharmacology and the neurobiology of PTSD, which I found to be interesting, thought-provoking, and really informative. Sciency words and all that. I started taking notes but decided in the end to simply soak it up because I knew there would be a video available I could watch later. I had my first real problems when we broke for lunch, though.

Noisy crowd in the narrow lobby, milling about, lining up at the catering tables, discussing the morning or just being social and trying to be heard over the general din, which only made the general din more dinnier. Cops in uniform or those cop haircuts and bad suits, too much laughter, probably all at my expense (who is that hippy in the corner?), huddles forming like cliques in a high school cafeteria, more loud laughter (who let him in?), where’s the exit and maybe I should just leave now but I don’t want to disappoint anyone. Though I wasn’t feeling hungry, I forced down a small sandwich but stood with my back to a pillar feeling distinctly like a cat in a cage. I imagine I looked like one, too.

Anyone familiar with Badge of Life Canada, or the general first responder support community up here, will know of Syd Gravel. A big guy with friendly eyes and a mustache more firefighter than retired police staff sergeant, he stopped as he passed and asked how I was doing. And I told him. What happened for a couple of hours after will forever stick in my mind as a watershed event on my personal journey, and, I hope, for the others who joined us in a small, quiet room for an impromptu peer group meeting. We missed the first couple of speakers after lunch, but nobody looked at the clock. None of us were small men, and I was the only non-cop, but there were lots of tears and more camaraderie than I’d ever felt during the time I wore a uniform and had been vilified so much for initially speaking out that I never did again, until now. The hugs were strong, and real, and so comforting that all anxiety I had going into the room sloughed off before I left it.

So much so that during the final lecture on medical marijuana, when the speaker rhetorically asked if anyone remembered the seventies, I yelled out, “I don’t remember the seventies at all, man!”

Holy shitballs, did I just call attention to myself? On purpose? It got a good laugh, and made me smile.

It was a very rewarding adventure. The Lonely Mountain had been reclaimed by its rightful heirs, Bilbo Baggins had found his courage (and the One Ring), and there would be tales told of it for years to come even as others were yet to be lived. I am grateful for the company of warriors I journeyed with (of which you are one), and exceptionally proud of myself, because we need to own that when it comes to us.

But second breakfast is done now, and it’s almost time for elevenses. Stick around for a bit longer, there’s plenty of food here for everyone.


Badge of Life Canada “Marijuana: The Good, Bad & Challenging” Addictions Dr Tony George – Though you can’t hear me in this clip, at about 56:55 you can hear Dr George ask the question and the audience reaction to my little contribution. The other lectures from the day are available there, as well, and are worth spending the time to watch.