I am so very thankful to have been a guest at the recent Badge of Life Conference in Richmond Hill, Ontario. This was a very informative day with knowledgeable presenters and wonderful fellowship among emergency first responders. Although presently it is mostly police who are involved in this, I see that other services are starting to come out as well. Despite the often bantering between services, when push comes to shove we all share a common brother/sisterhood.
In 2001, I was push into an early retirement from my 25 year fire service career due to operational stress injuries, i.e. cumulative stress / post traumatic stress / compassion fatigue.
At that time we were just starting to hear about these issues from pioneers such as Dr. Bella Strainer and Dr. Jeffery Mitchell. Yet, at that point in time no one was really on board with traumatic stress issues in the emergency services. So they hooked me up with the City of Burlington ‘Employ Assistance Program’ and couldn’t understand why I didn’t get better, didn’t smarten up and didn’t “get with the program”.
Since that time change has been slowly making its way into the workplace. With the recent attention given to work related stress in the workplace in general across Canada, emergency service agencies are more closely examining the work they do and its effects on its members. They are beginning to better understand and appreciate the human side of their human capital. Municipalities are starting to realize that emergency first responders are actually more than just flesh, blood, bone, and electrical impulses. They are finally learning that to focus solely on the task level often creates stagnation in the personal growth of the employee; as well as increasing sick time and decreasing productivity.
Despite the changes and the increased focus there is still a lack of understanding regarding traumatic stress issues. We are still concerned with our strength and our resilience to trauma. After all, we are the ones who run toward the sound of gun fire and go running into burning buildings when others are running the other way. We are the good guys, the hero’s. No one wants to be the weak link in the chain. So we suck it up, we have a few too many drinks and take it out on our family.
As a combat veteran and through my chaplaincy with the American Legion in Ontario, as well as the United Council of Veterans (Hamilton and area), I have tried where possible to assist veterans and first responders work through job related moral conflict. Accordingly, I was well pleased to see Syd’s treatment of this issue at the conference.
With the continued efforts of Badge of Life Canada I can see improvements in the emergency services with regard to post traumatic stress. While we still have much work to do in educating human resource departments, finance departments, chief officers, and our sisters and brothers in blue, I see a light at the end of the tunnel; and it’s not a train.
There was talk of the ‘warrior mentality’ in our first responders. However, I don’t think many of our members truly understand what the warrior archetype is all about. I am writing about this in my present book project entitled “From Departure to Initiation to Return: Development of the Mature Human Male (and Society)”
In the upcoming book I write the following:
“No society is healthy without a healthy, functioning elder warrior class leading the way into a future of hope, responsibility, true security, and peacemaking based on the transformational wisdom gained from ordeal. We have developed a national taboo against admitting this essence of Warriorhood, leaving the veteran mistrustful of how he or she will be treated by non-veterans, fearing rejection and hating the question, “Did you ever kill anyone?”
As a hero archetype the warrior is a near god-like figure who faces physical challenges and both external as well as internal enemies. Odysseus comes to mind, as does Achilles.
Warriors have been a mainstay of civilization for at least the last 5000 years, since the dominance of the patriarchy and sedentary agricultural societies of recorded history. In fact we know of more than 14,600 wars waged in the 5,600 years of recorded history. Like it or not, almost all societies have warriors and each of us has an interior warrior. Sadly television, the movies and the news media have gravely distorted the image of the real warrior into that of a cold killing machine. In actuality this image couldn’t be further from the truth. Sadly today, due to this distortion there is the great divide between our veterans and society. As I mentioned in the Introduction, The Marines were at war while America was at the mall.
Authentic Warriorhood is living by an ethos – a code of honor – a creed. It is a way of living life. Warriorhood is a pathway through life with a set of expectations, norms, behaviors, and values that must be fulfilled and guided by a high moral code of conduct.
Our veterans need to be seen for who they are and what they gave. We need to attempt to understand their present struggles and we need to love and honor them for their unchanging essence of devotion and sacrifice to us and our Nation. Traditional cultures did not hide this essential task of warriors, either from young warriors – to – be or their people. As stated by Christina Spalin in a 1991 article, “The Warrior is a basic building block of masculine psychology, and therefore masculine spirituality.” Sadly today Warriorhood is mostly misrepresented in the media and accordingly is completely misunderstood by many”.
The elder warrior class I speak of above can also apply to senior and retired members of our Police, Fire and EMS services.
The term ‘Authentic Warriorhood’ can also apply to emergency first responders as well as our military. One of the ethos’s of Authentic Warriorhood is to leave no one behind! This is an area that needs work in the emergency services. Too often I have seen a member ‘thrown under the bus’ by another member.
Also our veterans, as well as our first responders, need to be seen for whom they are and what they have given. Again, the popular media does a poor job of this and often skews the truth.
I am passionate about this topic as it is a major part of my life, of who I am. For years I fought the Red Devil with large volumes of water and big red trucks. Today I fight a different form of the Red Devil; I use words, love, compassion, and of course, God.
Along those lines I focus my attention on moral injury. Moral injury is a complex wound of the soul. It can produce feelings of guilt, unresolved grief, angst, distrust, betrayal, shame and contrition. This in turn can result in a crisis of meaning and a loss of faith in general. Again I was so glad to see this addressed by Syd.
Secular approaches treat moral injury as neuroses or psychic disorders that ‘inhibit individual self-actualization and interfere with authentic urges and feelings’. However, in my opinion, field work is increasingly showing the inadequacies of this approach solely by itself. Many who struggle with moral injuries/internal conflicts, experience a profound spiritual crisis. While one may not necessarily be religious or spiritual, critical incidents and spirituality often intersect. Therefore, I believe that effective treatment and repair of moral injuries requires cognitive behavioral re-processing coupled with a welcoming community, a caring nonjudgmental moral authority, and a means for making restitution and offering forgiveness. Accordingly, healing from moral injury requires reflection and spiritual guidance, as it often involves a healing of the spirit.
Thank you again for your generosity. I hope to have a long and successful relationship with Badge of Life Canada.
Bruce Lacillade, M.A.
About the Author: Retired as Fire Prevention Inspector, Bruce does contract work as fire protection consultant and enjoys volunteer work in addition to his calling and vocation as a Chaplain and leader in his Parish. Over the past decade Bruce has also facilitated a variety of seminars and training programs dealing with several different topics including Spiritual and Faith issues, Health and Safety, and Fire Protection. He has also authored and published two (2) books on Fire Protection as well as several respected articles on Spirituality.
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