What happens when a hard driving, hard hitting person in a high charged career like law enforcement suddenly, or not so suddenly, meets that wall? That wall where you or your department realizes that either mentally or physically it’s time to hang up the badge because of burn out, physical injury, trauma or illness that just isn’t going to turn around, in spite of best efforts to keep going.

Depending on the circumstances, it seems like the end of the world, a gut=wrenching dislocation of a sense of identity, a fracturing of purpose, being lost.  A death like grief or for some, bitterness, anger or even rage.  Looking at the sacrifice, emotional, physical and mental, put into building a career, all lost.  A purpose, a belonging, and a meaning to life all seemingly gone.

Those are all feelings that I experienced. The question we have when faced with this decision is…”Is that it?”  Are we stuck with it or can we have a meaningful life after losing a calling or perhaps a relationship, marriage or other personal anchor?  Interestingly enough, if you’ve ever been to a good officer survival seminar, the answers are there.  For those that have been in the military, those skills are taught as well.  However, instead of defeating an enemy combatant or a criminal, the enemy we’ll be fighting is defeat.

Many years after I went through my “wall” experience, I heard a story about a historical figure as part of learning to be an Appleseed Instructor.  It struck me because it mirrored what I learned in officer survival training, things I’ve heard from combat veterans and what I learned after I got through hitting that wall.  Bear with me as I share a bit of American heritage.

On April 19th, 1775, a fellow by the name of Samuel Whittemore was 78 years old.  An old veteran of the French and Indian Wars, arthritic and slowed, gathered his fine brace of pistols, a musket. and a fancy French saber that he’d obtained when as he was quoted  “the owners no longer had need of them.”  He was preparing for the return trip of the British troops from their raid in Concord and they’d have to pass through his town, Menotomy.

He hid behind some stone walls to ambush them as they passed.  When they did, he fired so fast, they thought there was a platoon firing on them.  They sent flankers up to deal with the scurrilous rebels and Samuel was busy reloading his musket.  They fired, hitting him and blowing off the left side of his face, then bayoneted him 13 times.  He was left for dead as the fighting continued to rage.

Later, his family returned to find him.  Samuel was still trying to load his musket.  Horrified by his injuries, they carefully placed him on a door, carrying him to the doctor.  The doctor told them there was nothing he could do.  The family pled with the doctor to at least make him comfortable, so he cleaned him up the best he could, no antibiotics and no anesthetics!  Samuel did die…18 years later at the ripe old age of 96, some say after fathering several more children.

In considering this story, which is well documented in historical records at least with regards to his injuries and when he died, this man lived with disfiguring and crippling injuries, yet he continued living and fighting for another day of life, through very uncertain and chaotic times.

Looking back on my experience, through the darkest times, continuing the fight to reload prevented me from becoming another sad statistic.  I specifically used that training I received to survive a gun fight.  Instead of applying it to defeat a person attacking me, I used it to overcome defeat, fighting giving up or giving in to those feelings, no matter how overwhelming.  There were times it hurt so badly, I could not imagine living the rest of my life in that kind of pain.  It was those moments that using the training for survival and adapting it to fight defeat, rather than fighting people or circumstances, that made the difference, along with God’s grace.

There were times that felt like I was alone, abandoned, and could not see the hands reaching out to help me.  There are many veterans and others out there in that same situation.  The point I’d share is that we aren’t alone.  The psychological pain, sense of hopelessness, and failure can be defeated.  It may mean surviving one moment at a time, but each moment is victory over defeat.

The paradox is that when we most need help, we are least able to see it when in that kind of pain, even though it is right there.  That is when fighting defeat, rather than people or circumstances becomes so important.  We, who are supposed to be so together, with it, tough, now seemingly broken beyond repair need to remember that we would give a buddy a break and we deserve no less from ourselves.

It was in that darkness that a still, small voice came through the cacophony of pain reminding me to keep fighting.  Because I kept fighting, when I was ready, God sent the right people, at the right time to say the right things.  I am here today to tell all those in darkness that it was worth the fight…and even the pain.  We are much more than what we feel, think about this, as big as that pain is, we are bigger than that, even though we can’t see it at the time.  We are more than what we do or have done and even though we may get very weary and need to rest, getting back up and fighting again makes all the difference.

Understanding that flashbacks are much like physical pain after a dislocated joint begins healing, really eases the fears of feeling so out of control.  Minds that have been injured in essence dislocated, much like a physical injury, can and will heal with time. That is important to remember, as too often, we are more patient with ourselves over a physical injury than we are a psychological one.  In the beginning, small steps count as big victories, just like it would for a severe physical injury.

I share this for the person out there thinking about a permanent solution to a temporary problem, suicide.  Whether law enforcement, military or civilian, there is hope and help.  The important thing is to make a commitment to survive, commit to not hurting yourself or others, and commit to fight defeat. When you come out the other side, you will again see or perhaps for the first time will see how much you can make a positive difference in the world and that you have much more than you know now to offer the world.  Failures happen, some days we aren’t where we think we should be, but that isn’t defeat. Defeat is letting the demons win and not fighting back. The first step is that commitment to fight defeat.

TEAM LET wants you to know that if you have hit the wall Juli discusses, free and confidential help is available 24 hours per day at 206-459-3020, Safe Call Now.  Phone lines are manned by trained police officers and firefighters who have been through what you are experiencing.  They can listen to you, advise you, and refer you to help in your local area.  Regardless of what you have done or seen, Safe Call Now’s records are kept confidential by Washington State Law, no matter where you call from. 

Juli Adcock began her career in law enforcement with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a local Rape Crisis Center and in victim’s advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She currently resides in New Mexico and is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.org). The Appleseed Project is a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 3 to 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen. Juli instructs basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership. She also writes for The Badge Guys (www.thebadgeguys.com).  She can be reached at [email protected] or through Law Enforcement Today