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Below is a true story from Auburn Sandstrom’s book,All These Wonders: True Stories about Facing the Unknown. The book piqued my interest because LEOs face the unknown daily. This story warmed my heart and reminded me the true power of struggle and the beauty in kindness:
“The year is 1992, Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’m curled up in a fetal position on a filthy carpet in a very cluttered apartment. I’m in horrible withdrawal from a drug that I’ve been addicted to for several years now.
“In my hand I have a little piece of paper. It’s dilapidated because I’ve been folding it and unfolding it, to the point that it’s almost falling apart. But you can still make out the phone number on it.
“I’d been having a nonstop anxiety attack for the last five years. And I’d never been in a darker or more desperate place than I was that night. My husband was out running the streets, trying to get ahold of some of the stuff that we needed, but I knew if he succeeded, he was not going to share.
“And if I could, I would jump out of my own skin and run screaming into the streets to get what I need. But right behind me, sleeping in the bedroom is my baby boy.
“Now, I wasn’t going to get a Mother of the Year award in 1992. In fact, at the age of twenty-nine, I was failing at a lot of things.
“I was raised in comfort and privilege. I was that girl who had the opera lessons, spoke fluent French, and had her expensive undergraduate college paid for. I was that person who, when my checking account ran out, would say something to my parents and two hundred dollars would magically appear.
“I came to the conclusion that the thing I needed to do with my privilege and all the comfort that I’d had all my life was to destroy it. Rip it in half. Spit on it. Piss on it. Set it on fire.
“I was twenty-four, he was forty, and I was smitten, in love. It was so exciting—who he was, how he talked, the way he looked at the world. And it was beautiful for a while, until he introduced me to one of his old activist friends, who introduced us to the drug I was now addicted to.
“I had tried to change my affiliations and transform myself. I had wanted to shed my class. I would have shed my race if I could have.
“Underneath my withdrawal and terrible anxiety was a sure knowledge that I was leading the life that was going to lead to me to losing the most precious thing I’d ever had in my life, which was that baby boy.
“I was so desperate at that moment, that I became willing to punch the numbers into the phone.
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“The phone number was something my mother had sent me. Now, mind you, I hadn’t been speaking to my parents or anybody else for three, four, five years.
“But she’d managed to get this number to me by mail, and she said, “Look, this is a Christian counselor, and since you can’t talk to anybody else, maybe sometime you could call this person.”
“Now, I think it goes without saying that I wasn’t hanging real tight with that sort of thing in those days. But I was so anxious and in such a desperate state. I was emaciated, covered in bruises.
“I punched in the numbers. I heard the phone pick up. I heard a man say, ‘Hello.’ And I said, ‘Hi, I got this number from my mother. Uh, do you think you could maybe talk to me?’
“I heard him shuffling around in the bed, you know? You could tell he was pulling some sheets around himself and sitting up. I heard a little radio in the background, and he snapped it off, and he became very present.
“He said, ‘Yes, yes, yes. What’s going on?’
“I hadn’t told anybody, including myself, the truth, for a long, long time. And I told him I wasn’t feeling so good and that I was scared and that things had gotten pretty bad in my marriage.
“Before long I started telling him other truths, like I might have a drug problem, and I really, really love my husband, and I wouldn’t want you to say anything bad about him, but he has hit me a few times. And there was a time when he pushed my child and me out into the cold and slammed the door behind us.
“And then there was a time when we were going sixty miles an hour down the highway, and he tried to push us out of the moving vehicle.
“I started telling those truths. And this man didn’t judge me. He just sat with me and was present and listened and had such a kindness and such gentleness. “Tell me more. . . .
“And do you know, I’d made that call at two in the morning. And he stayed up with me the whole night, just talking, just listening, and just being there until the sun rose.
“By then I was feeling calm. The raw panic had passed. I was feeling okay. I was feeling like, I can splash my face with water today, and I can probably do this day.
“I wouldn’t have cared if the guy was like a Hare Krishna or a Buddhist—it didn’t matter to me what his faith was.
“I was very grateful to him, and so I said, ‘Hey, you know, I really appreciate you and what you’ve done for me tonight. Aren’t you supposed to be telling me to read some Bible verses or something? Because that’d be cool, I’ll do it, you know. It’s all right.’
“He laughed and said, ‘Well, I’m glad this was helpful to you.’
“And we talked some more, and I brought it up again.
“I said, ‘No, really. You’re very, very good at this. I mean, you’ve seriously done a big thing for me. How long have you been a Christian counselor?’
“There’s a long pause. I hear him shifting. ‘Auburn, please don’t hang up,’ he says. ‘I’ve been trying not to bring this up.’
“’What?’ I ask.
“’You won’t hang up?’
“’I’m so afraid to tell you this. But the number you called . . .’ He pauses again. ‘You got the wrong number.’
“Well, I didn’t hang up on him, and we did talk a little longer. I never would get his name or call him back.
“But the next day I felt this kind of joy, like I was shining. I think I’ve heard them call it ‘the peace that passes understanding.’ I had gotten to see that there was this completely random love in the universe. That it could be unconditional. And that some of it was for me.
“And I can’t tell you that I got my life totally together that day. But it became possible to get some help and get the hell out. And it also became possible as a semi-sane, single parent to rise up that precious, baby boy into a magnificent young scholar and athlete, who graduated from Princeton University in 2013 with honors.”
Though my story is absent addiction, I identified with the woman in the story. The phone call reminded me of my life’s darkest moment; getting blinded-sided by divorce after a weekend that celebrated my birthday and marriage.
Not sleeping or eating for days that followed gave me hallucinations, paranoia and anxiety attacks. My heart was broken. My mind was racing. We had moved to another state away from family, and close friends. I was alone and broken. My only comfort was that I could end the horror by going to my bedroom where the only friends I had were: Smith and Wesson, Glock, and Ruger.
In that moment ending my pain seemed right.
I would not be writing this article if my brother did not answer my call and immediately get on a plane to rescue me from this hell. I am indebted to him for life. I am also incredibly thankful to the countless family, friends, and officers, some whom I never met that called me because they were concerned.
Today I am alive and doing well because my brother answered my call. If you are that officer struggling, make a call now.
Now more than ever, with the uncertainty of Covid-19 and violent protesters, you may know someone struggling; show concern and lend an ear.
An encounter of this nature will be healing for you too. Police Officers are in the most depressing spot that I have ever seen for law enforcement.
An increase in suicide is on the horizon as cops feel the stress of hatred and interpersonal violence against them and betrayal by their leaders.
It seems nobody will understand or listen. That is false. I am living proof, a believer when Auburn Sandstrom says:
“This is what I know. In the deepest, blackest night of despair, if you can get just one pinhole of light . . . all of grace rushes in.”
Brian T. McVey, MAP. Proud dad, former Chicago Police Officer injured in the line of duty in 2012. Brian likes to hear from you: contact Brian at [email protected].
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