I’ve been a cop for 18 years now.  And that’s how I can confidently tell you that there’s no such thing as post-traumatic stress.  It doesn’t exist.

Before you flip out, read on.

The first time I planned to off myself was a bright, late spring day.  There were literally birds chirping.  I was slowly cruising through a park with the windows of my vehicle down. I smelled charcoal from a grill somewhere in the park.

Immediately I flashed back to childhood, when my father used to beat me… bad… then invite company over. “You’d better smile,” he told me, after my whooping.  “The neighbors are coming by for a cookout.”

Decades after that, I responded to a call at a summer BBQ.  A husband had beat his wife to the point of near death and actually held her hands on to a charcoal grill to “teach her a lesson.”  The smell of charcoal brought back these memories, the smells of burning flesh and her screams of pain.

I cruised to a stop. It would be so… full circle… to just eat the muzzle right there in that park.

A young boy ran after a ball in the park.  I snapped out of it.

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I called my sergeant. I talked to him on his personal phone.

“Get your shit together,” he told me.  “You don’t have post-traumatic stress.  You have a problem with your testicles.  Pick them up. Sew them back on.  You start talking about that PTS crap and you’re going to be locked up and adios, copper.”

There’s no such thing as post-traumatic stress.

The second time I considered that I should off myself was after a 100 hour week.  Bad crashes, I mean real bad.  Shootings.  Stabbings. Lots of blood.  Death.  Just a shit week.

Got home.  The wife told me we had a blocked pipe in the bathroom sink.

Great.

I dropped onto my back and shimmied underneath it.  I started turning the wrench and the smell of copper hit me.

It was blood. Everywhere.  At least in my nose.

“I can’t do this,” I thought.  “I can’t do this job.  I can’t do this sink.”

A rushed yell from my wife.

“Honey – what’s taking so long?” my wife called.  “We’re going to be late to meet the neighbors for dinner!”

My head screamed.

“I can’t do this I can’t do this I can’t do this.  I can’t do the sink I can’t do the neighbors I can’t do the family I can’t do the life thing.”

I finished up the sink. We went to the neighbor’s house. 

“How’s the job?” asked Joe.

Ha.  I want to go out in a blaze of glory.  But I don’t want to be that guy.

“It was a rough week,” I said, not going into any details.

He handed me a drink.

“Welcome to being a man,” he told me.  “Suck it up and deal with it, right?”

There’s no such thing as post-traumatic stress.

This cycle repeated itself dozens of times over an approximately three year period.  It gave me plenty of time to figure out how I was going to finally end things.

The week I was going to do it, an old friend popped back into my life unexpectedly.  “Mike” as I’ll refer to him, had been my best buddy in high school.  When we graduated, he went into the military and I went into law enforcement.  We lost touch when he went into B.U.D.S.

My wife was out of town that particular week, in Seattle on a business trip.  Mike asked me if I wanted to grab a burger.

We did.  A burger and a beer.

And then another beer. And another.

And before I knew it, it was 11pm and I was on the brink of tears.

“Are you ok?” he asked me. “Because brother, after my last two deployments, I was pretty fucked up.  And you have in your eyes what I had in my soul for a very long time.”

I lost it.  Right there in a burger bar.  A grown man sobbing like a small child.

“Brother, it’s ok,” he kept telling me. 

I can’t even imagine what it looked like in that moment to everyone around us. 

“It’s ok – you’re not alone.  It just means you’re one of us.”

There’s no such thing as post-traumatic stress.

The next day, Mike dragged my ass off his couch at six in the morning.

“Where are we going?” I asked him.

He tossed me my shoes.

“For a hike,” he told me.

Great.  Just what I wanted.  I was hung over, depressed, anxious and embarrassed at being a little bitch in the middle of a burger joint.

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Four hours later, we crossed 6,000 feet of altitude.  I threw up. No warning.  No time to turn my head.  I literally barfed right onto my own feet.

“Brother,” he asked me, “when was the last time you prayed?”

I prayed for a Yankees win every year, but I didn’t think that counted.

“How about never?” I responded.

I’m not going to bore you with the details.  I’m not going to preach to you.  I’m not going to spend the next hour telling you about how puking on myself in front of a NAVY SEAL led me to find Jesus (it did).

But I’ll tell you the lesson I learned that day. 

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We don’t acknowledge post-traumatic stress as warriors because we are, in many cases, afraid to ask for help.  We are helpers.  We are protectors.  To ask for a hand means you’re putting a burden on others when you should be helping – at least that was what I thought.

But in order to help others, we need to help ourselves.  We need to help each other.  And we need to show other warriors that the only way we can be strong is to be with each other.

That weekend, I found faith. I found faith in God.  In myself.  In my friend. 

I found direction.  I found purpose.  And I found a greater calling.

There’s no such thing as post-traumatic stress. 

Except there is.  It’s in me. It’s in you.  It’s in all of us.

But in order to fix it… in order to learn how to thrive in life in spite of it… we need to first recognize it.