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First Responder Eyes

I am currently working in a very Northern Community. An opportunity arose for our family to get ahead in life. I jumped at the opportunity and have loved every moment so far. Is it hard? Sure, the shifts are long and the cold weather hovers around -55 degrees Celsius. There is something truly beautiful though about the landscape, the people, and even the cold crisp air.

The people here in the community are amazingly kind and friendly. They also suffer in the worst kind of ways. Suicide attempts and substance abuse are much higher and more prominent here. Generational trauma, addictions, adverse childhood trauma, isolation, pain and suffering do incredible harm to people.

A local RCMP Officer came in moments ago. We talked about trauma, and I was told by this Officer that he is doing well and really isn’t impacted by the trauma that happens from Policing. Could this be classic denial? Possibly, what I did though was watch his behaviours to look for the subtle clues that show where someone is at. See the body often subconsciously gives off signs as to how it is handling trauma and environmental stress. I listened to his story, watched him express himself the best that he could. Watched the small things that he expressed with his body language and the non-verbal cues we all have. I paid close attention to the conversation that happens on the subconscious level, the one that we may not be aware of.

The entire time we spoke he looked off to the side of me, at the height of where my head would be but ensured eye contact was not made. Nearly twenty minutes of conversation and not once did we make eye contact. I looked at him waiting for it to happen, but it never did. He would find anything around him. Was it in an effort to ground himself and distract oneself from the pain that existed within?

Only he knows the answer.

What I do know is at one point in my career, I too was this way. Unable to connect with people, unable to look them in the eye. I could connect with someone in the moment of their pain and suffering, but when the uniform came off, I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. Reflecting on this it was as if I tried to protect others from the intense pain I held within. The trauma I had been exposed to was locked away. I couldn’t let it out and my eyes were like the vault door keeping things securely stowed away. I was unwilling to share with anyone what my pain looked like. Fearful that in some twisted sense if I shared my pain, I would cast it on others impacting them at the same time. Protecting others, really had become something that my identity had become on so many layers. Sworn to protect, but how do we unload that same pain and suffering we collect from others. We can’t give it back, can we?

Our eyes allow trauma in. We see things, sometimes things we wish we didn’t see. Sometimes things we take in and do not know how to let out. If people could look into our eyes, we for sure would be defenceless and unable to hide our pain and suffering that exists within. Our eyes are our gateway to the soul. We may be able to hide our pain well, but our eyes and our behaviours tell such a different story.

Check in with yourself. Pay attention to where you cast your eyes while possibly connected with others. Hold awareness into where you allow your eyes to go. Allow yourself to step forward and ask for help. It is then and there where healing takes place, in connection with others.

Pain shared is pain divided, and you are only as sick as your secrets ~ Dave Grossman

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