There is an old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never break me.” Supposedly the saying originated in the March 1862 Issue of The Christian Recorder.
Several versions have peppered history since then but I am going to call BS on the whole saying.
Words can hurt.
Words are powerful.
Words are not simply sounds caused by our mouths shaping air passing through our larynx. Words have real power. No matter what your faith, there is truth in what I speak. Thousands of self-help gurus talk about speaking things into reality and about the power to change your life with your words.
In the scriptures there is a lot about words. Matthew 12:36 warns us to be careful of careless words while Proverbs 18:21 death and life are in the power of the tongue. The Muslim faith believes that Words can be weapons. Words can wound, humiliate and inflict pain far greater than physical violence. Buddhism teaches of “right speech”.
There is no mistake here. Every religion recognizes the power of words and rightfully so.
When I speak to agencies about critical stress and PTSD it is from the heart rather than some concocted program borrowed from some non-profit in an office building. I speak of my own struggles, my own pains and mostly my own mistakes.
The greatest mistake is that of words.
You see, last night it happened again. The night had been going great watching television with the kids until suddenly something on the screen jumped right onto my chest. Leaving the room, I dashed out onto the front porch into the dark and began to throw up. What is wrong with me? It’s a stupid show about responders!
Maybe you are like me. Little things trigger you. Smells. Sounds. Dates.
Post traumatic stress can take over your life without the right people in that life to walk with you and talk to you and to sometimes just hold your hand. To keep this all “blog-length”, I am not going to tell you my entire story, but I want to share with you what I found out about words and how it all started. If you are a young responder, then I beg you especially to keep reading.
It started with words.
How many times have you, as a responder come home to the question “How was your shift?” or perhaps “How was that call?”
Responding in a small town it was always inevitable that a scanner-listener would catch you the next day with “What happened last night?”
I would respond with simple answers like “We had a car wreck” or, “We had a fire last night” or, “I had a kid that tried suicide”.
Perhaps my life would be a bit different now if I had not been lying. You see, I never had a kid that tried to commit suicide. Somebody ELSE had a kid that tried to commit suicide and I attended that event. I did not have a fire that night, somebody in my town had a fire and I responded to it. I was never in car wreck…I showed up at one.
What years later turned into something that resembled demon possession was actually my poor choice of words for years.
From the very beginning I had possessed demons. I had taken possession of instances, events and accidents that were not mine to own because they belonged to someone else.
You see, I did not suffer trauma in a car wreck, loss in a fire and I did not experience fear watching my kid near death. I took on trauma in a different way. Trauma is the inability to deal with a certain stressful situation, which leads to feeling overwhelmed and powerless. In short, it's not being able to process difficult emotions to completion and then enact the solution.
This is when trauma is internalized and has a life of its own inside our brain and nervous systems. What opened that door was my own internalizing of other people’s trauma. I spoke the words…MY accident…MY fire…
When we take ownership of these types of experiences and it is much easier for us to hold onto them and our brains incorporate them into our memories as our own.
Now imagine what happens over a period of years. What if every few days you were in a tragic car accident? What if every few days you lost one of your children? What if every few months you watched your wife die? You would understandably be a complete and utter wreck of a human wouldn’t you?
When we call the disaster OURS, we take that in. We speak it into ourselves with our own words. Day after day, night after night, call after call and shift after shift we all internalize these experiences as our own and then we wonder why we begin to see behavioral, cognitive, and/or emotional setbacks in our lives.
There is not one treatment for everyone and certainly I am not the man holding all the answers to those nightmares and memories, but I can share one truth and that is this: if you are a responder, you have answered a special call and you have been given the honor of attending events in the lives of others and you are given the chance to take away some of the pain they are experiencing while in attendance.
But they are not your events.
The greatest insight I received into my own healing was the day I realized that words have power. It was then that I stopped possessing demons that were not even mine. The way I worded things, the things I spoke out into the atmosphere and beyond changed and so did my burden.
Do I still have issues? Sure. I missed the rest of TV night with the family, but things are better and as soon as I quit writing this, I am going to say that out loud.