Chaplains to the rescue (for some)

I called one of the chaplains I know the other day.  I have struggled this past month for lots of reasons, but one reason being a specific case that I’m currently working.  A horrible, horrible case which appears to have no resolution in sight for a while.  I’ve gone through some really uncomfortable waves of uncertainty, gravity, confusion; these strange emotions have gone hand-in-hand with a sense of disconnectedness that makes my psyche ripe for anxiety and renders a blow to who I believe is “my self”.  My self is compassionate and also competent, caring, open, connected and in tune with the world around me.  I’ve tried to welcome the discomfort of uncertainty and confusion, and to sit with them in order to understand their origins and ultimately watch them leave.  Sometimes they go on their own accord, and sometimes I have to take matters into my own hands and forcefully tell “uncertainty” to go f#%k itself, because I know what I’m doing.  These internal conversations, as you can imagine, bring no peace.  It’s like I’m at war with what I know to be true, and what my physical body is telling me is true (with cortisol, and adrenaline, and increased blood pressure, and my sympathetic nervous system): “You’re in danger!  Protect yourself!  Are you SURE you know what you’re doing?  Is that REALLY the right decision?  The correct reaction?  The most efficient use of your time?”  All questions that bring doubt…a shaky self-esteem…self-skepticism.

Kind of funny how I didn’t want to bother any of my friends that day with my issues; my spouse is an amazing man but gently declines to listen to my war stories; and I was too lazy to call EAP and set up an appointment with a clinician.  This is the moment I decided to call a chaplain I know.  And I am so grateful that I did.

chaplain seeks to motivate and initiate meaningful use of each individual’s beliefs and attitudes in the management of their difficulties. The chaplain’s role is supportive, serving as a counsellor and guide to the psycho-spiritual needs of the individual.

I grew up in a religious household and enjoyed being Catholic most of my life, but I am decidedly non-religious now.  I only hesitated for a moment when I contacted this chaplain, because I feel like I’ve had a great deal of practice with “church-speak”, and if we started going down that road, I could deflect pretty expertly.  I can talk spirituality, it’s just that I choose not to.  It’s not my deal anymore, and I really just needed someone to help with listening to my insecurities, and maybe provide some insight.  I realize now that I actually needed someone to recognize the pain I was in, and someone who could wield the additional arsenal of spirituality and acceptance.  I have been, and still am, traumatized.  I needed a presence to calm my fears; I find it curious that I turned to a spiritual acquaintance for that, but now, after having a conversation with this chaplain, I realize it’s exactly what I needed.

We spoke about my fears; we spoke about my profession, in which so often we are invisible to the outside world; we spoke of choosing a job that points you in the direction of trauma and shoves you directly into it.  We spoke about first responders and last responders, our tongue-in-cheek way of describing ourselves as death investigators.  We spoke about competency, and the myth of competency being a force that doesn’t allow compassion or humanity to accompany it.  Am I really supposed to be so proficient at a job like this, and also de-sensitized to death and dying, because that’s what “competency” looks like?

Can I be competent at this career, and still maintain my humanity, my faith in people, my courage to connect to others?  How can we show others that our humanity and compassion in this field is a STRENGTH, and never weakness?

We talked about funeral directors, another forgotten profession.  If they chose that profession, that must mean they want to be in the middle of death and dying, right?  Do they enjoy it?  What makes someone become a funeral professional, anyway?  The same reasons, I suspect, that we became forensic scientists, or death investigators, or forensic pathologists, or police officers, or dispatchers.  We want to help.  Maybe we wanted to feel valued, make a difference, provide security to those around us.  Maybe we wanted to be part of the solution, or the RESOLUTION of incidents, events, cases.  One thing I know is that by-in-large, people in these professions are not callous, unfeeling, antisocial or clinical.  We have the utmost humanity; it gets tested and questioned almost every day, but one of the reasons we stay is because we are full of humanity, the hope and need to give closure, or comfort, or justice.

The chaplain assisted me immensely today.  I almost started to type, “MY chaplain”.  To my relief, our conversation was secular, caring, insightful and honest.  He was a voice of calm, comfort, and recognition of my trauma.  He gave me insight into his profession, and the courage it takes, as well.  I will be grateful and happy when we speak to each other again soon; I’ve found an outlet for debriefing in this unique professional whose life is devoted to shining a light on our humanity.

One of the most important lessons I took away from our conversation was this:

We cannot face trauma every day, and not have it affect us.  It touches our lives in many ways; no matter how well we think we’ve shaken it off, the trauma lingers.  How you deal with it is the pivotal choice we make.  Can we learn from it?  Can we grow through it?  This is the beginning of resilience.

If you need someone to listen, and you are already a person of faith, you may have already enlisted your chaplain during a difficult part of your life.  If you’re like me, you may look at a person in the roll of chaplain, and be slightly skeptical of their motives.  However, I’ve learned.  The chaplains I know, those that work with law enforcement, don’t preach or push any agenda…they serve.  Their listening skills are unparalleled, and they want to see you recover, grow, and thrive.  Consider reaching out to a chaplain you know in your agency if you’re struggling.  They may provide the insight you crave.

Here’s an article explaining a little more about military chaplains, and their role in the U.S. Army.  If you need suggestions regarding culturally-competent, law-enforcement based chaplains, feel free to reach out to your law enforcement agency or to me, and I can put you in touch with a chaplain from Oregon.  They are extremely willing to assist, and would love the chance to serve you.

Responder Life is a group of professionals dedicated to assisting those in high-reliability careers.  You may not consider yourself a “first responder”, but check out their website to learn a little bit more about peer mentoring and building resilience through intentional conversations with colleagues.

I can’t sign off with out again mentioning my mentor and the organization that allowed me to begin my mindfulness journey, Rich Goerling and The Mindful Badge Initiative.  Rich’s training and insight have allowed me to do some internal “heavy lifting” with greater ease and a more purposeful direction.  It’s an honor to continue to learn from him and continue to be a student of mindfulness and resilience.

As always, hugs from afar.  Reach out if you need to.  Keep smiling, friends. :0)