I have started and stopped this email many times over the past couple of months. I have asked myself if this this helpful; do I do more harm than good; what are the implications of this, etc…
The reason I am writing now is that I recognize if we are to create an environment in the RCMP where employees can feel BRAVE to speak up then it has to start at the top. You have suggested this very thing in one of your postings.
Let me start by saying that I have not suffered from an occupational stress injury but rather I came into the RCMP with more “baggage” than even I realized at the time. This was related to trauma I suffered during my youth associated with domestic violence, the tragic loss of my sister, and rape. My environment was such that one did not speak up as it would indicate weakness. As getting help was not a perceived option I became severely bulimic, attempted suicide twice, and began a downward spiral.
By the time I entered university I was firmly convinced that I was worthless. I failed most of my classes and I did not care. My bulimia became progressively worse and I eventually resorted to taking food supplies from my roommates during my “binge and purge” sessions. I was almost in a manic state as I scrounged for food to support the habit, if you will. Then when I had sufficiently gorged on food I broke down in tears almost every time as I forced myself to throw up. It was a cycle I repeated as much as 3 times a day.
My joining the RCMP was the result of strange luck. One evening I met up with a few individuals who had recently returned from Depot. They were literally glowing with pride about their new careers and the good they would be doing. For the first time I thought that I could turn my experiences into something positive and help others. So I improved my grades, applied and was accepted.
I was completely unprepared for my reactions to incidents of domestic violence, sexual assault, suicides and suicide attempts. Unfortunately at this time there was still some resentment over women in the RCMP so there was no way I was going to tell anyone I was suffering and be labeled as one of “those female members” who could not cut it.
I partied too much in my off-duty time and continued to simply suffer in silence. I believe I really hit rock bottom when I attended one particular regimental dinner, drank too much and well, things happened…
Just when I thought it was time to “check out”, a new corporal arrived at my detachment. For whatever reason he and his wife took my into their care, so to speak, and for the first time I truly felt a sense of being valued and supported.
I am not going to say it was easy from this moment forward; it wasn’t. But what I did find in myself was a sense of purpose and I finally began to channel my experiences into something meaningful. I felt good about who I was starting to become….yes indeed there was hope after all. This corporal and his wife saved my life!
It was not long before this bubble burst. One fall at another detachment I attended a fatal motor vehicle accident involving a 16-year old girl who was not wearing her seatbelt…a somewhat similar scene to one where I had lost my sister years before. When I arrived on scene something very strange happened. I kept asking the paramedics if she was dead over and over again. When the girl’s father and brothers arrived, my legs gave out and I sank to the pavement. I sobbed and sobbed and couldn’t function. I clung on to the girl’s family for days after that and I really have no idea why.
I told no one about the incident and made the decision to leave the RCMP, however, the detachment Oi/c would have nothing to do with it. I guess he thought I still had more to give so he arranged for me to be seconded into a plainclothes section. From here things took off for me. But I also realize that it could have easily gone the other way if not for the people who looked out for me.
I have to be honest and say that to this day I still have not formally sought help to better manage the impact of my experiences. For the most part I have had great people around me that made the bad days good. I have enjoyed being in leadership roles, looking after the people I am responsible for, and watching them achieve great things. This has been my form of therapy.
Like anyone who experiences tragedy and trauma I am also aware of certain triggers. Listening to stories of how our people have suffered through harassment, bullying, or through exposure to various events through the job break my heart. I have sleepless nights as a result, yet I recognize that I have my part to do; to look after our people as much as I can; to give someone a chance when others may have written them off.
I very easily could have been another statistic, another lost life, but I made it out the other side because of people who cared. Now it’s my turn.