Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Listening to My Inner Voice

Whenever the question, “Why?” nags at me, I still follow childhood protocol and “go look it up”.  Lately I’ve read volumes on TBI and PTSD.  Hey, there’s a fine line between “well meaning” and “well educated”.   I see our wounded soldiers not as cold statistics, but as human beings finding their way toward happier.  My research has had an unexpected side effect: I can relate.  
Soldiers deployed in a war zone are on high alert 24/7 for extended periods of time while searching for possible threats. While being shot at or worse.  Trying to protect their buddy.  Looking everywhere.  All. The. Time.   They get home, but some keep looking.  Civilians start to look at you funny when you admit to “seeing” more than everyone else.   The medical term for that behavior when it won’t shut down is hypervigilance.  The problem isn’t just a soldier’s inability to reset to the “Off” position…it’s how friends and family handle it.
Ironically, we expect soldiers to be trained professionals, yet we want them to leave vigilance on the battlefield.  But it’s an occupational requirement, a learned behavior ingrained so deeply it becomes second nature, like breathing.  It’s the ultimate survival skill and makes perfect sense to me.   Unfortunately not everyone sees it that way. I don’t know if the world is too busy being self-involved or just quit caring.  Over and over I’ve witnessed an attitude of, “Hey, it doesn’t effect my world, so you people need to just ‘get over it’”.   Attention world: that phrase is like a match to gasoline.  Plus, it’s demeaning.   Does brushing off a soldier’s observations as “nuts” make people feel their world is safer? Do they truly believe soldiers leave their souls at the door when they pick up a weapon?   If the cool, calm, trained observations made by soldiers are considered nuts, then they have someone else in their ranks.
          Some of you know I was once a Dispatcher for the State Police.  The most difficult thing for me to embrace was the law enforcement mentality I dubbed, “Either/Or”.  Issues were either black or white, right or wrong, good or bad.  There was no gray area, because that’s where hesitancy and danger lived.  Such a clear cut definition is meant to aid in making quick decisions under fire.  Lately, we’ve read how that has backfired when common sense was left out of the equation.  But for the most part, there’s a good reason for it.  From day one it was made perfectly clear where we fell in the chain of command and how we were part of the team.  I can still hear the Captain explaining the job I had just accepted.  “You are the lifeline.  With the single push of a button, you have the power to save an officer...or get him killed.”  Until I began working with our soldiers, I didn’t realize how deeply ingrained my training was.
 I left law enforcement, but it never left me.
If you’ve trained hard for an intense job, it goes deeper than you realize. 30 years later I can still tell you the radio call signs for our station.  I don’t just notice things, I make mental notes.  When something looks out of place or brakes squeal towards a crashing conclusion,  my initial reaction is to check my watch.  As a Dispatcher, I lived by the clock.  I had to note times for giving out a call, to which officer, when he arrived, what he asked for, give the times back to him for his report and note when he was done.  Multiplied by 10-25 officers spread over four counties.  Usually working by myself.  Being observant and keeping detailed records became part of who I am.
 My officers taught me two rules: #1 Listen to your inner voice.  It senses when something is wrong, even if you can’t see it. It protects you.  If it’s screaming, pay attention!  #2: Say something with authority and people will believe you.
Rule #2 came in handy the night I unlocked the door for one of my officers only to discover a bloodied drunk, who’d been in a fist fight in our parking lot.  He towered over me, yet when I barked at him in no uncertain terms to stay right there while I called someone to assist him, he did just that.  Quietly.  Slamming the door shut and locking it, I walked away with a new skill I still use.  And yes, my “inner voice” yelled at me all the way down the hall for being dumb.  I still listen to it too.
Odd,  ingrained parts of my job still surface.  I say “Zero” when giving out a number instead of “O”.  When spelling out something over the phone, I revert to letters followed by words.  I can’t simply say, “ABC”…it comes out, “A, alpha, B, baker, C, Charlie.”  I still use “correct” instead of “right” so there’s no confusion while giving directions.  It took me forever to stop saying, “Affirmative” when I meant “Yes”…which was especially confusing to anyone working a drive through window.
To this day, I will not sit with my back to a door.  I’m not paranoid.  I just want to know who or what is coming my way.  To me, that’s pro-active.  Prepared.  Ten times better than being “reactive”, where decisions made in the heat of the moment without all the facts could get you, or someone else, killed.  
 So, does utilizing learned behavior from so many years ago make me nuts?  Or does my training, as deeply engrained as our soldiers’, make me prepared for whatever life throws my way? 
My inner voice says it’s the second one.


Ponita in Real Life said...

I agree. The second. I research all kinds of stuff. Not all of it is useful, sometimes it is just because I am curious, but I learn all kinds of things.

Being prepared is a good thing. Always.

Sometimes life throws things at you that are unexpected, and if you always try to be prepared, you are better able to handle those unexpected things. Sometimes, as with soldiers, those unexpected things can be mind bogglingly horrifying (knowing what Old fish had to do, for example) and it is no wonder they have no way of turning off that always being ready for the unexpected thing. In those instances, being way too prepared for the horrors is not a good thing.

But you are the first, I think.

hope said...

It's funny, these "realizations" came after talking to a soldier. When I admitted to checking my watch or not sitting with my back to the door, he grinned and nodded so enthusiastically I knew we had a bond I'd never suspected.

Sure, you can't anticipate everything in the world. But the best "gift" my officers gave me was the ability to be calm in the moment...and get the shakes AFTER things were over. :)

Elijah Pepper said...

One of the friends that wrote for my blog has the same mentality, being prepared is better than reacting.

Together we started a preppers club, I know kinda crazy. But we are able to keep those skills we learned in the service honed and learn new ones along the way.

So we may be seen as crazy to other folk, but to us, it puts those fears and doubts, and those "what-ifs" at bay.

As for the sitting with my back to the door, I can't do that my SO beats me to it every time. She is a people watcher, and knows I have to sit there lol and I still have to hold the door for my girl :)

I still hang back in crowds and ride the edge, watching, learning, studying. SHe is more than happy to flutter through it as the social butterfly she is. She knows that I need the time and space to be the "new" me, with all my oddities and quirks. But she doesn't let me have all of them.

I have found that this is a good balance. I am able to learn, and hone the skills I need to be prepared. While at the same time, I am forced to remain uncomfortable and do things I don't like, or otherwise would not do on my own. Like speak with people I don't know or haven't assessed as a threat or not.

Ok enough from me, carry on.

hope said...

Elijah: that idea was pounded into my head,"Don't be reactive, be pro-active." I know you can't really win the "what if" game, but it doesn't hurt to think things through. :)

My husband is the same way. so the only time I'll sit with my back to the door is if I'm with him. I too, am more of a watcher/listener than someone willing to jump in the middle of things. Took a lot of inner prodding to make me speak before a crowd, but I remind myself it's for our soldiers..and somehow that helps. Except for the time our soldiers were in the FRONT row and I was talking about the Foundation. One of them, a big guy, 6'4" came up afterwards and said to my husband, "I'm going to hug your wife. I'm not going to ask permission I'm just going to do it. Because you (pointing his finger at me), got to me. I'm a grown man. An Army man and you made me tear up. But it's because you understand, so I'm gonna hug you."

And he did. :) Made me understand that going out of your comfort zone does have rewards.

savannah said...

yep, the second is the way to go! all of your past training makes a good fit for them and you! that back to the door is also one of those things i only do when i'm with the MITM. you know my name so i always have to use military alphabet! LOL xoxoxox