Ghost was the word I once used to describe myself. After decades of serving the public and being at the core of making sense out of chaos, I’d become a social ghost. A non-factor in making a daily difference in people’s lives. We get this unrealistic image of what retirement is supposed to look like, and once we arrive, it’s like making hotel reservations at some scam vacation site.
This is especially true for cops who mash their identity to what they do, as opposed to who they are. In most cases, who they are becomes only what they do. There’s no wonder the life expectancy for cops after a 30 year retirement is a whopping 3 years.
I used to scoff at that notion, but the reality is, I can completely understand why. The health detriments associated with law enforcement leave many with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, depression, and horrible numbers in key mortality categories. Not to mention physical injuries and PTSD.
My first year on the outside was a nightmare. I ballooned up by about 70 pounds, and because I was battling severe despair, I couldn’t force myself to lose weight or exercise. Of course, that only made the darkness more daunting. I’d always been able to self-discipline and work my way out of tight spots, but this was different and unexpected. It was beyond my control.
Retirement came as a calling from God to serve Him. I had another career, an education, a wife and family and everything I thought I needed to make a smooth transition from my life behind the badge. What was missing?
I was what was missing. I was a ghost. Although I knew God wanted to use me in kingdom building, it wasn’t Scott the cop that He wanted. It was His son, Scott. When I’d stripped off the badge and uniform, I had no idea who I was.
Life was falling apart and all I could do was crumble atop the people closest to me. My wife and kids were dodging emotional boulders, and ducking away from tumbling personality projectiles.
It wasn’t until Leah took the lead and insisted we see a Christian counselor that the momentum shifted. Like a toddler to the doctor, I begrudgingly went, but my goal wasn’t healing. It was to out manipulate the “manipulator” therapist who was in no way qualified to tell me what to do. Right?
I recall sitting on his office couch in my oiliest black motorcycle boots, weather-tattered jeans, and one-size too small Harley Davidson t-shirt. My arms were crossed so tight across my chest I could hardly breath. I was the master interrogator, and this chess match was about to begin. I’d say what he wanted to hear, and he’d praise me while encouraging my wife to do a better job. Right?
He warned that if we came with an unteachable spirit then there was nothing he could do. My spirit wasn’t unteachable, it was just wounded and poised for attack like an injured animal unaware that help had arrived. Within minutes, I folded like a house of cards.
Over the next year, the process was similar to treating a burn victim. Old scars had to be scrapped off so new growth could occur. Scar scraping meant opening up to my life long before law enforcement. A dysfunctional home, a dominant parent, verbal and sexual abuse and the addictions that became necessary to cope with an absence of human compassion, validation and love.
In addition to the old unhealed baggage, there were the inevitable effects of law enforcement. I knew the symptoms of PTSD, and I also knew that seeking help while on the job might’ve meant a career kiss of death. I allowed the dysfunction to become my new normal. Unfortunately, while we pride ourselves in taking control of situations, this wasn’t one that surrendered to our authority. In reality, it manifested itself into what controlled me.
The beauty from these ashes was that I never once went back to feeling like the old me. That former me was shrouded in the darkness of pain, shame and guilt. The new growth defined the new me. The new me was revealed to be the same me that God actually wanted in service to His kingdom.
Similar to what God’s people experienced when they escaped the brutal captivity in Egypt and wondered in the wilderness for 40 years, we all experience a season of trial before a promise land breakthrough. This season isn’t to punish us or abandon us. The transition season is to break off the old things that haunt and inhibit us from moving forward and into a new, blessed season in life.
God didn’t need a chief of police to protect and command His kingdom. He mercifully choose me; His child to serve Him by serving others. As His son, I understand that I’m not defined by my past as a social ghost, but I am restored anew by the Holy Ghost.
If you are preparing for, or have entered into retirement or separation from a first responder’s career, please be aware of the transition. You can’t keep leaning into a raging wind and expect not to fall flat when it stops. Be prepared and take precautions. Seek peer help or professional counseling. The physical and health effects are challenging enough, but coupled with PTSD, identity dissociation and depression, your golden years post-professional service can become an unending darkness.
We’re used to structure, struggle and motion. Make sure that you don’t just sit still. A sedentary lifestyle can kill faster than bringing a knife to a gunfight. Take a job that interest you, or volunteer. Exercise, travel, and focus on making friends who have never worked as a first responder. It’s vital to your mental health to know folks who thrive in a civilian-style life.
The white-picket fence life isn’t all that bad! You spent your life rescuing others, now is the time to save yourself.
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Categories: Dr. Scott Silverii