Thursday, December 17, 2009
This story is in today's Ft. Hood Sentinel:
Nov. 5 was like an earthquake; its emotional aftershocks will be felt for days, months and years to come. But means exist to help Soldiers, their families and other members of the Fort Hood community to effectively reduce the impact of that terrible day on their lives.
That was the message delivered to hundreds of Soldiers and first responders who attended a post-traumatic-stress-disorder presentation made by former New Jersey state trooper and NBA referee Bob Delaney Dec. 10 at Palmer Theater.
The 13 people who died and those in the immediate area of the Soldier Readiness Processing Center Nov. 5 may have been at the epicenter of the emotional upheaval surrounding the shootings on post, but everyone in the Fort Hood community was impacted by and has a story to tell about it.
And telling their stories will help the community to heal, Delaney said.
“Your story is about where you were when it took place but everyone has a story that needs to be heard, feelings that need to be expressed,” part of a process that took him years to understand after he was diagnosed with PTSD following years of work as an undercover cop pretending to be a wise guy in order to infiltrate the New Jersey mob, Delaney said.
His first response was denial.
“PTSD? That only happens to Soldiers,” Delaney reasoned.
“We always think it happens to someone else,” he added.
Soldiers, law enforcement officials and fire fighters often fall on the same, double-edged sword.
“That uniform makes us believe we can leap tall buildings in a single bound. That’s both a blessing and a curse. We need strength to go forward as Soldiers, as cops or fireman, but need to tend to our emotional injuries, as well,” he said.
It was only after fellow state troopers confronted him about his irrational behavior that Delaney agreed to participate in the counseling that helped him to adjust to the emotional trauma of years of undercover work.
As a result, he believes people who have experienced trauma benefit from professional intervention and by sharing their experiences with people who have been traumatized in a similar manner.
“So cops need to talk to cops, firefighters to firefighters, Soldiers to Soldiers and combat wives need to talk to combat wives. You got to let the air out of your balloon,” he said.
Earlier in his presentation, Delaney compared the emotional pressures that build up inside of traumatized people to the air inside of an inflated balloon. How the pressure is released determines the balloon’s behavior and subsequent usefulness: if popped, the balloon is ruined; if released uncontrollably it darts about the room unpredictably; but, if released in a controlled manner, the balloon can be used again.
“It might make a horrible, screeching noise but, over time, I could let most of the air out and use the balloon again. That’s PTSD. That’s how you’re going to deal with it,” Delaney said.
He warned members of the audience not to believe their problems will resolve themselves or disappear with time.
Often, when he returned to court to testify against mobsters he had arrested and locked up years earlier, he re-experienced the guilt he felt initially as a result of turning in mobsters he had befriended.
“I’d be a year or two removed from a situation and then I’d go back into court and it would trigger the original feelings and memories,” he said.
His work with Soldiers and law enforcement officials in the United States, Canada and overseas reinforced conclusions he had drawn about how to cope with his own PTSD experience.
While in Mosul, Iraq, this past summer, Delaney said, a Soldier approached him after a book signing. He told Delaney that he had re-experienced the pain of an IED attack when a camera flash had gone off at the book signing.
“The trigger took place and it set off the same physiological response. Expect it,” Delaney told the crowd at Fort Hood.
“There’s no finish line, folks. At some point, three to five years from now, there will be triggers. When sirens sound on base triggers are set off; it’s a normal physiological response,” he said.
To adjust to life after PTSD, Delaney advised, “find something that gives you inner peace, whether it’s photography or something else. For me it was basketball.”
After leaving law enforcement, Delaney, who had played high school basketball, became a well-known NBA official.
He suggested people should not define themselves narrowly by vocation.
“So if you are only a Soldier, when you don’t Soldier anymore, you don’t exist,” he observed of that restrictive self-concept.
People also should remember they are also full-time dads, sisters, mothers, and brothers.
“Find a balance,” he suggested. “That is vital to the happiness that will be part of your life. It’s not easy to do; it takes work.”
Because Soldiers and first responders are givers, he added, “We don’t allow our families in sometimes. People who wear uniforms want to protect others and sometimes they forget themselves.”
Family members also experience the ripple effects of PTSD, Delaney said.
“When people are going through PTSD,” he said, “their families are going through ATSD (active traumatic stress disorder).”
To combat the giver syndrome, Delaney advised selfishness. When he was in Iraq, he said, about 60 percent of Soldiers asked for him to autograph a book for a friend or a relative.
“You have to be a little selfish. Get a little bit more concerned with what’s going on inside of you,” he advised.