With the devastating beginning to the year for law enforcement and the impact this has on police families, many writers, including those here on Officer.com are focusing on ways to keep safe on the street and how to cope with the stress of loving someone who is willing to put his or her life on the line every day to protect the community and uphold the law. Jim Donahue tackled tactics in 17 Dead in One Month and one of my personal favorites, Althea Olson wrote Loving the One with the Badge. What these and other articles have in common is the reminder that death sits close by when you love an officer. Thankfully, death only comes as close as fear and worry for many of us. Even so, breaking free of the debilitating influence of fear and worry can make our lives and our relationships healthier and happier. What can we do? Many things.
Talk about your fears
Overcoming fear and worry needs to be a conscious effort; one that you take on deliberately and face head on. As humans, we try to avoid things that cause us pain and try to ensure we will not get hurt. This can often materialize as a fight or flight response in law enforcement families. Fear and worry can exhibit itself in anger, if a significant other takes those feelings out on his or her partner. Try to remember your loved one is not in a dangerous occupation and risking his or her life to spite you. On the other hand, significant others can have an escape response like I did. After I experienced the first loss of an officer on my husband's department, and within the same week, he and his partner were shot at, I responded to my fear and worry by shutting him out. I put up huge walls when I was around him feeling like I could protect myself from the pain of losing him if I refused to allow myself to feel anything for him at all. Thankfully, he pulled me into the bedroom one day and said, "We need to talk." And we did. I vented and shared my fears and cried. It didn't change the chance he might die in the line of duty, but it did bring us closer. As Althea pointed out in her article, talking about the type of training your significant other has can be helpful in easing fear.
Develop an Accurate Perception
Our perceptions determine our thoughts which can determine our feelings. Each influences the other. When we see the number of line of duty deaths, it is easy to translate that into an overwhelming fear that death is inevitably going to happen to our loved one each time he or she walks out the door. For me, it is helpful to put things in perspective. I counter my fear and worry by looking at the number of officers out on the street at any given moment in all the towns in the all the states across the country. Then I relook at the number who have died and although each loss of life is tragic, it puts things into perspective for me. Being someone who is analytical and reality-based, the percentages are helpful. Another thought process that has helped me is to think with pride on what my significant other does. I don't know if this would ever ease the pain of losing him to the street but the feeling of intense honor I have makes me feel better because I believe in what he is doing and what he stands for.
Live in the Moment
Fear and worry do not exist in the present. Only the feeling of fear and worry do. These emotions are always based on something that may or may not happen in the future. Due to this, being mindful or trying to live in the moment can help ease these negative emotions. Try to focus on the present. Are you enjoying sitting on the couch watching a movie with him or walking through the grocery store picking out your favorite breakfast cereal? Or, if he or she is at work, are you enjoying the memory of his or her touch or re-living shared moments by looking at a photo album? Staying present helps keep me grounded in reality. If I need to worry, I set aside a certain amount of time to do so. I worry for those 5 or 10 minutes and then bring myself back to the present. What I find helpful as well is to write my fear or worry down on a piece of paper and place it in a special box. Once it is in there, it's out of my hands and I can move on with my day.
Surrender the Outcome
I read once, There are not mistakes in God's world. Give your best to the present, support your law enforcement officer, live in the love of the moment and trust in his or her training and ability to handle most situations. There are those events that will be out of his or her control, such as a drunk driver or a criminal hell bent on not going to jail. The only thing that keeps me sane is believing if the worst were to happen that somehow I would survive and that a reason would exist even if I don't understand it in this life. Life is out of my hands. I can either enjoy it and the people traveling this journey with me or I can fight against it trying to control the outcome. I have to stop and ask, "Is there anything I can do to change what might happen when he is out on the street?" The answer is always no. I can only change how I think about what he is doing, who he is as a person and what he means to me. These thoughts influence my feelings and I realize my serenity increases when I let go of the belief I can somehow solve what might or might not happen when he is at work.
It's a bit unusual to think of loving an officer as a form of risk-taking, but in reality, and as this year's bloody beginning is showing, it is. The 14th Dalai Lama commented that great love and great achievements involve great risk. I like to look at loving an officer in this way. Also, we don't have to do it on our own. Talk to and use a support network; family, friends and of course, each other. Transform worry into a positive action, such as making a special dinner, writing love notes to each other or making love. Live in the present and enjoy each other.