“It took a few months for the incident to finally hit me emotionally,” Andrea explained. “Then I couldn’t think straight. I felt depressed, sometimes angry. I found myself crying a lot. Why would it hit me months later? Then I realized that other wives were going through the same thing.”
Andrea’s comments are common for spouses of officers who’ve gone through devastation through either a critical incident that affected many in the department, extended overtime details for rioting or fires, a line of duty death, or similar situations. We saw several departments across the United States last year that were under fire—literally, figuratively, and politically. Officers, leaders, and their families underwent difficulties on a large scale. Dallas, Milwaukee, Kansas City, Baltimore, and areas of Louisiana are just a handful of many communities affected. And then the election inflamed already troubled areas. Through it all, departments have been in survival mode, addressing only immediate dangers, needs, and problems for the time being. Many are exhausted physically and emotionally.
Across the nation, police families have taken up the slack. Surviving the absences of their officers while dealing with social media comments, inaccurate press, and voices of those who’ve jumped on the bandwagon of demonizing those they love. They’ve spent long hours caring for children, simultaneously working their own jobs. Shuffling schedules, extra chores, and the inevitable questions from family and friends.
Once the dust settles from the chaos, homes will need to be tended to. Marriages, children, health, and frazzled nerves wait in survival mode. We wonder, will life ever return to normal?
As one who works alongside police families, I’ve noticed emotional and relational crises develop two to four months after unrest. Law enforcement families are in survival mode from the rioting and the ambushes on a national level. Once things quiet down, those who are solid in their communication and relationships will be fatigued, but generally fine. But those who had problems and issues before will be in crisis. The colder months typically are rough for a lot of people generally, but after extended times of high alert, overtime, hate rhetoric, and lack of support from the public/government/media—this can take its toll.
In light of this, I’ve compiled a few suggestions for law enforcement and their families to proactively decompress from the strain:
1) Embrace a new season—winter is a time for rest. Spring is a time for renewal. We can take a cue from nature by taking stock of the good and positive areas of our lives, then shedding the negative, allowing for rest and renewal.
2) When the time is right, talk with each other about the intensity you’ve gone through. How are you each feeling? How are you processing it? What concerns do you have going forward?
3) Officers, thank those who took up the slack at home—for household chores, handling the kids, and emotional support. For spouses, thank your officer for standing courageously and tirelessly as the thin blue line. Want to motivate each other with generosity? Do something really special—flowers, take the kids while they get a day off, take a spa day, or grab a babysitter and go out for dinner.
4) Reestablish good habits like regular exercise, healthy meals at home, date nights, dinner at the table, and help with chores.
5) Make time for sleep. Sleep not only brings physical benefit, it allows the brain to process difficulties. If you can’t sleep or are plagued with nightmares related to your ordeal, talk it out with someone you trust—a mentor, spouse, a therapist, or perhaps a chaplain. Be aware that alcohol may relax you, but it interferes with your quality of sleep, especially REM sleep (when the brain is naturally reordering itself to better deal with troubles). Frankly, sex is a much better sleep aid, and also creates intimacy.
6) Get away from the fray. Take a day here and there to escape to the beautiful. Take a drive; go hunting, fishing, or snowshoeing. Something about beauty restores the soul and mind.
7) If your summer included loss of a loved one, allow yourself to grieve. Visit the gravesite. Shed a tear. Head for Police Week in the spring. Train for a memorial run or the Unity Tour. Grief is natural and expected.
We as a law enforcement community (families included) have taken a hit these last months. Let’s take time to heal, reconnect, and grow strong together.