A Recovery Journey...
In order to understand my present, you need to know about my past...
I am a serving police officer of 17 years and during a night shift in October 2018 I was violently attacked along with three colleagues in a frenzied pre planned knife attack. Although I myself wasn't stabbed, I did receive physical and subsequently psychological injury.
It was this incident that led me to seek support - not as a result of the physical injury sustained but the mental trauma it had caused and nearly two years on I am still supported.
As a result, I feel it’s important to highlight just how important and essential proper support is in the recovery of trauma. The best way I can narrate what real support means to me is better served by maybe firstly detailing what support isn't about.
Contrary to what is seen as a requirement when providing support, it isn't about fixing a person's problems; it isn't the cure and answer to everything. It's not an opportunity to force opinions and take over that person's decisions on their behalf and make assumptions of what they do and don't want or need.
It’s not about portraying a false understanding of what that person may of been through and agreeing with their thoughts and feelings as if you yourself have experienced it.
How could you?
Its individual - and although two people can see the same thing they can both be affected differently for many reasons or maybe not even effected at all.
Nor is it about portraying a unrealistic expectation and letting that person believe you will help them and then letting them down when it all becomes too difficult and complicated because you’re not invested enough to understand trauma and its affects. Support isn't turning a blind eye and ignoring someone when they are reaching out for help as its easier and safer to walk away than do something and actually show that person they matter.
Words and phrases I associate with support are trust, empathy, compassion - giving a person time to be listened to rather than talked at - giving guidance . It's about honesty and challenge and just being a decent human being who is willing to give and offer more often than not the smallest of gestures that can make the biggest of differences to another person.
What difference can they make?
Again it is individual. What works for one may not work for another which is why communication and listening is key. When I first realised I was sinking and needed support I guess I didn't know where to go for it, other than the usual organisations you tend to be sign posted to. I knew I didn't feel right and I knew I needed help but when doors have been shut and conversations lost and you're made to feel like a burden and an embarrassment where do you turn?
I could write down lots of words around support but until you understand where that person has been and how low they have felt how can you grip the emotion around the explanation and the difference support has meant to them?
So I think the best way to understand what support personally means to me rather than a generic response would be to know where I was when I needed it the most; when I was at the point when I was no longer standing on the edge but holding on by just the tips of my fingers. Once you understand that it will be apparent what it means and how essential it was and what a difference it has made at the right time. The most honest way to do that is to show my thoughts and feelings as they were when I wrote them down in the impact statement of my assault - a period of time I found very difficult and let down and just as my support was being established after months of let downs and disappointment. Trauma can be a single incident or a accumulation of many and can feed off things around it making them more difficult to deal with. You may not even be aware that they are building into a bigger problem until that first door opens it all up. I do not share my impact statement lightly, but to truly understand and maybe help others know they are not alone, I have asked for it to be shared. So below are my true feelings in the rawest and most honest way they can be...
"It’s been 7 months since the incident on the 6th October 2018 when myself and my 3 colleagues were lured to an address and attacked. The trial is now finished but our recovery is continuing. Physically my injuries are now almost healed although there is still some long term physio required on my arm. However it is not the physical injury that is causing the biggest impact, mentally I am still struggling with the enormity of what we went through that night, how it has affected me since and how it will affect me in the future. I have already completed counselling but more will need to be put into place to help me deal with my emotions and feelings around this incident and its aftermath.
For 6 months my only recollection of the incident was through my memory, what it was allowing me to recall and the parts it decided to block out. I have some very vivid images of that night and parts I still struggle to put into place. It is these vivid images that cause me the most mental/emotional distress. As with most police officers I have unfortunately been exposed to sights and incidents that are distressing both visually but also through the circumstances that have come about. No amount of service could have prepared me for what happened that night or how long our recovery would be from it. I struggle to accept that a person I have no connection to is able to be so influential in how my life and my family’s lives play out. I hate the person I have become as a result of this incident, it has changed me forever as a police officer and as a person and it has also had a big impact on my family. I am still suffering from vivid images of my colleague being stabbed in his face, this happens on a regular basis. It can be as I sleep or in moments when my brain is idle and unoccupied. All of a sudden I will be back on the steps of the house and will re live the attack. Sometimes it will be the entirety of the incident and other times little bits, from the sound of one of my colleagues screaming out, to the noise of the Taser firing and subsequent crackle sound that follows. With all of these I start to feel the physical effects, I feel my legs start to tremble and my heart begins to beat faster. I can feel my body preparing itself in anticipation for it happening again.
At night I struggle to get to sleep or I will wake to the sound of my own screaming out or from my partner comforting me, reassuring me it’s just a dream and I am safe. I wake in a sweat with my heart pounding and have to take a moment to calm myself down to realise I am not back on the steps and path. I have even woken on several occasions to find my 9 year old son visibly upset by the side of the bed asking me if I am ok as he has been woken by my screams. I cannot recall the last time I had more than a couple of hours sleep a night, to the point my body is now starting to accept that as normality.
The feelings of my fellow officers also cause me distress as a result of the incident. The ones that attended that night without a thought of their own safety and dealt with our injuries along with having to deal with the man that had caused them and still had to show professionalism despite knowing what had happened. They have expressed their guilt and feelings around not doing enough that night but subsequently not being able to help us as much as they would like in regards to helping us through what has happened and in our recovery. This adds to my own emotional distress as it was due to us needing help that night that has caused these emotions. None of them should feel anything but proud for how they responded that night but their anguish is affecting my own recovery.
Months after the incident I have viewed the CCTV and although this has helped in regards to filling in the parts of the incident I either couldn’t recall or subconsciously I had blocked out I now have a full understanding of what we all went through that night. To watch the CCTV and see the overall attack we were subjected to is horrifying and something I didn't truly appreciate or acknowledge until watching the footage. I don't think it would matter how many times I was to watch that footage the emotional connection to it is so strong the reaction would be the same every time. It explains why my thoughts and feelings at the time were so strong, all of those returned as soon as I watched it and every time since. It’s hard to watch as I see my colleagues but more importantly my friends and myself fighting and struggling to avoid being stabbed in the violent attack and I am without doubt that like myself they all had the thought that we were going to die that night.
I have a lot of personal issues that I need to work on around how close I was to being stabbed and the guilt I feel towards my colleague as he took a lot of the blows due to his position and that any of those could easily of hit myself . Had it not of been for him we would most certainly of been more injured, I would not of been able to use my Taser and we would not of been able to restrain and handcuffing the suspect. Had the Taser not of been deployed the thought of what may of happened in that scenario is overwhelming. My only reassurance from watching it is that I am so proud to be able to say I went through it that night with them, that despite the odds being heavily against us we never gave up and never let each other down. We each played a role in not only saving each other but making sure that the suspect didn’t have the opportunity to hurt anyone else. Despite injuries and the violence we had faced we never ran away or backed down.
My hope is that in time, now that the trial is finished and the physical and mental exhaustion that it has brought with it will slowly deplete and I along with the others can move on, both with our lives but also in our choice of roles within the police. For me personally this will certainly have a long term mental impact on my life, as it has already but I am hopeful that with support and time it will ease. It would be naive of me to think it will just go away, as surviving something like that will be with you forever, it may be in the background but will still be there. I feel anger towards the suspect as he has not only destroyed the love I have for working on a busy response team, which I have done for 16 years, but he has also made me question my own abilities and if I will ever be able to return to that role full time.
Since returning briefly to work after the incident I have felt a lot of anxiety around the calls I have attended, mainly due to the fact on paper it was such a nothing call, one we would attend 10 times a day without a second thought. I realise now there will never be a simple call again, every call I attend now my heart starts pounding and I get myself prepared for what may about to happen. I will never be able to approach a door again in the same manner and have noticed even now that I consciously take several steps back and move my hands immediately to my kit belt in preparation so that this time I can respond quicker to prevent injury to anyone, even though I know deep down I reacted as quickly as I could that night.
I also feel angry at the fact that not only does this incident effect my work but has encroached into my family life and that of the people I hold dearest to me. No partner should get a call explaining that something like that has happened to someone they love. To be faced with the reality that they could of been bringing up their three children on their own and had to explain why mummy wasn’t coming home. It was only by the luck of where the violent knife blows had gone and that we stuck together that night that I did get to go home to my three children. I would happily take the physical injury again over the mental injury this incident has caused, the physical effects predominantly affect me and can be easily treated and seen but the mental/emotional injury is hidden and is a battle for me, but it will still have a huge impact on all the people I have around me that I love and care for and work alongside".
Since this incident I have and continue to endure and battle through rigorous counselling which more often than not adds further struggles before any can be resolved. This on top of the usual stuff life likes to chuck your way, just to test you and see what strength you really have. Since the court date my support has been in place and has worked hard to erase the negative and challenge the lack of any expectation from anyone showing any genuine care.
So now when I am asked what support means to me I can answer from the heart and to me it ultimately is about one word - SAFETY.
Being the face in the Court room you are searching for eye contact; the look that says reassurance, "you're ok, you're not alone, I am here, you are safe" without any words exchanged.
The person who attends my counselling appointments to ensure I get home safe as the impact of counselling takes its toll making you unable to function with any form of normality as you process the session over and over again.
The person who takes time to teach techniques to manage my sleep and control the levels of anxiety when the nightmares repeat time and time again.
The person who is always on the end of a phone for a text or call regardless of their own responsibilities outside of supporting people, and not just you but supporting others, but never making you feel you are less important than anyone else.
Who gives challenge to my negative thoughts and behaviours when difficult days arise, without fearing that the trust established will be lost when saying the right thing - albeit sometimes hard to hear and face.
The crutch that keeps me upright until I am steady enough to stand on my own 2 feet - no time limits on how long recovery may take, no pressure or expectations. Helping with the independence but always still in the background to re steady me when wobbles occur.
So when support is done well and by people who understand; who do it not for self-promotion or praise; for no reward or benefits other than to see the person feel better; who do it because they are decent human beings who car, it is the life line that makes the difference, it is safety and it has allowed me not only just to survive but to live again.
I am no longer holding on by my finger tips or even stood on the edge or even near it but I am still safe in the knowledge that on the occasions I have low days and moods and feel myself heading back the support is there to pull me back.