In this line of work, I’m honoured to hear countless stories of courage in the face of adversity. Recently, as part of our Identity and Transition course, veterans and first responders have been putting pen to paper. Led by our inspired writer Karalee Ann Clerk, participants who claim they can’t write step forward into the spotlight, bearing their hearts to the group. A sacred circle has formed, woven of trust, strength, compassion and courage. Each week my heart grows as I view their lives through the lens of their experiences. I mentioned to the group that if anyone was willing to share their weekly writing with the greater Landing Strong community, I’d be happy to publish it. One of our Veterans (and also a former Corrections Officer) stepped to the plate.
Thank you R.B. for trusting us with this piece of your heart:
I remember not seeing my father’s car. It was a fire engine red 1965 Pontiac Parisienne. A boat. A convertible boat. He loved that car, and that car was gone. I was 7 or 8 and had just returned from school. My mom told me matter of factly, “Your fathers gone and he is not coming back.”
At that young age I knew that despite how bad things had been at home and judging by my family’s current trajectory the dissolution of my parent’s marriage meant things were about to get a whole heck of a lot worse. I was terrified for myself and my siblings.
It was within this moment that I first learned how to numb fear.
I used to think courage is when you think taking an action may hurt you, but you do it anyways because it is in line with your values. It’s pushing yourself through something despite fear.
When I learned how to turn off fear I lost with it my sense of courage. How could I experience courageousness myself when I wouldn’t allow myself to be afraid? Looking back now I wonder if this is part of the reason I found myself in such a mess to begin with. It makes sense – nothing I did could appropriately scare me.
I’ve always been a risk taker. I used to think it was just who I was. I needed a little something extra to get a kick out of life. Were all of these risks really just a scared child trying to get back his sense of fear?
Masking emotions allowed me to excel as a grownup. I joined the army and really found my place. Here was a place where my risk taking could be rewarded.
Trauma followed me out of my childhood and into the army. Looking back it was as if we were marching in lockstep together. After several major events I knew my psyche needed out and I released after a short but exciting three years.
The experimenting that began with alcohol in my early teens turned into a full blown addiction by my early twenties with a trip into rehab for a month. Eventually fate would land me in prison – as a correctional officer where I spent nine years of my life deep-diving into the never ending well of despair that is our criminal justice system.
Of everything that happened to me, in my childhood, the army and working at the jail, I never considered anything I did courageous. How could I. I was never afraid.
This scares me though. Writing this down, wondering how all of you are going to react. Will you accept me? Will you shun me? Will I even read it?
I feel courageous when I share with people. It excites me in a good way. Will something I say resonate? Will the words I speak ignite a feeling in you? One you haven’t felt in a while, or haven’t been able to express?
I was only able to go back to the memory of my father through years of introspection and therapy. It was through the act of recovery that I was able to see just how courageous I was. Not in that moment as a child. Not because I survived all of the perils life could throw at me. But because I could take that moment, that moment I turned off that emotion of fear, and I could have it back.
Sometimes memories can be about something that you didn’t see. Like a red convertible in the driveway. I can go back there now.
I can tell that little boy whose father just left him that everything is going to be alright, and the courageous part about my life is now I’m telling it to you.
Belinda Seagram, Ph.D., R. Psych.
Executive Director, Landing Strong