Week 4: Making Choices to Heal


THE BOTTOM LINE – Being passive about stress and trauma will not bring about healing. I will avoid and abandon damaging choices and will get intentional about making healing choices.

Firstline can't heal anybody. Our main goal at Firstline is to help first responders heal from duty-related stress and trauma. But we can’t do it. Firstline can’t heal anybody. What we can do is connect the hurting with the Healer.

We wish we could simply present a course, say some magic words or give you a pill and everything would be fixed. But the complexity of both your trauma and your healing prevent that from being reality. It’s going to take the unlimited and strategic resources of God to bring about true healing in your life

So, why doesn’t God say His magic words and just do it? It’s because of a key factor we talked about in Week 2 called free will.

In His grace, mercy, and wisdom, God has given you the power of choice. He didn’t make you a marionette, controlling your life as He pulls your strings. He has given you the dignity to exercise your will as you see fit. He will also allow you to reap the benefits of your good choices as well as the consequences of your bad choices.

Obviously, you know something about making choices – about responding. Your career epitomizes that concept. You are men and women of action. You realize that, when confronted by peril or threat, you must make a quick, accurate decision followed by effective action. Over the years in your career as a first responder, you’ve gotten very good at this.

It’s been fused into you. It’s what has made you so valuable to our society and so good at your job. When it comes to answering a first responder call, passivity will get you fired, injured, or killed – or worse, it can injure or kill others as well.

Intentionality is a requirement.

But when dealing with the personal and more private challenges resulting from the stress and trauma they experience, why do so many first responders make poor decisions or no decisions regarding self-care? It seems the first to respond to the needs of others are often the last to seek help for themselves.

In a field in which intentionality is highly valued, why do first responders remain passive when it comes to exercising their free will to heal? There are a variety of answers to this question:

  • Altruism -  “My job is to sacrifice myself for others.”
  • Pride - “There’s nothing they can throw at me that I can’t handle.”
  • First responder culture – “We don’t complain. We don’t have problems. Buckle up and drive on.”
  • Denial – “I’m fine. It’s all those other jokers around me that need help.”
  • Fear – “If my co-workers or command sense that I’m struggling, I’ll lose their trust. I could get benched or lose my job. Gotta keep this quiet.”
  • Defeatism – “Nothing I’ve tried has worked. I won’t be able to change.”

Each of these answers is understandable and common. But these responses are dangerous because they each present an obstacle to healing. The wound just keeps on bleeding. If you plan on healing from your trauma, you must be intentional about setting goals and working every day to accomplish those goals. 

WHAT IF I DON'T WORK EVERY DAY TO ACCOMPLISH THE GOALS?

The Bible says in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Pretty logical. If you plant corn, you’ll harvest corn. No one ever thinks that if you plant corn you’ll get tomatoes. Or if you plant nothing, somehow carrots will magically appear.

But many trauma sufferers don’t consider that this principle also applies to how we deal with adversity and its effects. In fact, this is one of the biggest weapons trauma uses to triumph over us.

When tragedy happens, it can feel like your whole life is on hold. And over time, you stop making progress. If you are like most people, you look for quick fixes to the problem. You throw down some seeds and then expect that God will produce the desired crop regardless of the work put forth. And for some people, when the desired crop doesn’t appear, you get mad at God.

But in this verse in Galatians, God puts it back on us. In effect, He is saying, “Don’t blame Me. Check your own seed bag.”

When you feel like your true life is stuck on pause, trauma doubles down and begins to add layer after layer of struggles on top of the initial incident. The longer you refuse to work toward healing intentionally, the more complex and damaging symptoms may become. Like a weed, the longer it remains alive, the harder it becomes to remove the entire root system and start fresh.

Refusing to address the trauma in our lives can lead to many complex symptoms, including a suppressed immune system; digestion problems; increased muscle tension and soreness; a decreasing desire to exercise; deepening fatigue and depression; poor decision-making abilities regarding safety issues; a jeopardized capacity to help in a crisis; self-isolation and hypervigilance; and angry, hair-trigger, out-of-proportion reactions.

And this list doesn’t even mention the negative impact your unaddressed trauma has on those around you, including your spouse, children, and co-workers.

So this begs the question – what exactly does it look like to live and heal intentionally?

TWO ELEMENTS OF INTENTIONALITY: REASON AND ACTION

There are two important elements of intentionality:

  1. Having a compelling goal or reason to do something.
  2. Taking appropriate action.

Reason and action, action and reason. The two work hand in hand. It’s pointless to have a goal or reason but take no action, or to be busy taking action without a clear reason for doing so.

First, consider your reason for healing. No doubt, anyone struggling with duty-related stress and trauma would want to be healed. But have you ever honestly examined your core motivation for this? How will taking action affect you? What’s the payoff?

In his best-selling book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek argues that our deepest motivations are not driven by what we do, but instead, why we do it. When we are driven by asking the “why” questions, we are much more likely to succeed. So ask yourself, why do you want to get back in control of your trauma-related symptoms? Why do you want to heal?

Maybe you are doing it so you can get your career back on track. Or perhaps, you are doing it because you’ve seen where the path of anxiety and depression leads and you refuse to go down that same road.

Or maybe it’s not just about you. Maybe you are doing it for your spouse, your kids, others in your life? How positively would they be affected by your healing? And how much more valuable would you be to your department and your city if you weren’t hampered by your trauma symptoms? How much stronger would this expanded incentive make your intentionality?

As John Maxwell wrote, “That’s the key to intentional living: daily actions focused on making a difference – large or small – in someone else’s life.”

Next, look at the action you take. Note that it’s not just “any” action you should take but rather “appropriate” action. Many trauma sufferers aim to eliminate their physical or psychological pain, but in doing so, they often resort to what we call “Go-To Painkillers,” like alcohol, drugs, or sex, among other habits. These substitutes give the feeling of healing, but they’re actually temporary and ineffective and often make the pain worse. When you plant these seeds, nothing good comes from them in the long run.

Freedom from trauma comes from becoming aware of these destructive patterns and false fixes and replacing them with God’s healing habits.

MAKE THE CHOICE

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” God promises to give rest to our weary souls, but we must first make the intentional choice to “come.”

You have already proven you are on the right path because you are a part of this Firstline course. Each time you show up for our meetings, you take one more step on your journey to healing. And we know that throughout each week you are given a million reasons to give up and give in – but instead, you make the intentional choice toward your own forward progress. That’s what it takes.

True change can only occur when you put a willing heart in the hands of a healing God.


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