Week 1: The Gateways of Trauma

THE BOTTOM LINE – I am not alone in my feelings of stress over first responder trauma. I am optimistic that being a part of this course will help bring healing.


There is a special group of people who put others’ lives before their own. These people are fearless go-getters who spend their lives protecting others. These people are brave, strong, decisive, and deeply admired for their service. These people are known as first responders.

But you’ve got to admit – first responders do some strange things. Who runs into a burning building? Who runs toward an unpredictable person with a gun? Why would anyone choose to kneel next to a bloody, broken body at a crime scene or work inside an emergency room where every day is jampacked with stress?

You do these things because you are wired in a way that the average person isn’t. You were created and called to jeopardize your own well-being in order to hold the line between life and death in our society. You are a healer. A fixer. An order-bringer. A storm-calmer. A peacemaker.

And the world desperately needs you. Hopefully, you understand this fact and are encouraged by it. However, your against-the-grain actions come at a cost. You probably love what you do, or else you wouldn’t keep doing it. But trauma changes a person. Chronic stress takes a toll. This lifestyle can wound you in ways that are even more destructive than bullets or bombs. Operating in a world with so much collateral damage, pain, and death will have an effect on you, whether you realize it or not.

And if the impact of these experiences isn’t addressed, it could ultimately cost you your position, your job, your family, or even your life. You may say it sounds dramatic, but sadly, it’s proven true for many people like you. Too many first responders avoid getting the help they need, and eventually, everything comes crashing down.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Perhaps you’ve seen your own experiences have a negative impact on your life and you’re wondering if there is something wrong with you. Perhaps you are worried that it’s too late to turn things around. Maybe you are feeling weak and ashamed since it doesn’t appear that others are struggling like you are. Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “If that person is handling it, shouldn’t I be able to handle it as well?”

Hear this loud and clear: those who experience first responder trauma are not weak, cowardly, or crazy. They are wounded. And wounds can heal if proper measures are taken. Just like bleeding is normal when a person is cut and pain is normal when a person breaks a leg, it is normal to be negatively affected by crisis, gore, atrocity, and death. In fact, it would be abnormal if these things didn’t affect us. It shows that we are human and that these things matter to us.

Our bodies and minds were designed to respond to the threat of danger in certain ways so that we can focus on it, neutralize it, and stay alive. These God-given defense mechanisms have probably kept you alive a time or two. But they can be very intense. Everyone who encounters trauma experiences post-traumatic stress. But when a person gets stuck in that high-alert mode and can’t dial it back, it becomes post-traumatic stress disorder. It is common, but it is not normal. In the same way we don’t want a wound to keep bleeding or a broken bone to go unset, we don’t want to stay in that mode.

All first responders experience stressful events and circumstances which produce symptoms that are unfamiliar, undesirable, and often reduce our ability do the things we want to do. The intensity and duration of these unwanted symptoms – as well as the path to returning to strength and stability – can vary according to a number of factors, which we will examine during this course.

So, in order to move forward, we probably need to go back and examine how trauma entered our life. We call these “the gateways of trauma,” and in this first session, we are going to dig into these six gateways and begin the process of healing.

Let’s get started. 

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