Building Resiliency

Gary and Colette Benoit discuss suffering in silence after an officer involved situation and how to counter its' impact.

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We’ve heard the common story of an officer-involved situation and the occupational stress injury that follows, which commonly leads to suffering in silence. This particular story diverges when a wife decided she’d had enough and threw a book at her husband. That moment woke up this officer to see the impact that he was having on his family and himself. It led to a singular decision that guided him on a journey of recovery and resilience, including authoring a book and starting a company with his wife to assist other officers and first responders. Today, Gary and Colette Benoit share their story and journey with some simple principles that will impact you as an officer and a spouse.

The incident

In 2007, Gary Benoit was involved in an officer-involved shooting after a suspect tried to crush him between his patrol car and a truck.  As a result, he had to discharge his firearm and the driver was severely injured. In his department, after a critical incident, it is mandatory to take three days off from work and not communicate with anyone about the incident. “Those were my worst absolute days of my entire life for those three days.” This type of suffering in silence allows your mind to go to places of “what ifs” and second-guessing every action down to the millisecond of the critical incident. It can lead to doubt and filling in the gaps with made-up stories. There are many reasons that there is a lack of communication about feelings and emotions after a critical incident occurs.

Labels

Labels and stigmas are commonly associated with mental health. Admitting you are struggling after an incident can create a label about your overall reputation as an officer. It can lead to others thinking you are weak, emotional, and not grounded. There is this mindset that if a label exists, then officers can’t be there for their unit and if they can’t be there for their unit, they can’t do their job which implies failure.

High Five Kind of story

Even after Gary was able to talk about the incident with his shift mates, he never really had time to process what happened and the feelings associated with the incident. The focus on the situation was more about Gary overcoming the situation and walking away.  He didn’t want to talk about how he felt.  “I could talk about the event, and I can talk about it to the guys I work with and the sequence of what happened. That’s where I would leave it. I would never speak about, man, this really made me feel afraid or I felt like I was really sad. I missed all of those emotional things. It’s a high-five story.” There is a disservice when there is no discussion about the impact of critical incidents. This can create a bulletproof mindset of not talking about how the impact changes and challenges an officer’s belief systems.

Turning inward

Without discussing the emotional impact of critical incidents, it can make officers turn inward and spiral out of control. There is a tendency to numb bottled-up feelings. This can include working overtime or drinking excessively. It can also deter you from going home because that’s where your mind can wander, and it brings you back to the situation. The spillover can impact your spouse and family. Gary experienced this domino effect of ultimately disassociating from his wife, Colette, and infant son.

The spouse’s perspective

Colette has a unique perspective as a spouse because she wanted to be an officer herself. When Gary would come home and tell stories, there wasn’t fear. It was almost as if Colette was living through her husbands’ experiences. When the officer-involved shooting happened, she did not go to a place of “what ifs,” she went to a place of wanting to know more details. This type of perspective didn’t allow Colette to process her deep-rooted emotions about the incident.

A few years later, after an in-the-line-of-duty death, Colette’s emotions started coming to the surface and created a flashback moment to Gary’s incident. There was a realization that Gary may not have made it home that night. Commonly, traumatic events can trigger people months or years later, and suddenly change your mindset in order for you to grieve.

The Catalyst and call to action

The catalyst of the impact and lack of communication from the critical incident, hit the surface when Gary bought Colette tulips. What looked like a seemingly nice gesture, went very wrong.

Over the years, Colette had communicated with Gary that her love language is not gifts, and on top of it, she hated Tulips. In a fit of frustration, Colette threw the book, The 5 love languages by Gary Chapman at Gary!

A change needed to be made so he chose to read the book and show up for his family.  This single decision led Gary and Colette down a path of rediscovery and recovery. His journey towards healing helped create the book, A call for service: overcoming adversity through resilience. In his book, Gary discusses the principles of mindset and how the power of a single decision changed his life.

Principles of mindset to impact you as an officer and spouse

The power of a decision 

The power of a single decision can change your life and help build resilience. Deciding to be there for your family creates the opportunity to grow individually and as a couple.

Influence

One of the biggest impacts in your relationship, especially with men, is to allow your spouse to influence you. Do this by having heart to heart, sometimes tough conversations, and LISTEN! Not every law enforcement family who experiences critical incidents needs to suffer, so rely on each other for support. You don’t have to go through these situations alone!

Be a dreamer!

As an officer, you follow orders for a living and by default, spouses follow those orders as well. The concept of being a dreamer will not come easily. Dreaming is about creating life, not just living by the book. In a year, you are going to live those 365 days and, in those days, it is important to create your own life by design and not by default. Part of this process is learning to live outside the box of being an officer/spouse and dream about what you want life to be! Start with small dreams and gradually grow.

Say yes more often

Create a safe space to learn how to be open and say yes to more possibilities. Once you start saying yes, your mindset shifts and creates the chance to thrive!

Have a vision

This is all about what you want in life regardless of the ups and downs. Life is going to show up, but what matters is how you respond to moments and experiences.

Awareness

Acknowledge and take responsibility for your actions. The more responsibility you take over your life, the larger the area for growth and change.

Gratitude 

Have gratitude for the little things in life regardless of what is going on.

Resiliency

This is the ability to move forward with the knowledge you gain from experiences. Create daily habits and a routine to build and maintain a strong foundation. When you incorporate those habits and bigger things come along, you are more likely to be able to move through them if you have that mindset already in place. If your foundation crumbles, you don’t have anything to fall back on!

Power of our minds

Digging deeper into the power of our minds impacts resilience. For trauma recovery, Gary and Colette focused on the framework of OOLA. It’s a lifestyle of taking action steps towards balancing and growing in seven key areas of your life.

Fitness: Take care of your overall well-being.

Finance: All things financial.

Family: Have a strong family unit.

Field: Your career and your profession.

Faith: You have to have a belief that there is something greater than you.

Friends: You need friends to lift you up and support you.

Fun: It is important to have fun! Think about what makes you the happiest when you have nothing else. If you had no other commitments at this moment and money wasn’t a factor, what would you be doing? It’s about breaking down the conditions that are limiting you to find where the fun is. Remember everyone’s fun is different and don’t judge people based on what they choose for fun.

These seven areas focus on goal setting through three main steps. Where are you today, where do you want to go and how are you going to get there? You don’t have to be perfect at any of these steps. It is about having the awareness that they exist and revisiting each area in order to grow and become more resilient individually and together with your spouse.

Gary and Colette Benoit created the philanthropy, The Frontline Resiliency project. The mission of this project is to bring first responders and their families together to heal through community and connection. They also created a community fund where first responders can apply for funding for alternative healing methods rather than using traditional therapy.

Benoitwellnessconsulting.com 

[email protected]

Instagram: @frontlinereiliencyproject 

A call for service: overcoming adversity through resilience sold on Amazon

Mental effects of being a first responder spouse – Blue Line

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Building Resiliency

Gary and Colette Benoit discuss suffering in silence after an officer involved situation and how to counter its' impact.

Share:

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