Last Friday, First Responder Coaching joined with the New Hampshire Fire Academy to present Healing Through Trauma, a first responder event. Together, first responders are speaking up about trauma and defeating the stigma surrounding mental health.
Speakers included a range of first responders, each with his or her own unique story, sharing their journey through first responder life, mental health struggles, and the moments and ways in which they overcame darkness. Here’s an overview of some of the stories and lessons those great speakers have to share.
Stephen Holmes shares his trials as a Marine trying to reintegrate into society. As a Lieutenant in the Exeter Fire Department now, he tells about his struggles with PTSD and Compassion Fatigue. After experiencing war, Stephen couldn’t separate his mind from the trauma once he was home. He mentions that even going out with friends was uncomfortable at first because without an armored vehicle and his weapon on him. He describes first responder instances where he pushed away all feelings to avoid feeling pain or sadness.
It took time for him to realize his condition and is now speaking up to help others realize the same and find help. Stephen promotes the book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza as a great educational tool to help one learn about themselves and how to build a pattern of behavior.
Brian Keyes is a firefighter/paramedic and a Lieutenant for the Laconia Fire Department. He’s also the Recovery Coordinator for the department, working alongside the Laconia Police Department’s Prevention, Enforcement, and Treatment Program, servicing individuals who have had a drug and/or alcohol-related emergency. Through his experience as a first responder and the trauma he experienced, Brian uses his stories and journey through trauma to help others see a way through the storm of PTS and other mental health issues.
Jules Scott puts a spiritual perspective on her healing journey through addiction. She served as a first responder and now as a minister through Jules Nicole Spiritual Ministries. She is a Post Overdose/Substance Use Counselor and Substance Use Case Manager in her community.
Her focus is that we’re all human, not just heroes. She talks about addiction and how an escape to the bottle seems a good short-term fix for an ongoing mental health issue many first responders hope to avoid through simply ignoring. Like the other speakers, her story is personal and powerful, offering solutions to a life seemingly otherwise hopeless.
Christy Lister tells the police wife’s side, representing Blue H.E.L.P. for Illinois and as a podcast host for First H.E.L.P. Christy explains her husband’s story of anger developing in his career and expresses the dangers and truth about suicide among first responders. She talks about both sides of the badge and how families serve on the invisible line. First responders may try to hide or not take home what they experience, but Christy illustrates that they do all share the burden of trauma.
She then illustrates what we can do about it. Christy points out how to communicate without reliving the trauma itself. Her mission to reduce the suicide rate is clear as she openly tells her story and offers solutions for others before theirs goes too far.
Jennifer Fanning, Ph.D.
Jennifer Fanning brings a clinical perspective to the day. She is a clinical psychologist and Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Jennifer conducts research and practices clinically with adults with impulsive aggressive behavior, especially those who have experienced trauma. She works in the LEADER Outpatient Clinic at McLean Hospital. LEADER stands for Law Enforcement, Active Duty, Emergency Responder.
Jennifer discusses specific challenges that first responders experience related to coping with anger and seeking treatment. She covered what treatment options are available and what McLean’s specifically offers through her program and others.
FRC’s own Keith Hanks presents his story as well. Having done so three times in the about 2 weeks, Keith’s story is powerful, eliciting emotion at many points. To be honest, most of the speakers do this as well as all the stories are personal, powerful, and emotional. Keith goes through his story, taking you through his trauma, struggles with PST, emotion, and his loss of self. He discusses death and suicide, but also hope and new chances for self growth and recovery.
His talk outlines his own wake-up call. He expresses the recovery is not a one-time deal but an ongoing process. Keith also takes time to offer the audience a self-check a few times during the day. All the presentations can affect those listening deeply and we take that seriously.
The final speaker was Tracey Eldridge. Tracey hosts the podcast On Scene First and speaks about her experience as a dispatcher and the effects of trauma in her life. She shares powerful stories of her experiences on drastic calls, some which turned out okay, some not okay. She explains how all her first responder experiences affect her personal life.
Tracey recounts moments with her own therapist and how they were able to recognize the need for and produce that change. She tells of times which led to emotional reactions, how to discover their true trigger, and reduce their emotional attachment. Tracey shares education on EMDR and the benefits of its effects for first responders.
Sharing and Connecting
Every speaker had an important personal message about trauma, recognizing trauma, and how to overcome its effects by speaking up and seeking help. This educational event allowed for questions at the end. By the discussion at that point, many expressed how well they were impacted. Some even said they planned to seek more help, look into EMDR, get that book by Dr. Dispenza, or simply connect with the speakers to seek further help.
The vendors present, aside from First Responder Coaching and the New Hampshire Fire Academy, were 22Zero, Florida House Experience, Forge Health, Westborough Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, Joanna Grubman, On Scene First, First H.E.L.P., How 2 Love Our Cops, Clear Path, Scars and Stripes, NAMI, IAFF, and Front Line Foundation.
We are proud of all our speakers and those in attendance for speaking up and making connections. Change will only happen if we make it possible and these folks are doing just that. If you have any questions about the groups represented or want to speak up and make some connections yourself, please reach out to us at FRC. We are ready to listen.