Finding ways of dealing with trauma

Motivational speakers recommends dealing with trauma head on and without delay

“The best way to get over a personal traumatic event is to deal with it rather than let it sit and stew” is the advice that was heard by the participants in a gathering in Ponoka last week.

The resounding message passed on by psychologist and motivational speaker Dr. Bobby Smith was for anyone, including police officers, who find themselves in the middle of a tragic event to find a way to manage the pain that it caused them. Smith spoke Thursday, June 2 at the Ponoka Legion during an event hosted by Ponoka Victim Services.

Smith is no stranger to personal suffering. He was a police officer in the United States in the 1980s when he was shot in the head and lost his eyesight as a result. An accomplished police officer, the shooting changed his life forever. “We don’t know how these things affect us and are we emotionally prepared?”

No one is exempt from emotional stress, says Smith, and he recommends taking the time to talk with loved ones. “It’s important to talk. We need to learn to be intimate.”

“If your wife is not your best friend, you’re screwing up. That’s a fact,” said Smith about the need for intimacy.

While taking time for oneself is important, Smith says he and his wife speak with each other every night. Change doesn’t come overnight. Smith suggests a person needs to ask themselves two questions: do they like who they are based on their own behaviours and are they willing to change themselves for the better.

Smith spoke in Toronto, Ont. recently and he said three police officers committed suicide in a 90 day period. The trouble, he said, is that law enforcement officers have been told that it’s not OK to have feelings. Yet when dealing with traumatic events, there is no outlet to deal with their feelings. He used the analogy of an auto repair shop. General car maintenance is cheaper than repairing if something breaks down.

Smith called it a “Pay me now, or pay me later” situation, except the cost is higher the longer a person waits. Alcohol makes the situation worse as it is a depressant.

After being shot, his superiors told him they had no use for him. That caused Smith so much grief he contemplated committing suicide. Smith says he was on the verge but decided to speak with a nurse friend. It was her words that helped him turn his life around.

“She said, ‘Bobby, if you don’t let us help you, you’re not going to make it,’” he explained.

Through therapy Smith was able to deal with past personal traumas such as his mother dying when he was 10. It helped him deal with the loss of his daughter who died in a car accident and it helped him deal with the loss of his son, who died of a drug overdose.

Life isn’t fair, he said, but it is what a person does with their lives that makes the difference.

Anger and pain are things he realized there was no point in holding on to. The pain of the events were bad enough that Smith prefers to deal with them as they happen rather than pretending they didn’t occur. In his words, Smith said he had to forgive those people who caused him suffering, not for their sake, but for his. “Something good can come from the losses in your life if you let them.”