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  • Writer's pictureShannon Johnson

For Our Military and First Responders Part II: We Can Talk about Dark and Twisty

I, like you, chose my career. I chose to sit for an hour with many people who have witnessed (or been a direct victim of) trauma. This may be anything from childhood abuse and sexual assault, to natural disasters! I am a very visual person, and I feel with people, so I am aware of what I call the "dark and twisty.” There are stories I have heard from clients that will always remain with me.

Let's think about our first responders and military population for a minute. They are not sitting in a comfy chair, in a safe office, hearing about a scene days or years later. Instead, they are at the scene -- with the sights, smells, and sounds of the segment of humanity that many of us like to pretend isn't there -- or, unfortunately, that segment’s collateral damage.

I always think about those monkeys -- hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil. Well, our Protectors have dedicated their lives to jump into the middle of that "evil." This tends to shift their view on humanity. Sometimes it can be difficult to see the positive when you are inundated with the ugly.

After a day of working with couples in general, I will sometimes start to think that there must be infidelity in every relationship. I have been known to snag Husband Brad's phone and start cruising texts. At this point, I am acutely aware that he spends a lot of time texting about very boring farm things, but the exercise helps me ground myself and remember than not all relationships are broken.

Or, I go out with a couple who seems very happy to be together after 20 years, which helps me see hope. I have coined this part of humanity "rainbows and butterflies.” I know that if I let the "dark and twisty" outweigh the "rainbows and butterflies," my mood and trust in people is impacted. Now, I know that my job does not compare to those out serving in real time, but I can get a hint of what it must be like. If you spend your day or night seeing the dark, I imagine it must be very easy to quit seeing any rainbows.

Another aspect of dark and twisty is lack of respect for law enforcement. I want to bring greater awareness. I know that reading and working directly with individuals has increased my respect for their contribution. When I go on social media, I always struggle with the comments made under any posts regarding a critical incident. Not only do our first responders willingly deal with our "dark and twisty,” they are then criticized or attacked.

I have heard stories of officers being accosted in social settings, off-duty, because of their career. My husband gets teased that he is married to a couples therapist, and people may not want to hang with us, but I don't get accosted.

Please take a moment to think about the sacrifice. Of course, as with any populations, there will be some individuals who do not honor their profession. But let's be real, there are “bad apples” in all professions. As a community, I hope we can start to turn the tide on how we support.

I want to figure out how to better support our first responders/military. I would like to wave a magic wand and have the system fixed, however even I know that those rainbows and butterflies don't exist.

Brandi and I have created relationship retreats with this population in mind. Retreats don't involve a diagnosis, and they are not therapy. Instead, they are a way to work on relationship skills that bring greater connection with loved ones. We maintain privacy. Each couple is given a framework as couple, but you are never asked to share anything in a group. Some individuals or couples would benefit from more intensive services, but a retreat would be a very positive start. Relationship health has such a huge impact on individual health that I believe this small action could make a difference.

And finally, while many mental health professionals do not have direct experience with "dark and twisty,” we do have training to help support you. It is key that you find someone you trust. Please let us support you as you continue to support us.

This is part two of a three-part series. Our hope is that you will share this information with others. Come back tomorrow for part three, “We Go Through a Lot of Sh*t!”

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