On the turning away….A trigger, a flashback, an incident at church, a sermon, and a Pink Floyd song…

Written just over a year ago, this was my first “urge to journal” and the result of a major breakdown – the worst in years. Several separate events came together to create a perfect storm of emotion. In the middle of Christmas Eve church service. Let me paint the picture, then I’ll share the writing.

A trigger and a flashback: The last Christmas I worked before “retiring” was horrible. I’ll spare you the details, but imagine responding to a brand new parents worst nightmare. On Christmas morning. Needless to say, Christmas has been rough ever since. Always very emotional for me. Always just a trigger away from a flashback and an emotional event.

An incident at church: I am not much of a church-goer, but my wife’s family has been going to the same church for decades. Through my wife and in-laws, my kids are very involved. I go any time they are performing or have something special occurring during a service. And Christmas Eve service is a must. both of our entire families go – we must have 15-20 people there.

The Sunday before Christmas my kids were singing with the choir, so I was there. One of the regulars at church is a young man with severe physical issues – very bad epilepsy among them. He has a seizure every couple of hours. Usually we are seated too far away for me to be of much assistance, but on this particular day, I was seated directly in front of him. When he had his inevitable seizure, I helped his care giver get him out of the chapel and stayed with them until he had fully recovered. No big deal. Until Christmas Eve.

At the very beginning of the service on Christmas Eve, the pastor announced that the young man with the seizure issues had been in ICU all week. There was no word on when he would be released or for that matter, when he would be moved out of ICU. The pastor told of a visit he had with the young man a day or two earlier that week. The pastor basically told the young man it was too bad he would be spending Christmas in the hospital. The young man said: “At least I get to enjoy Christmas – even if I am in the hospital, it is still Christmas.” For some reason, this hit me really hard and the flood gates started to leak.

A sermon and a Pink Floyd song: After delivering the news about the young man, the pastor started his sermon. It was an extremely unique sermon because it was based on a Pink Floyd song. He started by playing the entire song, then delivered his message. I’m not quite sure what his message was because I was lost in the depths of my own emotions. (I think he talked about not turning our backs on others in need).

The song: “On The Turning Away”. I’ve heard the song a million times and I have never really listened to and thought about the lyrics. This time, the lyrics  hit me like a bus. I completely fell apart. Left the chapel in the middle of the service in tears. Had to squeeze past every one in the aisle to escape – my wife, my parents, her parents, my kids…..I left the building and spent the rest of the service balling my eyes out in the side yard of the church. I was an emotional wreck for the next several days until my next therapy session. That week was my 3rd session I believe – very tough session.

For me, this song brought up all of the emotion surrounding the lonely 15+ years I spent hiding from my PTSD. It was not about turning my back on others – it was about turning my back on myself and hiding from my emotions and struggles. Reading this now, a year later, I see that I have made a tremendous amount of progress. I am no longer hiding and fighting alone. I still have a long road ahead, but today, I know there is hope. For the first time in more than 10 years, Christmas this year was bright and happy – not dark and sad. The memory is still there. It always will be. But I have come to terms with what happened and accepted my role. I have started to move on….Finally…….

Here is what I wrote:

On the turning away…..

He says we should not turn away…..

He says it all matters….

He is half right…..It all matters.

But sometimes, there is only turning away….

“It’s a sin that somehow light is changing to shadow”

If this is true, then there is only turning away.

Light quickly becomes the shadow

If you don’t turn away fast enough…..

“And casting its shroud over all we have known”

The darkness is there – over all we have known.

The emotions are coming….

The pain is here……The memories.

The flood is here…..

If you don’t turn away fast enough they will see.

The kids will see.

The wife will see.

The parents will see.

If you don’t turn away fast enough, they will all see….

Sometimes, there is only turning away.

“We could find that we are all alone……”

There is only turning away….

But we are all alone…..

“In the dream of the proud”

There is no turning away…..

There is no more pain…..

There is no turning away……

“From the weak and the weary”

Is this who is turning away?

“Is it only a dream that there’ll be

No more turning away?”

There was no turning away.

Now there is only turning away…..

“On the turning away…..”

Then comes the guilt. The shame.

Rushing to turn away

Instead of pausing to remember.

Turning away is so selfish. So weak. Cowardly.

You should stand up. Face it. Be strong.

But there is only turning away.


6 responses

  1. Many thanks…

    […]Awesome post buddy… million thanks :)[…]…

  2. Appreciate it…

    […]An good conversation is really worth comment. I believe that you should write a lot more on this concern, it might not prove to be a taboo matter but commonly individuals are not “courageous” enough to talk on most of these subjects. Until event…

    1. I appreciate your support and good words. Thanks!
      I am working on the courage to speak more about this and try to make a difference for people still working as first responders.

  3. I am with you so totally, completely, and utterly. For me, it was this last memorial day. I was in a near fatal accident in 1996, entrapment in car. I lost 25+ years of my life skills and memories. They warned me that someday, there could be a trigger to bring it all back, but after 10 yrs they said it wouldn’t come back. They lied! It did and in a very public and humiliating way.

    The scene: Memorial day service at community park, hundreds in attendance.
    I went because I’d recently lost several dear friends and family in the war all KIA. Probably not a good starting place. Anyway, we were surrounded by buildings, and there was an empty box truck behind me. I knew, instinctively that there would be a salute and was looking around for the honor guard (if I can see them, I’m okay). Shots rang out, echoing off of everything. I totally lost it, man…. ended up collapsed by one of the memorials, my minister (a marine chaplain) by my side. In that moment, every scene I’d been on, every time I’d been pinned between warring factions, every blow of abuse came back in a snap. Still not up to par. I live two blocks from my firehouse, and everytime I hear them run I’m back to another memory.

    1. Wow. Absolutely brutal. I’m sorry you had to go through that. I have had more than one person, including a therapist, tell that when something triggers a memory, I should simply think about something different. How well do you think that might have worked on that Memorial Day…..I’m guessing not well at all. Have you found any way to distract yourself when the memories come? Sometimes I can at least lesson the effects by concentrating – really concentrating – on something else. A song on the radio or in my head; A cloud in the sky; just about anything….

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