Living After The “Job”

By Nancy Dowdy

Well here we are again in the middle of the night. Waking up full of guilt – you know, that moment after the alcohol wore off and you realize what a total disgrace you were. Every single time we feel bad.  Every single time we say we won’t do it again… and then every single time we do.  We take that first drink and it’s like or best friend found us again. We are funny.  We are young.  We are who we were before.  Wait.  There it is.  Who was I – BEFORE?

We all wait for retirement.  It’s funny – a lot of cops have it down to the hour.  How many days before retirement?  I cannot even imagine what it must be like in today’s world.  The crazy thing is that social media reminds me with my “memories” that every year or two the world loses its mind.  I have all these old posts about how things were so bad, but here I am today seeing how bad things are yet again – but it is so different now.

I have some friends who are constantly headed to “Back the Blue” rallies.  They always ask me to go, but I am full of excuses as to why I am unavailable.  The truth of the matter is, I don’t know how to help.  My presence might be enough, but as a retiree – it isn’t.  Also, I feel like at any moment the world will explode and there I will be – not a cop anymore.

The reality is that I gave a part of myself to law enforcement.  I gave it away.  I spend a lot of time looking for it = a lot like those kids in “Stranger Things” where I am wandering around the “upside down” trying to find something that isn’t there. It looks a little bit like my world, but it is grey = and scary.  I had this great conversation with a high school friend tonight and realized that who I was is so far from who I am now.  If the person I have become encountered who I was, I think she’d be horrified. I was so innocent.

Growing up in northern Wisconsin I was so ignorant – I didn’t know the evil that existed in the world.  I miss that.  I was so kind.  I am missing that person these days. This whole COVID thing has only exacerbated the ugly feelings.  I cannot do anything about what is happening around me.  I hate the stores – people behind their masks freak me out because I cannot read their expressions, after a lifetime of trying to see what people were thinking.  My dear mentor summed it up: masks give people a license to be rude.  I hate having one on – I would rather just stay home.  Yes – I could volunteer.  I could do a whole bunch of things that normal people do to get through stressful times.  The thing is – I am not normal people.  I am a person who used to be in charge of organizing the chaos.

The fact is, none of us are “normal” anymore.  We have failed marriages.  We have problems with alcohol.  We have dysfunctional lives… and a lot of dogs.  We come by our screwed up lives honestly.  We have earned them. The thing is, we have also earned a life beyond it all.  Fun fact:  I don’t know what that means – I don’t know quite how to get there.  I do know that it is out there.  That is probably the thing that keeps me going.  It is like a case that hasn’t been solved.  The main character is all messed up and conflicted – but you really want her to find peace.  You want her to be happy because she is likeable.  In talking to that old friend, I missed that naïve girl I was. I wanted to be her again.  I wanted to forget all of the things I have experienced so that I could be back in that place.

Well – that is just not going to happen.  I am a different – stronger woman today than I was way back then.  The girl who couldn’t stand up for herself killed a man because he shot someone.  While that is just a sentence in an article – it also broke the foundation that small town girl stood on.  That man and I are bonded forever.  I mourn his death in a strange way – because I value life.  That is good for so many reasons, however I often need to be reminded.   I am filled with so much guilt – oddly enough it isn’t because I did the wrong thing in my career.

I am very proud of the cop I was – but I am terribly saddened by the person I was outside of work.  We could assess the failed marriages – yes I said that in the plural.  I made some pretty awful personal choices – but in reality – all those choices got me to where I am today.  I would not trade my children or my husband at any moment.  I know that where I am today is where I am supposed to be, however I really wish I could avoid bad days.  I look around and see all the bad things that are happening to people – and I know that I am so fortunate.  That doesn’t change the fact that I have really crappy days.

People talk about de-funding the cops – and after all the protesting and nonsense, they know that they need you. Maybe that is why I don’t get all wrapped up in the news of the day.  The reality is = not many people can handle a giant naked man running down the street with a sword.  It’s a funny “meme” but it is only funny because I’ll bet nearly every cop can relate.  Maybe it was not a sword.  Maybe it was a machete, a rifle, or perhaps a rubber chicken.  And – why are they always giant and naked??  The point is, you have been there.  You have been in that place that most human beings cannot fathom.  You have seen things that most cannot even process – their brains won’t even allow them enough room to see.  As I say this – I have a bunch of scenes passing through my mind…

-the dead guy who was discovered because his downstairs neighbor called after noticing the fluid dripping from the ceiling – but not the smell I noted from the street.

-the dead guy in the trailer who was sitting on the couch in in full view in front of the open door where the oxygen delivery person left a “sorry we missed you” note.

It’s ok to be a little messed up. We all have to vacation there. – But you cannot move in.

You will someday be sitting on your sofa like I am- retired and thankful for who you got to be for awhile  A truly successful person finds a way to compartmentalize that piece of their life – and move on.  I’m trying – I’m just not there yet.  I suppose the point of all of this babbling is that I want each of you to remember that being a cop is just a small part of who you are.  While your career block is significant – It is not ALL of you.  Here are fantastic bookends around that career that are far larger than that timeframe.  At some point you have to file things away.

You have to enjoy what you have earned.  We give away so much time when we are doing our “20” and then some – but we do that so we can live – and love beyond it.  Guilt is an ugly wet quilt. I have some whoppers woven into that one.   It can weigh on you and at some point you have to push it aside.  The reality is that the person you were is still the person you are.  Right now that person who needs to be saved is me – and the cop I was is perfectly suited to save the “old” lady I have become.  We have all sacrificed who we were to help others – many for decades.  In the end – we have all the help we need when we look in the mirror.  Sometimes that person is telling us what to do and where to go for that help, don’t ignore him/her.  The people by your side today were there for you then – and are there for you now.  Listen to them – so you can live and enjoy the time you have earned.

Oh – and don’t worry – I am getting help.  I just want you to know that you aren’t alone.

If you, someone you love or someone you know needs help, call:

Safe Call Now:  24 Hour Confidential Hotline:  206-459-3020

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Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008