When I started my first shift working as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, I was given the tools on my tool belt - soft body armor, firearm, baton, flashlight, protective gloves, to deal with virtually every situation I could ever face, but I was not given the tools needed to process those situations on a cognitive and emotional level.
I was not equipped with the skills to be able to deal with watching people take their own lives right in front of my eyes, or to knock on the doors of a countless number of fathers, mothers, daughters and sons to tell them the news that for some act of fate they will never see their loved ones again, or to see young children battered and bruised at the hands of the people who are supposed to take care of them. How does one understand the incomprehensible? How does one console the inconsolable? How do I make sense out of things that just make no sense? And how do we have hope when it all just feels so hopeless?
My experiences are not unique. Most first responders and military veterans have those experiences that often, literally, haunt us in the middle of the night. My work with the War Horse Awareness Foundation has changed and challenged my own beliefs about the differences between the military and other first responder groups. I have come to understand that regardless of our roles we play, or the jobs we do, trauma manifests itself in very similar ways in all of us - PTSD, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders. We need to make our support group bigger, not smaller by segregating ourselves into our own respective factions. The common ground comes when the question that we ask each other is not, "What happened to you," but "Where do we go from here?"
The War Horse Symposiums in Alberta, Canada and PEER U.S./Canada Retreats here at Snowslip Farm in Lake Placid are designed to help participants understand and walk away with tools they can use to help deal with these invisible injuries. As a first responder who had never worked with horses before, I found the equine-assisted experience incredibly powerful. So powerful, that I created my own non-profit organization for the purpose of sharing that same experience with the horses with as many first responders as possible. Horses don't judge. They don't care who you are or what you do for a living. I learned how to speak horse and it was the most authentic and easy conversation I have ever had. The horses, for me, opened the door to seeing my world and the world around me from a different perspective. Horses restored my hope at a time when I would have never dreamed that possible.
What I have also come to understand is the value and importance of community.
As first responders we are, on some level, conditioned to believe that the public cannot possibly understand what we are going through and that the public doesn't really care anyway. But the community of Lake Placid has answered the call. Your overwhelming support of me and of our upcoming PEER Retreat program has been a lesson for me and for all first responders to realize that we truly are all in this together.
Deanna Lennox is the leader of the PEER U.S./Canada Retreat Sept. 14-17 at Snowslip Farm, an equine-assisted, arts and peer support program to help U.S. and Canadian frontline service providers with operational stress, traumatic injury, PTSD and other job-induced trauma.
She has more than 16 years' service as a member of the RCMP, most recently as a commercial crime investigator in Edmonton, and before that in duties including undercover work, drug section, and as a regular operational police officer.
In 2013, Lennox left the RCMP to dedicate her life to helping frontline service providers through the War Horse Awareness Foundation, which she founded in 2011. In early September, Lennox will host the Fifth Annual War Horse Symposium, which brings together experts, officials, and frontline service providers from across Canada. For more information: www.snowslipfarm.com/Retreats and www.warhorseawareness.com.