Thomas is joined by author, consultant, and advocate for post-trauma awareness, Bob Delaney. They discuss the profound impact of Bob’s time doing undercover work to infiltrate mafia crime families. He experienced intense shame and guilt from deceiving the people he was investigating, despite believing that the work was necessary. He and Thomas discuss how Bob overcame the isolation and trauma of repressing these emotions, and how society can better serve the first responders who endure so much trauma in their lines of work. Bob emphasizes the importance of having outlets to express emotions rather than repressing them and the need to improve attunement and relational capacities between these workers and the people they’re serving.
Bob Delaney – Moral Injury and Restoration
“Never be afraid of a shadow, because in order for a shadow to exist, there has to be light nearby. And it is our responsibility to ourselves and to each other to get to that light.”
- Bob Delaney
Bob Delaney’s life story has been told in his two books - Covert: My Years Infiltrating the Mob and Surviving the Shadows: A Journey of Hope into Post-Traumatic Stress. His most recent book is Heroes are Human: Lessons in Resiliency, Courage, and Wisdom from the COVID Front-lines.
Delaney was a New Jersey State Trooper who went deep undercover for three years to infiltrate the Mafia in the late 1970s. The assignment took a toll and he dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder. His personal journey of healing led him to become a student and advocate for post-trauma awareness. He has worked with the military, law enforcement, firefighters, first responders, healthcare workers, and many others by providing post-trauma awareness and education.
His contributions to PTSD awareness and support to military officials and their families have been recognized with honors and proclamations from many, including President Barack Obama and senior-ranking military leaders. In 2010, President Barack Obama conferred upon Delaney the President's Volunteer Service Award.
He has twice received the United States Army Outstanding Civilian Service Medal, in 2011 for his assistance in the aftermath of the Fort Hood shootings and in 2013 for his work with troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Delaney is the 2020 recipient of The Theodore Roosevelt Award, bestowed on four U.S. Presidents (Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan) and other distinguished citizens. He is also a Harvard Global Mental Health Trauma Recovery alumnus and presents globally on leadership, resiliency, trauma, and self-care.
Learn more at delaneyconsultants.com.
Notes & Resources
Key points from this episode include:
- The tension inherent in not speaking the truth and how that affects our relationships
- How allowing ourselves to feel the negative feelings of those that we’ve wronged enables us to restore those relationships
- The physical toll of emotional turmoil and repression
- How emotional maturity is necessary to do first-responder work sustainably
- The comfort in knowing that you’re not alone in your feelings or experiences
Thomas Hübl: It’s a pleasure for me to talk to you, and we had our second conversation after our first conversation which was extremely interesting but never got recorded. We had such a deep conversation and so today we will do our Part 2 again and see how that emerges. But I’m very happy to be sitting here with you again.
Bob Delaney: It’s a pleasure to be with you. As we spoke the last time I shared with you, I found out that you’re a Bruce Springsteen fan as well. And being from New Jersey, Bruce was someone that I had known his songs for years. I would go to the Stone Pony when he was really not as popular many, many years ago, but is a song that I thought really resonated in our conversation. And it’s called “Better Days” and is a lyric that says, “It’s a sad man, my friend, who’s living in his own skin. It can’t stand the company.” And that song always resonated with me. That line resonated with me because after I finished those three years working undercover, I was that guy who was living in the skin and couldn’t stay in the company. And so that all as a result of lying for three years of my life, I lied and ingratiated myself to folks. And so that line is the conversation that you and I have had often about how that influenced me and how it influences all of us.
Thomas: Exactly. For everybody tuning in with us for the first time, there was already Part 1 to a conversation. We are looking through Bob’s experience to have to look at what is actually the impact of lying or dishonesty or also being undercover and creating relationships that are actually not real relationships, but they are real relationships. So that’s what we’re going to continue to talk about today. And yes, I am a big Springsteen fan and I love his music and love his music. As you quoted the line, there’s so much depth in Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics. I love that and maybe we start with what you just brought Bob but I’m also very curious because we all are social beings. Our nervous systems are wired to be sociable. It’s painful to feel hurt relationships. It’s painful to not be related and feel isolated and not belong. But you intentionally went into a community where I think you needed to build relationships, I’m sure there was also some kind of bonding happening. I don’t know, you need to tell us. That is I mean, I allow myself to feel your situation. And I thought, well, it’s interesting because you build deeper relationships, which also create connections. And at the same time, you also need to keep some kind of distance. And at the same time, it’s also dangerous for you.
So I’m wondering how you dealt with that kind of very interesting work. On the one hand, those two are for you and other people in that same situation, it’s kind of a unique situation how we actually bond, who we allow ourselves to bond to. We feel emotional. I’m sure you’re so connected to families, maybe their kids, and how maybe you can speak a bit about that to start with.
Bob: Yeah, Tom so I became another person for three years of my life. And just to recap, I infiltrated the Genovese and brutal crime families of traditional organized crime, the Mafia, La Cosa Nostra, whatever term we want to give to it. Earlier you said the social relationships that were developed that while I knew they were bad guys, I started to know them as human beings. I knew their wives, knew their kids. I understood more about them as individuals, played softball with them, and interacted with them in a human way. That caused me, at the conclusion of those three years, to have guilt about having developed these relationships and also probably levels of shame that came to me because people were telling me that I did heroic work and I was getting accolades from one side of the fence, meaning the law enforcement and general public society.
Yet those people that I ingratiated myself with would spit on the ground when they saw me walk into the courtroom. So there was this conflict that was inside of me. And I didn’t know how to verbalize it because I couldn’t say I’m sorry to the bad guys because I really wasn’t sorry, it was their choice to commit the crimes. Yet I couldn’t tell the people on the law enforcement side, I feel bad about doing this. So I had to hide all those kinds of feelings for a long time. It wasn’t until I started speaking about it that it became more freeing for me. And also my personality is one that lends itself to wanting to be around people and to ingratiate myself.
But what I came to find after those three years and as time goes on, even to this day, 47 years later, I still see myself as being hypocritical at times because am I ingratiating to develop a relationship or am I ingratiating because that’s the skills that I learned when I was undercover? I even doubt myself sometimes. And I think at times that people think that they’re closer to me and in a friendship than are in reality because of those skills that I developed to allow people to feel comfortable to start speaking about whatever they wish to speak to me about.
I always said it was a blessing and a curse – there are a lot of positives to come out of it when it’s being done for the right reasons. But then there are some internal negatives that take place. And one other point that I really in speaking with you, it’s so important to flush this out is that I always thought of the world as good and bad until I went undercover – now I see it as good, bad, and evil. There are different levels of what takes place. So there were bad guys that I felt guilty about arresting because they knew they were committing crimes like stealing stuff and I also knew that the money that they gained from those criminal activities was going to help their family. So I saw what they were doing on the other side. But then there were people that I worked with that were evil, evil people that were cold-blooded killers that didn’t think anything about eliminating their competition. And so that opened my eyes to not just good and bad, but there’s good, bad, and evil in our world.
Thomas: So I will come back to that part in a second. I’m still curious because that’s where all of us can learn. On the one hand, how did you feel creating emotional relationships where the people that you felt close with? And how was your emotional bonding? Because I think that’s a very human quality that when you spend time with people, maybe you also had people that you liked by how they were and their families or their kids. So how did that play out? Creating relationships? Was that at all possible to keep it very distant? If so, how was the experience of allowing yourself this closeness, in friendships, and on the other hand, what do you feel we need to stay outside of those relationships? Like what stays outside? Because I think that’s interesting to all of us. Everybody I believe who is not speaking the truth or is not honest even in very mundane daily lives – I think we always need to contract a bit that, not to speak the truth. You always need to create that tension inside. I’m curious how you experienced this because you were there for three years. I mean, that’s a long time.
Bob: It’s interesting that you bring it up because as soon as you say that, it always triggers in my mind about how we choose to lie and justify those lies. Like you say, I’m coming to meet you. And then I got to call you and say, I know we’re supposed to meet at 3:00, but I’m going to be ten minutes late when in reality, I know I’m a half hour away. And if we use these like we’re trying to make ourselves look better, that I’m not that far away from you or I’m not being that late, I’m going to only be ten minutes late by verbalizing that. But the reality is I’m going to be a half hour late. And so we do these kinds of little tricks within ourselves, but it’s always to make ourselves look better. And in light of what’s taking place in the relationships that are developed with some of the Mafia guys, I just give you one example.
At the conclusion of the investigation, there was a raid that took place and there were 30 people arrested in that raid the first time. The law enforcement agencies, the FBI, the state police gathered together at like 3:00 in the morning. They started hitting houses around 5:00. They were bringing defendants into the main command post. I was with Sgt. (Barry) Lardiere, he had plainclothes, but he had a state police I.D. on the outside of his pocket. And he said to me, “You want to see what’s going on?” Meaning the fingerprinting, the pictures, shooting off into offices to see who was going to be the next informant. And I said yes, well, I meant no because now they’d really know who I am. This is going to be your first interaction. And I put myself in a parade rest, my arms behind my back, my shoulders up my face. I wanted to look them in the eye and show strength.
When I got there, I was standing next to Sgt. Lardiere here in that pose, and a guy named Ronnie Sardella, who I had stolen tractor trailers with, did dope deals with, the gun deals with, was being fingerprinted and the trooper was putting the cuffs back on him. And he looked over at me and he said, “Bobby, what they pinch me for?” And before I could answer, Sgt. Lardiere said, “He’s not a pinch. He’s a trooper. He’s with us.” And they looked at what between us was not anger. It was disappointment. He looked at me, and said, “Bobby, how can you do that? I’m your friend.” So that interaction created for me not to be able to pick my head up. I physically put my eyes down as if in shame because this was the guy. Because it’s an unwritten rule in a schoolyard: You don’t tell on your friends, right?
I remember being in fifth grade and getting caught. I was taught by the good sisters of St. Dominic, a Catholic school for kids. And I got caught doing something wrong. I was going to be punished. And before she told me the punishment, I said, Sister, Jimmy was doing it too. I gave up my best friend in a heartbeat. That says the good sisters are married to God, it’s also there to put welts on your head. She cracks me. She gave me a crack and she said, “You don’t tell on your friends Delaney.” And so we’re socialized not to do certain things. And then we asked folks like myself in law enforcement to go into that undercover, lie, become friends with people, and then tell on them. And so those basics of what we’re socialized to do become conflicting inside how we internalize that and how we justify it. And it’s an amazing dynamic, Thomas, I think that we all experience a level of that. Mine just happens to be for a longer period of time and it’s packaged in a story. And yet I think that if all of us are honest about what we are, and share with other folks at times we’re trying to move it to the point where we make other people feel better about us. I don’t know if I’m explaining that right, but it’s I want you to think well of me so that you think you’re got a good relationship with me. And those are not true relationships. You speak about the attunement. What I take from when you speak about that is I always look at my internal attunement – I’ve got to be in tune with myself before I can be attuned with someone else.
Thomas: It’s beautiful. Also, your in-depth description just touches me when you speak – because you speak about complex human emotions. You’re saying, I felt shame. I needed to look calm, I felt guilt, this bonding emotions that we also feel towards our tribe and towards people. And it’s very important for us to learn from you about what it means to set things right, to come clear, to be honest, and what we are going through, what we often in a way prevent from feeling, prevent ourselves from feeling is we don’t want to feel that shame. We don’t want to feel that guilt. We don’t want to see disappointment and not only feel the disappointment of another human being present in our daily lives, not just in this very kind of special circumstances you’re in.
Your description teaches us what we actually need to be prepared to really in order to restore relationships where we aren’t honest and and to really be willing to have those emotions go through and just feel the disappointment or the pain of another person and stay open. Otherwise, we only need to contract or retreat or shut down or disconnect also. So I find it very powerful.
The other thing is, and maybe in the first conversation you talked about, but maybe you can circle back to that. What do you think are the long-term effects that you as a human being suffered from after you came out of these three years, how could this have been a long-term effect on your life? Do you feel you could integrate this pretty quickly? Do you feel it’s still true today that some of the after-effects are reverberating in you? Because that sort of thing goes and you hardly hear about that, you know, from people like yourself in the public sphere?
Bob: Yeah, a great point because the reactions that were taking place inside of me that I wanted to live up to the image that other people had of the work that I did. I testified before the United States Senate. I gave a briefing to Congress in the United States. I was being paraded around and speaking all over because it was such a unique thing. We actually had a trucking company and I was the president and the FBI and the state police were involved. And it was like this real-life movie taking place that people wanted to hear the stories about. Not what I speak about today, about the actual nuts and bolts of how we’re doing that work. But the conflict was that when I was in my own home, the anger levels were extremely high. I was a wall puncher, like a little child who didn’t understand and became frustrated. I didn’t know why I was angry, but I was angry. And the old sayings would come true. You know, ‘cry over spilled milk.’ My reactions to little things that should be normal reactions were so out of whack, that it wasn’t in tune with what took place. Okay, your milk spilled. But I would become so upset and I became a wall puncher. And Thomas, I’m the kind of guy that really cannot do a lot of things in life. I don’t know how to spackle. I’m the kind of guy that when the car breaks down, I open the hood and I look because I think that’s what you’re supposed to do. But I have no idea what I’m looking at. And so I’m not capable in those areas. And yet, if you came to my house back then you would think I love paintings. Because when I would put my fist through the wall and then come down and go to a Wal-Mart or a cheap store and buy a cheap painting and hang it over it to hide that and how prophetic it was because to the outside world, it looked all fine in that house. But the reality was I was hiding all of the emotions that were being expressed. So that’s where honesty had to come. It took me years to be able to process and to become honest with myself. And the more that I did that and I got up in front of cops and started talking about the emotions of what I referred to as the emotions of the job of what you see and what you experience. And then it grew to firefighters and first responders and the military and now the health community – but it’s human. It’s about human beings. It’s about the emotions that we feel. It’s just that those who serve see what the rest of the world does not. And so they’re exposed at higher levels.
When I hear about cops, their overreactions, and their violence in effecting arrests – I think there’s a lot of pent-up anger in there that I understood through the work that I did. These are areas where we need to become 21st century in our thinking that police departments need massage therapists, they need yoga, they need meditation, they need these kinds of other outlets that help them process what they’re seeing on a daily basis because they see what human beings do to other human beings. And that draws me back to the good, the bad, the evil – they see evil. And so it impacts them. And they all too often try to make believe it doesn’t bother them. And they steal their own emotions against what they see. But then there has to be an outlet. And where is the outlet? And if it doesn’t take place now you’re stealing your emotions even with the people you love and you’re not showing true emotion.
I was with you yesterday when you were doing the webinar yesterday. And it hit me like so hard when you talked about ethical restoration. I came to an understanding that that’s what I’ve been doing for the past 40 years. I’ve been doing an ethical restoration to bring myself back to being who I truly am and having an understanding of it because my morality got changed on the street. I was seeing things in different ways that were not part of what my upbringing was or what I understood to be good and bad. And all of those kinds of things became what I used to call the emotional rollercoaster. It actually became emotional violence inside of me and I didn’t know how to interact with it.
Thomas: Yeah, I deeply understand this. I mean, I don’t understand it as you do, and from a deeper understanding of how we could regulate our stress levels and our emotions with others. Because not only couldn’t you express your true feelings in the environment that you were in, but you were kind of isolated also from the rest of the world. Because you need to create a bubble around yourself that contains your true feelings.
Because whenever I meet you, I meet a man that is very heartful, that is very deep, that has a lot of sensitivity. Also, I would say, like a quality of healing when I hear you speak that you transmit. So you transmit so many high-level sensitivity qualities that I think are amazing given what you went through. And the alchemy of how you serve police departments, armies, first responders, and healthcare communities. I think you alchemize, you become a remedy in a way because I truly believe when we go through something and we transform it, we become a remedy in society.
Maybe you can speak to that level of isolation because I think that it must have been really hard for you to have these deep feelings. The sensitivity isn’t just there now. You were born like this, so maybe it refined itself through all the work you did and the practices and I would like to circle back to maybe law enforcement and maybe what are the essentials from your life story? Life, you know, can be transmitted there, but this isolation and not having the power to co-regulate with the collective intelligence and become, in a way, an isolated article. And maybe you can speak with your wisdom of today about how you felt then and what you see are the consequences. Because I think we all can learn from your experience about how some people in our society might feel that actually have a lot going on inside, but they are really isolated in society. Then that leads to all kinds of things they do, maybe to move in a very different direction. But if you learn to understand your isolation and how you felt, maybe you also develop a much higher social sensitivity to environments and when we see isolation, how we meet it. But maybe you start first?
Bob: So I grew up Irish Catholic. My mom was conceived in Ireland, was born here and my father’s family. So it was always a lot of storytelling of families, gathering at grandparents’ homes on Sundays was normal to them. So I was always around a lot of cousins and a lot of family. As time goes on, as you get a little older, it’s a little bit less and less. But there was still that always that basic. And I was always a member of a team. I had been playing ball, basketball and baseball since I was nine years old. So I was always part of something and a team.
Now going undercover well, there was another state trooper and there were three FBI agents that made up our trucking company. We all lived in different areas so that we could infiltrate areas that we knew socially. So I was in Hudson County, New Jersey. While you had some other undercovers with you, you really were becoming friends with a whole nother group of people, a subculture that was not part of who you are. And so there was a distance in that feeling at times of isolation that you were out here like a lone wolf trying to figure out how you can survive in a subculture. That had a whole different language that I was used to, a whole different morality that I was used to. So all these changes you’re trying to make believe that you’re part of, yet you’re not. You know, Thomas, I used to say to folks I was really good at doing undercover work, real good at doing something in life. And I would wear a recording machine where you would put a cup if you played sports, where inside the junk was my recording device and I had two on-off switches in my pocket, and underneath my armpits were the microphones. And I did over 300 recordings that way with my guys, I could do the whole routine with them for a couple of hours.
But I get in the car and I start to drive about two miles away and I have to pull over and get out of the car and throw up. Or I’d have to find the first gas station I could find because I had diarrhea. I would wake up in the middle of the night and my bed would be soaking wet from the sweat of when and I didn’t know what was going on inside of me. I didn’t understand what I understood today. That even isolated me more because I was afraid to tell anyone else. I was afraid to say that because now I wouldn’t look like I was able to do this work, or I was not as strong as people were telling me I was. All of these kinds of emotional kinds of things showed up physically. It wasn’t just emotional or psychological, there’s a physiology to it. And understanding that physiology, I think, is important for all of us because I went through some difficult medical things maybe about 10 or 15 years ago, and I was sent to a doctor. He was a well-known oncologist who moved to Florida from New York. And he was like Dracula. He took blood from everywhere, man. He was taking blood from me all over the place. I walked into his office after he had done all this testing. And he said to me, “Mr. Delaney, can you tell me a time in your life when you were under prolonged periods of stress? Because I have all the markers telling me this.” And I said, Doc, I have this book you read. And I told him my story. And he said, “It makes all the sense in the world.” And Thomas, he explained it to me in layman’s terms. He said, “Look, exposure to the sun can show up with cancer 30 years later, exposure to prolonged periods of stress can show up with medical issues down the road.” And so it opened my understanding to this far more than emotional and psychological. And so when I share this with people, my hope is that that is one thing that helps people want to become more students of trauma for their own physical well-being. This is not only emotional, psychological. We have to understand that there are medical issues that can come as well. And the more that we share these kinds of things, we normalize this conversation. And to me, that’s an important part of the work.
Thomas: Absolutely. Beautiful how you framed it. I think what you just showed is very important for all of us. And I think it’s also circling back to the people in the communities that you work with today and bringing your wisdom to everyone, to people who are working in law enforcement. And if you’re one of the people who are first responders or medics or firefighters or army personnel or health care workers that prolonged periods of stress might be part of our daily experience in those professions. And so maybe we can talk a little bit. What’s your experience and how we can serve that level of society because it looks like, Oh, that’s their thing. And it says, Who is ‘they’ in this society, who are ‘they?’ And then it seems like it’s their problem of the law enforcement. But I think if we have both, like, the expertise that can be brought into law enforcement personnel, like how to maybe with you said the meditation, mindfulness and emotional health ways of relieving the trauma that happens there very often.
So that’s one thing, But also the sort of responsibility that we want to feel safe in our society means that every citizen has something to contribute to these populations. And so maybe we can speak a little bit about both. What are you teaching or what are you bringing there so that the competence can be upgraded? What’s actually your recommendation for every one of us, like us as citizens, that we can contribute as cultural sensitivities and to help those people to do their jobs better and more sustainably? So maybe you can speak to that a little bit.
Bob: Yeah. I think that as we said, the need for meditation, the need for understanding, like Dr. Jim Gordon, I don’t know if you know Dr. Jim Gordon, but Jim is from DC and Jim does great work and he does a lot of dancing and a lot of creative things. And I brought Jim in with cops and firefighters and when he starts about we gotta get up and dance and we’ve got to do this and the cops are looking at them like, what are you kidding me? And then as time goes on, they start to realize they feel better after they do it. And so his sharing at times may not be exactly what would fit into that some culture because there are all these cultures, right? Culture of law enforcement, the culture of the military, or the culture of firefighters yet it works.
My appeal to all folks is that these are all jobs and all professions that are going to be filled. We want to fill them with the highest talented people, not get to the point where we are now, where the pool of applicants is small. We want people to aspire to these positions. So we make it an honorable, noble profession that serves all of us well, that you’re not worried that your kid is out there at 11:00 at night and being stopped by a police officer who maybe doesn’t have the skills and doesn’t have the talent yet. They had to fill that position. We have to go and make these into the noble professions.
I made my living in professional sports. I was in law enforcement, I did this parallel work. But for 30 years, I was in the National Basketball Association, as you know, as a referee. But I still say to this day years from now, people are going to come back and look at us and say they paid athletes what? And they paid teachers what? There’s something disconnected here. And I’m not saying they shouldn’t get good pay, but the numbers are so out of whack with what the professions are of people who are serving in noble ways in society. And this disconnect is pushing us in different ways. So my hope is that we’re able to make a swing.
It took place when I was a young man and the Vietnam War was in full swing. I remember how the United States soldiers were vilified and disrespected. And that pendulum has swung. There’s an honoring of those who serve now. There is an understanding that they are doing good work. I think that this will take place in our society as well. But it has to have a conversation on both sides of the fence. Bridges are built from both sides, so it can’t just be one side that comes most of the way. We all have to get and bring this together. And I think it’s an area that is so needed in the conversation.
Police officers are scared to death, too. So the overreactions are coming. These are overreactions to situations that should normally be handled in a very simple way. I don’t remember taking my gun out all that often in my early days in uniform as a trooper. I was taught by senior men that this and this and this are the things that are going to calm situations. Speak to people. Treat folks in the way that you would want to be treated. And just because you have a badge and a uniform does not mean you have the right to be disrespectful or demeaning to someone. I was told that I would be a professional law enforcement officer a senior trooper that guided me. He said, “You’ll know when you’re a pro when after you arrest someone or give them a ticket, they say thank you. They’re not saying thank you for what you did. They’re saying thank you for how you did it.” And that is what we have to train and understand and speak about more. It’s not only about being the strong arm. It’s about calming the waters and allowing people dignity where even if they have to be arrested.
Thomas: It’s very beautiful. It speaks to how much actually is attunement and relational capacities and not just skills, we have to be more attuned and maybe that’s happening. I’m not fully aware of that but like some kind of trauma screening of one’s own developmental trauma that makes that more likely or less likely to be relationally attuned and come to this kind of high-level professionality and the kind of inclusiveness and also self-regulation of officers or any kind of first responders I think is very, very important.
Bob: To your point here, it is taking place, but it’s taking place in small increments. And so we’re not moving the bar as quickly as possible. And also it becomes kind of tribal within the law enforcement community because it becomes us versus them. When I hear that it is such a bad statement because ‘there’s no them, there’s only us.’ Until we come to that realization and have that fully in our hearts when we’re doing whatever we do in our world, that is what’s going to cause these changes to take place.
Thomas: I once had an incredible conversation in one of our course programs with a soldier who served in Vietnam and then experienced that isolation and how that actually added to and strengthened the trauma in him. And later on, he became a very skilled trauma expert. But this kind of situation of being marginalized in one’s own community after that kind of traumatic event. And we as citizens are not taking ownership of our participation in the war, it’s not just them going there. It’s not just them. I think that’s a very strong message about how we are not just part of an ecosystem – we are the ecosystem. There’s no pain there, that we are all interconnected with everybody. And I think the more we feel that, again, the less we say such sentences and we are much more supportive. And I think that’s why I love the work that you do, because you work in the communities or professions that are the firewall of our society, including the medical system, the health care staff that is the firewall of the society that absorbs a little bit of trauma.
I think we need once we understand how systemically relevant it is and how much more support needs to go into this profession in order for us to stay safer and healthier, this part of our population needs to be served much more with support because there’s a shock absorber of the trauma that police officers see, first responders, see, medical services see and many other people may never see. I mean, I have worked as a paramedic for nine years. And I know what I saw in this time is so different from what regular people never see and hardly ever see. So I think that that level of support and the work that you bring and bring to the public attention is so important for societal health overall.
Bob: As a paramedic, you went to where trauma is. Constantly. You were constantly going through trauma. So to think that those who serve are not going to be exposed to trauma. We are all susceptible. It’s a human condition. Yet those who serve are in the higher risk group because they go more. And then I came to the realization that paramedics, first responders, law enforcement, military, and firefighters go to trauma. The healthcare community has trauma walk in the front door and the trauma comes to them. They get hit with the emotional shrapnel of the trauma.
That, to me, is another area, because of the pain that you see in other people while you’re there, and then you have to make believe and put this persona on because you can’t show your own emotion. You have to steal your emotions against what you would normally feel in order to do your job. A homicide detective has to not see that as a person, but as an object that had been violated and now do their job. Yet you’re still experiencing that. That’s inside of you. Talking about having a release for that, that is not a weakness – that’s a strength. And until we change that kind of mindset in these kinds of professions, that’s where the road starts to come. That’s where the apathy, the isolation, the maladaptive behaviors of overdrinking or drug abuse of other addictions start to show up because you’re trying to deaden the pain.
Thomas: That’s right. You said it beautifully, like what we need to support because even determine clinical distance or staying objective, like how can you as a human being not feel or do you feel only when you contract in order to keep a distance, you need to distance yourself from yourself in order to decide that part of itself and there is no other way. So emotional maturity is actually the only way to do these kinds of jobs sustainably because that means that I’m able to stay spacious and related in the pain and I’m not too affected and flooded by the pain that I am not any more functional. And it’s a very different understanding than oh we keep a clinical distance, but how do you do that? You do that through contracting and distancing yourself from yourself. Because when I look at you – Bob lives in my central nervous system, you are deep in my nervous system. The Bob that I see lives very close to me. So I can sense myself from you only if I create a distance in myself. And I think that’s really important because then it’s also clear that many first responders carry some sort of trauma from their childhood, from their ancestors and the collective they come from. So it’s not that we start very integrated, we all carry baggage.
And that’s why I’m saying this also because I think your work really brings to the public attention that we as citizens and as a society need a different awareness, these professions in our society need a different social awareness. And I think if we all create that, if we all are mindful of first responders or law enforcement being so exposed to trauma, there is a different holding environment, just a difference of awareness and a difference of approach and how many judgments and distance and authority projections we hold. And if we can just work on that systemically, then the entire system of balance is the thing that’s a very big calling to everybody. That’s a very deep awareness process for all of us to strengthen.
Bob: One of the things that I’ve learned to do is that by telling my story and being honest with telling my story, I allow those in the audience to connect the dots to their own story versus speaking and giving information or directing or speaking in this way. It’s all internal, and so often I’ll have folks come up to me and say, “I felt like you were speaking directly to me when you told this part of your story.” And I said, because it’s not my story – it’s our story. It’s a story of humanity. And that is when we share with each other, you and I, in having conversations, we give permission to each other to tell our stories and then we validate our feelings so that we don’t feel that those feelings that I have are only my feelings. No, it’s someone else who has that same feeling. There is a comfort in that. There’s a comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one and that these can be worked through and that there is you know, I think I’ve told you this before, but the second book I wrote is called Surviving the Shadows: A Journey of Hope into Post-Traumatic Stress. And the reason I chose that title is that I believe we all have shadows in life. And yet I tell folks, never be afraid of a shadow, because in order for a shadow to exist, there has to be light nearby. And it is our responsibility to ourselves and to each other to get to that light.
Thomas: And it’s very beautiful. I see you with all your talks and all the internal processes that you went through. You actually become part of a collective restoration process through your own honesty about all the time that you experienced in this job. I think your story also touches the collective story, as you said, of everybody. And it’s a beautiful example of what we go through and if we consciously integrate it, we become the collective remedy in what we do.
We become psychoactive substances where people come up to you and say it’s like, talk to me. And this is true because you build your process with awareness and light instead of suppressing it and drinking alcohol or suppressing it. And because of being for you, I think that’s really beautiful.
Bob: You bring these out in me, you helped me understand ethical restoration. And in speaking yesterday, you helped me understand. It struck me that I had been doing. And so these conversations that you and I have are so helpful to me, but also the resource, resilience, relationships. So, I mean. What you said about the resources with it. I said it’s the three R’s: Resource, Resilient and Relationships and how important they are because back to the family.
One of my cousins said to me after I had worked undercover that I was gone for three years. I was totally immersed in this world. She said to me, “Christmas was never the same because you weren’t there.” And you realize the ripple effect of this. I was seeing it only through my own eyes. And yet I was seeing and hearing from my cousins about how it impacted them. And then I came to a realization also that my friends wanted me to be the same guy I was when I went away. Then when I came back, I was different. But they didn’t want me to be different. They wanted me to be that same guy. And because that’s who they knew. This experience caused me to change. So I was trying to fit in and be more like them and not be myself. And so it’s all these these are all parts of the isolation that you speak about.
Thomas: Exactly. Exactly. Beautiful. Well, that’s really amazing. I think it’s also great what you just said. It is an awareness practice that we feel the parts of our ecosystem that we don’t directly see or they’re affected by the way we move. I think that’s also a beautiful awareness practice that you just said. is very interesting and it’s always lovely to talk to you. I always feel very close and feel very resonant. I love your big heart and also the deep emotional openness to those feelings for your own restoration and how your own path is restoring your own honesty in yourself. And it becomes a public service. This is so, so beautiful how you turn this time into a healing movement. So thank you.
I hope we will have many more conversations. It’s always, always interesting. We’re always revealing more in this resonance that we build. And yeah, so thank you, I think for today. I see our time is great. And then maybe we can have another conversation.
Bob: I’m sure we will. To you and to everyone that’s listening – stay healthy. Stay safe. Take care of one another and take care of you, too.