The other night, the Sarge and I went to a party of retired cops from her old agency. The evening was filled with stories of adventures on the street, administrative agitations, and conversations about how old friends were doing. Also, several stories circulated about "exes," as so many crime fighters have had a divorce or two in their careers, maybe even more. The evening was very entertaining and it was obvious everyone was with someone they were glad to be with, and had figured out how to live a good life filled with companionship and love.
I certainly wish I had gained that knowledge at the beginning of my career and not in the "twilight years" of my life. I guess that is the evil trick of reality, that when we are vigorously alive, alert, and motivated to live life to the fullest we are also the most ignorant of the ways to maintain that momentum. We do things that sabotage our happiness, slow our personal growth, and often seem self-destructive. In fact, a lot of the "advice" I was given at 22 was not only wrong, it was almost as if it was "anti-advice" designed to hurt, rather than help me.
For all you young energetic crime fighters full of enthusiasm and energy, loving every shift and living for the next "hot call," let me ask you to step back and think about some things that are critically important to your well-being and happiness: Where do you go at the end of the day? Who is waiting for you there and how are you treating them? Better yet, how can they help you stay happy and healthy?
In my early days, we were told to leave what happened at work, at work, and not share it with the folks at home. We created a world of "on duty" and one of "off duty," neither of which were to be violated. My first wife was stunned at the stories we talked about at family squad parties, ones that I had never previously shared with her, and I have no doubt that sense of alienation weighed heavily on her. After our divorce, I continued this practice with my second wife, ending with the same result…divorce.
I have used counseling to deal with the crises in my life and yet, too often, I missed the most important support system I could have had, that of a loving partner. No…not the one at work, but the one at home that I failed to bring into my world, that I failed to tell what I was feeling or worrying about. The one I failed to sit down with in the evening to talk about the day, hers and mine.
But then I met the Sarge. We became each other's third spouse, and actually began to seriously study this relationship stuff. The books Emotional Survival and I Love a Cop are great resources if you are serious about finding happiness at the end of the day; but the simple truth is you have to do the work, the hard homework that comes with relationships. Learn to listen to each other, share with each other, care about each other. The world is full of stress and tragedy, and we are strongest when we work together at work and at home.
Learn to appreciate "the moment," that time when you hold the ones you love, when you are doing things you enjoy, when you are having a family adventure. Appreciation is a powerful emotion that does not get enough credit. It really leads to a lot more happiness than we realize, and it isn't just saying "thank you," it is feeling the love that is being given in the exact moment that you are being held, eating dinner, sharing laughter with the ones you love. It is living in "the now" by seeing your life as a series of adventures, some driving fast in a pursuit or to a hot call, and others a day of camping with the people who love you most in the world.
If you are living life with your "screens up" like a Star Trek captain it is time to remember that, at the end of the day, you are going home to the greatest support system there is, the ones you love and the ones who love you. A study came out a few years ago that said the greatest predictor of cancer survivorship was simply…are you loved?
Being part of a loving family is not a passive thing; it requires effort. If you are sitting around waiting for others to make you happy and healthy, you have it all backwards. You are the key to your happiness, your health, and your family at the end of the day.
Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.