The Chaplain's Notebook


As a deputy, one thing you can bank on: you’ll face a lot of pressure on the job. Just one example? Making high-stakes decisions in a split second.

The question isn’t if stress will happen, the question is how you deal with it when it comes. Do you have a plan to handle it beforehand? Or do you just play it by ear?

You’re trained to keep your feelings in check. You need to, of course, to get the job done. But, over time, this can lead to a “pressure cooker effect.” The tragedies you see can start to add up. As one cop said, “This job can take a bite out of your soul …”

I knew a deputy who watched a person die in a car fire. This traumatized him so much that on the way back to the station, he ran a red light before realizing how affected he was. Fortunately, he had the smarts to request a break from patrol in order to regain his balance.

A life out of balance will “come out” some way — for example, in excessive aggression or behaviors (booze, gambling, sexual addictions, fights at home, etc.). Booze might take the pain away for a while, but the underlying problem remains. I’ve known deputies who’ve lost their careers due to just one night of too much partying. I suspect you’ve known them, too.

If you need to talk to someone, to get things off your chest — no matter how big or how small — we chaplains are here for you. We don’t judge; we support and assist. Your confidentiality (other than mandated reporter issues) is protected by the California Evidence Code, under clergy privilege. What’s discussed with the chaplain, stays between you and the chaplain. 

And remember, despite our “tough guy/gal” law enforcement culture, real strength is asking for a hand when needed. Everyone does at some time. No human anywhere, at any time, ever made it through life — especially a happy and fulfilled life — on their own.

You have heard, of course, about basic things that can help with stress: regular exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, meditation, prayer, listening to music and so on. Surround yourself with positive people on your days off. Relax. Nap. Have fun with your family and friends! I suggest you look at these as “deposits” in your bank of wellness — so you’ll have reserves to draw on when you need them. And stressful times will come.

The psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, put it this way: We can’t change what happens to us; we can only change how we react to what happens. “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”

I believe God has called you. Be proud of yourselves and your careers. It takes a special person to do what you do. But effective care of others starts with taking care of yourself!