The “Ghosts” in my Darkness

This is not an easy blog for me to write, but I’m feeling called to expose my secret for the sake of those who may be suffering in silence.

I have been diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that has been linked to my career as a Correctional Officer. Think of me as you will, I am no longer concerned with stigmas and shaming. Believe me, this condition is as real as any physical disorder and just as devastating.

No, I’m not looking for sympathy. I want to reach out to those who are ‘there’ and feel that they have nowhere to turn. I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m yelling the words below, however, these are from personal experience and cannot be stressed enough.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

YOU ARE NOT WEAK.

YOU ARE NOT A BURDEN TO YOUR FAMILY OR ANYONE ELSE.

PLEASE TALK TO SOMEONE AND GET HELP.

IF YOU THINK THAT YOU ARE FOOLING THOSE WHO KNOW YOU BEST INTO BELIEVING NOTHING IS WRONG, YOU ARE ONLY FOOLING YOURSELF. THEY NOTICE, TRUST ME.

YOUR LOVED ONES MAY NOT ‘GET YOU’ BUT THEY WANT TO HELP.

YOUR FAMILY MAY NEED TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP AS WELL, BECAUSE PTSD IS TRAUMATIZING TO THOSE WHO LOVE YOU. IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT THAT YOU HAVE PTSD, BUT IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO SEEK HELP AND WORK AT RECOVERING.

SUICIDE OR NUMBING WITH DRUGS, ALCOHOL, OR WHATEVER POISONOUS “COPING” MECHANISM YOU MAY CHOOSE, IS NOT THE ANSWER.

My pride got in the way and I waited too long. In fact, if you want to talk, I am available at markbierman3@gmail.com. I promise confidentiality and lay no claim to being a professional counsellor, but I will do my best to give support and listen. I want you to know that you are not being intrusive if you email me to talk. I have friends who are dealing with PTSD and it is therapeutic to share with others who ‘get it’.

I’ll spare you the gruesome details of how I came to this point, that’s not what this blog is about. I’m currently off on disability for my condition and receiving professional help. I will say one fact that came as a surprise to me. In spite of all the violence, death, and life-threatening situations that I have endured, the biggest contributor was the feeling of betrayal at the hands of those who were supposed to protect me and my coworkers. They were negligent. There is a geographical and bureaucratic detachment, combined with ignorance of the realities of our job. In addition, there is also, what seems to me, an apparent lack of concern because we are deemed unimportant. I will stop there, because I become angry just thinking about it.

PTSD can be caused by a single traumatic event, or, in my case, cumulative events. It is not just an issue for first responders, anyone can be afflicted.

No one has the right to tell you to, “Suck it up, it’s all in your head.

That’s complete bulls**t!

I’ve lost six coworkers to suicide over the years and there are more that I did not know personally. I have also seen too many drink themselves to death, all to numb the pain. If that is what “sucking it” up means, count me out!

If you need immediate help because of suicidal thoughts, please contact a help line or the police. You can get better, there is hope and help in the darkness.

Here is a poem I wrote sometime ago that sheds a bit of light on what living with this issue can feel like. I composed this at my worst. I am glad to say that I no longer feel this way most of the time.

What Haunts Me.

Morning light through window shines, but I wish for darkness to remain,

For with the light, come the demands of life, far too much

“Take your meds!” they preach. “They will help to reduce the pain.”

I swallow them down to banish the ghosts, yet never escape their clutch

What happened to the man I used to be? Full of life and no dark stain,

He’s but gone, a phantom from another time, never to return again.

We are all different, and I know we have different values, beliefs and situations, but here are a few things that have helped me on the road to recovery.

My belief in God.

My wonderful and supportive friends and family.

Prescribed and monitored medication.

Professional counselling.

Leaving the situation (work).

An attitude of gratitude, yes, concentrating and giving thanks for the blessings in my life.

Regular physical exercise.

Volunteering as much as I can in these strange days of COVID.

Good nutrition and sleep (not always easy but it will come with time).

Being outdoors, especially enjoying nature.

Pets.

Avoiding the news and social media, at times.

Your thoughts control your emotions, so I’ve been taught to practice a technique called CATCH, CHECK, CHANGE: If you have a bad thought capture it, check the rationale behind it, change it to something positive. This one takes some work.

This list is not exhaustive, and you will discover your own path to healing.

Just one more thing before I close. I want you to know, especially the wonderful friends I’ve made at Rave Reviews Book Club , that if I don’t respond to comments in a proper time frame, participate in supportive activities, blog, or retweet, I’m probably having a rough day and cannot focus. It’s nothing personal. It’s taking me forever to write my second book because of this.

I’m on the mend and fighting back, and someday I’ll finish that book. 🙂

Please take care of yourselves and your loved ones. You deserve a great life and there is always hope.

‘Fiction In A Flash Challenge’ Week #15 #IARTG #ASMSG @pursoot #WritingCommunity #fiction

pursootfictionchallengeHappy Sunday! Here is my take on talented Author Suzanne Burkes’ weekly Fiction In a Flash Challenge.  Authors are invited to write a short story about the photo shown. Please click on the above link to go to her blog site. Thank you so much, Suzanne for hosting this regular challenge!

Rosemary’s Treasure

“Grandma, are you sure you want to go up there? They’re in bad shape, and your hip.”

“Oh, pish posh,” Rosemary waved dismissively. “Should have done this years ago and those were built when quality counted.”

“That was seventy-seven years ago. This place has been abandoned for—”

“Twenty years, other than some vandalism, the bones are solid.”

“Maybe, but yours aren’t. Please, just let me have a look. The third floorboard from the back wall of the closet, right?”

Rosemary patted Emily’s hand. “I need to do this myself, with a bit of help from you.”

Emily wiped a tear and hugged her grandmother. “I understand. You were eight and you’ve waited this long. It was your only hope. All these years . . . ” Her grief soaked the purple shawl.

“Shh . . . I’ve made my peace. This must be done before I see him again. I pray God will allow it in Heaven. Father has the other half, that’s why they never found it on him.”

Rosemary’s eyes stung but she must show restraint, be the brave girl that her father had said she was just before he left for the Great War. “Let’s continue, shall we?”

“Yes, I’m sorry.” Emily broke her embrace and took the tissue from Rosemary.

“But you must let me check each tread before you step on it and let me guide you. Those are my rules, I’m sorry. I love you too much to lose you.”

Rosemary nodded. “Agreed.”

They moved ahead, arm in arm, with Emily sweeping away the debris with her foot to clear a path. At the base of the stairs, she tested the railing and was satisfied.

“You see, built to last. The stairs will be the same, though the third step might creak. I learned to avoid that one when I’d sneak downstairs after bedtime to grab an extra cookie.” She pointed to the room they’d just left. “My parents would be sitting in their chairs, Mother with her nose in a book, while Father would be asleep. I never got caught, but sometimes I think Mother knew.” Rosemary smiled.

The stairs proved to be every bit as resilient as promised, but every tread protested the disturbance.

The hideous orange and white floral-patterned linoleum flooring installed by the last tenants had chunks missing and revealed the hardwood underneath. Decay wasn’t always bad.

Emily gingerly walked her grandmother across the tripping hazard to the first room on the left. Time had left only a thick layer of dust, cobwebs, and a musty smell in the barren room.

“Hmmm . . . used to be a lot bigger,” Rosemary said. She blamed her watering eyes on the dust and mold. “I loved this room, but after Father was gone, well, we had to move.”

She sighed deeply and shuffled towards the tiny closet. Emily’s hand went to grab her arm, but she brushed it off. “I’m good for now, but I’ll need you to help me kneel.”

The old woman reached the closet and Emily helped her to her knees.

Rosemary struggled to remove the floorboard and Emily offered to help.

“No! I must do this!” Her face softened and her tears splattered into the floor dust. “I’m sorry, dear, I didn’t mean to snap. This arthritis is making it hard. Did they nail it down?”

After what seemed an eternity, the board yielded, and was hoisted with a collectively  held breath. Would it still be there?

Emily handed over the flashlight. The small beam illuminated only cobwebs and dirt. Rosemary dug frantically to clear them, and the light reflected off a silver object lying in between the floor joists.

Rosemary picked up the necklace with shaky hands. Emily gasped, for there it was, the legendary object that she’d heard about since early childhood.

A heart, with one half missing, the other half perhaps lay on a faraway battlefield.

Rosemary clutched the jewelry to her heart, and then wept loudly. Emily rushed to her side and tried to console her grandmother through her own tears.

It took several moments to recover, and Rosemary showed her the inscription in the heart. Because of the shape and the missing piece, it read, ALW TOGE . . . Always Together.

“Oh Grandma, is that true? Do you really believe that?”

“Yes, Emily, all of my life I knew he was there, and soon I will get to see him again and this heart will be whole.”

Happy Independence Day!

Wishing all of my friends down in the U.S.A , a happy Independence Day.

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An Invitation to Join the Club

As the dawn sheds light on a new day, I find myself reflecting on yesterday’s celebration of Canada’s birthday.

Canada is many things, including a beautiful land of diversity, both in landscape and people. We’re far from perfect and face our own struggles, but overall, we are blessed.

However, Canada is but one country, and sparsely populated in relation to land mass.  At just over 37 million, we’re a drop in the bucket.

What about this club thing in the title, Bierman? And what’s with the handshake photo? Don’t you know it’s dangerous nowadays? I’ll get to that, soon, I promise. First, I’m going to give you a quick bio about myself, so that you have a gist about who’s extending this invitation.

Here goes: I’m a white, middle class, Christian man, with a nuclear family. I have over twenty years’ experience as a Correctional Officer. I’m the son of immigrants who arrived as children, from Holland. I am proud of who I am, my heritage, my country, and my family.

I hope you are proud of who you are too. You have every right to be.

You see, this club is not exclusive, it’s open to everyone, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, political leanings, and occupation.

There are some rules, however:

  1. You must have a pulse.
  2. You agree to behave in a respectful manner to all. Do not mock or belittle anyone because you think their ideas, religion, beliefs, interests, what have you, are foolish.
  3. You agree to disagree, refrain from assigning unfair labels to someone, simply because their opinions do not coincide with your own.
  4. You agree to inform yourself and question what you see and hear on the news. That goes for social media, too. You are intelligent and have free will. Please do your research before you make assumptions. I’m sorry, I know real issues exist, but this particular item is gasoline on an inferno. Blue Lives Murder T Shirt on Amazon . So every police officer is a murderer? I don’t think so. I’m using this one because it hits a bit close to home. I don’t know what you do for a living but think about possible stereotypes for your profession. Are they true for all who work in that field?
  5. Honest questions are encouraged and even polite debate, but do not expect a conversion to your way of thinking. Oh, by the way, might be wise to leave the thesaurus at home. Sophisticated or uncommon words that are meant to demonstrate superior “intelligence” often do the opposite. More importantly, they do not foster amicable relations.
  6. We all have trauma and scars from the past. Yes, even the rich and famous. So many things shape us into what we are today. I think it’s important to remember that we are all one footstep away from being someone else.

So, what is this club? Well, I guess I’ll call it, The Club of Humanity. The invitation has no expiry date. All that is required is to follow these simple rules and check any bitterness, anger, and prejudice at the door. If you’d like, I can leave a bin of glasses at the entrance to wear, so that members can see others through a new lens.

Thank you for reading this. I hope to see you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thirst for Gold, Part Three and Conclusion.

“You don’t just walk out on the Boss, Stromgren. Stay a spell and enjoy some of the best hospitality you’ll find north of a Texas barbecue on Uncle Sam’s birthday.” Ace sneered and pulled the gun another inch from the holster. To decline the “invitation” meant a permanent numbing of the taste buds.

Albin’s mind squirmed with the vigor of a snake in an eagle’s claws. The little freak wouldn’t dare, not in here, would he? Surely the bark of a gun would be heard, and the Mounties summoned. Then again, perhaps this place was a vault, able to ricochet sound in an endless cycle, until expiration. To devil with the noise, there’d be a body to dispose of! Speak up, man! State your reasoning and save your life! But for the second time that night, Albin was mute, crippled by a chalk tongue dissolved in heavy rains.

It was just as well, a creature like this couldn’t be bargained with, for the troll craved blood, not gold. A body could be incinerated, given the proper tools and knowledge. “Just having a Texas barbecue, Constable. Want some long pork?”

Jackson was the key . . . the only one who could muzzle Ace.

But why would he? Why spare a mad drifter, who’s life had the worth of a fruit fly’s? The “King” and his musketeers probably believed Albin wouldn’t be missed, and therefore no report would be filed with the Mounties. Time to gather the backbone and reveal his true identity.

“I came here by boat!” Albin yelled. “The Seraphin carried us from Seattle to Saint Michael and the ill-fated Wilton brought us downriver, that is, until that drunkard Beckett ran her onto a shoal! Miles of travel on foot accounts for my current appearance! I am a man of means and of connections! I carry my tickets, sewn into my jacket, as proof. If you do this, my people will cry for justice and the Law will have no choice but to investigate!”

A mirthless belly laugh emanated from the office and the wiry killer added his own brand.

“Stromgren, you are by far the best entertainment for today! Bring him back here, Ace. We’ll hammer out a deal.”

Entertainment? Albin was conflicted between relief and anger, as he stepped back into the one room palace.

The despot hefted his bulk off the chair and plodded towards an ornately carved bar hutch, from which he retrieved a bottle of whiskey.

“Thirsty?”

Albin shook his head but thanked him.

Jackson shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He filled a crystal goblet to the brim, took a sip, and sauntered back to the desk, with bottle and goblet in hand.

“So, Mister Stromgren, you are a man of means, I see.” The half-full bottle landed hard against the green leather desk cover. Jackson remained standing as he swept his beverage free hand around the room. “I’ve noticed you admiring my décor. I like it too. As a man of your standing can appreciate, most of these pieces are from the early part of this century and older.” He gave a dismissive wave, then continued. “I don’t care much for anything newer than the twenties.” Thus, an in-depth sermon was launched about each article, with a heavy emphasis on value and acquisition. The deviant was a library about the finer things.

Fascinated, Albin was fully engaged, and flicked away the guilt that tugged at his ear. He would beg the Father’s forgiveness when he crossed paths with the starving. Lucifer’s lair was beguiling.

“And here, this right here, is the soul of this place. You understand, Stromgrem?” Jackson caressed the top of a Regency-Era mahogany card table. “You like games, Stromgren?”

“I-I,” Albin was at a loss. Gambling was a sin and he wasn’t a card player, at least not anymore. As a boy, he’d enjoyed Skitgubbe at the kitchen table with his brothers and cousins, but this table had seen far less innocence. The whole tour was bait to get him to this point. Albin was a pawn in a game, an object of amusement for a bored monarch.

Stone grey eyes deadpanned Albin in demand for the inevitable response. Albin’s tongue was lashed by fear and morals ingrained since early childhood.

“Simple question, Stromgren.”

Albin cleared his throat. “Is this for sport, or is there a reward?”

The granite mouth bent into a smile. “We each have something the other wants. I want the gold, I always do, but what is it you want? Food? New clothes? A bath?” He winked at Albin. “The company of one of my girls? Of course, you’ll need the last two before any of them will ‘accompany’ you.”

“A claim of my own. What I came to Dawson for. It seems they’ve all been spoken for.”

Jackson snapped his thick fingers, bent over his desk, and retrieved a large scroll from the top drawer. He unfurled it across the desktop, revealing a map of every creek and river surrounding Dawson.

Albin’s heart palpitated at the sight of numbered claims.

Jackson fingered a spot at the juncture of the Bonanza and Eldorado creeks. “There’s your claim. Well, not yet. Only if you win.”

Albin moved in to get a closer look. “Gold Hill?”

The boulder-sized head shook. “Nope. Those are taken. French Hill, just next to it, on the other side of Irish Gulch.”

Albin used the scale at the bottom of the map to determine that French Hill was about fifteen miles from Dawson. Not a bad trek, considering how far he’d already come. Bonanza and Eldorado were renowned for their yields, so why not try French Hill? The proverbial fly in the ointment was that claim eleven sat on a hill above Eldorado Creek rather than along the creek itself.

Jackson read his mind. “It’s a bench claim, and they’ve gotten a bad rap. Everyone wants the creeks but,” he pointed to his temple. “The smart folks think differently. Besides, that’s all that’s left. Take it or leave it.”

Albin sighed. He’d never heard of a bench claim, but the Klondike King waited for an answer.

“What kind of game?”

“Name it. I’ve got cards and dice, even a roulette wheel.” He looked at the clock. “I haven’t got all night.”

“Can I just purchase the claim? With this gold?”

Jackson burst into laughter. The man’s temperament was unnerving. “I like your humor. Stromgren, you barely have enough dust to buy a pickaxe, at least by Dawson prices. I don’t really need your gold, though I’d be happy to keep it. What I want is some fun. Oh, but I do like to help the less fortunate, such as yourself. Have you dozed through my entire presentation? I have it all, Stromgren! So how about it? Allow me to choose. We’ll play Devil’s Dice. The rules are simple. Number one is that the one who rolls the highest total out of three rolls each, wins.”

He opened a small drawer in the card table and grabbed a pair of ivory dice. “Rule number two, we use these. You can examine them, Stromgren. You’ll find them to be of standard weight. I’m not a cheat. I’ve come by my wealth with old fashioned hard work.” He gave the dice to Albin. “See for yourself.”

Albin examined them and found nothing out of sorts. He dropped them on the table.

“Rule three, the dice must remain on this table after the toss, anything that falls will be disqualified. They must bounce at least once. We shake on this before any dice are cast. A gentleman’s blood oath if you will. Now pay close attention to this one, Stromgren.” The stones narrowed to pebbles. “I’m honest and will always honor the contract. What about you? What kind of man are you? I’ve placed my trust in you, but I hope it’s not misplaced. If that trust is broken, you’ll meet a bad end. Dawson is a viper’s nest full of no-accounts, and I’ll not be victimized.”

After the threat had been delivered, Jackson’s countenance shifted like the tides. He extended his right hand and grinned. “What about it? Do we have an accord?”

Albin gulped but inquired about the obvious. “So, if I win, I keep the gold and the claim is mine?”

Jackson chuckled, “Well, yes, but I’ll require a thirty percent royalty.”

Albin was initially stunned, but quickly grew indignant. Of course, the royalty. Anyone who dubbed himself a king could demand such. But “King” Jackson wasn’t omniscient. He couldn’t possibly account for every ounce.

“I suppose that if you win, I hand over my gold and leave with nothing. Is that the way of it?”

“Why, you’re a weasel impossible to catch asleep! I suspect that a man of your wits will take my generous offer.” The hand moved closer.

Albin took it. “You have yourself an accord.”

The massive hand swallowed Albin’s, the way a snake ate a mouse. “Trekking miles through an Alaskan winter, and now wagering with the King of Dawson. I admire your moxie.” He pointed to the dice. “You first.”

Albin took a breath deep breath and rolled. The ivory pair skittered halfway across the table and stopped on a total of five. Way too low.

“My turn,” Jackson snatched the dice and tossed them. They bounced and rolled for a lifetime, before producing a devastating sum of nine.

Ace whooped and clapped.

Jackson smirked, and handed the dice to Albin. “One down.”

This time he managed twelve. Unless Jackson tied, the round was his.

The crime boss clucked his tongue. The pair shot from his hand and landed on ten.

The score was nineteen to seventeen in Jackson’s favor. The challenger rattled the dice in his hand and began the Lord’s prayer. “Our Father—” but nerves weakened his grip and he watched helplessly as the pair tumbled to the floor.

“Pleading to the Almighty, huh? Getting nervous, Cheechako?” Ace said.

“Ah, give the poor fella a chance, will ya?” Jackson grabbed the dice and handed them to his rival. “Try again. Last chance.”

A white-knuckled cast earned a seven. This put him five points ahead. Better than a couple, but too close to the firing line for comfort.

“Well, partner, this is it. Though I believe you have more to lose than I,” he gloated. The release appeared nonchalant, but the mouth twitch spoke volumes about Jackson’s attitude towards losing.

Both dice performed a series of lackadaisical pirouettes before coming to rest on snake eyes.

The room spun, and Albin squeezed his head to stop it. He’d won! Exuberance changed to fright. What now?

“You lucky swine!” Jackson was a locomotive boiler about to blow. He flung the dice into Albin’s chest. “Get out of here, before I kill you!”

Albin raced for the door, but the muzzle of Ace’s revolver stopped him cold.

“Leaving so soon? Don’t you want to collect your prize?” Ace giggled like an entity that dwelled beneath the cellar stairs.

“Go ahead and shoot, if you must. If I leave here empty handed, I have nothing left on earth.” How was it possible to hear his own voice above the blood rushing in his ears?

Laughter bellowed from behind Albin. Ace cut loose with another hellish peal and he lowered the gun.

“Stromgren, you should have seen yourself, just now! Did you really think we were going to send you to the Maker after you’d won fair and square?”

The blood drained from Albin’s face and pooled at his feet. What was all of this? What kind of sick minds threatened death for amusement?

Enough of this! I’ll take my gold and flee. Albin had moved one step towards the hall when a document was thrust into his hand.

“Take it and go, Stromgren, your antics are worth every ounce! Don’t worry about registering your claim, I’ll see to it. But don’t forget about my thirty.”

The exit was a blur. Albin collected his boots and jacket, then left the building with his feet on fire. The pace was maintained for several blocks before the realization of the victory struck him. Life had changed with the roll of a dice! Literally! A mitt full of gold AND a claim to boot! Hallelujah! He leapt from the boardwalk and click both heels together. He couldn’t wait to tell Isabella that he was officially a prospector!

 

***

“Is he gone?” Jackson took a sip from the whiskey glass.

“Yes, thinks he’s all that, now that he’s defeated the legend of Dawson. How’d you want this one done? Accidental trampling by a horse? Drowning in the river? Or a mining mishap?”

Jackson yawned. “Too many drownings, pick another method. I don’t care which, long as the Mounties stay out of it and you remember to nab the gold and fake claim document. Have fun. I’m going to take a nap.”

“Sure thing, Boss.” Ace closed nodded and closed the door behind him.