So, it’s been quite awhile since I’ve last engaged in anything writing. Around March 8, to be exact. If I’m honest, it was intentional. But not in a, ‘give up eating my broccoli and dumping in the dog’s dish,’ way.
Some of you may know that I’ve been working on a career change, due to having my fill of mental health issues arising from years of working as a Correctional Officer. But that’s H20 under the proverbial bridge, as they say. Though it never leaves you, not quite. The mind can forgive, but it never forgets, not those things.
Just a bit of backdrop there. I haven’t forgotten any of you, though I feel regret for not reengaging with the community sooner. Today is a fresh start, and I’m recommitting to picking up where I left off. It felt good to actually write again this morning.
I’ve been involved with some career retraining, and it’s been eating up my time and energy, so I took a break from all things writing.
I apologize, not for the break, but for dropping out without a word. I have to reread a book I was going to give a review on back in early March.
Today I’ll start reading your blogs again, going as steadily as time and energy will permit.
Never too late to start again, for any of us. Today is the first day of the rest of your life!
Did everyone remember to change their clocks ahead this weekend? At least for those areas that practice this. In Canada, most of the province of Saskatchewan, some locations in Québec, and some areas of BritishColumbia, don’t use DST and stay on standard time all year.
I must admit, that I wish my home province of Ontario, would dispense with Daylight Savings Time, but that’s just me.
Regardless of what your area does, or how you feel about it, I hope these photos with captions will brighten your day. Enjoy. 🙂
Last night, I was reading over some of the newer reviews and comments of my novel Vanished. I noticed some understandable trepidation among a few of those who hadn’t read the book. In response, I’ve decided to write this post, explaining the origins of the book, and why I wrote it.
First, though, I wish to thank all of those who took a chance on me, readers who cracked the pages, in spite of the subject matter. I really appreciate you, and I know it couldn’t have been easy to start.
I want to clarify what is NOT in this book; rape, gore, excessive violence (yes, there is violence, but no more than any other action/thriller), injury or death to animals, pedophilia. You only need to ask someone who’s read the book, I’m confident they will attest to this.
If you asked me, ten years ago, to write a book about human trafficking, I would have declared you insane. Times, and people, change.
The truth is, initially, there was no intention of broaching the subject. I wanted to write about Haiti.
You see, my father, upon whom one of the main characters, John Webster, is loosely based, would volunteer to help build homes, churches, and other projects. I remember well, the photos showing the difficult living conditions. There were also the stories, none of which included human trafficking. There are bits and pieces in the novel that were gleaned from his experiences.
The second main character, Tyler Montgomery, is loosely based on my brother-in-law. The pair actually did make a trip to post-earthquake Haiti, back in October of 2010. I asked if they’d be willing to make a journal of their experiences.
So, here we come to the reasons behind Vanished. Over the years, I’ve been understandably and justifiably questioned as to my choice of topic. In the early days, I always delivered a simple and pat answer about a desire promote awareness. If a problem is ignored, what hope is there to solve it? At the time, I truly believed my answer to be complete. Cut and dried, no further explanation needed.
I often mention that 50% of the proceeds are donated to help victims of human trafficking, which they are, and I hope I don’t sound like I’m touting my own horn. That is not my intent.
Yes, all of this is true. However, and this may sound strange, I’ve only recently come to realize it’s not the whole truth. Please let me explain.
Those who are familiar with me, know that I’ve spent the last twenty plus years working as a Correctional Officer in maximum and medium, security prisons.
The last max. was Kingston Penitentiary which opened in 1835 and closed in 2013. It’s now a tourist attraction. I was one of the last to work there. Shortly afterwards, I was transferred to a medium level prison.
This blog is not evolving into a prison tale. My career was mentioned because I want to help you understand where I’m coming from. I also want to emphasize, that Hollywood, and the news, are entities that thrive on sensationalism, because it sells.
I’ve encountered many traumatic experiences and looked into the midnight eyes of those who looked through, rather than at you. We called them dead eyes.
Fortunately, these are not the majority of inmates. There are some who’ve lead normal lives until something triggered them to act in uncharacteristic ways. What you also had, were many cases of psychological and drug addiction issues. Oh, and yes, plenty of the inhabitants had committed unspeakable acts of evil. I’ll spare you the details.
Of course, it wasn’t all bad. I’ve worked with some great staff and have had my share of laughs. I appreciated the strong bonds that developed between my peers. It’s inevitable when you place your life in someone’s hands, and they put theirs in yours.
I apologize if I’m rambling, but it was necessary to give some background into what made my brain tick, when I wrote this book.
It took a diagnosis of PTSD, months of treatment, support, and deep reflection, to unravel the ‘other’ reasons for the birth of Vanished.
I have come to grasp the fact that it was also a product of a mind that sought to survive and heal. To find a state of homeostasis and make sense of the tragic and unfathomable.
The famous line from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, often comes to mind. Captain Millar and the Sergeant are discussing the personal cost of getting Ryan home. One of them says: “Someday, we might look back on this, and decide that saving Private Ryan was the once decent thing we were able to pull out of this whole Godawful, shitty mess.”
I’m not comparing myself to these brave warriors, but these are my sentiments, exactly.
The brain is extremely powerful, and I believe that it sensed something was wrong all those years ago, though my conscious mind was oblivious. It’s the frog in a boiling pot analogy. I was being cooked alive, and I didn’t even realize.
The characters do represent, superficially, my family members. At a deeper level, they are avatars of my hope. Hope for something better, for this world, myself, and my loved ones.
Spoiler alert, Tyler struggles with mental health issues. The issue was approached from a Stephen King angle because I grew up reading his work.
At the time, I thought it was just a nod to the famous writer, but it’s become clear that my subconscious had put out a 911 call for help. In some ways, I’m Tyler.
Right now, more than ever, the world is hurting. I don’t know your personal stories, but I can sense from many of the comments, that anxiety and a sense of hopelessness rule the day.
Let me tell, there is always hope. I want to assure you that you are not alone. I, along with many others, have been where you are. I’m on the mend, and my family is getting there, too. I cannot reiterate this enough: there is always hope.
Whenever a crisis arises, there are always those who step up and perform selfless acts. I refer to those as helpers, look around, you’ll find them, everywhere. You know what? Look in the mirror and you’ll see one up close.
Don’t believe me? Listen, if you’ve ever retweeted a post, shared a kind word on a blog, shared a blog, hosted, bought a book, read, and reviewed, made someone laugh or provided information, beta read . . . you get the picture, then you are a helper.
Yes, those dedicated people who work in the healthcare industry certainly fall into this category. There are so many others, unsung, and unnoticed. They go about the business of helping.
John and Tyler are much more than characters in a book, and the plot is deeper and broader than human trafficking. There is an ugly side to it, just as there is in life, but there is also a positive message. It’s about becoming a helper, doing whatever is within your capacity to make a positive impact, even if it’s just one person.
This is the true spirit of Vanished.
At the bottom of this post, you will find two links to interviews I conducted with a couple of wonderful helpers, who stood with victims of human trafficking.
On a side note:
I am not downplaying the recent events with law enforcement that have occurred, nor am I saying that problems with racism do not exist, as they do in every environment.
I wish to point out that there are a few rotten apples among the ranks; you’ll find them in every profession; and they should be dealt with accordingly. However, it is very distressing, unfair, and illogical to paint an entire profession based on the actions of a few. Most people involved in law enforcement are decent and ordinary people. They have families and emotions, too.
I was saddened and angered, when I discovered that a certain retailer was selling tee-shirts with the detestable slogan, Blue Lives Murder. Ouch!!
This is not only disrespectful and generally untrue, but downright inflammatory. These are the things that contribute to PTSD and suicides.
I give my readers the benefit of the doubt, as I am sure that most of you realize this. I still feel compelled to say the following: Amidst all the cries for defunding the police, please try to imagine a world where the dead eyed roam free and amok.
Sends shivers up my spine.
More about me:
Born and raised on a farm near Brockville, Ontario, Mark Bierman’s childhood consisted of chores, riding horses, snowmobile races across open fields, fishing trips to a local lake, and many other outdoor adventures. He was also an avid reader of both fiction and non.
Transitioning towards adulthood also meant moving from the farm and into large urban areas that introduced this “country boy” to life in the big cities.
Drawing on his many experiences as a private investigator and later a Correctional Officer, Mark combines his unique experiences and imagination to create his stories and characters.
Years ago, when I was a Correctional Officer at Kingston Penitentiary, separating the two worlds of prison and personal life was vital to maintaining mental, physical, and relationship health.
Access in and out of the massive complex was via a heavy, eight-inch-thick, steel door, that could only be unlocked by an officer working a control inside. It would close with a thunderous bang. This entry/exit point was called the North Gate.
When I arrived, the sound would remind me that I’d entered a different world, one in which the abnormal became normal. After a shift where anything and everything did happen, the sound of that door banging shut would be my cue to leave the day’s drama behind. I’d step out onto the sidewalk where cars and cyclists sped by, and parents pushed their babies in strollers, oblivious to the walled world they passed. I had just reentered the normal.
This post is not about prison or my past life, it’s about you and how you choose to close the door on 2020 . . . a year of abnormalities that became normal. How do you heal from this and move on?
Unfortunately, we will all carry some scars from this past year, depending on your experience and resilience . . . everyone will be affected. I’m not trying to be negative, just realistic, that’s just the way the human brain works.
Now for the positive . . . you can heal from this and move on. Yes, I know that the abnormal continues into 2021, but there are some signs that we are turning a corner. Vaccines are rolling out, and hopefully those who need it most will receive it soon.
So many things happen that we are not in control of, but we are gifted with the ability to control our thoughts, and if we cannot stop the obsessive ones, to seek help.
Thoughts beget emotions, which beget actions.
My father, a wise man, used to say, ”Garbage in, garbage out.” If you feed your mind bad thoughts, your emotions will follow.
So now might be a good time to think about a way to close that heavy door and move forward to a life of peace.
A few things that may help:
-develop an exercise routine and stick with it (plenty of exercise videos available, if you are confined to an apartment)
-get professional help; many clinics offer virtual meetings
-find positive distractions
-develop an attitude of gratitude; there is still good in this world and always something to be thankful for
-practice mindfulness; live in the present
-talk to a trusted friend
-use the Capture/Check/Change method for dealing with negative thoughts. This one takes some practice. It works like this: As soon as a negative thought comes, you Capture it, then Check to see its validity, finish off with Changing the thought with a positive (might I suggest the attitude of gratitude)
-seal off those bad thoughts in an airtight container. It was a heavy metal door for me, yours could be a large safe, an indestructible bubble made from Hubba Bubba gum, or a titanium box . . . whatever you choose, try to stuff all those baddies in there and seal them off.
You are not alone in all of this and it too, shall pass. There is still hope and good in this world.
I wish you and your families all these best in this upcoming year. Stay safe!
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 email@example.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.
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.
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.
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