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PODCAST: Mindfulness for First Responders & Warriors with Kim Colgrove

Updated: May 3

Founder of Pause First Academy, author of Mindfulness for Warriors, and the creator of Pause First - Mindfulness for First Responders, Kim Colgrove, shares the story of her husband as a career law enforcement officer who died by suicide due to anxiety and depression and discusses her mindfulness-based and resilience building work with first responders through Pause First Academy.






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PODCAST: Mindfulness for First Responders & Warriors with Kim Colgrove Transcript


Fleet Maull: 

Hi! Welcome to another powerful session on the Global First Responder Resilience Summit. We're here on day three, which focus on emotional fitness and resilience. And I'm thrilled to be here with Kim Colegrove from Pause First Academy. Welcome, Kim. 


Kim Colegrove: 

Thank you. 


Fleet Maull: 

Really great to have you. I’m looking forward to our conversation. So, I'm going to tell our audience a little bit about you and then we'll jump right in. Okay? 


Kim Colegrove: 

Okay. 


Fleet Maull: 

Great. So Kim Colegrove, author of Mindfulness for Warriors, is a 45-year veteran of meditation. The creator of the Pause First - Mindfulness for First Responders approach in the Pause First Academy, resilience training for first responders. She is the widow of a first responder who died by suicide. She previously taught mindfulness in corporate settings, such as Garmin International, United Way, Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Court Reporters Association. 


After her husband, Kim turned her full attention to helping first responders cope with stress, trauma through mindfulness and other resilience training. By pulling from her own life experience and applying her relatable mainstream style, Kim developed a curriculum first responders could trust. She now leads a team of instructors who offer resilience training, holistic wellness, and work-life balance courses in person and through her online platform, Pause First Academy. 


So, Kim, your earlier work around mindfulness and resiliency was primarily in the corporate and large-scale organization setting with for-profit, non-profit, and government organizations. Could you talk a bit about how you got involved with mindfulness and resilience training, to begin with? 


Kim Colegrove: 

Sure. Yeah. Well, my journey with mindfulness actually began with meditation training in 1976 when I was 10 years old. My parents had me trained in transcendental meditation, which is a technique. It's still around. Very viable. A lot of our research is actually based on transcendental meditation. In the 70s, it's what all the celebrities were doing. 


That's not what I practice anymore and it's not what I teach. But that was definitely the foundation that got me started. And I always use meditation as a tool. So in the early 2000s, I started to talk to people a little bit here and there about meditation. But it was still pretty new, and people were a little skeptical about it. But in January of 2011, I quit my full-time job to teach meditation and mindfulness full-time. So, I initially worked with private clients and taught very small classes and then I started to get the corporate work. 


Fleet Maull: 

Wow. Wonderful. Well, what a blessing that you were introduced to it that early on in your life. 


Kim Colegrove: 

Yeah. 


Fleet Maull: 

I was fortunate to find my way into meditation and mindfulness training in my late 20s. But I can only imagine how much more benefit if I had to run into it earlier on. Well, I could have saved a lot of heartaches for myself and my parents, probably. 


Kim Colegrove: 

Okay. So, can you actually directly experience the tragedy that - really, one of the key purposes of this summit is to see less of these tragedies among first responders. And we're really hoping to deter that as much as possible through this work. 


So your husband, David, a 30-year law enforcement veteran who worked as a municipal police officer for six years and then spent the remainder of his career in federal law enforcement. So, you lost your husband due to suicide. Could you share something of your life as the wife of a career law enforcement officer? And something of your journey and what you went through with David's death and so forth, to whatever extent you feel comfortable sharing that. 


Kim Colegrove: 

Sure. Yeah. Absolutely. I'm pretty much an open book on this topic now because I just like to do my best to kind of let people know now what I wish I would have known then. First of all, yeah, David was a police officer for eight years and then he got on with the federal law enforcement. And I really do feel strongly that those eight years in a patrol car did more damage than anything else, that that's where he encountered the most stress and secondary trauma that he really carried with him then throughout the rest of his career. 


So David definitely struggled off and on with anxiety, depression. Typically, when he was feeling very anxious, he typically would cope with that using alcohol and keeping himself very busy, which is extremely common. But mostly, he did well. He was an awesome human being, just a really great guy. He could always work. He was really good at his job. 

But I can definitely tell you that in the last year of his life, I started to notice. Of course, a lot of this is hindsight as I look back. I feel like I missed a lot and that last year I wasn't sure what was happening. But I did notice that his anxiety was increasing, the bouts of depression, concerns, and worries about the future, those kinds of things were more prevalent. 


And then in the months leading up to his retirement, those last couple of months, he was not in good shape. The anxiety was off the charts. He won two big awards the year he died–-an MOCIC award and he won the State of Missouri Guardian of Justice award. And all of that was happening in the last couple of months before he retired. And he managed to get through everything, but something was off and he was not himself. And he retired in early September. And it was less than three months later that he took his own life. 


Again, this is hindsight that I realized how much unbelievable stress, trauma, and secondary trauma he was carrying. And so, when he would have the bouts with anxiety and depression, he was not going to get the help that would have made a difference because – and this is very common also – he was terrified that his employer would find out there was anything wrong with him. So, he didn't want to get treatment, go to counseling for it and he didn't want to be on medication of any kind either because he had a national security clearance as part of his job. And he was afraid that his employer would think something was wrong with him or that he wasn't mentally fit for the job, and that he would lose his security clearance and potentially lose his job. 


So, that was something that we dealt with off and on, actually, for a long time. Me trying to encourage him to seek help and talk about some of this and him being very resistant, which is very common across these professions.

 

Fleet Maull: 

Wow. Well, I'm very sorry for your loss. How many years has it been since you lost David?

 

Kim Colegrove: 

It'll be seven years in November. It's been a while. I don’t know, it doesn't get any easier. I would say that time kind of takes the edge off a little bit. Yeah. Unbelievable even to hear myself say that it will be seven years this fall. It’s unbelievable. 


Fleet Maull: 

Another real reason and inspiration for the summit is to really eliminate or transform this stigma around mental health and mental illness issues that we have in our society. But in particular, within the first responder communities and how many deaths could have been prevented if people felt more comfortable seeking help. So, we're really trying to change that. And we'll talk more about that later in the interview. 


So, as a result of your tragic loss, from what I understand, you then completely shifted your career away from the mindfulness work you were doing in the corporate world to focus solely on first responders. And as a result of that, you ended up developing the Pause first, work in the Pause First Academy. Could you talk about that shift that you made and a bit about that journey? 


Kim Colegrove: 

Sure. I'd love to, actually. So when I look back on where that really was born, I do remember about six months or so after David passed away. I allowed myself to think about that incident, really, for the first time. I just allowed myself to think about what had happened, something that you think will never happen in your world. And David had, unfortunately, he had driven to the back of our neighborhood and shot and killed himself in his truck. 


So, I allowed myself to just think about what I had gone through what that day was like. And as I did that, I started thinking about all of the first responders that were involved. So, everybody that would have been dispatched to that call. So, I thought about the police officer who knocked on my door and had to give me that news, which is horrible. And I couldn't stop thinking about him because I knew David had done that as part of his career. He had to knock on doors and tell people their loved ones were gone. I thought about the detective who had to sit in my living room and give me all the pertinent information in that really business-like manner because that's his job. 


While I was dissolving in front of him, basically, I thought about the dispatcher. They told me it was an off-duty firefighter. They heard the gunshot and called 911. And I just thought about everybody who would have been dispatched to that call and what they saw and what they endured. And maybe for the first time ever, which is almost embarrassing for me to admit, I realized on a deeper level what it was my husband had seen, what he had done, what he endured. He was a crime scene investigator. It’s part of his career. 


And it hit me like a ton of bricks that he had carried so much pain and trauma for such a long time. And it had gone unprocessed and never even really allowed himself to feel it or deal with it in any meaningful way. And so, that was, I think, kind of a turning point. And I started to research stress and trauma. I learned about secondary trauma. I wanted to understand how all of this impacts law enforcement and other first responders. So, I learned we were losing more police officers and firefighters to suicide year over year more than line of duty deaths. And I learned how prevalent mental and emotional issues and suicide are across these professions. And so, I just wanted to do something to help. I felt like I needed to do something to help. 


But I'm not a clinician. I'm not a therapist. I wasn't sure what I could do. But there's one topic that I'm very interested in that I know pretty well. So, I thought that's something I could do. That's something I could do to lend assistance and support. I could teach cops how to meditate, basically. And everyone who knew me said, “You'll never get cops to meditate. You're just not going to” – first responders are like this particular personality. 


But luckily, in 2017, after I had knocked on doors and made phone calls and had some meetings, it wasn't super easy to break in. But I met a local police commander who was teaching a block of training on resilience and surviving secondary trauma. And I told him what I wanted to do. And he said, “I’ll give you a shot. Put together a training, and we'll see if anybody signs up.” 


So, that's where it started. That's when it was born. I put together a half day training on meditation and mindfulness, and people signed up. And I started filling that class, and then I taught that class many, many times. In my local area, I've been across the country now with that course. And everything just sort of grew from that course. And it was traveling and teaching that course that was the facilitator for me meeting all of the trainers that are on my team now. They all have backgrounds in military or first responder professions. They were all already interested in mental and emotional wellness in their own professions. And the majority of them had already been doing some teaching or some training in that arena. 


So, now we all work together and offer not just meditation and mindfulness. We've really expanded our offerings. It was all born for me just sitting by myself in my house for hours and allowing myself to really think about and allow myself to have that empathy for those first responders that were involved in my incident. 


Fleet Maull: 

Wow. So, you're one of those amazing stories of someone who was in a terrible tragedy and then found a way to transform that by bringing something out to the world to prevent that from happening to others. So, so much gratitude for your work. 


And I want to talk about your work, what you've learned, and the strategies that you see that are working. But I just want to address this retirement issue for just a moment. Actually, I think, we may dedicate a day to this in next year's Global First Responder Resilience Summit. Because we hear so often about first responders who are retiring and then dying soon after, whether it's through suicide or through chronic stress-related ailments. But we just hear it all too often that within the first five years after retirement, so many pass on. 


And, yeah, I have a bit of a theory about this. I don't know if it makes sense to you. But we're so good at compartmentalizing as human beings. And we stuff things away and put it here in there, and put it in this drawer and that drawer. And we can cope even though some of our coping mechanisms aren't super healthy, but we kind of do it. And when we have the structure of our job, sort of the structure of our job holds all that together for us and is giving our life some kind of meaning and purpose and structure. 


And so, even though we've had all this primary and secondary trauma exposure, high-stress exposure, and inside we're suffering the results of that, we somehow can hold it together as long as we have the structure of our job. And then when we lose that structure, things just fall apart and then you start to see the higher risk of suicidality and/or early death from chronic stress-related ailments of all kinds. I'm curious if that's making sense to you. 


Kim Colegrove: 

Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I hear this all the time. I've thought about this extensively since David died. And I am always encouraging people not to wait until they're getting ready to retire for self-reflection. I encourage much younger people to start looking at how you're doing mentally, emotionally, physically, the whole picture. I mean, your financial wellness and everything. 


But what I've noticed really gets overlooked is the mental, emotional, and physical well-being because these people deserve to retire healthfully. They deserve to retire and enjoy life. But you're exactly right, too many of them retire and they're not well. They are dealing with physical ailments and diseases. And mentally and emotionally, they're carrying so much. 


It’s a shame that people work so hard and dedicate so much of themselves to a profession that then when they leave that profession––and this is kind of hard for some people to hear, but this is just the reality. The day you leave your profession, the very next day the profession goes on as if you didn't exist. So, the profession is okay without you. That doesn't mean you didn't matter. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do a good job and do your best. But it is something to sort of keep in mind. I mean, that was something that hit my husband. 


He had to go back into his office to get his retirement credentials. He had already wrapped up and he was done. But he hadn't been gone very long. Just a day or two. and he came home and he said, “it's like I never existed. They already have someone in my office.” And that's how it goes. And so, waiting until you're about to retire, or if you have this idea that you're going to work this high pressure, highly stressful job for 20 or 25 or 30 years, and then when you retire, that's when you'll relax and you're just going to have fun and everything will be okay. It doesn't always turn out that way. 


So, we need to start talking to these people much, much earlier in their career. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, hopefully, we can transform the profession, really. So, from the academy forward, our first problem will be learning skills so that they actually can thrive in a challenging process. Because with the right skills and right approaches, we can actually thrive in the face of high stress and adversity and so forth. But if we don't have those skills, then it builds up and the health risks are very severe, as we all know. 


So, let's talk about what you have learned in terms of some of the key factors and effective strategies for really mitigating the significant health risks of ongoing exposure to insufficiently managed stress, which becomes chronic stress. And both primary and secondary trauma exposure that, really, all of our heroic first responders face in one form or another. And I’m curious about just what you've learned and what are some of the key elements and strategies of the work you're doing with first responders now. 


Kim Colegrove: 

I think, firstly, we have to turn these individuals to themselves to self-reflection, self-awareness. And we have to offer them tools and skills to help them do that, because most of them exist on autopilot and whatever is their version of survival mode. Just pushing through, pushing through. And we have to give them permission to slow down a little bit and take an assessment of how they're doing–their stress level, how they're doing mentally, and emotionally, physically. And then offer them tools to help them build their resilience and deal with their mental and emotional issues, the fallout from this work. 


So, we need to remove the stigma around there being mental and emotional issues as a result of these jobs because – I mean, of course there's going to be mental and emotional issues based on the work these people are doing. We have to remove that stigma. 

We also need to remove the stigma around these new agey, hippy-dippy practices and skills and tools that sometimes these professions can be a little bit skeptical about. And resistance, too, because there's a stigma around meditation, mindfulness, yoga, breathing, things like that. But these are evidence-based practices. There's a ton of research to support all of the exercises, tools, practices, skills that I just mentioned. And so, we've got to figure out a way to make this kind of training okay. So, if you want to call these soft skills, whatever you want to call these. But the training for wellness, for mental and emotional and physical wellness, needs to be as important as their tactical training, whatever is the other training that they have to have every year. 


It's a leadership thing. It's a top-down thing. And what I'm seeing in some of these agencies and organizations is sometimes the actual leaders won't fully embrace wellness training or mental and emotional support. But there are other leaders within the agency and organizations that I deal with that are stepping forward. 


So, maybe they're veteran people and they're brave enough to speak up and say, “I've struggled.” And it's okay if you struggled. And they're starting to share the tools they've used to get better. And then they're paving the way to bring in training and support for mental, and emotional, and physical well-being, too. I mean, we need to also talk about taking care of our physical health and diet, and things like that. And there's a whole other topic around there that needs to be addressed, which is educating these people about alcohol use, the medications that they're taking, and things like that. But I think what it really boils down to is leadership and the people at the top making it okay ending that stigma. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. No, I completely agree. I mean, we absolutely need that top-down support buy-in. And really, we need leaders who are champions for this work and who really have embraced it personally. 


And that has happened in many cases that I'm aware of where a leader in a first responder agency has actually had their own experience with the challenges of their job, and maybe even some risk may even gone through a health consequence and then embrace these and they become real champions. But some have done so even without having gone through that personal crisis. 


And fortunately, on this summit, we have a number of police chiefs and we have Colette Peters, the Director of the Oregon State Department of Corrections. And we have some leaders who are really working nationally to remove those stigmas and to promote wellness. And so, I think the needle is starting to move. But we really do need that top-down leadership support. And, really, for leaders not to preach it, but to model it. Right? 


Kim Colegrove: 

Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. So, there are people at the top. There are bosses and leaders who allow it. They'll allow this kind of trend to come in or they'll give the okay to it. But they're not very well themselves. They haven't dealt with any of their own pain or stress or trauma. And so, they're not modeling it. They're not really taking care of themselves.

 

I've actually seen that quite a bit. And it's great that they allow it. But it's really much more effective and much more impactful if your supervisors, your bosses, the people at the top are modeling it. I think that's why people connect with the nine first responders in my book that I interviewed because they're all veteran people. They've been around for a long time. And they share with us how they've struggled and suffered. They talk about the mental and emotional pressures of the job. And then they shared how they started on a healing path and what tools they've used. 


I mean, I think even 5, 10 years ago, I don't know if people in these professions would have felt comfortable openly talking about the issues they've encountered and sharing with their peers what tools they've used and what they use to stay well and healthy and balanced.

 

Fleet Maull: 

Absolutely. Well, you talked about helping first responders develop that self reflective capacity. And I agree. I think that's the first step. Because most of us, we all have some level of awareness, some level of mindfulness and we wouldn't be able to function in life. I mean, some people think mindfulness is some weird estate. We all have mindfulness. It's just being present. And if we weren't present to a degree, we couldn't function in life. Right? 

The thing is we can have a lot more of it and the science, the current neuroscience is incredibly compelling that says, the more we have of it, the better our life is going to be, the happier we'll be, the healthier we'll be, the better we'll perform in every life activity and work activity. 


But it is that suffer because most of us, in one degree or another, are operating on autopilot. We're very habit-driven creatures. Our brains are highly conditioned and programmed. And we've all had that experience, for example, where we're driving and we suddenly realized we've been to maybe three major light exchanges and we kind of don't really remember having stopped or green or red. But we don't see any flashing lights and we haven't hit anybody, so. “I hope I stopped if they're red.” Or, “I hope they were green,” right? But we literally don't remember because we were driving on autopilot. And the bottom up part of my brain has programming in there. Lets us get away with that. But we don't want to count on that, right? 


And so, so much of our life we are on autopilot. And so, that's the first step. And that was part of the National Institute of Corrections think-tank a number of years back and doing work around workforce transformation and corrections. And the headline of the white paper we developed was developing a reflective workforce, developing reflective correction professionals, and having that self-awareness, to begin with. 


And then I think the second step-and I'm sure a lot of your work evolves around this. The various mindfulness-based tools for self-regulation. Meaning, that we can actually regulate our own physiology, our own emotions, and thus our own behaviors, our response to life. Rather than letting the world around us regulate our physiology and just living in that kind of mechanical reactive state. 


So, I'm curious about some of the actual training and skills you do in terms of both helping people develop a greater capacity for self-reflection, self awareness, and then learning to self-regulate. 


Kim Colegrove: 

Yes. Absolutely. So, we're doing our best to kind of approach this from multiple different angles. So, we have some courses and some content that are intended to initiate some self-reflection. 


So we talk to people about kind of what they've lived with, what they've dealt with. We introduce things like the ACEs, the Adverse Childhood Experience. We kind of introduced that and get them to realize that they may have carried some childhood or early life trauma into their profession. And so, we have few different courses that offer some stress assessment tools, some self-stress assessment tools just to help people start to get a clear and honest look about where they are and how they're doing. 


And then, we offer a lot of modalities like meditation, mindfulness, yoga, breathing exercises, things you can actually do. And we are really focusing on attempting to get people to be more self-aware to utilize self-reflection to realize that that really leads to self-care real and true self-care, which is always going to come from within. And that self-regulation piece that you notice, that's huge because part of what really frustrates and compounds all of the stress and trauma of the job is the average personality that gets into this line of work. 


A lot of Type A personalities. They're very strong, a lot of leaders, they're goal-oriented, they're task-oriented, they're doers, they're fixers, savers, rescuers, and they become very frustrated and often reactive when they can't control things. Because a huge part of the job is to get in there and fix it and figure it out and control it. And so, just learning, softening a little bit, and learning that some things are uncontrollable. We've learned that in the past 18 months. Some things are uncontrollable. 


So what can you do when circumstances, events, and people are beyond your control? The most powerful thing you can do is learn to regulate self so that you can respond to situations and respond to life instead of getting trapped in that reactivity that you just mentioned. And so, it's a learning curve. It's a slow process sometimes to undo the habitual behavior that we've always practiced and to undo our reactionary nature. But the benefits are exponential. 


Just learning self-regulation can help improve your mental health and your emotional health. It just kind of slows down your physiology. There are so many benefits to that. So everything I mentioned, I mean, I know you see the true line here. It's self. So, it's not something external coming to fix you. It's about doing this work from the inside out. 

And that's really the core of meditation. The practice of meditation is it gives you a pathway to reflect inward so that you can begin to do this work. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. I think another thing we need to change is the notion out there that self care is somehow selfish, which it's completely nonsensical. Actually, self-care is being responsible. Right? 


Kim Colegrove: Absolutely. 


Fleet Maull: 

I mean, we are responsible to show up as our best self in life. We have to take care of ourselves. Right? I like the term self-stewardship. I don't know if that'll get caught, catch on or not, right? But some people just have this idea is self care, “Oh, that's selfish.” No, it's actually our responsibility to take care of ourselves so we can show up for our families and show up at work and do our jobs to the best of our ability. Because if we don't take care of our ourselves, pretty soon we're running on empty and then we're not going to be so helpful to anybody. 


Kim Colegrove: 

Yeah. Absolutely. I'm going to borrow self-stewardship. Is that okay? 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. Absolutely. 


Kim Colegrove: 

I like that. 


Fleet Maull: 

So, you created the Pause First Academy as a vehicle for your own work in supporting first responders. And now, you've put together a team of trainers who – I looked on your website – very stellar group and mostly all first responders themselves. Could you talk a little bit about the team you've developed? 


Kim Colegrove: 

Yeah, almost everybody has a background in military and/or first responder profession. A couple of them are retired. They're all veteran people. They've been around for a while. They all have an interest in mental and emotional and wellness and in well-being, especially in their own professions. And they all practice what they preach. That's probably one of the most important components. They've been teaching wellness and stress reduction in that, but they're also practicing. 


So, yeah, the team is amazing. I feel really fortunate that I've been able to attract this amazing team. They've all become my friends. And I learn a lot from them as well because they've been in these professions. They've got the “been there, done that factor.” And so, that gives them credibility right upfront. And I think that our audience really trust them because of that. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. Well, I really encourage people who are interested in Kim's work in Pause First Academy. And check out the website. You'll see what a stellar group of veterans she has working on her trainer team. So, I want to revisit this idea of the stigmas associated with mental health and mental illness and what are stigmas around self-care. Or, as you mentioned, people associate meditation and other things as just either soft skills, or even worse, some kind of hippy dippy thing, or something like that. Right? 


So before first responders find themselves in trouble, they can get a lot of support without having to “go to something clinical,” right? A counselor or psychotherapist. You can sign up for a mindfulness class. You can sign up for a yoga class. You can get involved with a health coach of well-being. There are so many resources available today. And during the pandemic, it’s all going online. So, it's amazing what's available online. And there are so many apps now. I mean, there are amazing number of apps. 


People don't realize this is a big thing that one of the apps came out. I'm not giving any advertisement. I won't mention the name. But it's a very popular app today. But it has the top NBA player in the world is promoting it. Well, what do you think his charge is to promote


So, it's become a big thing for a reason because these simple skills work and it's being embraced. It's being embraced from K-12 education and through all the branches of the military. The Veterans Administration has embraced mindfulness as a primary treatment for PTSD, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and so forth. All the elite military units, elite athletes all trained in it, right? And so, it really is being embraced by society because it's simple, it works, it doesn't cost anything, really. 


So, there are so many things people can do before they might find themselves in trouble. But when people do need help, they need to reach out. And I believe at least on a policy level and legally, I think in all first responder agencies, a person can't be declared unfit for duty or lose their jobs simply because they seek counseling support. And they probably have lots of anonymous vehicles for people to seek that support anonymously. 


But there can still be internal, what goes on, what's the unsaid communications? And when your files are being reviewed or decision deemed, do you know? Right? Do you know if that stigma is still lingering? And how are you being viewed, right? We really need to keep working to change this. 


And I'm curious in your work, if you've seen that needle begin to move at all in terms of removing that stigma around first responders seeking professional help to deal with the accumulated trauma and stress that can really become a critical risk in their careers?

 

Kim Colegrove: 

It's getting better. In the years since I started working in this area, I've seen an improvement just in these past few years. So, David's father was a police sergeant. So, he's in his 80s now. 


And when I think back to when he was a police officer, there would have been nothing, none of this. None of this at all. It was really just, “Suck it up, buttercup.” And then David became a police officer in the 80s. It still wasn't much better. I would say, it’s in the past maybe decade. But in the past five years, I think it started to really get better. And so, what's happening, what I'm seeing now is that the people at the top that otherwise would have recruited or would have disallowed it, they don't have a choice, really, anymore. So, I'll just say kind of like the salts and the salty old dogs. The older people that may have an outdated way of viewing things of handling the workplace. 


It's just really hard for them to hold those lines anymore. And in some instances, we just need for some of them to retire and move out of the way. But it is improving. There's still fear amongst these professions, people that I talk to. There's mistrust. I'd say that's really prevalent in law enforcement, mistrust of their agencies and organizations and fear around speaking up or getting help, is definitely getting better. And I think it's going to speed up now. 


We've had a really rough 18 months. That's been incredibly difficult for our first responders. And the rate of suicide is something that is on everybody's radar now. And so, I really do see this getting better and training. These conversations, supportive mental and emotional health, these needs to happen from recruitment all the way through and beyond retirement. Because a lot of first responders that we lose to suicide, we lose. 


After retirement, they don't even get counted. So, we don't really know the numbers. And part of that is they lose that. Like you said, they lose that structure. They lose that community. They lose that purpose. So, it's not great. But it is getting better thankfully, and people like you and me and others that are out here doing this work. I mean, none of us are going to rest. We're going to stay after it. 


Fleet Maull: 

Absolutely. And again, that's one of the primary purposes of this summit is to eliminate that stigma. And so, people can more readily seek the support they need. And another important resource is peer support. And sometimes, people don't access peer support enough because the level of trust is still not there. But it is improving a lot. We have colleagues that have developed an app that allows people to access peer support programs in a really anonymous confidential way. So, there's a lot of really good work going on to help first responders access the resources they need in a timely manner. 


I'd like to ask you about families of first responders. So, you are the wife of a law enforcement professional who spent eight years in local law enforcement municipal police and then the rest of his career, his 30-year career, as a federal law enforcement. How did that impact you? What was it like being the wife of a law enforcement professional? How did that affect you and your family? 


Kim Colegrove: 

We definitely need to offer support for spouses and families because there are a few different things that happen when first responders are overwhelmed by the stress and trauma of the job. Sometimes when they come home, they isolate. They kind of want to be left alone. They've had all of the stimulation that they can possibly handle. So, they just do the lone wolf thing or they want to be left alone. Sometimes they take their frustration out on the people closest to them. And then there's the fear all the time for the spouse and the family that your loved one is in a dangerous position. 


So, my team and I have talked quite a bit about this. And we absolutely are going to start to include content for spouses and families because the spouse’s families get left out a lot. And a lot of times, they don't understand what's happening to their loved one, to their mom, or their dad, or to their wife, or to their husband because these jobs really seriously impact these people. I mean, sometimes they lose the ability to want to socialize. They stop going to family events. They become hyper-vigilant. And that can be extremely stressful on spouses and family members because of what they see in society, what they see in their job, they become so fearful about harm coming to their loved ones, loved ones that they get very overprotective and hyper-vigilant. So, yeah, it can be hugely impactful. 


I would say, at different times that my husband was very overwhelmed or very stressed out, home is the one place that they can sometimes kind of let it all hang out. And so, I definitely saw that darker side of him when he would be very anxious, very overwhelmed, very stressed out by life and by things. It's difficult. It can be very difficult. 


Another component of this is all of us who are working in this area, figuring out ways that we can educate and support the spouses and families as well with the exact same skills and tools that we're talking about. Coping mechanisms that they learn and use themselves, self-regulation skills and tools, things like that. 


Fleet Maull: 

Absolutely. There's one thing we try to help first responders understand in our training is the notion of mirroring. That neurobiologically, we actually get mirrored to the idea of mirror neurons. We get mirrored to environments that we're in. So, when a first responder is on shift, whether it's at the station, in a patrol car, at the firehouse, in the ambulance, or at a correctional facility, they get mirrored to that environment. And which is an appropriate thing. 


They need to be mirrored to that environment to function. It's better that they're mirrored with awareness than just purely in an unconscious way. But there is that mirroring. And if they don't know that, then they don't un-mirror when they come home. And when they come home, neurobiologically, neurochemically, they're not there. They're still at work. Right? And so, we try to train them and process they can do on that drive home to shift out of being mirrored to that workplace and get into a neutral space neurochemically, neurobiologically, and then appropriately mirroring to their home environment so they can connect with and be available for their family. 


And people are finding that really transformative to learn those skills. And it's probably helpful for families to realize not that they can change what their spouse or their wife or husband is doing when they get home. But just understanding that, understanding that that's what's going on and then having their own ability to take care of themselves regardless of what the first responder’s ability to un-mirror or not or make that shift. But also, you've been mentioning secondary trauma quite a bit. It has two forms. One is, when we hear about incidents happening, some part of our brain is going, “That could have been me,” especially for first responders. We have the same neurochemical reaction the person in the incident has to a lesser degree, but it builds up over time. 


The other type though is that we absorb trauma from those around us. And we think we're skin encapsulated beings, but we're energetic beings. And this is science. This is not woo-woo stuff. This is actual science, right? Interpersonal neurobiology and current neuroscience. We absorb trauma from people around us. And the more awake we are, the more mindful we are, the less we absorb, the less so the more we absorb. We're like a sponge. We're more mechanical and conscious. 


So when first responders bring that home, guess what they're bringing home? And the family members start absorbing that, right? 


Kim Colegrove: 

Yes. 


Fleet Maull: 

So without this kind of awareness and self-awareness skills you've been talking about, self-regulation skills, wellness skills, that whole process is just happening. Right? 


Kim Colegrove: 

It is. And it's unconscious. It's subconscious. And I unfortunately meet a lot of first responders my age, a little bit younger, my age and older, that have estranged relationships with their closest people or have adult children that won't speak to them. Because when they were coming home like that, and that was impacting their family. A lot of divorce. Divorce is very prevalent. It was unconscious. They weren't aware. They weren't conscious or aware that they were doing it. But it wears down the system. It wears down the family. It wears down other people's emotions. 


And so, absolutely, just turning people. Again, it's turning people back to them, to self. And people understanding we have so much more power over this than we give ourselves credit for. And we don't have to live on autopilot. And we don't have to go through 25 or 30 years in a career in survival mode only. But these conversations need to start taking place. This needs to become commonplace. The conversation that you and I are having here, this needs to become commonplace across these professions. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. Absolutely. You mentioned before the ACESs study, Adverse Childhood Experiences, which was really a landmark study in the world of trauma. And I think that's also important to raise awareness around because very few of us come to childhood unscathed. I mean, almost all of us have experienced some kind of aversive childhood experience. And it doesn't take a lot.

 

When you're really little, your parent looks at your cross-eyed, or they have a bad day and they're kind of irritated. It doesn't take a lot. And then we experience other things. How many of us have grown up in a family where there's some alcoholism, or other types of neglect, or emotional, or even physical sexual abuse? I mean, there's a lot of it out there. And so, even though we may be fairly high functioning adults, that doesn't mean we're not all sitting on something. It wouldn't be helpful to do some work around because when you come into a first responder career and you have some of that in your background, which is likely, and then you start adding more on top of it. Now you're complicating the trauma load that you're carrying. So, I mean, that's just something for all of us as human beings to be aware of. 


Our parents all did the best with the knowledge and resources they had and the trauma they inherited, right? And so, it's not about blaming our parents but it's just kind of the human condition that we all need to keep doing our work and doing this work. And so, I think just the more we can open up that awareness, that really part of our life as human beings is to heal whatever legacy of trauma we've received as part of the human condition so we can pass on less of it to those we interact with, especially our children and so that we can thrive in life, right? 


So, I think just the more awareness we can bring around these things. As you were saying, we need to have these conversations a lot more often. 


Kim Colegrove: 

Yeah, I completely agree because the awareness is low. In terms of the people that I encounter, the awareness of what they're actually carrying is low. And then when they do realize that, they go, “Yeah. Yeah, I had a bumpy childhood for sure.” But they don't want to talk about it. They don't think about it. They don't want to dig into it. I understand that. But I try and explain it to people by saying, “You encounter acute stress and chronic stress,” and then this accumulation piles up, the traumas you encounter. And you compartmentalize, compartmentalize. You shove it down. You stuff it down. 


And what's happening is this mountain of accumulated stress and trauma is building. I mean, you're not processing it. You're not feeling it. You're not dealing with it. It's just building up. So, what is your plan then? When you leave this job, it's going to happen. Eventually, you leave it. It leaves you. You retire, whatever happens. What's your plan? Because i don't think you can go through life healthfully with this mountain or this pile. It's like a big pile of garbage inside of you. And so, just this awareness and working through some of that can help you sift through some of this accumulation. And then some of it, you can throw out. Some of it you need to process, whatever that is. 


But people are very afraid to do this. We just need to talk about it more. Like I said before, it just needs to be out in the open. We need a lot more education around it because what I see in the groups that I work with is the people, the veteran people who open themselves up to their peers and share. It’s so transformative. It's transformative. It almost gives the group, whoever's in the room or whoever's in front of them, it almost gives them permission to admit that they're maybe not okay. And so, that's how this is going to get that momentum. This is where we'll get that exponential benefit is people being vulnerable and brave enough to share, tell their stories, share how they are getting well, how they stay well, and then help others. 


And I've encountered a lot of people in these professions who when they do retire, they want to reach back and help people. They feel compelled, especially the ones who really do their own inner work, they do their work and they're pretty solid and pretty balanced. They feel pretty good. They feel very lucky that they're not going that one way after retirement where they could be just dealing with non-stop health problems and mental and emotional stuff. And they don't want to just retire and go fish. They want to help others. And that's helping to turn this tide as well. 


Fleet Maull: 

Yeah. Absolutely. Almost all of our first responders come into their profession out of this desire to serve and have a meaningful life serving others. And sometimes, they may lose track of that in the midst of their profession due to the high stress and the trauma exposure. But if they can find their way into this healing work, then they often reignite that spirit of service and can take that into retirement. Absolutely. 


I have a friend and colleague who's a presenter for the summit and a co host retired police lieutenant, Richard Gerling. I love the way he talks about it. He also had a long career in the Coast Guard. He says, “As a first respondent, it's just being smart. I regularly see my health coach and my mental health coach. Right? I have a chiropractor I see periodically to keep my alignment together. I see my doctor on a regular basis. I see my mental health coach on a regular basis just to stay tuned up, because I know I'm in a profession where I have a lot of challenges. So, it's just being smart, right?” 


And I just love the way he talks about it. And that's where we're, hopefully, we're all moving to. And moving to that growth mindset where it's not about seeing that we're not seeing first responders as broken, traumatized, there’s a need of fixing. No. First responders are all inherently resilient, strong, amazing people. But it's having that growth mindset. You realize we are in a really challenging position that you're you're faced with a lot of adversity, and trauma, and stress, and so forth. And if you get the right tools, you can continue to thrive and serve with that. 


It can actually be a cause for growing to the next level of human evolution, right? Seeking an easy a low stress job isn't necessarily the catalyst for human growth, right? But if we're in that high-stress job and we don't have the tools, then it can create a lot of risks. 


So, I just really appreciate the work you're doing, Kim. It's so important. And the fact that you're out there doing it as the surviving widow of one of our heroic first responders who lost their own life to suicide is just really, really meaningful. 


Kim Colegrove: 

Thank you. Thank you for saying that. 


Fleet Maull: 

Well, thank you for the work that you're doing. And I have the last question around day six of the summit is leading healthy change in public safety. And I was going to ask you if you had the opportunity to speak to public safety leaders at the policy level, the operational level, what would you say? But you've been saying that all the way through, if you have any final statement you want to say? But you've kind of spoken to that a bit. But if you have any kind of final message you'd like to leave with our summit audience. 


Kim Colegrove: 

I mean, I would just say to the leaders, to the veteran people, to the decision makers, this is real. I've met people who have told me, “Well, our chief doesn't believe in PTSD. He didn't think it exist.” So, the mental and emotional fallout from these professions is real. If you've been in one of these professions for a lot of years, you know that, or else you're ignoring it. So, speak up, be honest, be vulnerable, have these conversations. And if you can't, if it's just not in your wheelhouse, then it really is ready. It's time for a lot of you to retire and move out of the way because people are suffering in silence. People are using coping mechanisms that are very unhealthy that are ruining their health and ruining their marriages and their families, and people are dying. 


So, we have to address the mental and emotional fallout of these professions. And it's a top-down thing. So you guys as leaders, you carry a tremendous amount of responsibility around this. You've got to start doing the right thing, the hard thing, the right thing. 


Fleet Maull: 

Thank you very much, Kim Colegrove, from Pause First Academy. Thank you so much. 


Kim Colegrove: 

Thank you. Thanks for having me. 

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