On Being Involved: When I Got Home
‘On Being Involved’ is a collection of essays written by the men and women we’ve come to know in our work. We’ve personally asked each writer to share their perspectives, in their own words, detailing a specific part of their own experiences.
When I got home in the early morning hours after my officer involved shooting I was a changed man. I didn't fully realize this then. Upon reflection now I understand the moment I pulled the trigger of my gun the life I knew, the person I was, the future I envisioned for myself and my family would never be the same.
With my wife, Cathy, following closely behind me I walked into our bedroom. The uniform and gear I was wearing for hours beyond a normal tour of duty was finally removed. It's hard to explain to others but I was on an emotional high and low at the same time. Part of me was proud of the fact when my number was called I was able to come through and save two lives who were threatened by the gunman. The other part of me was dying inside because when you are forced to resort to a lawfully sanctioned use of force it takes away a small piece of your humanity.
As I removed my uniform the training officer in me took over. I knew that one day I might be able to help other officers if I could catalog everything I was experiencing in the moment of time. Cathy was already a trained peer support officer. I remember asking her a lot of questions. Was it normal for me to be reacting the way I was? That was a huge question for me. The analytical part of my mind wanted to know if I was going to be ok. With every question I asked my wife she provided answers in a calm voice. That was an important moment for me. I had someone who cared by my side guiding me through the aftermath of a critical incident.
I continued to remove my uniform and I knew I was exhausted but I was wary of going to sleep. I started to break down and cry. I was afraid to close my eyes. I told Cathy every time I closed my eyes the "movie screen" in my mind would start to replay the moments before, during, and after I pulled the trigger. I cried harder as she moved in and gave me the great big hug I really needed. I didn't have to be the tough cop anymore. I could be an exhausted, frail human being again. I needed that hug and I've never forgotten how good it felt.
Finally I was able to lay in bed. Cathy fell asleep but, as exhausted as I was, I still was wide awake. Growing up I was a big fan of the television show COPS. I used to digitally record all the new episodes so I could watch them on my days off. But now I didn't want to watch anything police related. I grabbed the remote control and deleted episodes one by one. Since September 25th, 2010 I have never watched COPS again. I don't need to see what happens to other officers on hot calls because it was no longer entertainment to me. I realized when we sit down to watch a police reality show we forget about the humans behind the badge. We forget to realize we are watching officers experiencing emotional trauma forever caught on film or video. Think about it.
Eventually I was finally able to fall asleep. My wife was by my side. I was safe. I would wake up and see another day. I was lucky. That's what happened to me when I got home.
Police Officer, Texas
Javier Bustos is an Officer in Texas. He has been awarded the Medal of Valor and is co-founder of That Peer Support Couple along with his wife Cathy.