Working Through PTSD Trauma, Past and Present

Working Through PTSD Trauma, Past and Present

Calin remembers the time when he stopped looking in the mirror. 

Catching his wife in an infidelity ended a decade-long marriage just days after he secured a full-time position with a large California fire department that he worked for years to obtain. Only months later, the Camp Fire struck. Known as the most destructive blaze in California history, the fire destroyed 153,336 acres and 18,804 structures—including the entire town of Paradise, California—and killed at least 85 people. Calin was a firsthand witness.

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Just hours after the fire started, the fire engineer rushed into the heart of the evacuation, helping to save 150 people who were trapped in their cars as they tried to flee, with smoke everywhere and flames approaching. Calin and his colleagues decided to shelter the residents in a nearby strip mall to protect them until they could safely escape. He later described it as, “the most pressure I’ve ever felt in my entire life.”

The strategy worked and the residents survived. The actions of Calin and other first responders even captured media attention. But the strain of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) set in quickly, making even routine elements of everyday life difficult.   

“After that, I pretty much shut off completely emotionally,” he said. “I would look to make sure I was shaved, but I never looked in the mirror and had eye contact with myself.”

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Getting Help for PTSD

Thankfully, one progressive leader in his department noticed Calin’s trouble and called him into a meeting. They walked outside the building and he introduced Calin to Rachael Starr, founder of The 11th Hour Trauma Retreat, which offers intensive therapy to first responders and military personnel suffering from PTSD and other trauma. The chief stood a respectful distance away while they talked.

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“Rachael said, ‘he’s doing this to show you that he supports you, that he wants you to go get help,’” Calin said. “So I stepped it up. I told my chiefs that I needed to go get some help, and about a week later I was flying to Colorado.”

Calin signed on for intensive therapy at a retreat designed specifically to address PTSD experienced by firefighters, police, dispatchers and other first responders. At The 11th Hour Trauma Retreat, visitors like Calin are taken care of from the time they arrive, allowing them to focus on the hard work of recovery. Food, accommodations and transportation are handled and every patient receives a custom therapy plan

Starr says the intensive approach gives patients the space to address not only work-related trauma but other significant events in their lives.

“First responders endure a great deal more than on-the-job trauma,” Starr said. “Like the rest of us, they have full and complicated lives. They experience traumatic events through marriage, through parenting and often in their own childhoods. It is important to deal with all of it in order to recover completely.”  

An Intensive Therapy Retreat

Calin is a good example. In the years before the retreat, he had endured a painful divorce; laid down a successful career as the owner of a construction company to start over as a firefighter, which he considers his true calling; and survived the Camp Fire—all amid hundreds of callouts that put him in contact with traumatic events on a daily basis. 

He also had childhood issues to address. When Calin was nine, he immigrated from Romania, then under a repressive communist dictatorship, in a frightful journey in which he was arrested and witnessed those who helped his family being beaten and persecuted. In one case, he saw a man killed.

Do you have a patient who could benefit from intensive therapy? Contact 11th Hour to learn more about our program. 

“I had just barely come into that place on fumes,” he said of the retreat. “I was emotionally empty. There was not very much left in me.” 

Calin said his work at the retreat was difficult because there was much to address. More than once, he thought about leaving. But the very thought of sneaking away confirmed to him that he was in the right place and he had to see it through.     

“It was the first time in years that I looked in the mirror and saw myself and I was scared,” he said. “I was scared because I was by myself. I didn't have any distractions. I didn't have any substances. I was alone and I was scared for the first time in a long time.”

‘It Was a Life-Changing Event’ 

Today, Calin is back at work, has been promoted and is in a long-term relationship. He looks back on a video diary he kept at the retreat as a reminder of how dire things were and how much he has progressed.   

“It was a life changing event,” he said. “I credit my success today, not only in fire fighting but in my personal life, to Rachael and the staff at 11th Hour. They helped me to work through my pain in a proper way.” 

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Before Calin returned from the retreat, he visited an antique shop and bought a handful of historic silver dollars He gave them out at work to thank those who made his recovery possible. He also found that he was not the only one to seek help from The 11th Hour. Many reached to say, “trust the process—that's the place where healing happens.”  

Calin is now part of a growing community in his workplace who have experienced PTSD and sought help through The 11th Hour. Together, they look out for colleagues experiencing PTSD or other problems. “When we see someone struggling, we all kind of get together and send them to get help, or at least guide them,” he said. “We refer to it as being part of the 11th Hour army.”

Do you know a friend, family member or co-worker struggling with job-related trauma? Contact 11th Hour to learn how we can help.
The 11th Hour Trauma Retreat serves first responders and military personnel on a referral basis, working with doctors, police departments, fire departments and other public agencies to provide people with the care they need. To learn more about our program, or to refer a patient, call (772) 837-5988 or email rstarrmsw@gmail.com. Let’s talk.

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