I often quote statistics on burdening issues like drug overdoses and trauma that are extremely difficult to deal with in our society. While disturbing to hear those statistics, the impact of them is far more distressing when you personally encounter what effects they have.
This past weekend I had such an experience.
I was driving my SUV to get some decorating supplies for the holiday. I was sitting at traffic light when an ambulance appeared in my rearview mirror. It was nearly dusk, and I decided to back up and pull to the side of the road to clear the road for the ambulance.
I quickly looked behind me. I did not see a car directly behind me since it was below my site-line.
All of a sudden I heard that awful crunching noise of a fender bender and immediately slammed on my brakes. But it was too late. I gently hit the car behind me!
The ambulance passed by, and I moved to a safe place to deal with the accident.
A young woman got out of the car I had hit. She was upset.
I immediately apologized and asked if she was OK.
She was, but was openly upset. She called the police, and I spent a few moments talking to her waiting for them to arrive. She soon warmed up and thanked me for being “nice.”
Then she told me a story of when she was in another accident and the other individual involved was so belligerent and angry at her that a neighbor had to come out to calm down the person.
It was clear the prior accident had caused her trauma.
The fear she felt which triggered the prior traumatic situation had caused her to be hypervigilant and quite anxious. The fact that we had a good exchange was a huge relief to her.
As two police officers came onto the scene to take a police report on the accident, I talked about the ambulance I was attempting to avoid.
They began to relate to me that in their small suburban township two different heroin overdoses had just happened that day. The ages of the victims were 44 and 59 years old.
Both officers were openly distraught. We began to speak about opioid issues that were pervasive and community-wide. We talked about some of the issues that added to the problem with no end in sight for anything to change. We almost forgot we were dealing with a small fender bender due to the impact of these drug overdoses right in our community.
I also talked with the father and then the mother of this young woman that was in the accident. Both parents were concerned about the possible repeat of a traumatic anger situation.
I spoke with her parents about trauma, brain states and the number of angry people that are dealing with road rage.
Both parents thanked me for treating their daughter so well because they, too, had been traumatized from the previous violent anger incident.
Trauma triggers happen unpredictably.
As I pulled away from this “life” episode, it struck me how real the impact of trauma is in the everyday experience of families, police officers and communities.
I had just experienced a young woman and her parents who were still reliving the wrath of someone who was abusively angry.
I also thought of the families of the drug victims and the grief they were experiencing due to opioid addiction and overdoses.
I had just spoken with two officers who were confounded at the severity of the addictions in our community. It was a prevalent community problem and felt hopelessly overwhelming to resolve.
The officers, too, experienced of trauma and helplessness as they were often the first responders to drug overdoses.
In the year 2016, we lost 64,000 people to drug overdoses in America.
The rate of overdoses rose 22% from 2015, and we are on target for increased percentages to drug overdoses that lead to death in 2017.
This is a horrid statistic, but when we encounter it in our own community it becomes a glaring and stunning reality.
When we see violent anger that can create such fear and traumatic imprinting, it is disconcerting. When we understand the impact of drug addiction and overdosing, it is perplexing and frightening.
We each must rise to care for those around us, to control our anger, and to get immediate help for those we encounter with serious drug addictions.
Trauma and drugs are connected, and we still are struggling to keep this epidemic under control.
It is a serious set of circumstances. It just takes a typical day like I experienced to remind us that we are extremely vulnerable as a society.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside