Those close around me know. Without fail on this day they check in on me – every year. They never let me forget they care, or that I have their support. I am grateful for this. But this year feels different. It’s 10 years on and I’m feeling a sense of release – finally.
In the past week I’ve attended a couple of commemorative events. I’ve watched impacted families weep as poems are read, heard the stories of how people won’t let PSTD break them and listened to community resilience stories. I cried when I hugged Liz, the amazing woman I handed over to for the nightshift. No words necessary – we know what each other did, decisions we had to make, pressures we faced and we were reminded of some of the quick decisions on that day to prevent even more loss of life.
I needed that reminder. Over the last 10 years I’ve been handcuffed to memories. And it hasn’t been until now, this year, that I feel their release. Only those close to me really understand why I’ve been shackled and it feels time to share this with others. So here’s some of my story.
Post Black Saturday (and my many months of operational shifts) I worked with lawyers to put together a witness statement in preparation for the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. This meant reliving every memory from those days, recalling every decision, dissecting information in my logbook and piecing together the events. There was a lot of pressure, as I had documented conversations that others hadn’t or couldn’t recall. I could remember who said what, or was standing where.
Then, the call I’d been dreading. No one wants to be called as a witness under any circumstance. I remember walking in that day and telling myself “you’re an educator. They don’t know. Educate them” and I believe I did just that. I then told myself to release the anxiety this had all caused. Whilst I’ve never read my transcript or seen the video, I’d handled this situation, with poise and professionalism (or at least that’s what I’ve been told).
I was then swiftly drawn in to the next thing, the response. On behalf of senior operational management, I was providing my two cents worth on a number of topics, helping to make decisions and reading through other witness statements before they’d be presented. It seems I couldn’t escape lawyers and I still wasn’t allowed to let go of memories.
Some time passed and litigations loomed. Now it was getting serious, barristers asking to meet with me to relive these memories again. This felt different though. Working through this process I was able to find the necessary conclusions for decisions and actions I wasn’t sure were followed through by others. All the jigsaw pieces were being put together for me, I had the complete picture I needed – comfort and release. I was also asked to review expert witness statements as a subject matter expert. Must admit I quite enjoyed this as it allowed me to release some suppressed anger.
There was then fear that I’d again be called as a witness in the litigations. Not to be and as they were resolved one by one, all the memories I was keeping as fresh as a daisy started to leave. I felt an overwhelming sense of it being okay to start to forget.
As wonderful as this was, I fell into the busy loop. I didn’t feel any acknowledgement for what I had been through or done, except for from those in my inner circle. It was like taking a few days off, coming back to work and being expected to pick up where you left off, with no one asking how your holiday was. But these experiences change people. I had changed, physically, emotionally, mentally, socially.
It hasn’t been until recently when I’ve moved organisations that I can acknowledge that I’ve changed. Having removed myself from the environment I was in, I’m getting back to being who I was before. And I like that. I’m noticing I am starting to be unable to recall some of the specific events of Black Saturday now. I’m thankful for that. Unlike families with lost ones, my reminders sit on a bookshelf in the corner.
So in this long, waffly story, and my 10 year journey, what have I learned about release.
- Release control in those circumstances where control feeds anxiousness
- Release yourself from organisations, roles or workplaces you’ve outgrown as this will help you move on and recover
- Release the burden of guilt carried for things you think you should have done but couldn’t, actions you took or decisions you made in pressure circumstances
- Release the inner self talk about whether you did the right thing, made the best decision you could or focused your energy in the right directions
- Release the hold these types of events have on us and remember there are always positives in them
- Give yourself permission to release memories you no longer need to hold on to
- If you feel you’ve lost who you are, reflect on why and identify ways you can find that person and strategies to release them again
- Release happens in waves at a time that’s right, it shouldn’t be forced
- Be guided by equipped professionals who can ask questions or prompt reflections to help you release what you need to
- Release will lead to recovery
Finally, thank you to those people who have helped me through that day and the last 10 years. There are a few who have been by my side during the significant moments or at a distance. Those I’ll never forget P, Shell, Flukey, Jenny C, Bakes, Duck, Boico, Rozzie, Shez, Liz and the many more who will know who they are. I have felt blessed to have your support and friendship. It means more than words could express.