“The number one predictor of how someone will recover after a traumatic event is how safe they feel in their relationships.” – H. Hansman, Powder Days

In an earlier article for Trail Sweep (Don’t be Blindsided, Be Ready), I noted how my recovery from a significant stress injury was facilitated by a CIS debriefing and learning more about stress injury. But what I failed to note was that my “return to normal” was due in large part to the support of those around me, especially my ski patrol “family” at Camelback.

Years later, I can recall the scene in the aid room after returning from the helicopter landing zone. Patrollers all around offering hugs and high fives on my having spotted John in the woods on sweep. This was not my usual patrol night and these were not my usual night duty colleagues. I hardly knew some of them. Yet there they were, asking how I was doing, making sure I was OK. Of course, I wasn’t OK. But their kind words and actions certainly registered.

As word got out, my phone rang regularly with others wanting to know how I was faring. And when I signed in for my regular Saturday shift, I got more hugs and high 5s even from the most reserved (seemingly jaded), grizzled old veterans.
A year or so ago, I had the pleasure, as a member of the VT Peer Support Network, of leading a CIS defusing with a group of patrollers. All of them recounted similar experiences with their patrol family. One participant summed it up well: “I could feel the love.” Another echoed the sentiment.

We’re all connected!

Such strong bonds of connection to others are incredibly important for first responders, patrollers included. The literature is quite clear. The most important factor in determining the extent of stress injury—be it traumatic, depletion, or mission-related—is your level of social connectedness. Knowing that someone has your back, that you have people you can count on in time of need, and people who care about you, goes a very long way towards getting back to normal after traumatic event exposure. Indeed, perceiving and believing that people know you, care about you, and have a sense of how you doing is more important than the actual social support provided.

So, do whatever you can to reduce isolation. Make and maintain social connections. Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones, friends, and colleagues can provide you with needed support, guidance, and acceptance in good and bad times. Support systems can play a vital role in resilience