Five years ago, July 2012, I retired from the police department. I couldn’t walk out the door fast enough! I was eager to say goodbye to police work, and start my next adventure even though I had no idea what that would be. I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned over the past five years, and wanted to share some of those lessons.
I’ve never talked about what the first few months of retirement were like for me because they weren’t easy. I felt like I was on an extended vacation the first month into my retirement. My new focus was yoga, so I enrolled in a yoga teacher-training program. I dove in whole-heartedly, read everything I could about yoga, and worked on all my assignments. But during this time I struggled with not having a routine and going to yoga only took up so much time during the day. I could only take my dog on so many walks, and read books before I was struggling with what to do with my time.
During this time, I discovered I had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Indeed, there were issues I needed to face. Thankfully, doing self-discovery work in my yoga teacher training brought up underlying questions I was now ready to address.
The Sandy Hook shooting occurred in Connecticut, December 2012; 20 elementary school children and 6 adults were shot and killed. I had never felt so helpless in all my life. When I was an officer, we discussed how these suspects entered schools, and what weapons they used, so that we could learn from the incidents. Now, as a civilian, I felt helpless and quite frankly, useless.
Shortly after this incident, my final yoga teacher-training project was due. Throughout the day, each of us in the class went to the front of the room to share. There was a woman dancer who did a beautiful dance; someone else showed their artwork; another person wrote a beautiful poem and shared photos. For whatever reason, I decided to talk. Literally… just talk. I must have been out of my mind!
As I was sitting in the back of the room, I could feel myself shaking. Knowing I was going up in front of people, I regretted my decision to talk. I wished I had some creative talent to show artwork or basically anything other than speaking. We had just spent the past four months studying yoga together, and some of these people I considered close friends. I was a crumbling mess while I waited for my turn.
A little background on my public speaking history, it had never gone well up to this point. I avoided speaking in front of people my entire life, because the couple times I had done it, I fell apart.
I wish I could say this time was different and it went well, but I can’t, and it didn’t. I was sobbing, not just crying, but the ugly cry that I couldn’t control. I can’t even tell you what I spoke about, but it was one of those moments I wish I could erase and have a do-over.
I was dealing with so much during this time, my retirement, working on my emotional health and finding my place as a civilian that it was overwhelming.
I knew had to get over my fear of public speaking because if I was going to be a yoga teacher, I needed to feel comfortable being in front of people. I had to learn to relax because I wanted to be a good teacher. I loved yoga so much; I felt it was necessary to learn how to calm myself enough to teach effectively.
Luckily I found meditation during my continued yoga teacher training, and I was able to find my voice. I began teaching yoga and kept studying for the next year. I learned more about yoga and meditation, and I healed my PTSD through yoga and meditation practice. Since PTSD doesn’t generally go away completely, I found ways to manage it.
Fast-forward to today; I am living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Over the past five years, I’ve taught a diverse group of people at various places: an alcohol and drug recovery center, the Army National Guard, veterans groups, prisoners at San Quentin Prison, victims of human trafficking, police officers, and fire fighters.
A couple of months ago I was asked to speak to yoga instructors who were learning about teaching first responders. I’ve learned a lot about myself since that day speaking in front of my yoga peers… falling apart.
I was able to sit in front of the yoga teachers and talk about myself, how I love what I do, what brought me to yoga, and what I’d learned teaching first responders. I didn’t fall apart or cry, and was confident in my speech. A lot had changed in five years!
I faced many of my fears in the past few years, learned that I could overcome anything, and tapped into my own strength. My life with all its mistakes has taught me valuable lessons that have increased my self-esteem.
Change of any kind is difficult, but it feels good to look back and realize how much I’ve grown. Everyone thinks retirement is great, but for some (including me) it was challenging. I overcame my fear of public speaking, and gained confidence in telling my story and becoming a better teacher.
I’ve also learned that I am valuable. I still serve my community by helping others through yoga and meditation. I’ve proven there is life after retirement, and that you can follow whatever crazy path you choose.