Empty Your Backpack

If you drop by the fire station on any given Monday, there is a good chance there will be something interesting to see.

Most likely you will arrive to see a crew of firefighters on the apparatus floor, intently going through compartments on the fire truck. They will be pulling off metal toolboxes and large bulky bags and packs.
If you watch a little longer you will see the crews going through the bags, pulling out all kinds of equipment–hand tools, power tools, and specialty tools alike–and checking them over like concerned mother ducks.

It’s “Monday Jobs” day and the crews are beginning their routines of maintaining and running all the pieces of equipment that are carried on the fire truck. After all, they must be ready with fueled saws, gas blowers, hydraulic rescue tools, working axes, pike poles, halligans, and ceiling pullers–for ventilation operations, rescue, or forcible entry.

You might see hundreds of feet of different colored rope, for high angle rescue, being pulled out of bright orange bags and given the once over. You might see a flash of silver as carabineers and pulleys are double and triple checked. You might jump with a start as the growl of a gas blower, or the scream of a chainsaw, hits your ear drums.
Items that are broken and worn get fixed or replaced.

It is a big part of our job to go through the many packs on the truck and maintain our tools and equipment so that we may be ready at a moment’s notice for whatever comes next.

The Forgotten Backpack
For all of our careful preparation and maintenance, however, there is one backpack that firefighters often forget to check. I have learned over the years, that this one—the one for which no daily, weekly, or monthly check off list exists–the one bag we are not required to check–may be the one that needs the most attention and maintenance of all.

For in this backpack, carried invisibly on each firefighter’s back, sit the calls–the thousands of emergency calls, the really bad ones especially, and the multitude of stuffed feelings that may accompany them. Firefighters see bad things. It is part of our job and it is what we signed up to do. And while we may be good at handling the emergency scene, many times our feelings become an after thought–something we try to push away after an especially difficult emergency.

Of course, firefighters are, by far, not the only ones who see difficult things in the world. Yes, feelings of pain and suffering are most definitely a universal part of our human experience. So here is the thing.

We ALL carry our own invisible backpacks on our backs. And it would serve us well to check them regularly.

In our personal backpacks we carry those things that weigh on our shoulders and our minds–many of them unexpressed thoughts and feelings that we have hurriedly stuffed away, even years ago, because they felt uncomfortable and messy.

Your Feelings Are Part of Your Human-ness
The assortment of feelings may include all the big ones–guilt, shame, anger, fear, and despair. For many of us dealing with feelings is a challenge. Has it become a habit to avoid your feelings or avoid expressing them authentically? There are many reasons why it can be hard to express how we are really feeling.

We may have learned in our impressionable youth that it was not okay to show feelings–the ‘children should be seen not heard’ syndrome. Maybe when we were young and we did show our feelings, we were judged somehow. ‘Man up!’ or even a benign sounding ‘Don’t cry,’ are instant ways to shut down someone’s true expression.

We might worry about what others will think, if we show our feelings. “Can’t let them see me angry or sad. I want to appear in control.” Maybe we listen to our internal judge, “Oh I shouldn’t let myself get upset about that.” For some of us, even feelings of joy might be hard for us to express. “I wouldn’t want to look silly or undignified,” our mind might chatter. Firefighters may think,”I do not want to burden my loved ones with my feelings.”

Our reasons are many, for hiding our true feelings. But whatever the case, it serves us enormously to realize that feelings are natural to have and express. They are an integral part of our human experience. They are what make us uniquely human!

Express Yourself
When we stuff our feelings away and hide them in our backpacks, we set ourselves up for problems in our future. Do we explode one day, all those feelings coming out all over the place with a messy bang? Or do those unexpressed emotions start to eat away at our insides literally – causing physical ailment, illness, or dis-ease.

When our personal backpacks become too full and overloaded, they spill out, usually in messy ways. When my feelings run amok at the slightest event at work or home, I know that my backpack has become too full. It serves us well to be aware of the weight of our backpacks.

Good fire organizations encourage their firefighters to attend critical incident stress debriefings after an especially bad call. This is the time for crews to check through their backpacks, and see what it is that we can ackowledge, feel and express. Just as we take care of ourselves by staying physically fit and knowing our jobs, I believe it is just as vital to maintain and take care of our emotional well-being too.

There are many ways we all can choose to empty our overflowing backpacks. A conversation with a mentor may give us relief. We may seek out professional therapies or our closest friends for support. Processing our feelings through art, dance, and creativity may feel right. Whatever the way you choose to affirm and honor your feelings, you will begin to feel relief when you release the weight of old thought patterns and stuffed feelings.

So today, friends, let us remember to:

Give yourself permission to feel your natural human feelings.
Especially give your self permission to feel the ones that get the bad rap. Let yourself feel jealous, intolerant, impatient, angry, sad and afraid.

Practice feeling your feelings fully. It is ok if this takes time. Some of our feelings are buried deep. If it is sadness, feel it fully, let the tears flow. If it is anger, feel it, scream it, write about it, run it out, dance it through–let it out.

Resolve to maintain and empty your backpack. Frequently. You will feel lighter and freer as you authentically express your feelings on your journey.

It takes courage to be human. It takes courage to be authentic in our human-ness. And it takes great courage to feel our feelings fully and then express them.

Let’s remember to take care of ourselves. We can gently remind one another.

Let us lighten our load and empty our backpacks.



4 thoughts on “Empty Your Backpack”

  1. Scott Pence says:

    Interesting, Bev. And you’re right about build up and explosions that happen over time, and always toward the people who least deserve it and don’t expect it. Black humor and prayer were my most effective ways of dealing with the traumatic things we see and do. The sooner, the better so the feelings didn’t fester. CISD seemed like a department check box, not something they took seriously even though I know the CISD team took it seriously.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Beverly Molina says:

      Hi Scott! Thanks for all of your observations. Yes, we all have ways that work the best for us to unload our backpacks for sure. I am glad that CISD is evolving. It seems like there is a better understanding these days from the top down and within the ranks of the importance and value of CISD. Setting aside time and safe space to debrief after bad calls, hopefully affirms to the individual that taking care of themselves is important. We miss you and your big laugh and big heart!:)

  2. owlswan says:

    Beverly, you are beautiful….

    1. Beverly Molina says:

      Thank you my dear friend. You are a pioneer and an example for other men (and women too) in your willingness to express authentically your human-ness.

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