Today’s guest is Dr. Jeni Gregory. She is the mental health professional, working with the men and women of Tacoma fire. Dr. Gregory has a PhD in pediatric Traumatology and holds a master’s degree in Social Work. She has a list of accomplishments, seemingly a mile long with experience in numerous war torn regions in the world.
Her work has taken her across the globe from the U.S. to Mexico to Kosovo to Afghanistan to Liberia and many places in between. Dr. Gregory also runs a private practice as well as being an international relief worker. These accolades and accomplishments simply scratch the surface of her professional and personal life.
Today she spent an hour out of her impossibly busy day to share about her work. Her life and her passion for helping firefighters. We spend time discussing trauma, epigenetics, hierarchy of needs, and the companion recovery model. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. Gregory for her willingness to share her time and her knowledge with me.
Dr Jeni Gregory
Stack: welcome to episode 46 of the things we all carry. Last November. I had the honor of speaking to and interviewing Cody Shea. Cody is a firefighter and filmmaker behind the documentary. The call we carry. If you have yet to watch the movie, go find it on YouTube and invest an hour of your life. It’s well worth it.
One of the people you’re introduced to in the film is today’s guest. Dr. Jenny Gregory. She is the mental health professional, working with the men and women of Tacoma fire. Dr. Gregory has a PhD in pediatric Traumatology and holds a master’s degree in social work. She has a list of accomplishments, seemingly a mile long with experience in numerous war torn regions in the world.
Her work has taken her across the globe from the us to Mexico, to Kosovo, to Afghanistan, to Liberia, and many places in between. Dr. Gregory also runs a private practice as well as being an international relief worker. These accolades and accomplishments simply scratch the surface of her professional and personal life.
Today she spent an hour out of her impossibly busy day to share about her work. Her life and her passion for helping firefighters.
We spend time discussing trauma, epigenetics hierarchy of needs and the companion recovery model. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. Gregory for her willingness to share her time and her knowledge with me.
A quick reminder to help us please. Build a community with not only recognizes, but supports each other through their struggles and recovery, reach out through Instagram at the things we all carry. Or email my firstname.lastname@example.org to offer support and share your story. Remember to leave a review on iTunes and give a shout out to any first responder, you know, love or care about y’all enjoy the show
dr. Jenny Gregory, welcome to the show. Thanks for being here. It’s my huge
Jeni: honor. Thank you for allowing me to be there. Brandon,
Stack: I know you are one very busy person and I appreciate you giving up some of your valuable time to, to come sit down and talk to me and explain where you’re at and what you.
Jeni: I was given some thought to our time together, and if I stop and look over the whole of my life, I’m stunned at the things that have accomplished been accomplished through me and being able to have a platform to do that. Geez, it’s fun. .
Stack: So let’s start with that. Let’s start with your family history.
Where’d you grow up? What’s family life? What was family life like for you? Yeah. And then we’ll get into, you have a list of accomplishments that’s pretty impressive and I think we just spoke about it before we start recording, that we could spend a half this show just talking about your accomplishments and what you’re doing.
So you wanna give us a brief synopsis and we can move from there?
Jeni: Sure. I was raised in East Oakland, California. , I was the only Anglo-Saxon Euro-American white kid in my junior high out of 1500 students. I never even knew it, it didn’t even come to me until during the Watts riots back in the sixties.
The National Guard came in and took me out and because the Watts riots had invaded our area and the schools and things like that, it in northern ca. that were going on in Southern California, and some of that drama had begun to shape and form me. I was born in a nuclear family of a mom and a dad and three brothers, one older, two younger, and we, we went to church.
I was at church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesdays, Wednesday morning sometimes, and certainly Wednesday evenings, all the. I didn’t know. I really didn’t know a lot of problems, at least on the surface, in the world. It was not clear to me. We moved after a while to Alameda, California, and I did my high school years in Alameda in where there was a air naval air station on that island, and I grew up very patriot.
My eighth grade algebra teacher told me I wasn’t allowed to stand up and pledge allegiance to the flag in his classroom, and I took umbridge to that and marched my way to the principal’s office and said, yeah, no, does not happen for me. I’m gonna pledge the allegiance to the flag whenever I want to.
and that didn’t really leave. I did college and seminary with my husband and we went to we were pastors for 20 years doing direct service as in church leadership as pastors. And we left for a while and got educated differently and that’s when I pursued my master’s in social work. Had a double emphasis in administration and mental.
and then went and got my PhD in International Pediatric Traumatology. I have three children and I have five grandchildren. All of the, they’re the most advanced of their age, of course. My children are incredibly smart, as are their children. and,
Stack: No, no bias at all.
Jeni: No bias. That’s right. And we are celebrating our 50th anniversary this year, and we have chosen to do it.
by giving acts access service intentionally overseas, but also here in America. And we are yucking it up man. We ha we’re having a great old time. We’re leaving for a Liberia in a few weeks to be able to go back to a place where I started some of my PhD research. And really, that sort of sums it up.
We, we still are active in our church and we’re still pastoring in different ways. So that’s us. And I have two dogs. Her, their name’s Bella. Greta. Oh, you can’t Labradoodle French
Stack: noodle. Yeah, you can’t forget the dogs. They’re the important parts, .
Jeni: Yeah, that’s right. They’re the ones who really
Stack: get it. So where you, where are you based out of now?
Jeni: I live now in a small town in the northwest called Eatonville. It’s at the foot of Mount Rainier. The gate to Mount Rainier is 20 minutes from my house.
Stack: That’s gotta be breathtaking. .
Jeni: Oh, yeah. I don’t want anybody to know where I live because , I, it’s a little cabin in the woods and I can walk out and see Rainier from my front door.
Stack: That’s awesome. Yeah, and that’s how I came to, to know your name was because of your affiliation with Tacoma. . Sure. And that’s right. And the movie that Cody Shay did, Cody Shay was a guest on the show. And we talked about his spectacular movie that was gonna be a five to seven minute documentary.
And he discovered once he started talking to people that you can’t cover this topic in five to seven minutes. That’s right. And the topic was gonna be mental health in the services in Tacoma fire. And it turns out to. Just a little bit over an hour, and he probably cut down a lot. Just he fitted into a roughly an hour.
Yeah. But you come into that movie as a therapist to the fire department, correct. ,
Jeni: that’s correct. My opportunity I wanted to serve in what I refer to as some of the edge of the fabric kinds of occupations. I do really well. I’m a refugee relief worker now by trade and by education, and I get bored if I’m not walking the edge of the.
And I find that both police and fire provide me that opportunity. I, so in my private practice I have special forces and fire, but police and fire and I was so honored in any way that I can serve that population. I have been very interested in the way. The body responds to multiple sequential trauma, and certainly firefighters are at the edge of that fabric every single day and live under the weight of it and having an a chance to help people figure out how to be successful.
But while doing that work, it’s been a, a number one opportunity for me. ,
Stack: there’s a question that comes to mind when you say that you worked with Special Forces Fire and Police in your private practice amongst others, I’m assuming. Sure. But with those three populations, we all experience trauma and we all, obviously we deal with the trauma differently, but.
Amongst those three populations, are you finding different kinds of trauma or different reactions to trauma, or is it, is one more of a, of repetitive trauma or I’m trying, I’m stumbling over my words here. A cumulative trauma versus an acute trauma.
Jeni: I think that the acute trauma brings people to me, but it’s usually the accumulation plus the acute trauma.
I think that there’s a whole opportunity, and probably in the next five years we’ll see an evolution of some descriptors. That will include complex P T S D, and that will likely be the the, both the ACU accumulative and sequential trauma. So if as a fireman you run into a burning building every day things, people on their worst days, severed heads and body parts, and.
Or as police, you’ll see people who have rape victims and the rape is still being caught, right? There’s a lot of terrible things. And then it is, you go out and do it again tomorrow. So the sequential, accumulative trauma that is acute, I think that’s gonna be the summation of complex trauma and people are still getting there.
I don’t think it’s a big secret though for people who are doing the work that you all are doing every single day. You already know it.
Stack: And complex trauma is something that once you hear the term and you hear the definition, you understand, you go, that just makes sense. Yep. But you don’t hear the term very often cuz you just hear people say ptsd.
D and most of us don’t have PTs D necessarily. We just have, we, we might have bits and pieces, but. But a diagnosis, you’re probably not gonna find the majority of firefighters have ptsd, T S D. Now there’s some of us that definitely do, we definitely have post-traumatic stress, but maybe not the disorder.
Yes. That’s correct. How would you define complex? P T S D?
Jeni: I think that I wished it were black and white. I think that based on experiences and the repeated multiple events of acute stress, of acute events that haven’t been processed. You can have acute distress every single day of your life and probably navigate it fairly well if you are releasing it every day.
One of the things I thought about was so unique in the fire department is that you sit around and cook dinner together and watch TV together and there’s a lot of Curing of the distress of the events being seen by joking around. And maybe the common public doesn’t know what goes on inside of a firehouse, but there’s a lot of raucous humor and at least I’ve experienced it.
I don’t know that it’s 100%, but so people. To release the impact because they’re with people who they know, who are confident will understand it, and that family that develops around the table with eating, I think that’s where a lot of the work happens. That’s why a lot of firemen may have post-traumatic stress, but it doesn’t evolve into a disorder because they’re downloading it all the.
Healthy people do that. Unhealthy people, maybe not so much.
Stack: That, that’s interesting cuz there’s definitely that element of family sitting around the table. N not every fire station does it but the majority of them do. And you, the cooking, the cleaning, and like you said, family dinners, family meals, watching TV after a certain time and just trying to have some downtime to, and then when those calls do come, there’s definitely that dark humor that we share with each other.
And I, I think people would be shocked to sit around the fire firehouse table and listen to some of that dark humor. It would take people off guard for certain.
Jeni: And here’s the other thing I’m thinking about as we’re talking Brandon, is that part of the challenge I think in de-stressing in that format is that there’s so many increased.
So the time around the table shrinking the time around downtime, it may be shrinking for the very busy metro areas. That’s where certainly in Tacoma, one of the things that you’ve noted in the documentary may be true is that those increased ticks and calls and all, not all of them are disasters, but just going out, everybody gets their game mind on, right?
That you gotta be in the game in order to do your best work. So their downtime is less their ability. Shuck and jive about all of it. Those are things that may really be playing a role in how effectively the distress is being managed.
Stack: Yeah, I, that’s definitely, that’s one thing. We have an increase in calls because people don’t know.
There’s certain calls that. , they just don’t know how to handle. And so it just gets put on us no matter what. And it might not, like you said, it might not be any kind of a traumatic call. It might not even be a sickness it might just be a burst water pipe, but people don’t know how to turn off their water main to manage the situation.
But if that happens at two in the morning, it puts a stress on people. So that definitely makes sense. .
Jeni: And it puts a distress on the people that aren’t having great sleep. So one of the contributing factors, is that you’re being jacked out of a good night’s rest. As a firefighter you’re not getting consecutive seven to 10 hours of sleep a night.
You might be getting two here and four there and one here, and so your basket of support is being limited because you’re not getting, your body is not able to go fully into REM sleep.
Stack: Yeah. It takes a toll no matter what. Yep. No matter what. So I wanna talk about Traumatology and what that study is and how you would define that and where you take it from a with a, where you take it in a functional sense.
Jeni: Sure. Traumatology is a, is multi or transdisciplinary. It looks at all factors that happen in a person’s life that if a catastrophic event occurs and I’m the one that gets to define my catastrophic event, it could be, as you said, a burst water main. And it could be my husband killed in a car accident, right?
But so what happens is we look at all venues, all domains of life, medical. Rather physical, emotional, spiritual, social, relational, all those domains. And what does an event do in the nature of who we are as human beings? Cancer. As a look at that, if you look at someone with pros or pro pancreatic cancer and they’re gonna die in six weeks or whatever you wanna look at, okay, physically we know that’s gonna happen, but what’s happening emotionally?
What’s happening in their social supports? How’s it looking for their family and the relationships? What’s broken in those things? And how do we attend to those domains in an effective way? When I, as a refugee relief worker am out in the field, I’m not gonna be able to do any huge counseling in a refugee camp.
I just want people to get their food. So my role might be to facilitate the delivery of food in an effective way. And then, oh, by the way, they’re afraid they might get raped in the refugee camp, so we wanna set up security issues, so make sure that’s not the case. Any piece of those domains of life that are being directly affected by the event, which comes on as a sudden, unexpected, dangerous, overwhelming event based on the perception of the person experiencing.
We wanna be able to support and help walk with the individual who’s having those moments in the study of tra in the study of traumatology often the facilitation and advocacy are the first steps, and then as I’ve talked about, part of the other pieces of it is being able to help people find their.
Finding the bathroom might be one of those pieces. Then Tulane University has a great program led by Charles Figley. They really do the study very effectively and he was one of the founders, if you will, of that whole discipline helping our military as a Vietnam vet. The work that’s been done since the very I think it may be mid sixties when upon his return from Vietnam has resulted in there are just really a lot of people like me out in the world doing this work that now have a niche.
Where they can slide in and get resources and continued education. That I think is some of where, part of the places where epigenetics has come, what happens to the neurobiology in a crisis and what does that look like? And we know that, we know now too, that people are if, for example, our veterans, the firemen, let’s stick with our firefighters.
If they’ve had enormous trauma that’s been unresolved, it can cause a devolution in the dna n. and then they pass on the proclivity. Very similar to alcohol. They pass on the proclivity for P T S D to the babies they make. That’s the reason for staying well in the fire service. That’s the study of traumatology in quick bite.
Stack: So with that training in tr Traumatology, and I’m gonna read off a couple of the places that you’ve been and you’ve worked with children across the world let’s see. traumatized children in Africa. You have streets and sewers of Eastern Europe as it puts in your biography.
War south war impacted children, Kosovo Albania, children who survived the garbage dumps of Mexico in South America, children impacted by the horrors and terror of the Taliban and Afghanistan, as well as the children who suffered because of events on September 11th. I want to talk about one of the spots that you’re going to pretty soon, and you’ve been to quite a bit.
And that’s with the children’s soldier. . Yeah. And you want to explain some of that and maybe a brief history cuz I’m I’m, I believe that, that’s fading from people’s memories now that they’re, these, the children, this story of the children’s soldiers.
Jeni: Yeah. There were 30,000 child soldiers in Liberia that is on the west coast of a, the continent of Africa.
Just below the e. it is. There were several K DTAs and it ended up with president Taylor as the president. And the way that people began to fight the war was to access children. Young boys, 6, 7, 8 years of age would be kidnapped, forced into training camps and taught how to kill without morality.
A lot of those children. I saw them in 2005, starting in 2005, and they were still trading in their guns to the UN for $250 each. We d we don’t want children who have been trained to kill out in our communities. That’s not a great idea. Impulse control, emotional balance, and then add P T S D when they come into their own minds.
Many of those child soldiers were given brown cocaine and heroin mixed together black car, heroin, so that they would numb up and be able to kill without any sense of morality. , when I went there in 2005 these kids still had a lot of their guns. And in 2006 we began a training program that was a peer support, had a very strong peer support component that was mutual.
It didn’t matter if you were young men or young women. The young women were called being wives of the soldiers. And these were young girls between the ages of six. 20 and they would be tied up duck tied with their elbow to elbow behind their back and raped throughout the day. And when they were used up, they were killed.
Those are the girls that I had in my classes, and the young men were kids that would crawl up on my lap in the dark of night and say, you know what? I killed my mom. I can’t be forgiven. And I’m glad to report that today, just today because I’m heading back there in a few weeks. I’ve been notified of some of the kids that have taken those classes and they’re gonna be in the country ready to greet me.
I’m very excited about that.
Stack: So you talked about epigenetics and , that has to be a concern with these children, correct? Oh, 100%. And how they grow up and how they pass this on.
Jeni: Yep. Yep. That’s a good call out. And that’s so they’re building a government on the backs of people who have experienced war like we can’t even imagine war and starvation.
There were 6 million people in the country and they lost several hundred thousand people to gunshot wounds and to the acts of really war crimes. and now those, the people that witnessed all of that and participated in it are that we don’t know how many, because who can afford to get an epigenetic study if you can’t afford a bowl of rice?
But the people that have been exposed to all of that violence have been making babies, and now the government really needs to be able to. Understand how to work with people like this. And they’re often the government leaders. So now this is one of the bottom three countries for financial resource and for revenue.
It’s very low on the G D P. People are starving on an everyday basis, and in part they are building a country on the backs of people who have been broken by the impact of trauma. I was gonna
Stack: say, because the, some of. Men and women should be coming to an age where they’re gonna be taking leadership positions.
Yep. Yep. So now you have, and they have, yeah. So you have these pe, these guys and women who have been through hell. Yep. And recovered or not, it’s still there. And now they’re gonna be taken leadership positions and in that, that, how do you print prevent that chain
Jeni: reaction? Yeah. There’s the question, and here’s an interesting note.
It’s the same exact thing I ask firefighters for their children. I had my first exposure to what I think is a genetic mutation in my office about a month ago, where a firefighter. Had very clearly has some P T S D symptoms and so do his children. So I’ve had all of them in my office trying to sort out what does that look like in terms of treatment?
Is it just awareness? Do we bring it up and do we, because we don’t wanna make it an excuse for bad behavior, but we wanna be able. to characterize behaviors in a way so that we can correct the devolution instead of correct. Just making it bad. You have a bad character. It’s not that. It is about the fact that you’ve been born with this thing.
It’s like a kid who has got a parent who’s an alcoholic. Don’t drink, just don’t drink because we don’t. . For firefighters kids, we wanna be attentive to that. We wanna make sure that people are aware and they have the knowledge and the strength to be able to say, listen, my job’s been hard, but we’re gonna raise you so that you’re safe and we’re gonna understand these things.
It’s not to say don’t have children, it’s to say be aware. Know what you’re. And do good self-care if firefighters are listening to this podcast. The way that we can minimize those things is by putting self-care at the top of your calendar. Because if we give out of our deficit, we are more likely to produce those problems then we are if we with the same level and velocity.
Put self-care in and be able to nurture and attend to our own emotions. We are less likely to make make that stuff happen.
Stack: Explain, give out of our deficit.
Jeni: when you do 25 or 30 calls over a 48 hour period and you’ve only had minimal sleep, and half of those calls were very dramatic. And then you go home and your spouse goes to work and you’re gonna have to run the house cuz the kids are coming in and you are feeling stressed and you don’t have enough sleep.
and you have not done anything to restore the energy that you’ve put out over your, during your during your days to work. And then wife comes home, or spouse comes home and you get in a big fight and then you go to bed and you just wanna strangle somebody that’s not self care. Self-care is, if you look at the five domains, it means maybe going to the gym, taking a walk, being able to laugh at.
We know that people who laugh are, if you laugh more than 30 times a day, you’re gonna be more resilient than somebody who laughs. An average number of days are average number of times a day, and that’s. Average number of laughter for regular people is 13 times. You gotta laugh at least 30 times a day. We know that if you don’t take care of being.
Transparent and authentic with those you love. You’re not building an intimate platform of communication. That’s what we want. You wanna be able to look eye to eye and speak the truth in love to the people that you have around you. Those are all really. Important and delicate places to start. How do you take care of the spiritual things?
I’m not saying go to church, although many people do, but it’s being aware that there is a power outside of yourself that’s really in charge and it ain’t you. That knowing that you are not the king of the mountain is probably a really great, a great piece of information to hang onto. Somebody else is gonna be in charge.
And certainly being able to emotionally discharge the things that you see on a day-to-day basis. When I come home from an overseas, International rescue or a refugee camp experience, the very first thing I have to do is unload. And it’s really unpack. And I don’t mean my suitcase. I mean sitting down with the people that love me.
And let me be honest, I don’t wanna filter. I want somebody around me that can be strong enough to receive the information that I have. I have my therapist, she’s 93 years old. I go and see her first thing.
Have a really great spouse who has been who’ve, we’ve raised each other and we, out of 50 years of marriage, we’ve been in counseling probably 20 years because we have these kinds of jobs that really require that we know how to communicate super effectively. So do firefighters. Get to a therapist, ask them to help you.
If they don’t know about trauma if you’re not feeling hurt or understood, or if it’s not re if it’s not responding to something you need, then bail. Get another therapist. Call me. I’ll help you. We have to be willing to stretch beyond ourselves to get that to avoid at all costs giving out of the place.
you become cynical. You hate your job. You come home and scream at your wife or your spouse and kids that you’re not happy or you’ll invest in things beyond your family because you don’t find any satisfaction. Those are all plate. This is the result of giving out of your deficit.
Stack: You mentioned, that’s a whole
Jeni: lot of
It is. mentioned the words the five domains. Can you list those five domains just so we’re aware of what they
Jeni: are? It is physical, social, mental, emotional, and did I say spiritual? I think spiritual is the last one. Okay.
Stack: And so all of those are the domains you need to attend to to practice proper self-care.
Jeni: perfectly stated. That’s
Stack: correct. Okay. So I wanna go back to the child child soldiers in Africa, and I want to ask you about the companion recovery model. And I want you to, if you will, give me a breakdown of what the companion recovery model is and how you’re using it in Africa.
Jeni: My first experience, and I actually wrote my PhD on this and did all the research, so it’s evidence-based and it is peer supported. It’s been peer reviewed and published. It is the concept of taking a peer support program. Into a place into a, an environment that where people will understand.
So for child soldiers, there was no therapist there. In most countries, there’s not mental health. In most countries, it’s very slow to evolve because people need to eat before they need to feel better. So what happens in the companion recovery? It is accessing what is right there. It is not gender specific.
It is transcultural. It is not about money and it’s not about resources in the country because the person that is doing the peer support is the resource. in the country and it has a cycle that people begin to understand about, for example, the overwhelming event where people begin to see the evidence of someone not able to navigate their life anymore.
So another person of like mind can go and say, I can see you. It seems like you’re having a hard time. And that begins a cycle where people are able to walk with. Each other and then they debrief at the end. Being able to say, I’ve learned this lesson. So it touches on a point of post-traumatic growth.
That’s rich Tadeshi and Lawrence Calhoun’s work out of South Carolina. Being able to understand how I can make meaning out of these terrible things and make applicability to my life that means that I don’t have to stay in the country forever. And it gives power and respect back to those who have survived everything, and it helps stabilize individuals because they then develop families.
in that peer support unit that they’ve had for the child support people What? Or sorry for the child, soldier people that we had. About 15,000 went through the class and it said it was a 10 day training program and we fed them while we were there. That was our gift to them to make sure they could eat and sleep well during the training.
I think that the, I guess the thing that’s so amazing to me, I have a friend that’s in one of the hardest hit villages in Liberia. I have a friend there that’s right now there today, and he just sent me a picture of a lady who went to one of the first classes as a soldier wife, and she has the certificate that she got in 2006 on her wall in Liber.
and now she’s a teacher and she says she uses the training she got every single day in her classroom. To me, that is just astonishing and the goal is that nobody knows us better than we do. We so firefighters, that peer support team that you got building inside of your fire service, use it, be a part of it.
You get to be that person that doesn’t have all the answers, but is willing to. in another’s suffering. And we know that in order to unload some of that suffering, it requires trust and safety. The ability to bear witness and to confirm that, yeah, you’re not crazy. This really happened. So the basis of peer support is that we tie people together of like mind and support one another without judgment accessing those three points point at.
Being able to have safety and trust. Nobody has to talk about, in fact, the child soldiers took a vow, a blood vow that says if we tell anybody what you’ve shared with us, there will be a consequence. And so the firefighter. interestingly has that same oath that they have an oath of camaraderie that no, we’re not telling anybody.
We’re gonna get you help and we’re gonna be a part of that support. Being able to bear witness who in the world is gonna know what you see every single day and what makes people absolutely crazy faster than, going on a call that says he fell. or versus a call that is a car accident and somebody flew through the windshield, who’s gonna understand the emotional swing between those two kinds of events better than a firefighter themselves?
So that bearing witness and then confirmation. Yeah, man. I know it does make me crazy too. Or that was gnarly. That, that one was bad. We gotta take a breath. Or if you go on a kid call and there’s a SIDS call. , what a terrible event. And so being able to confirm the event as terrible that we are all gonna suffer together, we know that suffering is the tide that binds.
That’s why people very seldom get out of the fire service. I don’t think it’s the money. I think it’s the camaraderie.
Stack: Oh, voucher. It’s not the
Jeni: money. Yeah. I think it’s the fact that you bond to the suffering that you’ve shared together. So for the fire service and for the child, soldier, , it is about being able to acknowledge I’m in it with you and it’s not easy and we’re gonna stand together and I, we don’t need anybody from the United States coming over and helping us.
We can do it ourselves, which is why it’s hard for people like me. Which is why the honor is so high that I’ve been allowed to participate in Cody’s work. And in the work that the people of Tacoma Fire Department have. I get to confirm and bear witness and create trust and safety for individuals who don’t want to live in the schmuck and them the mere of their own distress.
What a, what an amazing opportunity. And we get to do it with each other.
Stack: So with the companion recovery model, I was, I’ve been reading through it and I know that their modules that you teach, I guess it, does it go. the same way every time. You have to cover each module every time. I’m just trying to figure out how that, how a normal session would work or normal training would work.
Jeni: Depends on the population I’ve done it in actually I did it at Western State Hospital with the most sick of individuals and I’ve done it overseas and I’ve done it in some part with our fire department. I cover every single module, usually in sequential order, and usually as a result of an event that’s happened, especially with the fire.
So they’re not getting it always in a sequential order. So we have that those things that when people unpack, , the things in their bodies that they need to start talking about. That happens. Sometimes it’ll happen in my office, and it happens with peer support and the actual peer support program that’s active in the Tacoma Fire Department.
Being able to learn is important to do it in a sequential order so that we see the end of the road as well as the beginning.
Stack: So the first four modules that I was reading are overwhelming events, which is pretty self-explanatory, right? It’s what we’ve discovered as overwhelming for ourselves, right?
Encapsulation I’m if, and correct me if I’m wrong I’m assuming that’s just identifying all of it.
Jeni: Nope. Encapsulation is, think of a drive through bank and the tube that you get to put your money in and stick it up the tube. What happens is, in a trauma world where we are navigating amongst thousands of pieces of trauma, we take the ones that would stop us from functioning.
We are hardwired to put it in that tube and let it free float in our. It’s really nature’s way of helping us navigate in a world that’s very difficult. And most of us do that pretty well all the time. When it becomes problematic is when the last, that overwhelming event, when it, if you think of a glass filled with little pebbles and the water is right at the top, when you drop one more pebble in the glass, what happens?
the water spills out. The overwhelming event is an indicator that there are too many tubes stuffed, full of memories. And those are memories like smells and sounds, hearing the screams of children who are on fire, God help us or seeing things that are absolutely stunning. Like my work at nine 11, the i, I have those babies tucked in a tube.
I don’t pull those out very. We can pull them out if we want to, but when we have to is when we are having an experience where all the water is coming out. That would be like an explosion to our spouse or driving so fast that it’s unsafe or hollering or kicking the dog. or going on a binge. All of those things are indicative of, wait a minute, I got too much packed in.
And the psyche, many of us this may not be biologically right, but I refer to all of my tubes, sit in my gut. I can tell when I need to unpack because I’ll get diarrhea or constipation, or I’ll be nauseous. Oh, I know my body is somatizing my feelings and I have to address the fact that I got too much in and I haven’t been doing good enough self-care, which that brings us to that.
So that encapsulation,
Stack: yeah. It brings us to that third module of Somatization, correct. That’s correct. And how do you define that? Is that just the representation in the body?
Jeni: Yeah. Not always. Have you ever gone on, have you gone, had a long siege of days where you’ve been working and you come out and maybe the bottom of your feet hurt?
But the truth is, when we’re in trauma, we roll our toast because we’re on emotionally uneven ground. Or maybe your shoulders hurt or you get migraines or you’re c. or you have diarrhea. These are all things that are really normal for your body to be telling you, wow, you got too many tubes in there.
You have got to do something about this.
Stack: So that’s along the premise of the book. The body keeps the
Jeni: score. Yeah, 100%. That is correct.
Stack: Yeah. That’s just your body going, wait a second, stop adding, stop. We need to take care of something. That’s
Jeni: right. That’s. You can probably limp along for a while with those kinds of aches and pains, but why would you wanna, we’ve been socialized to think that if we can suffer more, we’re better.
That’s baloney. If we wanna do the best job for those we serve, we have to keep the vehicle in great tuneup. We have to have tuneups. So that means if there, if you are somatizing, the pain, the of your heart, if you unload and do great self. , you can ride that boat and be really healthy and give out of the, out of your riches instead of out of your deficit.
Stack: And then that fourth one is recognition.
Jeni: That’s the fact that you stop and you go, oh, wait a minute, my body’s telling me something. And having good peer support teams around you, they may observe it before you. so gently coming and saying, wow, you, this is your third migraine, this shift. I wonder if you got something you need to talk about.
That takes a, there’s some courage right there to be able to go to the person that you’re sharing a cubby with and say, hi, I can see you’re not settling in. Something’s going on. and what does that look like? How does that feel? Do I have enough chits in the bank of that relationship to make that happen?
I think that’s why spouses don’t always get talked to because we don’t know what. What would you say to somebody who’s acting out? We are gonna say it’s personal and maybe it’s really not. We don’t know how to use the language of intervention. . Yeah.
Stack: That you see it quite often, or I don’t, I won’t say see it.
I’ve heard it a few times. Oh I knew something was up with somebody. It’s why didn’t you say something when you knew something was up and it is, it’s a discomfort with it. And I like the way you put that. Do I have enough chits in the bank to, to make that call? Yeah, because you don’t know how someone’s gonna react to.
That’s right. And I mean, I’ve had it done to myself and it was a realization of, okay. And I appreciated it, but I didn’t, I knew something was going on, but I didn’t recognize how bad it was until someone said to me, wait a second, you gotta do something and let me let’s talk. Yeah.
And now that person, and he knows who he is, that person will, every once in a while, come to me and go, Do we need to talk? And I’m always like, are we gonna do this now? Does that kind of thing, because he’ll recognize, I think he recognizes it before I do, and it’s just one of my coworkers and he recognizes that something’s going on.
And he definitely, that was a, he went out on limb to, to make sure that I was okay, but that, that takes guts. .
Jeni: Yes it does. It’s interesting we’re having this conversation about a month ago. My daughter, she is 42, her she’s getting her PhD. She’s in school right now. She called her mother me and said, mom, I have observed that you are not grieving the way I think grieving is done.
Can we talk about. No, leave me alone .
Stack: No, I don’t want to leave me alone. .
Jeni: That’s right. It was about, honestly it was about my brother who died of Covid in April and she’s right. I have not touched that and I carry it. I know it. I’m carrying it As long as I’m carrying it and it’s not interrupting my sleep and causing me trouble, he can just stay in the tube for a while cuz I don’t have enough energy to navigate that right now.
But she. , she intervened with it. I thought that was just a lovely compliment she had. She felt she had enough chips to, to address her mother, the dragon who would have bounced her around usually, but at least I was respectful. ,
Stack: the dragon. Okay. . So after those four modules are discussed or I don’t know how would you say that Discussed or utilized or whatever, or Recognized?
Taught. Taught, okay. Then that fifth one, and is the fifth one, the final module, the.
Jeni: The release is a time when we are able to sit with each other as partners. That companion, the companion is someone who’s been called alongside. That’s why honestly, the whole video, the call we carry. I thought that’s what they were talking about.
But no, it was the phone call. You know the alarm that comes in, right? The call that, that is carried. So when the person is busting, it’s the person who goes and says, Hey, I can be with you. I can watch this. I can understand it. So that release process occurs. That means you’re unpacking those tubes.
With the person who has chosen or you have chosen them, and that’s where those three elements live. The trust and safety, bearing witness and confirmation. And there is conversation. When I teach it usually, that session is usually an hour or two of teaching theory and an experiential step. .
Stack: And so once that release comes and you say a companion does, is in that, in this setting, does everyone quote unquote assigned a companion?
Jeni: They pick themselves. They know who they trust, they know who they don’t mind showing their emotional underwear to. And then what they do is they sit down and they, we carve time. Now, mind you, for the child’s soldiers, that carving time out was usually in a hundred degree heat and a hundred percent humidity.
And they just had rice for lunch. And they don’t know where they’re gonna sleep that night. That’s the setting. And oftentimes at, when I taught it, initially, it was over AK 40. And Molotov cocktails and the un bouncing people around. And so they had to know that this time is sacred and they were able in safety to be able to share back and forth The crosswalk learning for me is when we have peer support in a fire service.
The challenge is finding. Finding time where it matters. And that usually means on, not on during a shift means stepping outside of it and calling somebody and taking ’em for coffee or, driving them home and sitting in the car after a long shift and just wanting to be with someone. The act of being a companion in that release process means that what occurs is I’m willing to sit in your.
and I’m not afraid, and I will look at it with you. Think of it as a coffin. We stuff, we put things in a coffin. Who wants to go and look at the dead body? Very few people these days go to a funeral and parade around in front of the coff, in front of the coffin, right? Because it’s disturbing and it hurts, and you are in pain with another human.
and that is exactly the role of a peer support person, or in this case a companion. That I’m willing, I’m I’ll carry your dead body out of this building no matter what you, I’ve got your back. Those kinds of experiences are, it means you care more for them right in that moment than you care for yourself.
That’s a phenomenon that is rare and something you, we wanna really capture. I think you
Stack: in the. on your website. I think it’s, it sums it up very well when it says the two meanings for companion. The first being an individual whom a meal would be shared, or a friend, a fellow traveler is one definition.
. Mm-hmm. .. That second definition is more of an, of a military history vain, where it says, Roman soldiers we’re trained to fight as companions back to back and hand, hand combat protecting each other from a rear attack. And that combination of those two definit. in this model makes complete and total sense, doesn’t it?
it, And it does. It’s remarkable. It defines a fire department, a police department, a military unit. You’re trained to to watch out. Yep. Now, yep. Now we just take that, extrapolate it to mental health. Yep. and that’s, and sometimes that’s the
Jeni: tricky part, honestly, physicality. I too, I think physical stuff is easier, particularly for firefighters cuz they’re used to doing physical things.
The harder work is to be vulnerable and transparent for another human being without fear that you don’t get to put your muscle behind. It’s an emotional muscle that is underused. because it’s too painful. I don’t wanna suffer the emotional stuff with you. If I can get your dead body out of the building, I’d rather do that.
Stack: No I know that we don’t wanna suffer that emotional, that as firefighters, we’re not well equipped for that. Yep, that’s true. We’re just not, we, it’s, we talk about those tubes, you talk about uploading and not categorizing properly. And not storing stuff properly. Yes. We’re famous for that.
And then, yep. , when something happens in our personal life, it, we have a trouble understanding it because we can compartmentalize that the professional side until Yeah, something hits us personally. Yep. That’s way true. And that’s for me, my experience that’s when it comes out.
Jeni: Yeah. Yeah. You should.
I should. You know what? How about if I come and teach you and then you teach everybody on your website? We’ll
Stack: do it while you’re at podcast. I’m down. We’ll do it. We’ll do it. You, You got a busy schedule though. I never fit into your schedule. . I
Jeni: would make my schedule work. If there’s an opportunity to teach this to people on the East coast, I’m on it.
You let me know the when and where
Stack: you got it. Def talk about profound catastrophic trauma.
Jeni: Profound catastrophic trauma is the sudden, unexpected, dangerous, overwhelming removal of the bottom three layers of Maslow’s hierarchy.
Stack: And so those of those are in the audience that, that haven’t studied.
Maslow’s hierarchy of need. What are those bottom three layers?
Jeni: Physiology that the physical needs, air, water, and housing, that kind of stuff. The things that you can’t live without, like you can go three. without water, three weeks without food, and three minutes without air. Number two is the sense of what is number two.
The number two is sense of safety. And number three is a sense of belonging. So without
Stack: those three or that, those the catastrophic trauma then impacts those. ,
Jeni: right? And think of it, it’s not. It’s not just people overseas who’ve had a terrible war where they lose their house. It could be foster kids in your community have catastrophic trauma.
Think of how many times kids get moved because they didn’t fit in the foster care home. They don’t have anybody they belong to. Pretty dramatic. Or think about the little granny that is your next door. who now her kids have all moved out of state and she’s there by herself and she has a, remember the person who defines what catastrophic trauma is.
She fell and there’s no one there to pick her up and she can’t get food or water. She pees all over herself and she’s afraid to call anyone, and eventually nine one one gets called and the firefighter. become a part of her Maslow’s hierarchy that makes a call to pick up an old person off the floor. Way different.
and it removes the cynicism. I think now I get to be a part of that support system. No, it’s not a fire that’s burning the house down, but we have now touched a person’s life in their deepest part and become a part of the support that’s needed for them to have a successful final chapter. What a great opportu.
Stack: that’s a great summation because I talked to a gentleman, his name is Robert. He runs a, an organiz, an organization called Skulls for Hope, . And he his change came when he reframed his thinking, and that’s exactly what he was saying. , his thinking initially was, why the hell do I have to go to a pediatric death?
I don’t want to do this. This is terrible for me. And I’m paraphrasing cuz he didn’t say those exact words, but then he reframed it to. I get to be there to help them through this moment. That’s an honor that, yeah. That I’m invited in and invited in means I’m called to the scene, but I’m invited in to, to help make this better some way, and I’m helping somebody, even if it’s just to dignify a death, I’m helping.
Yeah. And that, that reframing it, it seems simple, but it’s not simple. .
Jeni: Wow. That y that is so right on. I think that, in Tacoma they’re having a lot of challenge with homeless. Have you ever been homeless? No. . I was homeless for three months living in a borrowed car with my three kids and my husband because of some stuff that had happened.
It was, my kids said it was the best time of their life. I, that was nothing doing with me. That was a god moment, I’m telling you for sure. But what I think about now is the homeless people that are so disengaged and out there with nothing and no. and they become their own community. And how do we help make some of that happen?
What’s that look like? That makes going to a the homeless population and serving them somehow, finding the meaning in that. That’s gotta be tough. Cuz some people are belligerent. Some people it’s not so easy. But being able to navigate and have some empathy will help you in the long run, avoid.
Burnout and PTs d are cousins, the symptoms are the same. But the challenge is that burnout is exterior and P T S D is the internal stuff that happens. And what the opportunity for the firefighter to do is to cross into that and avoid burnout is by, as you’ve said, change the.
Stack: Yeah. And that’s, like I said it’s something that, as a whole, the fire service needs to understand it. And I don’t think it’s an easy, it’s an easy transition in thinking.
Jeni: Yep. And maybe resistant because maybe it’s not as glamorous. But it does re again, if you’re gonna give out of your deficit, you’ll go out faster.
You won’t be able to get to your retirement. If you wanna get to your retirement, it will require that you develop a sense of self, a purposed and mission minded self-care plan, because otherwise, you’re giving out of your deficit and it you can’t sustain it. .
Stack: So how did you get started with Tacoma fire?
Jeni: Let me see, what was the first thing? When I came back from nine 11, I, no one understood what I experienced. , nobody. It was really terrible, honestly. And I felt alone and frightened. I couldn’t even talk to my, I had three teenage kids in a hubby when I walked in the door after weeks of being gone.
The first question they asked me is, what’s for dinner ? And I I couldn’t transition that fast. And it, it was really super. , but next door to it. Next door to my house was a firehouse, and I took all my pictures and I went over there within 48 hours of being home. I went over there and I knocked on the door.
I must have looked like a lunatic, and I said, I just came back from 9/11 I just wanna show you pictures. And I went into their dining room area, sat down at their table, and I spread out some of my pictures. And as they came off of different calls, they would all come and sit down. I just stayed. . I sat there for hours and I did that couple of times a week for months it seems, and they met me with that same companion warrior.
attitude that I needed to have around me so I could be safe and talk about it. That I wouldn’t blow anybody out of the water that I could talk about. The body parts I saw and what people told me and the miracles I saw. We on the west coast didn’t get it because it was more like a movie than a reality.
So my place of connection was so limited. Even my own family couldn’t. And so I went there and these fine young people sat there and let me go on and PR on about the things I saw, and they met me with trust and safety. They bore witness to what I did, and they confirmed that it was a terrible event, and I found my way back to balance because of the gift of life they brought.
I promised from that experience forward that I would be the help that I got to firefighters from thereafter. I used to take fruit baskets on Christmas and thought that was enough, and I was prompted in my spirit to do more, and I don’t remember if I called them or if they called me, but Casey Novak, and Chris, I forget his last name, came to my house.
They said we, and they brought me lunch. No, maybe I fed them lunch the first time and we had a conversation and they said, would you consider being the mental health profess. For our peer support team. Yeah, of course. I’m, and it wasn’t about money, it was about giving back because I knew what it was. I knew what it meant. Can I tell you a quick story? About nine 11, of course, that she did that I, it was near the end of my time and the firefighter came up to me. and he had his turnout coat on and he was gray, but everybody was gray.
The silt in the gr in the wind and stuff, it turned people all kinds of weird colors of gray. And he came up to me and he said, are you Jenny Gregory? Yes, I am. He said and mind you, to get the picture, I wore my industrial respirator on my head, like Mickey Mouse ears. And I carried my helmet like a purse filled with Coke and Hersh.
She bumpers and cuz you can’t really do counseling with that all over. . And so he walked up to me and he said, are you doctor? Are you Jenny Gregory? Yes, I am. He said I’m really mad. My, my battalion chief said I had to come and talk to you. Okay. About what he said. He told me I had to go home. Okay, how long have you been here?
And he told me it was weeks. And he pointed to a chair that was on the northwest corner of the World Trade Center, said, that’s been my bedroom. And did the chair had been blown out of the sky. and I said, then I think your battalion chief is right. And he had this really odd somatic response to the conversation.
His hairline started to tremble. I’ve never seen it before or since. And the tremor moved down his face and his teeth were clapping. and his throat and then his chest, his arms, even his legs, and I was fearful that he might fall and they don’t teach you what to do. In moments like that at school, there’s no class on how to interrupt some body symptom.
So I did what I thought was necessary and I wrapped. I went inside his turnout coat. It was open. I put my arms around his waist, and I pulled him tight, really tight to my body and could feel the tremor all the way. It was like an earthquake inside that turnout coat, and I don’t know how long it was, it seemed like hours.
It must have been only minutes. And when it was over, I backed. and he said, you’re not getting the whole story. Okay. Tell me the whole story. He said the morning of nine 11, my wife served me with divorce papers and told me she never wanted to see me again, and I don’t have a home to go back to. And here’s the problem.
I knew that the the, what do they call that? The people that control the waterfront there, I forget what they call ’em. They had opened a building and put beds. and I said to him, look, you gotta get some sleep. So go up the street and turn right on whatever street it was and there’s this building and you can sleep there.
And my greatest error in judgment right up there in the top five of my life, the greatest error was I didn’t walk with him. That bugs the heck outta me. Even today, 20 some years later, I shoved him in the right direction, but I did not walk with him and I should have walked with. and my work now is related to that gentleman.
I do it because I never ever wanna make that mistake again. And that means that I go to the edge with people whenever they’re ready and have seen enormous benefit. And it’s not like I’m trying to make up for the mistake, but I never wanna make that mistake again because y’all deserve to have the.
and I didn’t do my best in that interaction, and I won’t ever do that again. That’s really the motivation behind my work.
Stack: story’s powerful, obviously. That’s, that. Yeah, that’s powerful. And to take that as motivation for your work with the fire department or just in general is. . That’s ideal. And that’s, that, that would drive you for a while. For the rest of my life. So what’s your relationship with the fire department right now with Tacoma after the movie?
Are you still involved in the same manner? .
Jeni: Yep. I’m still the M H P for peer support. I go to their meetings, I still see firefighters and in fact, it’s grown. I am working now with three other fire departments and as long as I got bandwidth, I’m doing it. People say, aren’t you gonna get tired? I can get tired when I’m dead.
I know I’m not gonna get tired. I’m gonna be the change I wanna see in the world, and I’m gonna put feet.
Stack: I Do Your journey’s been amazing. Simply it’s, it has, that’s been amazing.
Jeni: it really has, and listen, I’m serious, Brandon. I would love to, you can edit this out if you want. I don’t care, , but I would love to come out. You get firefighters together, we’ll do the companion recovery model training.
It’s not about money. It is about spreading the word that we can be each other’s answers. You don’t need a lot. I have 14 alphabet behind my name, and you know what it means. , it means that people may see it more credible. I don’t care. I know what works. I’ve seen it work in the jungles of Africa, in the sewers of Bucharest in the hospital Western State, the largest psychiatric hospital west of the Mississippi.
And in my own life, I’ve seen it work. I know it works. I’ll come to where you. And I’ll do the class. I’ll do the 10 day training, I will do all the shifts. It doesn’t matter. It works. And if it brings people to the point of understanding how they can give their best self, I’ve done a good thing.
Stack: So with that, and we’re gonna need to talk about that, cuz I’m definitely interested and I think it’s very valuable. So we can talk about that off air some more. Sure. But at this point, let’s, let me ask you the two questions. I always end. Yeah. And one of them is, have you ever read the book, the things they.
Jeni: No, I haven’t. But that is what I listened to you and Cody on your podcast with him, and I have I d I don’t remember if I actually ordered it on Amazon or not, but that’s on my list.
Stack: Okay. That’s the premise of this. , that’s where I got the title for my show. . And it’s based off a book out of the Vietnam era.
And it’s a platoon that, and it’s a story about what they carried in, into battle. And then it’s more the story of what the scars they carried out of battle. The emotional stuff. Yeah. Yeah. And so along those lines I to ask everybody, what’s something that you carry every day with you that you feel naked if you leave the house without, and do you have an item like that?
It doesn’t have to be tangible either.
Jeni: I cannot leave the house without having God on my side. Okay? 1000%. And I’ve gone all kinds of places and he never leaves me nor forsakes me.
Stack: And we’ll take that. That’s I had a guest on, her name was Allie Rothrock, and she was the one I just released this week.
And she just, I, hers was about her own spirit and how she is stronger than what’s happened to her. And so I like those non-tangible ones as well. That’s right. What about a book or two that you might recommend to listeners? Something that bring, would bring value to them and their lives?
And it doesn’t have to be related to what we’ve talked about, it’s just anything you’ve, maybe you’ve read and you want to throw out there for. .
Jeni: I’d be wrong if I didn’t lead with the Bible, that’s for sure. And I would guess the I think the. . The one that stirs me right now is the body keeps the score.
Giving tools, understanding how your body will talk to you. Remember Moravian Dr. Moravian out of UCLA says, only 7% of communication happens verbally. The rest is tone of voice and body language. Learn how to understand the language your body is using and it’s your best. .
Stack: Yeah. That book is valuable.
It’s one that I’ve both downloaded and I have a hard copy of it. Yep. It’s, it is, I think it’s wise for everybody to read that, not just first responders in military or whatever. It’s just a book that, that can just remind you, Hey, you’re gonna, you’re going to pay the price unless you pay a.
That’s right. And I vouch for that for myself because I did, I paid a price until I’d started paying attention. And I didn’t get into therapy until last late. It was last summer, I believe, is when I first started therapy. Did you not? And And it’s been valuable. O obviously it’s invaluable and so it’s probably, not to use hyperbole.
This would probably save my life. And it’s something that we all need. I don’t care. If you don’t think you do, at some point you’re gonna need it. And so use it and pay attention to your body’s right.
Stack: exactly right. Where you at today? Where are you going soon? I know you’re getting head ready to head back to Africa.
Jeni: Yep, I am for today. I have , oddly, have a doctor’s appointment about an hour, and I live away. I live an hour away, so it’s perfect timing. And then I have a full afternoon and evening of clients and I’m beginning to wrap my head around how to pack about 500 pounds of goods that people have kindly donated into two 50 pound.
So that’s what I’m gonna be working on tonight and tomorrow.
Stack: Talking about people donating, and I know your time is short and I want to get this in. Where can people lend, can people donate to this cause or what’s the, what can people do to help out?
Jeni: My favorite international organization is called Serve the Children.
Serve the Children is a small nonprofit. It’s not bundled up with a lot of standard operating procedures and rules. It allows people like me to sit on their board and I navigate into places that are really tough. Afghanistan, Ukraine most recently, and they have been vital to my capacity building. For that.
I would invite people to make donations to serve the children, and that way their gift is sustainable If they wanna help go to it’s called Serve the children.org. And if they wanna help with my work in Liberia in a few weeks, they can get to my website, find my email, and ask me how to do it.
They can g I will send them a link. It’s on Amazon, they can just order goods on Amazon and they’ll ship right to my house. It’d be lovely. And that
Stack: website is the dr jenny gregory.com. Yes, sir. Okay. And I’ll link to, I’ll link to Serve the Children and to your website in the show notes. And this one’s gonna go out next Wednesday, so it’s gonna be it’ll be, it’ll at least time sensitive.
Jeni: Yeah. Yeah. That’s awesome.
Stack: I appreciate this to know and I I feel honored that you took your time and took an hour outta your day to, to speak with me and it’s I love what you’re doing and keep up that good.
Jeni: Brandon, you’re my hero. We do the same thing on opposite sides of the fence.
And I would remember you get back in touch with me and we’ll see what we can do for the East coast. Yes ma’am.
Stack: We’ll do that. All right. God bless. Go on red. Go enjoy the rest of your day and good luck with everything. Thank you. All right. Take care. Bye now. And we’re out.