Amanda Oling — Who Am I and How I Went From Law Enforcement Officer To A Career As A Professional Speaker
On October 24, 2004, my life changed forever because of someone else’s decision.
At the time I was working as a law enforcement officer in Alberta, Canada.
That night, at about 11:30 p.m., I had just fallen asleep when I heard my door bell ring. Now this was a Sunday evening, so it seemed awful suspicious that my doorbell would be ringing that late at night on a Sunday evening. Being an Officer, I always thought safety first. So I started sneaking down the stairs in the dark. The doorbell rang again and again and again. Finally I heard someone yell “police!” I thought ‘what did I do! I work for you guys! You know that right?’
When I opened the door, there were two uniformed police officers and two people behind in them in jackets that said “Victim services.” My heart sank and my stomach tightened. I thought I would be sick. There was only one reason victim services showed up with police officers late at night — something bad, something really tragic had happened.
The officers asked if they could come in. One officer sat on the opposite arm of the couch from me and victim services went and sat at my dining room table. The 2nd officer then cleared everything off my coffee table and set it on the dining room table with Victim Services. Now I knew it was really bad. My heart was thumping loudly in my chest. That’s something I did when I was giving bad news because you don’t know how people are going to take it and sometimes they throw things at you if they are accessible.
The second officer stood across the coffee table from me, hung his head and sighed. Then he looked right at me and said: “Amanda, we know you’re a fellow Officer so we’re going to get straight to the point. There was an accident, it happened this morning on highway 22 near Drayton Valley and unfortunately your Dad died in the crash. I’m so sorry.”
I managed to squeak out “what happened?”
“Your Dad was killed by a 19 year old impaired driver in a stolen vehicle.”
I went into shock. I don’t remember what happened next. The next thing I remember, the Officer who was sitting on the opposite end of the couch was sitting next to me holding my hand. The officer who was standing in front of me was now standing just off my shoulder. When they moved, I can’t tell you. They were talking to each other, but I couldn’t make out the words.
Now you think the weirdest things when trauma happens. The only thing I could say next was “I’m really embarrassed to be in my pyjama's in front of uniformed police officers. Can I go upstairs and change?” They said “sure.” The officer standing off my shoulder moved to give me access to the stairs.
I remember running up the stairs to the bedroom, sitting on the edge of my bed and staring at the wall. I kept thinking this must all be a bad dream — there’s no way there are uniformed police officers in my living room telling me my Dad was just killed by an impaired driver this morning. I’m Daddy’s little girl! Who am I going to hug when I go home? Who am I going to sit on the couch to watch movies with? Who am I going to call when I have a great day and who am I going to call and cry to when I have a bad one? How was it that I would never see my Dad or talk to him ever again because of somebody else’s decision!
Then I looked in the closet and I saw my uniform hanging there… a uniform I was so proud of… but at that moment it made me angry. How was it that I put my life on the line every single day to protect the citizen’s of Calgary yet my Dad gets killed by an impaired driver just four hours north of me.
All of a sudden I heard the Officer’s downstairs say “are you okay up there?”
I managed to yell back “yeah, sorry.” I pulled on jeans and a sweater and I ran down the stairs.
That’s when reality hit and hit hard. The police were still in my living room. Victim services was still at my dining room table. Then my neighbor, who was like a second Grandma to me, burst in the door. I don’t even remember if my foot hit the last stair. I just remember falling to my knees on the carpet and bursting into tears — that kind of crying that is more of a scream than a cry.
My life had been shattered. My Dad was my supporter in life. My confidant. How could he be gone?
Over the next few days, things got worse. It turned out the impaired driver was from Lloydminster — the same city as my Aunt (my Dad’s Sister) and that his Mom worked for my Aunt at a grocery store there and was also one of my Aunt’s friends.
I also found out that the vehicle the impaired driver stole was a welding truck. My Dad drove a small car. Upon impact, both vehicles had burst into flames. While witnesses were able to pull the impaired driver to safety, they were unable to free my Dad. He was trapped in his car and died at the scene. His body was unrecognizable. It took 5 days for the Medical Examiner’s office to positively identify him and release his body. We couldn’t even have a funeral until the body was released.
This whole experience turned me into a very angry person. Life was no longer fun.
You would think after a tragedy like this happens, you would have all the support in the world. Unfortunately the opposite was true. My fellow co-workers ignored me and friends of mine crossed the street to avoid talking to me when they saw me because they didn’t know what to say. They were all afraid they would make me cry, so they wanted to avoid bringing it up. I also started being bullied at work by higher ranking Officers after a switch in management was made.
I got more frustrated and more angry. Everything I did was handled by anger. How could anyone understand me or what I had been through. Was it too much for someone to just reach out and give me a hug? I started to close myself off to people from being afraid of getting hurt more.
To top it all off, some neighbors made false complaints on my dogs to the condo board and I was told I either needed to get rid of my dogs or sell my townhouse. Those dogs were everything to me. They were my company, the ones who stuck by my side. But the townhouse was a place I loved. It was right on a canal — like a large creek. The view was beautiful. Plus my Dad had done a lot of work on that place. He installed all the blinds and built a storage room downstairs as I had bought the place brand new. I loved that house. Now I was forced to sell or get rid of my dogs. I chose to sell the house.
At that time, I started running away when things got bad. I transferred to two different municipalities over a span of 8 years. But even though things would start out great, I would eventually get bullied again and then move to another place. When I moved to my last transfer, I thought things would work out great. But once again, a supervisor became jealous of my qualifications and experience and I was bullied again. That supervisor went so far as to try to ask an instructor to fail me on a course so I would lose my job. Thankfully the instructor refused to listen to her.
I just wanted to be accepted somewhere. I wanted to be able to earn an income doing a job I had spent years training to do without being bullied by people. I wanted to stop running from place to place and settle down once and for all. My Husband and I had just purchased what I would call my dream home — a little ranch style home on 10 acres of land, all fenced and ready for our horses. I didn’t want to jump to yet another place and have to start over again.
At this time, I also started to experience horrible nightmares and flashbacks of previous files I had worked on and of Officers who had bullied me. Little did I know it was the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Every once in a while, I would do impaired driving prevention presentations as part of my job. It felt good to make a difference by doing these presentations. I got to change people’s lives by sharing my Dad’s story. It became my way of dealing with the tragedy because I knew my Dad didn’t die for no reason. That his legacy would live on through my presentations.
Inside, I longed to be successful and do something great with my life. My Mom does genealogy and I’ve heard the stories of some of my ancestors. I wanted to leave a legacy someone would be proud to read about in the future. I didn’t want them to think their ancestor was a loser or boring. I also was tired of being angry all the time. I knew there was a better life for me but I didn’t know how to find it. It seemed like there were roadblocks in my way constantly. I just wanted to know my purpose and what I was meant to do.
Finally, one day after receiving an email from my supervisor accusing me of things that I hadn’t done and saw she had sent it to all the supervisors and the head of our division, I let my anger get to me. I fired back an e-mail defending myself. That night I got an e-mail from the head of our division saying he was launching an investigation against me that would start when he got back from holidays in three weeks time. I was absolutely devastated. How could anyone be so cruel? What did she have on everybody that they couldn’t see the bullying and harassment? Why was everyone ganging up on me?
I left the office and started driving back and forth through an intersection known for severe traffic collisions. I was hoping someone would hit me. Not kill me, but hurt me bad enough that I couldn’t ever go back to work there ever again. After the fourth time through the intersection, I stopped, pulled over to the side of the road and broke down in tears. What was I doing? I didn’t want to affect someone else’s life negatively. I spoke about how other people’s decisions impacted several lives. Why had I made such a stupid choice? I was thankful no one had run the stop sign and hit me. I pulled out my cell phone with my hand shaking, called our Employee Assistance Line and asked for help from a counsellor. I was put through to someone right away.
The next night, I sat in a counsellors office and told him everything that had happened. He gave me a multiple choice test. I circled the answers, feeling hot tears stream down my face as I read them. When I finished, I passed the paper back. After what seemed like eternity, the counsellor laid the paper on his desk and said “just what I thought. You test positively for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder — PTSD.”
I remember saying “how on Earth can I have PTSD? I’m not in the military?” He explained to me how PTSD can happen to anyone. It most likely started when I first started in law enforcement and saw some really horrific things. Add onto that losing my Dad in a horrific crash, plus all the trauma I had seen in my job since combined with all the bullying I had experienced and it all contributed to development of PTSD.
Then the ultimate blow came as the counsellor continued on with “my recommendation is that you resign your position and find something else to do as a career. If you stay in your current position, your PTSD will only get worse to the point where you may end up taking the path of so many others who have your same condition. That path sadly is suicide. I’ve seen it far too many times.”
I left the counsellors office with a heavy feeling. Law Enforcement was all I’d ever know. How could I all of a sudden start a new career after 15 years working in the same field? What would I do with my life now?
I e-mailed a former training officer of mine and asked for his opinion and guidance. He sent me back a response a short time later. His advice was to remember a saying he taught us all “change what you can, accept what you can’t and remove yourself from the unacceptable.” Could I change the way they were treating me at work or my diagnosis? No. Could I accept the way I was being treated at work? No. Then my only option was to remove myself from the unacceptable. It was time to hang up the uniform for good.
I resigned my position a week later with an end date a month down the road.
After resigning my position, I felt invisible. I was used to people noticing me. Now no one noticed me. When I resigned my position and said it was due to the harassment and bullying, the head of my Division made me talk to HR and file a complaint. Because of that, I wasn’t allowed to talk to my friends from work. In law enforcement, your fellow officers become like family. I felt I had been separated from a family. I felt alone, invisible and like no one in the world cared.
I didn’t know what to do until one day, a friend of mine who worked in traffic safety, said I should open my own business as an impaired driving speaker. She said she had never seen such a powerful presentation and stated it was something people World-wide needed to hear.
I had no job, we had just entered a recession and there were no jobs. I really had nothing to lose and everything to gain. So, I took a huge leap and started my own business. That’s when Northern Spirit Productions Inc. was born.
Within my first two years, my business started to take off. People loved the presentation. I started to gain more clients, spoke at conferences, businesses, was sent on a week long sponsored tour of Saskatchewan and then on a two week long sponsored tour of Manitoba. Everyone loved the presentation and I would always get asked the same thing — “that was great! What else can you do?” I hated that I had nothing else prepared and didn’t feel like I could expertly present on any other topic. I started a search for other topics.
Anyone from the outside would think I had the most successful business and life. I appeared happy on the outside, but on the inside, I was struggling. I was lonely, sad and struggling with the effects of PTSD. I was taking life for granted… I was just floating through the days so to speak. I didn’t appreciate life as a gift.
But that would all change in February 2017.
But that story is for tomorrow! Stay tuned for Part 2!