NBA Cares ambassador Bob Delaney tells USASMA Class 63 ‘Not all wounds bleed’
USASMA Public Affairs:
For 25 years Bob Delaney called all the shots on the hardwood as a referee for the NBA. But in his former life as a New Jersey state trooper working undercover to infiltrate the mob, he found himself benched with post traumatic stress.
“I’d barely been a trooper for a year and a half when I was selected to be part of an undercover operation to infiltrate the Genovese and Bruno crime family,” said Delaney. “I assumed a new identity and became Bobby Covert for three years, but those experiences got the best of me and things weren’t the same for a long time after that.”
Delaney told Sergeants Major Course students in his presentation on PTS that his undercover persona haunted him even after the operation ended and indictments had been handed down. For three years he’d been completely immersed in being trucking company owner Bobby Covert. He worked side by side daily with the Mafia, broke bread with their families and befriended them like brothers. When everything ended Delaney said he didn’t know how to be himself anymore.
“I became so comfortable in my role that my entire sense of morality changed.My whole premise for even becoming a state trooper was to make a difference on the street. But you don’t change the streets,” said Delaney. “The streets change you.”
While his story about his struggle to regain control of his life after sending 30 mobsters to prison may be unique, his message to Soldiers was understood. Delaney told students you don’t have to be in combat to have PTS because what is personal is universal.
“PTS is a natural reaction to an abnormal situation,” he said. “I was just doing my job – just doing what I was told to do, but I felt like I was betraying ‘friends’ – people who trusted me, and I felt horrible guilt. You can try and make believe what you do doesn’t bother you, but it will slowly eat away at you.”
When Delaney was undercover in the 70s there was no clinical diagnosis for PTS. He said it was only during informal counseling with Dr. Hank Campbell, his college psychology professor at Jersey City State College, that Delaney came to realize why assimilating back into regular life was so difficult.
“During World War II they called it “shell shock” and Vietnam veterans had “flashbacks,” said Delaney. “But Dr. Campbell told me what I was experiencing was post traumatic stress, and once it was identified, I knew I had a long road ahead of me. PTS isn’t a mental disorder, it is a human condition. Not all wounds are visible. Not all wounds bleed.”
But the wounds can be very deep. Delaney said his PTS symptoms included anger, guilt and paranoia, but he also pointed out that basic human physiology will rear its head when you least expect it.
“The aftershocks go on for hours, days, weeks and even months,” said Delaney. “Even if you’re 10 years removed from the situation and you smell something in the air, you will go right back to that very spot in time. There are many triggers.”
While the extent of symptoms associated with PTS are different for everyone, Delaney acknowledged medical experts have come a long way in the 30 years since the disorder was recognized for what it is. While positive and effective treatment methods may vary from individual to individual, peer-to-peer therapy is something Delaney said is one of the first lines of defense in fighting PTS. But he was quick to add that it’s also the first roadblock.
“Two guys can get together, go out and have a beer and say, ‘Hey, we talked,’” said Delaney. “In order for peer-to-peer therapy to work, we have to speak with someone who has gone through a similar experience.”
Delaney used the analogy of a balloon full of air as a means of explaining how to let go of emotions and physiological triggers associated with PTS. He said if you want to get the air out you have choices. You can either pop the balloon or let the air seep out a little at a time. That’s why talking to a fellow Soldier who has gone through some of the same experiences is so necessary, said Delaney.
“We are all so connected in so many ways,” he said. “When you start sharing your experiences you start releasing the air in your balloon. It’s very important to release your thoughts to the right people.Your family and friends want you to be the person they remember you being.
“You may be suffering with the after effects of your experience, but they may be suffering from what I refer to as active traumatic stress,” said Delaney. “Post traumatic stress is not about what is wrong with you; it is about the wrong you experienced.”
Dealing with change is something Delaney said is not easy for anyone when it comes to PTS – whether it’s the person dealing with the trauma of their horrific experiences or their loved ones. He acknowledged that sometimes it’s just easier to revert back to what is familiar because it’s comfortable. Yet stepping out of that comfort zone and having the courage to embrace change is an absolute necessity in order to begin the healing process.
“Having conversations about what you’ve experienced isn’t easy, however, in order to take the first step, in order to step out of the shadows, you have to embrace change no matter how uncomfortable it may be,” said Delaney. “The strength it will require can be summed up in a quote by Martin Luther King Jr., ‘The ultimate measure of a person is not where he or she stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he or she stands at times of challenge and controversy.’”
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