A Police Officer's Tango with PTSD and Complex Trauma - Beneath the Vest with Ed Pila - OC87 Recovery Diaries

A Police Officer’s Tango with PTSD and Complex Trauma – Beneath the Vest with Ed Pila


As a child, Ed Pila witnessed domestic violence and acts of bloodshed that no child should ever witness. “I experienced more trauma before my 10th birthday than most people experience their whole lives,” he recalls regretfully. Whenever the domestic violence escalated—and it did often—police officers would be called to his house. Ed remembers the police officers as the calming force in the stormy household, offering him comfort and hope.

Fast forward years later, and Ed Pila became a police officer in the Detroit area, where he focused on the domestic violence unit. In his work, Ed says, his heart was endeared to the many women and children that became victims of domestic violence. “Yet, I was not aware of the ramifications that would come from witnessing a career length of traumatic incidents. This is known in the psych world as ‘secondary trauma.’”

Eventually, Ed found himself affected by the compounded traumas he witnessed in his role as a police officer. He reached out for help with his mental health, but found a lack of support in his department, including the department appointed psychiatrist. “Many police departments are good at continually preparing their officers for the daily physical and report battles they face. But, most of these same departments are inadequate in knowledge, and even unaware, of what is going on beneath the vest – in the heart, mind, and soul of the police officer,” he says.

Ed chose to retire from the police department, but it didn’t solve his troubles. In fact, his emotional state worsened. “I found myself isolating, alone, and depressed,” he said. After much contemplation, he realized that his police training may have been part of the problem – it taught him to stay six feet away from people at all times, for safety reasons. “The trauma in childhood, secondary trauma from a police career, and a focus of many years on keeping my distance from people had caught up to me. I needed healing. But, I wasn’t sure where to begin.”

One evening, Ed walked out of a martial arts class one evening and observed a business with a large window across the parking lot. Inside people were dancing close together. He was drawn to the positive energy. And although he had never danced before, Argentine tango became a surprising and effective therapeutic activity.

In addition to the Argentine tango, Ed entered into counseling for the other areas PTSD affects in the soul of a person. “I knew I did not want to end up like three of my police department associates—a victim of suicide. I wanted to continue to get better and assist others in this same journey.”

To that end, Ed shares his story beautifully in this special Beneath the Vest feature.  Ed is currently writing a book about the physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual health and welfare of police officers, first responders and their families. It is titled, appropriately, Six Feet Away.

EDITOR IN CHIEF: Gabriel Nathan | EDITOR: Glenn Holsten | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

See Related Recovery Stories: Depression, Mental Health Short Films, Trauma

Glenn is an award-winning director who loves to create compelling documentary story experiences of all lengths for screens of all sizes. He is an avid reader, studied literature in college, and his passion for stories with strong characters and interesting narratives stems from those years. His career as a visual storyteller began at WHYY (the public television station in Philadelphia) where he worked for 15 years before becoming an independent filmmaker. In addition to his PBS documentaries about arts and culture, he has directed films about justice and human rights, and now, mental health. He was emboldened to undertake his current documentary project, Hollywood Beauty Salon, a colorful feature-length documentary about surviving mental illness and finding the courage for recovery, after his transformative experience directing OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger’s Movie, along with Bud Clayman and Scott Johnston.