From a very young age, men are taught that opening up is a sign of weakness. Even more so, being vulnerable to others.
The societal pressures of masculinity have hindered many men from displaying their true emotions and feelings. For centuries, men all over the world have been facing a set of standards to keep up with, from gladiators to samurais, to super jocks and modern-day “bros”….boys simply don’t cry.
After all, a man’s world is meant to be an emotionally stoic place, where vulnerability is not only unfavorable, it is unwelcome.
But that is not the case for former Sioux City Police Officer Kevin McCormick. In his eyes, vulnerability is a sign of strength and empowerment. And he is a living testament of that.
“You have to experience it in order to know what strength feels like.”
Rewind to the afternoon of April 29, 2013. McCormick was performing a routine traffic stop when a suspect jumped out of a vehicle’s passenger side and opened fire at him.
(Quote pulled directly from dashcam video) “Christ. Shots fired, shots fired. Holy Sh*t…..I think I’ve been shot in the f*cking head*…”
McCormick had been shot, suffering from a gunshot wound just above his right eye.
“The guy gets out and starts shooting as I back up. At the 8 or 9th round, I could tell the bullet went through the windshield.”
McCormick said as he recalls that day like the back of his hand.
“I felt so good. I wanted to stay in the fight pretty bad, and if I had been on a little longer, I would’ve done things differently, but I was only on for a year and a half at that point. But I was told not to continue.”
But while the scar is not clearly visible to the naked eye, the scars of those most critical moments after the shooting stayed with Kevin and eventually took a toll on his mental health. McCormick was struggling with stress and anxiety for several months.
“It really didn’t take long for me to recover. I went back to work 12 days later. I showed up every day with my game face on, with that cop mentality where you just have to act like nothing bothers you. Everything’s fine, and you can handle all that stuff you see day in and day out.”
McCormick struggled in silence and didn’t address his issues to anyone, keeping the challenges and feelings to himself.
“I was playing this game for months like I was okay, and eventually, it caught up to me. I could not do it anymore. I couldn’t fake it anymore. I finally said, ‘guys, I’m messed up,’ and then started crying. It was one of those stops you couldn’t stop either. But all of a sudden, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Then I started being myself again, and I wanted to take it to the next level. I know you don’t have to get shot in the head to get messed up in this job. So, when I look around in roll call and see this guy just responded to a nasty accident, a drowning, whatever, I just know they’re messed up. They’re doing what I did and hiding it.”
McCormick couldn’t keep up with living in this spiral of self-doubt and struggle. He stepped up for himself and began meeting with a therapist regularly.
“I would get on the radio and say J-2 and announce that I was headed to Omaha to see my doctor. Everybody knew when they heard that McCormick was going to see a therapist down in Omaha. I wanted them to hear it because I was hopeful that maybe one other person would be inspired to see a therapist too. As open as I am about my feelings, I can tell you that for a long time, I wasn’t willing to go that far for fear that I would lose this sense of manliness or lose the ability to take care of this situation.”
McCormick would go every two weeks, then once a month for three years. He said, seeking therapy was not only an eye-opening experience for the 43-year-old father of one, but it was also most definitely a rewarding one that shaped him into who he is now.
“More empathetic, more understanding, healthier and happier.”
Therapy helped him to improve in all areas of his life, from expressing emotions better to thinking more positively.
“Let your guard down and put it all out there. I do believe to get to the next level, you do need to open yourself up completely,” McCormick said.
“I think every single time that I have put myself out there, it has made me into a better person.”
While the journey wasn’t easy, it was absolutely worth it, he said. It took years in the making, and McCormick made it happen. His willingness to be open with others inspired him to develop self-care actions, as he learned the tools to help him in all areas of his life. And because of vulnerability, McCormick says, he’s become a better husband, father, and stronger man.
“Be vulnerable. It will change your life.”
In November 2019, McCormick retired from the police force after serving for nearly eight years. He is now a Family Services Coordinator at Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit organization that helps families build and improve places to call home. He and his wife Jessica have been married for 16 years. Together they have a beautiful daughter, Wren, and a dog, Trooper.
By Jetske Wauran