Rough Cuts Canada

One Officer's Quest to Treat P.T.S.D. with Woodworking

Rough Cuts Canada

Rough Cuts Canada

By Gary Phillips

When Gary Phillips had to cope with his P.T.S.D. he turned to woodworking. Now he's sharing the incredible things he's learned about how working with wood can help not only police officers, but also anyone dealing with P.T.S.D.
As I reflect on my passion to work with wood, I can still recall the day when I was a young 12-year-old boy watching my dad in his workshop in the basement creating a cabinet that was once a pile of rough lumber. I was fascinated how easy he made it seem and how fast the time went by that afternoon.
It's 48 years later and I still have that same passion when working with wood. However, during those 48 years, many lessons in life were learned, some good and some not so good, but one thing always kept me in that happy state: woodworking.
On June 8, 1981, I began my policing career at the age of 22. One thing that was never taught to us back in the early 80's was ways to cope with stress-related issues that resulted from the profession. Almost immediately upon graduating from Police College, I was involved in some pretty horrific crime scenes, baby deaths, fatal motor vehicle collisions, and industrial accidents.
As the years went on, the effects of cumulative stress began to take its toll; but I was not going to let anybody know I was having a hard time letting go of some of the incidents I was involved with. We all know how stress can cause many hardships with marriages, relationships, family matters, and your own health. Fast forward to Saturday, September 2, 1995 @ 3:26 p.m. This is when my world began to crumble and I, the strong policeman who swore and oath to serve and protect, could no longer protect myself. 
My analogy on stress is like this. When I first started policing, I was a young man with zero stress and my bathtub was empty. When I arrived on my first crime scene involving a child death, the stress that day resulted in the drain plug in my bath tub being put in the drain. Over the years, every time stress was added, my bathtub would fill up and on September 2, 1995, it began to overflow.
For those that live in and around Toronto, Ontario, the Airshow at the Annual Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) is the highlight of the Labour Day Weekend and the first sign summer is over. 
During this time, I was a member of the Toronto Police Marine Unit and also a team member of the Underwater Search and Recovery Unit. It is during the airshow that dive team members are suited up and ready to enter the water in the event of an aircraft emergency over Lake Ontario. It was on that day that a British-made Nimrod MR-2, performing a routine flypast, crashed into the waters of Lake Ontario, killing all seven men on board. For the next six weeks, our dive team assisted members of the Canadian and British Military in the recovery of the bodies of the seven crewmen.
It was following the completion of the salvage operation that I secretly reached out for assistance to cope with what was later diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
The workshop: my happy place
As my therapy sessions began, I remember the doctor wanting to prescribe medication to help me with my mood problems. My immediate response was "No thank you, I have my workshop". This was my happy place where time stood still and the joy of being creative with my hands was my outlet and my therapy.
After completing therapy, I took a strong interest in learning more about PTSD and got involved in the York Regional Critical Incident Stress Management Team (CISM). Here I obtained hands-on-experience with peer support, debriefings and one-on-one counselling with members experiencing the same struggles I once went through. Our team was called to action during the 9/11 tragedies. And while happy to assist in any way possible, this was also a trying time.
Sharing woodworking
Back in 2004, a coworker approached me asking for advice on how to cope with some issues he was having. I was in my workshop finishing up a cabinet and asked him to drop by. We spent part of the day learning how to use a table saw, which he was apprehensive to use. It was later that day I realized how much I enjoyed sharing my passion with woodworking. I ended up inviting him to return the following week. I share this one particular story because of the happy ending it had for this police officer. You see, in the beginning, and prior to his having this outlet, he was living in his vehicle because of alcohol abuse and his violent mood swings. 
From the very first day in my shop, I could see the joy he was experiencing using power tools and his desire to learn more about cabinetry. As I type this, I can't help but well up. Shortly after spending time with me in the shop, the member was invited back to his home. He enrolled in a local college to continue his passion for cabinet making. He now has a very successful woodworking business that specializes in custom kitchens. Not bad for a guy who once feared the table saw.
Also in 2004, a local newspaper got wind of my workshop and wrote an article, although for reasons of confidentiality I chose not to identify any of the workers.


Since that article, I have had numerous members attend my workshop, from police, fire, EMS, military and medical staff. As a survivor of P.T.S.D., I understand and know the troubles one experiences during times of job-related stress. I simply share my experience with them and how the joy of learning a hobby is a great way to heal.
My police career came to a very happy ending on October 31, 2016, after enjoying 36 years. My passion for woodworking is stronger than ever and now it is time for me to give back to those who serve and protect by offering them a larger workshop.
Rough Cuts Canada
My wife and I have left the province of Ontario and moved to the beautiful shores of the Atlantic Ocean, in Nova Scotia. We purchased a 45-acre wooded lot that we call "Rough Cuts Canada".
Rough- the rough times the member is going through
Cuts - Cutting, sawing, milling and creating wood projects
Canada – Our great country

With time on my hands, I now want to continue sharing my passion for woodworking to those that attend the property. Our vision here, is that the member can select his/her own tree, harvest it, mill it, dry the wood, and see their project through to the final stages.
Understanding what the member is going through, the whole objective of the workshop is to help them enjoy a positive atmosphere and to keep them in a positive mindset by being creative with their hands, instead of the destructive measures some go through during troubled times.
My wife has been the biggest supporter of my workshop since I started 14 years ago and has never questioned me regarding expenses with materials and tools. Now that we have purchased the property outright, I now must for the first time reach out to corporations for some assistance. Equipment and machinery is needed to help clear the land. As a result, a Go Fund Me page has been set up to help raise some funds.
Police and fire volunteers, along with local business owners, have already volunteered to help with the first of many projects to be completed on the property during the summer of 2018.

If you would like to help Gary with his fundraiser, you may do so through his Go Fund Me page. Your donation and support is very much appreciated for this worthwhile cause. If you would like to connect with Gary, send him an email.

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