I can honestly say, your podcast is one of only a couple that I look forward to listening to EVERYTIME it comes out. The stories you share are incredibly powerful. There needs to be more groups like Team Never Quit!!!
I wanted to share a bit of my story. It’s interesting, because I’ve worked in emergency services for nearly 2 decades. During that time I have many stories. But none of those stories are MY story. My story is a story of struggle because of fear of repercussions. Fear of being judged. Fear because it wasn’t a horrific scene or a massive firefight. In my mind, my story SHOULDN’T have been a story. The following letter is a letter I wrote to someone I didn’t know personally. But her words moved me. Her letter changed my life.
You don’t know me at all. And you and I will probably never meet. But you’ve made a profound effect on me. I recently read an essay you wrote called “How to Tell A Mother Her Child Is Dead.” Your words left me filled with emotions…so many different emotions. It took me back to a day that changed my life 6 years ago.
Bear with me while I provide my story. 16 years ago I started volunteering as a firefighter in a small town. I became passionate about helping people. I became addicted to the rush I had every time I got a call. I absolutely loved it! I felt like I truly was part of a brotherhood. It was here that I had my first direct experience with death. A pickup truck had rolled into a ditch. Because of the recent rain, the ditch had about a foot of water sitting in it. As I went to the truck, I bent down and saw a hand in the water. I quickly placed my fingers on the wrist attached to this hand. There was no pulse. As I watched the truck get turned right side up, I saw the young man whose wrist only moments before I had held in my hand. His body laid half in the cab, half out the broken back window. His head was wet from the water that was in the ditch. As the truck’s wheels hit the ground, his head bounced from side to side…like a jack-in-the-box. As the Sgt of the local police service went through all the documents and identified the young man, I realized he was one of my wife’s students. This was also my first time providing a death notification.
I moved onto a brief career as an EMT before becoming a sworn police officer in 2008. Through the years of all three branches of emergency services I saw countless other bodies. They all had names…names I have long since forgotten. I’ve seen burned bodies, dead children, beaten wives. Each one of them I’ve put some of myself into. Each one was the most important thing to me at that exact moment. Because they all deserved that respect, regardless of who they were. Despite this, I had been dubbed “the Grim Reaper” by some of my co-workers.
But on that Spring day 6 years ago, I lost a part of me that will never be reclaimed. The call came in as a check-on-welfare in a local motel. I arrived on scene with the Acting Sgt for the day. We made our way up to the third floor. As I opened the door I saw a man sprawled on the ground, telephone cord wrapped around his torso and neck. I bent down, and those same fingers that 10 years earlier had felt the wrist of that young man, now pried their way under his jaw. Rigor had already set in, keeping me from moving his head to get better access. I was shocked by how cold he was. Another officer who was now on scene turned the man’s laptop towards me. The computer’s internet browser was open to a webpage: “Dealing with schizophrenia”. Around this time, I found an empty pill bottle.
It was busy that day, and I realized his house was not far away so I requested permission to go to the house to provide notification. On the way, I discovered police attended the previous day over a possible domestic dispute. No violence had occurred, but police took the man to the motel. I processed this information as I walked up to the townhouse. A smiling woman opened the door for me. She was so pleasant, calling me “sir”. She asked if I wanted a drink. I told her no and asked her to sit down. When she sat down, I also sat down and said I had some terrible news. I explained to her how I had just come from the motel where I found her husband dead. I was direct, but respectful. When she asked if I was sure, I told her I was the one who was first on the scene. Before I knew what was going on she was on the phone talking in another language. By this time, a young girl appeared from upstairs. She smiled at me and started talking with me, clearly excited to have a real-live police officer in her house. She didn’t notice her mom crying. I spent time playing with her while her mother was on the phone. Maybe because she was about the same age as my youngest daughter, I was comfortable keeping her occupied while her mom dealt with the shock of the news I provided.
I confirmed that this woman, now a widow, wanted to have victim services come by. They were the pros at dealing with the emotional side of such a loss. Just before they arrived, the family’s other daughter arrived. I looked at her and saw anger in her eyes. She walked up to me and stood only inches from my face and yelled, “where’s my daddy?” I froze. I focused on the anger in her eyes. The words rang in my ears.
After this day, I started drinking every night I got off work. I began looking for ways to cope with the anger I had towards this man for having done this to his family. His daughters had no father. His wife had no husband. And I was angry at him for putting me in a situation where I gave the family news that would crush their reality. I repressed my feelings of loss, anger, confusion, sadness. I hid it from everyone.
Over that 4 years I woke up in a cold sweat, hearing those words, “where’s my daddy?” I saw this girl as I went about my daily activities. I would never come closer than 6 blocks from that townhouse. I let the monsters inside me take over and spit on my moral compass.
Then I broke. Something inside me…broke. I took months off. I met with therapists 3 times a week. I started on antidepressants. It was a horrible time. But then, I felt normal. It took a long time. But I finally felt….normal. I still have triggers, but I deal with them with my newfound skills. And I’m a better man because of it.
I wanted to thank you. Your essay will help people. It will help people prepare for experiences that will affect countless people. It will provide hope for those who have hurt. It will help pull someone out of the dark. And for that, I thank you. Your words moved me.”
There is more to my story than what I told Dr Rosenberg. I didn’t tell her how not only did I cope with my battle through alcohol, anger, promiscuity, and closing myself off from everyone close to me, but I almost took my own life.
The expression “Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win” has deep meaning for me. In the letter, I talk about fighting myself…the enemy. One night, I almost surrendered to that fight. Before I ever sought help for this; before I ever told anyone how much this affected me; before I ever accepted that it was okay to feel this way, I did something that I hope no other person ever has to do.
I was working an afternoon shift alone. For days I had been scraping rock bottom. I had abandoned many of my coping strategies…some by choice, some not so much. And now it was just a raw, bareknuckle fight between myself and the monster inside me.
I found a remote place to park that day. As I sat there, letting the darkness cover me, I took off my vest and laid in on the seat beside me. I put my forage cap on top of it. I pulled out my badge and placed it in the corner of the front window. I can’t explain why I did these things. To this day…I can’t remember ever going through this in my head or preparing for it. I just automatically did it. Then I removed my Glock 22 from my holster. I dropped the mag out of it and checked that there was one round left in it. Then I placed all my mags under my vest.
I sat there for what seemed like hours. Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Hurt” was playing from my phone. I just sat there looking out at the nothing. Then I felt the cold metal touch my head as I aimed my pistol at the back of my skull. The cold spread into my temple and ran through my face. I would have shuddered any other time, but I just felt release on this day. I started to pull the trigger, waiting for my gun to “surprise” me like my instructors had taught me. I felt the trigger moving backwards and suddenly I saw daughters. I saw the tears my youngest cries when I go to work. I saw my oldest bottling everything up inside her. I saw my wife next to me in my lowest of lows. She stood by me through everything.
I let the trigger return to it’s place of rest.
And then I knew….I needed help.
My story is not over. But I know others who have not been so lucky. A member who I worked with before I patched over to where I am now ended her pain the only way she knew how. Years before that, a man who I called Sgt at times found his way out. And this is why I tell my story. Because I like to believe that maybe someday my story will stop someone from ending their own….maybe that’s just wishful thinking.
Keep up the good fight.
My Story – Enduring The Darkside of Law Enforcement