Through the Eyes of the First Responder
Ask anyone who has worn the uniform of a First Responder --control, safety, stability, and containment are all priorities when we arrive on the scene. If these conditions don’t exist, we will create them. It’s what we do. We will raise an oasis in the midst of the desert. We will cause the eye of the storm. We will bring peace and order into a chaotic environment. Again, it’s what we do. And we are darn good at it.
A First Responder dealing with chemical dependency is, however, at a disadvantage. By the time we are seeking out help (or having it forced upon us) we are tired, out of options and not functioning at our best.
We aren’t performing at the level we have for many years. We aren’t able to create the oasis, the eye of the storm, or peace and order in our own world, let alone the new environment in which we find ourselves. And in our minds, we’re all alone. We don’t have our platoon with us; the engine crew is not there; nor is our back-up a radio broadcast away. In reality, support is there, yet we fail to recognize it. For those reasons and for much more, a First Responder stepping into chemical dependency treatment is like a fish out of water. It is the opposite of the world that by training (and some would argue by our very nature) we are accustomed to creating. For First Responders this adds a new dynamic to treatment which makes an already challenging enemy that much tougher.
So we find ourselves in a new and foreign environment -- an environment that we can’t control, and are told we shouldn’t try to. In peer groups, we hear of the traumas others have suffered. We aren’t unsympathetic, but we can seem that way at times. It’s not that we are indifferent to the suffering of others; quite the contrary. It’s that we hear of that suffering and in many ways see it as a challenge to which we should have risen in order to have prevented it.
And frankly, some of the things we hear don’t, in our minds, compare to our lives. The things we’ve seen in long careers in the military, police and fire services span years, and are often so horrific that often we only reluctantly speak of them among our own kind. In our minds, the demons we’ve dealt with all those years won’t be shared with those we’ve worked so long and hard to protect. Sharing those things undermines the sacrifices we’ve made in our lives to protect others from those evils. You don’t know about them, and we aren’t going to tell you about them.
A First Responder does, however, need to unburden his or her soul if they are to be successful in recovering from their chemical addiction.
Oftentimes, exorcising those demons is the first step in recovery. So if we won’t disclose those demons to the people we’ve sheltered from them for all those years, to whom then do we disclose? Our peers of course-- but only the “right” ones.
Contrary to the obvious answer, the “right” peers are not necessarily those who wear the same uniform that we wear, nor someone we work with and see every day. While those people will most certainly understand the traumas, there is no guarantee they will understand our individual struggles.
From my personal experience, it was at The Champion Center where I found the “right” peers with whom I could disclose so much. There, I found peers who wore the uniform, shared the traumas, and understood the personal toll it takes. They too carried a burden very similar to my own.
Those were the “right” peers with which I could share my story.