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A pain that won’t end

June 2019

The death of anyone in a motor vehicle collision is a tragedy, but when young children die, there is little that can be done to make anything better.

It was heartbreaking watching an interview that Jennifer Neville-Lake gave to Global News last year, describing the pain she is left with in the wake of the deaths of her three children; nine-year-old Daniel Neville-Lake, his five-year-old brother Harrison, their two-year-old sister Milly and the children’s 65-year-old grandfather, Gary Neville, all killed in a horrific collision on a rural road in Vaughan, Ontario, on 29 September 2015.

Toronto resident Marco Muzzo was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to four counts of impaired driving causing death and two counts of impaired driving causing bodily harm in a collision that also saw the children’s grandmother and great-grandmother seriously injured.

That said; I hope it can bring the Neville-Lake family some comfort to know that the deaths of Daniel, Harrison, Milly and Gary may have saved a life or more. Their deaths served as a serious wake-up call and a turning-point for me.

I used to drive impaired, but it was their deaths that convinced me that I needed to smarten up. I suffer from PTSD and was drinking to numb the pain I was feeling. Ironically, I was risking becoming a man just like Muzzo and causing pain to someone else. Thankfully, my reckless actions never did end up hurting anyone.

Although I wouldn’t actually quit drinking for another 6 months, their deaths and the fact that I could thrust the same horror upon another family were never far from my mind. While I was always careful not to be falling-down drunk whenever I was driving, I certainly would have failed a roadside screening test. Only once was I stopped in a ride spot-check, but the cop never noticed the smell of alcohol. I was very lucky indeed.

Addiction is a horrible disease and that certainly doesn’t excuse any harm that results from the reckless behaviour that usually accompanies addiction, including my own, but the first step in recovery is admitting that you have a problem and need help. For me, it certainly was a big step.

At the time, I was a serving police officer; a profession that still has an entrenched “suck it up” mentality, although things are changing. Just like in the military and other male-dominated professions, you constantly hear the old veterans saying things like, “In my day, we didn’t go to head-shrinks and talk about touchy-feely things or cry. Girls do that; us “real men” just sucked it up and got on with the job. My question is how many of the macho guys who said they would just “suck it up,” were alcoholics?

One of the things I learned very early on in my recovery is that I was indeed “sucking it up” – a lot of booze, that is!

I had been a social drinker all my adult life, but eventually I started having trouble sleeping and started taking prescription sleep medication.

As the years (yes, years) went on, the sleeping pills started losing their effectiveness, so I started drinking alcohol with them as I found it gave the pills a “kick”. This started to go badly for me as I started having blackouts (when the bottle says, “Do not consume alcohol when taking this medication,” it’s not a suggestion).

After attending an AA meeting, my first in almost a year, I realized that I needed to take time off work to deal with my mental health and addiction issues. I called my deputy chief (I worked for West Grey Police, a small township police service) and told him that I needed to take time off for medical reasons. At the time, West Grey didn’t have an Employee Assistance Program or any other resources that are designed to assist members who are in crisis. I was basically on my own. Even a fellow officer and friend of almost 30 years, a friend whom I’d helped deal with his own personal issues after almost being beaten to death on duty, did little to help me.

That was the beginning of the end of my police career, but that’s another story.

Seven months after I finally quit drinking, I inadvertently dodged a RIDE spot-check. I was driving in my hometown near one of the train stations in the city. I saw a lineup of cars ahead of me and a police car with lights flashing. I turned my head to the right and saw another police car with lights flashing in the train station parking lot, closer to the train tracks. I figured that someone must have been hit by a train. As I didn’t want to sit in a traffic jam, I decided to take an alternate route and did a U-turn. Just as I turned to the left, I saw a dark Dodge Charger sitting on the opposite shoulder with its lights off. I thought, “Oh, I know what that is.” Sure as poop, the Charger starts driving towards me and then the flashing red and blue lights come on, signaling me to pull over.

The constable approaches my vehicle and asks me why I tried to dodge a RIDE spot-check. I told him what I said above and he asked me if I’d had anything to drink. I replied that I was an alcoholic in recovery and hadn’t had a drink in seven months. The constable asked me to step out of the vehicle and told me to come back to his police scout-car.

I blew a zero, but if it had been seven months earlier, at the very least, I would have been served a 3-day suspension. I didn’t identify myself as a cop until after we were done and I certainly didn’t look like one as I let my hair grow long after having to cut it short for 29 years.

While I still suffer the effects of PTSD, I’m doing a lot better and now have 39 months of sobriety.

I know I can never understand the pain the Neville-Lake family is going through, but I hope my admissions here demonstrate that at least one person was paying attention to the horror committed that fateful day.

Sources: https://www.canadianbusiness.com/lists-and-rankings/richest-people/rich-100-muzzo-estate, https://toronto.citynews.ca/2018/11/20/marco-muzzo-denied-parole-a-deep-dive-into-the-boards-decision.

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/a-pain-that-wont-end/

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