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Mixed emotions and great betrayals

June 2019

After watching Clint Eastwood’s 2018 film “15:17 to Paris”, a film about three Americans (Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos) and one Frenchman who stopped a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train, I’m both inspired and disheartened.  What these four brave men did was extraordinary and exactly what I would see myself doing in the same situation, having served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve and as a police officer in Canada.

From the moment early in the movie when Spencer, who is undergoing training at an Air Force base and is told that the base is under attack by an armed shooter, stands by the door of his classroom with a pen in his hand, ready to stab the attacker if he breached the door in spite of his instructor’s orders to hind under a desk, I was stuck by the thought that I too would rather die on my feet fighting than cowering on my hands and knees.  It’s one of the reasons that I became a police officer and volunteered for Canada’s military forces.

Even after acquiring the cynical, burnt-out attitude I developed towards the end of my policing career, I still saw myself as someone who thought of the welfare of others above myself.  In my last month on the road, before PTSD and alcoholism ended my career, I took two punches to the face from someone in a mental health crisis rather than let him run off into a cold, snowy night.  I clearly remember when he was punching me thinking, “Oh, you’re not getting away from me that easily!”

Because I hung on to him and refused to let go, he got the help he needed.  There was no thought of punching back or “retaliating” against him in any way.  I simply hung on long enough to wrestle him to the ground and with the assistance of my patrol sergeant, was able to handcuff him and get him into a waiting ambulance.

A month later I took myself off the road.  I was suffering from un-diagnosed PTSD and was a high-functioning alcoholic.  I recognized that I was going down a bad road and had been for a long time.  Little did I know that day when I called my Deputy Chief to tell him I would be taking some time off work “for medical issues,” that it would be the end of my career.

Suddenly all the good I’d done over the previous 16 years, and all the good that I could have done, meant absolutely nothing.  I needed help!

It’s ironic to think all that was taken away from me because of my own mental health crisis.  I can admit that part of my downfall was my own doing.  I can be my own worst enemy at times but when I needed help……..well, some people who lack honour and compassion sandbagged me and left me to rot to satisfy their own sociopathic and narcissistic egos.  My police service didn’t even have an Employee Assistance Program at the time.

Instead of getting help from the people who should have had my back, what I got was a kick to the head, a punch to the gut and a shove out the door.  I was betrayed by not only those who were in positions of authority, but also by someone whom I called my best friend for almost three decades.

This former friend was the second and greatest betrayal of my life; the other being a woman I once considered my soul-mate.  This woman became the kind, caring and selfless person I always knew she could be, but only after she too betrayed me in a cruel and heartless way, compounding her betrayal with the fact that she only changed her ways after I’d moved on with my life (something she later admitted she never thought I’d do), but that’s another story.

Looking back at things, the first time I made it clear something was happening to me was when I was sitting in a conference room being interviewed by a Chief of Police and Inspector regarding a complaint I made about the conduct of my own Chief.  I had just come back from a three month stress leave, one that I came back from because I ran out of sick days to use and my association wasn’t aware that I could apply for short-term disability benefits from the service’s insurance carrier.  At one point I told the investigating officers, “We tell people that if they’re in trouble, call 911.  What number do police officers call when they need help?”  I was met with silence.

In the end I may have put myself at the edge of a cliff, but instead of grabbing a hold of me and pulling me back, that former friend of three decades gave me a hard shove off that cliff.  I regret now that I didn’t fight harder to stay with the police force and fight harder against the resistance I was getting from my own association, the one who were supposed to fight for me, but I was emotionally exhausted from fighting the bureaucracy, fighting to get disability benefits and fighting to get healthy again.  Everyone has a breaking point and the lack of support from those who should have been there to help when I needed it was mine.

I suffered a further indignity when I came back to my police station to clean out my locker. I had to be escorted around by one of my co-workers like I was a criminal. Even small things like the discovery that in the year and a half since I was last in the building, someone took my notebook cover, a notebook cover that hadn’t been issued by this particular service, but one that I’d had since my first security job 27 years earlier, and replaced it with a new one. I didn’t even bother to ask my co-worker where MY notebook cover was as I just knew he would either have no idea or would tell me that had been thrown out. It had a fold-over flap that looked tattered on the top but was still very usable. I was hoping to use this notebook cover for my entire law-enforcement career and then include it in a shadow-box of my career-spanning mementos.

I always wanted to do something great for the benefit of others.  That may sound corny but I’m not selfish in that way.  Maybe that comes from having served in the military; an environment where you have to work as a team for the benefit of the team and not just for your own self-interests (well, at least at the field level – headquarters positions can be quite different).

Sure, it’s nice to receive recognition for a job well done.  Everyone likes to be told they are appreciated, but I find that I get very uncomfortable standing on a stage to receive an award.  I’d rather let the act speak for itself, say a quiet thank you and blend into the background.  I don’t have a massive ego, just compassion and a desire to make even one person’s life a little better.

Some people say that you can have whatever you want in life if you are determined enough and work hard enough.  Well, I have tried but it seems like I’ve been knocked down so many times I fear that the fire may be dying.  Sometimes people and circumstances just won’t let you achieve what you desire no matter how noble or selfless the cause.

I always thought I’d be able to transition into retirement with ease; that one day I would happily take off the uniform, proud that I did a good job, and pass it on to the next generation of police officers.  I always had interests outside of policing and didn’t feel that policing defined who I was; it was just something I did with pride and honour.  I did have plans for post-policing work and still plan on pursuing those ventures.  I’m already pursuing one, that being a published writer.  What pains me is why I took off the uniform; how it was ripped from me before I was ready to close that chapter of my life.

I never got a plaque or certificate, from either my police service or from my association.  It’s like I never even mattered.

I’ll still be that guy running at the gunman or standing at the door with a pen, even though I don’t have a badge anymore and am retired from the military, but the kicks to the heard are getting pretty painful.

Sources:  https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/opp-commissioner-launches-suicide-review-1.4804715, https://www.lawenforcementtoday.com/whats-breaking-point/?fbclid=IwAR03_UtH4NO4l8m9k-J4J1D3mBejHlCwTe-GEQlRVo2k5iUhdysGzU23xGs

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/mixed-emotions-and-great-betrayals/

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