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You are not alone

September 2022

With the recent deaths of Constable Andrew Hong of Toronto Police and Constable Travis Gillespie of York Regional Police, it’s important to remember that there may be people, both police officers and civilians, who may be having a hard time dealing with their deaths. Friends and family need to watch for this and be prepared to act with compassion and understanding. It may not be in the immediate days; it may take months or years to manifest. For some, it may be the final event that drives them over the edge. I know.

I’m a retired police officer who suffers from PTSD. For me, it wasn’t one incident that caused my mental health to decline, but a cumulative effect of various events. For some, whether emergency services or not, all it takes is one traumatic event.

It’s quite common for those suffering to do so in silence, using increasing amounts of alcohol and/or drugs, including prescription drugs, to numb the emotional pain. That can lead to some very bad places. Remember, you are not alone.

One of the major tenants of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) is the ”anonymous” part. It’s important, because some people, especially early in their recovery, may not want everyone to know they are an alcoholic, because many still view alcoholism as a weakness. “Why can’t you just put down the bottle?” many will ask. “Because I can’t. I need help.”

I have no problem admitting that I’m an alcoholic in recovery, because it’s better than being a practicing alcoholic. Of course, I’d rather be neither, but it didn’t work out that way for me.

“Why can’t you have just one drink?” ”Because, I can’t have just one drink.”

At my A.A. home group, there is a chalk board that always has the saying ”Remember, you are no longer alone.” That is an important thing to remember, because when you are in that room, you are with people just like you. They may have taken different routes to get to that point, but they are there for the same reason you are: they are alcoholics and they are there to support you, if you want it. You don’t have to be in recovery if you want to attend a meeting; just a desire to stop drinking.

The first time I went to an A.A. meeting, over a year before I finally did quit drinking on 4 March 2016, I wasn’t at that point where I was ready to stop drinking yet. In fact, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there; it’s just what people tell alcoholics they should do, isn’t it?

I remember nervously walking in the room, not wanting anyone to talk to me or ask me any questions (like are you ready to quit drinking?). In fact, I didn’t want anyone to even see me.

Sitting there and listening to everyone certainly didn’t help me in deciding if I really belonged there. I listened to people who talked about how they had lost everything. They had lost jobs, sometimes multiple jobs, relationships, family, children, homes, money, their dignity, etc. I didn’t feel that I had anything in common with there people, as I still had a good job, my house, food in the kitchen, money in the bank, my daughter, my family. I just couldn’t relate to these people.

What I didn’t realize was that I did indeed have a problem. I used to have 2-3 drinks before I went into work, numerous after work and sometimes, 1 or 2 at work. On my days off, I drank anywhere from 6 to 14 drinks. Oh course, in my mind, I didn’t have a problem because I could control when and how much I drank to a certain degree, for example, if it was the days that I had my daughter.

Remember, I was not only a police officer, but I was also a breathalyzer technician. I still have a very vivid memory of catching someone in a RIDE spot-check, with a bottle of beer in the centre console, which was something that I used to do too. When I had her back at the police station to provide a breath sample into the Intoxilyzer instrument, I still remember thinking that this just as easily could have been me providing the breath sample.

For the record, I hadn’t been drinking during that shift.

Of course, very few people close to me (family, friends and co-workers) knew, as I hid my drinking and suffering it as best I could (some of us get quite good at it). Some people saw things, but I can’t really blame them for not acting, as it can be quite awkward to confront those who are suffering. Two co-workers did ask me on one occasion if everything was OK, but I lied and said I was OK. I wasn’t ready to admit anything was wrong, which is an important part of recovery. It’s actually Step 1 of the 12 Steps to Recovery.

Once I was ready to admit I needed help, I did figure out that I actually did have something in common with the people at that very first A.A. meeting: I was an alcoholic and I needed help. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t lost everything!

I also joke that I my checklist reads like a stereotypical burnt-out cop: Divorced: Check! Alcoholic: Check! Had suicidal thoughts for a period: Check!

Now, over 6 years into my sobriety, I still go to A.A. meetings occasionally, but not as often as I’d like to, as you are never really out of danger of slipping back into your addiction. I’ve known of alcoholics with 15, 20, 25 years of sobriety who took that “one drink.” I find by going, it reminds me why I need to stay sober and, more importantly, that I’m not alone.

The same thing goes for those who are suffering as a result of traumatic events, even if they aren’t an alcoholic/drug addict.

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/you-are-not-alone/

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