“Battle Scarred”

by Nathan Nixon
Police Officer (Retired)

Nathan Nixon

Nathan Nixon

In the Law Enforcement profession, they teach you about helping others and doing what is right, to make a difference in society. These are all good attributes and ones that Law Enforcement Officers do every day, most of the time without thanks or praise. They do it because they love it, and it is considered a noble profession. But, what about the things they do not tell you: the long hours, miserable weather conditions, the horrific examples of the way humans treat other humans. How do you deal with these things?

Most will tell you that you need to compartmentalize and keep these sights and sounds buried deep inside you, not tell anyone about them. They will tell you that you need to find a way to deal with the stress of the job. No one ever really gives us any useful information; it is figure it out as you go.

What happens when your marriage falls apart because you had to work the weekends and holidays protecting others? You missed out on spending time with your family, and your spouse gets tired of not seeing you, and leaves you. What happens when you become a single parent because you are working crazy hours, and your kids begin to suffer? Worst yet, what happens when you begin to suffer because you do not sleep well, eat well, and are not working out like you used to? What happens when your agency tells you that these are personal issues, and they will not get involved unless it starts to affect your mental wellbeing? What happens when you want to reach out for help, but are scared you will be ridiculed by your peers, or sent to a fitness for duty exam? Continue reading

Join the Voices of Recovery

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Addiction and Post Traumatic Stress: Avoiding a Crisis in Your Home, Workplace and Community

Presenter: Peggy Sweeney, The Sweeney Alliance

Program Description:
Depression, addiction, and post traumatic stress are today’s hot topics. National, state and local leaders scramble to find a “fix” for these problems, but are coming up short on results. Budgets are being stretched, medical costs are increasing, and family cohesiveness is being strained. The numbers of those most in need are growing at an astounding rate. Sadly, too many waiting for help are turning to suicide to cope. This workshop addresses these issues and provides valuable resources available to every person, including our community first responders – law enforcement officers, 911 dispatchers, firefighters, and emergency medical service personnel.

Trauma Recovery

Dr Anna Baranowsky
Traumatology Institute

Published on Jul 18, 2014
Dr Anna Baranowsky talks about the tragic suicides of police, EMS, military members and other care providers. Who is responsible and what needs to be done about it. She encourages wounded warriors everywhere to get help and know that you are not alone.

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“What happens when we are not recovering after a traumatic event? Dr. Baranowsky explains trauma response and approaches for recovery. Over 85 % of people surveyed were exposed to trauma in their life time. Trauma is not unusual and the ability to recover is wired in our bodies. Sometimes we just need some guidance along the way.” Dr Anna Baranowsky

Cutting the Onion on Firefighter Depression and Suicide

F.I.R.E.S. Within (Firefighter Increased Risk Exposure to Suicide)
by Shannon Pennington
North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network

Shannon Pennington

Shannon Pennington

This is not a pretty subject to even mention in a fire house or around the kitchen table unless it is about the civilian death or attempt that took place on a shift recently. Why is it that we can do the  post-mortem discussion around the table on them, but when it comes to us we clam up? All who read this know and have some sort of understanding that suicide is a sickness in the individual that ended up with that person dead. No coming back from that. As we have looked around the fire service community of late, one cannot but help notice that the body count of firefighters who have taken their life, for whatever reason, is on the rise.

Fire service leaders have finally started to ask the questions that need answers. For me, one of the most obviously stated questions I have ever heard came from a chief in a round table discussion on the subject. He stood at the table in his white shirt, with radio on his hip, cell phone attached on the other, beautiful gold badge and gold name tag on his shirt and announced to the room, “all I want to know is why are my men killing themselves? Can someone tell me?” Continue reading

Brotherhood in the Fire Service? – One Wife’s Point of View

by Becky Leveillee

chris-leveilleeMy name is Becky and I am the wife of a great Firefighter/EMT. Chris has been a great husband and a great person. Unfortunately, for the last two years he has suffered from PTSD. This serious problem has changed him in so many ways.

In the past, he would do anything for anyone, loved his job, and loved his life. Since he started showing symptoms of PTSD he has changed in so many ways. He is depressed, full of rage, rude, can’t sleep, and has been in the hospital a few times for wanting to kill himself. He feels like a failure. Continue reading

There is No Superman! – The Role of the Spouse in the Fire Service

by Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance

Peggy Sweeney

Peggy Sweeney

Over the years, I have been very fortunate to not only instruct firefighters, but many of their wives or partners as well. When I would ask them for comments, questions, or feedback, I usually got little or no response. Understandably! Wives or partners are very reluctant to talk in front of their spouse about their feelings, their fears, or what is in their hearts. Many spouses wonder why the warm, loving, and carefree person they married does not come home like that anymore.

I will tell you that I know what many of you fear: that your spouse or partner may be struggling mentally and emotionally with the traumas of their job. You realize that what they see, hear, taste, and feel on a recurring basis is beginning to play a major role in how they view life, living, and their job. When the call goes well, life is good! When their best efforts to save a life or protect property from ruin do not end positively, it is a BAD DAY!
Continue reading

For You Brother, I Will

by Eric Paniak
Firefighter

paniakAre we really saving our own?
We talk about brotherhood—
We talk about saving our own—
Are these things that only happen on the fire ground?

Why is it that when one of our own is having emotional problems we alienate or isolate them? Our job is inherently dangerous and mentally taxing on our families and firefighters. When one of our own has an injury or physical illness, we support him and his family. But let that illness be depression or substance abuse, and we back away like it is contagious. Continue reading

Slow Death of a Firefighter

by Timothy O. Casey
Firefighter/Paramedic (retired) Published Author

Tim Casey

Tim Casey

Who takes care of us? Our families? They try, I know mine did. But the average or normal person cannot share our experience, they can’t imagine what we do or see.

As a firefighter/paramedic for more than 30 years, I can safely say I have pretty much seen it all. I have seen death in every incarnation and life as well. We on the front lines are not invited politely to join in the fray of life; no, we are thrust into chaos on a daily basis, it’s our job.

It is to say the least an unusual profession, no two days are alike and no two emergencies are alike. The environment is rarely predictable and the events and people even more unpredictable. Yet we go.

Who takes care of us? Our families? They try, I know mine did. But the average or normal person cannot share our experience, they can’t imagine what we do or see.

I know many days I felt like a human garbage collector, picking up the waste of society. People although fascinated with the gruesome, macabre, or terrifying only see it from a distance. We hold it in our hands and get it on the soles of our boots. Continue reading

Line of Duty Death

by Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance

Peggy Sweeney

Peggy Sweeney

Local newspaper headlines report the sad news of another fallen hero. The tragic death of a brave firefighter who has died in the line of duty. A dedicated professional who sacrificed his or her life that others may live or that homes and property would be saved from the ravages of fire. Most people halfheartedly acknowledge the event while searching for more significant information relating to their personal lives; a baseball score, stock market figures, want ads, or horoscopes. This newsworthy article is often overlooked by the casual reader. Civilians cannot relate to this type of tragedy nor can they comprehend the depth of grief and pain that every member in the fire service feels. Their lives will not be changed by this tragedy. Unfortunately, this is not true for the family and co-workers of this fallen hero. Life as they knew it will never be the same again. Emotions run rampant and their seemingly normal lives spiral into a frightening and dark abyss where pain, loneliness, and grief are constant companions. Surviving this personal tragedy is, at times, almost unbearable. How does one survive? What lessons can be learned from these experiences? Continue reading

Help for Depression and Post Traumatic Stress

by Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance

“It is an established fact that stress and traumatic events influence a person’s susceptibility to heart attacks, strokes, and other medical problems. I strongly believe that fire departments [as well as police, EMS, dispatchers] must recognize the importance of programs that focus on depression, post traumatic stress, and suicide prevention. Training them to deal with trauma, stress, and grief is no less important than training them to be safe on the fire ground.

“No longer can job-related stress in the fire service be ignored. It is the duty and responsibility of every fire service officer to provide for and enhance the emotional wellness of his or her department as well as themselves if needed. Without the support and dedication of everyone traumatic stress and grief will continue to take a toll on firefighters and their families”. ~~Peggy Sweeney Continue reading

Jane

by Robert Cubby

Robert Cubby

Robert Cubby

I am reminded of an experience that took place at a police funeral and the aftermath, the loss of an officer to suicide.

It was December 2005. We lost two officers in a motor vehicle accident where their emergency services truck drove off an open drawbridge in dense fog on Christmas night. The bridge was shut down because the lights and gates that would stop traffic when the bridge was in the open position weren’t working. They  closed the bridge entrances in Kearney and in Jersey City. The Jersey City unit in Kearney was running low on flares and the emergency squad truck drove over the closed bridge to give them more flares. After wishing each other a Merry Christmas, the emergency squad headed back over the bridge to Jersey City. Due to the thick blanket of fog,  Sean and Robbie didn’t see that the bridge was open and they plunged to their deaths. Continue reading

My Story of Addictions and Recovery

by Kevin Tape, Firefighter
Quincy (Massachusetts) Fire Department

Kevin Tape FF.jpgHello, my name s Kevin Tape. I was born (1970) and raised in the city of Boston, Massachusetts. I attended twelve years of Catholic school and graduated from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy with a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Engineering (1992).

I became a full time firefighter for the City of Quincy in 2000 at the age of 30. The city of Quincy borders Boston to the South and has a population of 90,000+. The Quincy Fire Department has 200 full time firefighters, 8 Stations, 8 Engines, 1 Rescue and 3 Ladder Trucks and, on average,  10,000 runs a year.

I began drinking at the age of 16 and attempted suicide a year later. I didn’t know what depression was and chalked it up as a bad night and was happy it didn’t work out and moved on.

I was a binge drinker and a social drinker, mostly beer with occasional hard liquor as shots. Many times I went on “the wagon” and could stop for weeks to months at a time. Shortly after getting my driver’s license, I was pulled over for speeding and had 3 friends in the car and 2+ cases of beer in the trunk. Somehow, I did not receive a ticket or field sobriety check, dumped the beer and was sent on my way. Continue reading

The Twelve-Step Approach to PTSD

by Joel Brende, MD

Editor’s Note: It has been stated many times that first responders have a kinship with Vietnam Veterans. Why? Because, like these Vets, they are asking – no, demanding! – help  in coping with the horrific images, nightmares, and the other mental and emotional casualties of their professions. Lewis Epright, Sr., a Vietnam Veteran and firefighter, has asked me to share these twelve steps that he and others have found invaluable in coping with their traumas. Thank you, Lewis, for your service and your friendship.

vietnam.jpg

US military casualties at Hue during the VC Tet offensive – Jan-Feb 1968

Step One (Power)
Our first step is to accept the fact that we have become powerless to live meaningful lives. Even though we had the power to survive against the worst combat conditions, we must admit we have become powerless to win the battle against a new enemy—our memories, flashbacks, and combat instincts. Some of us have become powerless over the continuing wish to gain revenge over those sudden impulses to hurt those who cross us or unsuspectingly annoy us. We even hurt those who try to love us, making it impossible to love and care for our friends and family. So we isolate ourselves and cause others to avoid, dislike, or even hate us. Our attempts to live meaningful lives and fight this psychological and emotional hell which imprisons us seems to be in vain. We now find ourselves powerless to change it. Continue reading

Trees

by Robert Cubby

Robert Cubby

Robert Cubby

I always loved having trees around my property. They are so strong and majestic. In the spring, they blossom and give the promise of new life after a long winter. During summer, they give us shade and cool spots to sit under. All kinds of birds find their homes or places to rest in trees, as do so many animals. Scientists tell us that trees sweep carbon dioxide out of the air we breath and supply oxygen. In the fall, they display all their beautiful colors and paint the landscape with so many colors. In the winter, their branches are covered with snow making the property look like a winter wonderland.

They are strong and resilient. They can bend so much with the wind and still spring back to their original position. Some branches may come down occasionally, but they seem to weather the storms year after year and come back. Storm after storm, year after year, they are always there for us to enjoy. You have to wonder how old some of them really are and how many storms they have endured, how much punishment they have absorbed. It’s amazing that some trees have been around longer than the USA was a country and probably stood and gave shade to the first settlers in the New World. You can plot out the history of the tree by counting its rings, and actually imagine what had been going on in the area where the tree stood. Continue reading

Peter’s Journal Of Survival

by Peter Platt
Badge of Life Canada

Peter Platt

Peter Platt

My name is Peter Platt and I am both a PTSD and breast cancer survivor. I use a cane and I also use a service dog. Many times over the past eight years, I’ve had people ask me, “How long has the dog been in training?” I tell them, “He’s my dog, he’s not in training and he helps me with my disabilities.” There have been a number of times people have said to me, “Well, you don’t look disabled.” How does one respond to that? I never can.

PTSD is an invisible disability and I have been dealing with it since 1992. This is where my story begins.

I was nineteen years old when I joined the Ottawa Police Service in 1969, eager to save the world. It was about 3:00 am one October morning in 1992 when my world started to crumble around me, while patrolling Centretown. I was driving around the streets looking for a large tree to drive into to end my life. I had never felt this strange feeling before, but I felt it a few times after that morning. As well, I felt a sudden, deep depression. I called my sergeant, who came to me in what seemed like seconds, and I explained to him how I was feeling. He followed very closely behind me while we drove to the station. I changed out of my uniform, went home and never returned to police work again.

Continue reading Peter’s story here.

My Grief This Day

by Robert Cubby

Police Officer Melvin Santiago

Police Officer Melvin Santiago

This past week, I received word that a member of my former police department was murdered in an ambush while responding to a robbery in progress at a Walgreen’s store. This was hard and devastating news to hear. I always like to think that these sad events touch others, but they somehow miss our police department.

But it is the sad truth of our times and our profession and should be something we should expect. It seems easy to say those things when you are not involved or the officer, although a member of your former department, was hired after my retirement so I never got a chance to meet him or know him. Continue reading

First Step Hope: Not All Wounds Are Visible

The Sweeney Alliance is proud to announce our newest educational experience for emergency responders and law enforcement professionals: FIRST STEP HOPE: Not All Wounds Are Visible. Peggy Sweeney, editor of the Grieving Behind the Badge Blog and Mr. Shannon Pennington, founder of North American Fire Fighter Veteran Network, present a very unique, interactive dialogue addressing grief and traumatic loss, PTSD and suicide intervention.

Continue reading

Finding a Positive: Pushing The Stigma Down

by Robert R. Devonshire Jr.

Bob Devonshire

Bob Devonshire

Diagnosed almost two and a half years ago, I am finally at a place that I feel good again. I feel like I can now deal with my issues on my own and have been for a while. I am not sure what worked to get me here, but I do have some ideas.

By far one of my biggest concerns has been the stigma of having PTSD. It took me some time to figure out that I just had to tell people about it and if they have a problem with it that it is their problem and not my problem. If you have been following me in Firefighter PTSD – a closed group on Facebook – you know my story and you know I felt a need to talk about my experiences in hopes of helping someone else.

At first, I hid behind the title of the page and was simply “firefighter PTSD” to the world. I confided in my closest friends and they listened to me when I needed to talk and they supported me when I needed it. Some stayed strong and true to me and a few drifted. That’s ok, I still appreciate them all. Continue reading

Survivors of Suicide

by Peggy Sweeney The Sweeney Alliance

Peggy Sweeney

Peggy Sweeney

Suicide is a serious topic that we rarely discuss. Yet, each year thousands of adults and children either attempt or complete suicide to resolve problems or put an end to emotional pain. As a result of their deaths, surviving family members and friends not only grieve but must cope with feelings of guilt and anger as well.

According to the American Association of Suicidolgy, statistics show that in 2011 approximately 39,500 people completed suicide. Suicide was the tenth leading cause of adult deaths in the United States; homicide ranked sixteenth. Specifically, more Americans kill themselves than are killed by others. Men completed suicide four times more often than women. An alarmingly high rate of suicide deaths was seen in young adults age 15-24 (third leading cause of death for this age group). Approximately 959,100 suicide attempts are made annually. For every suicide death, it is estimated that an average of six family members and friends will experience the pain of grief; a figure I believe is very low. “A rate increase was seen from 2010 to 2011, continuing the recent rate increases after long-term trends of decline”. Continue reading

Resilient and Stronger

by Sgt. Mark St. Hilaire

Resilience: The ability to recover or adjust easily (1); the ability to become strong, healthy or successful again after something bad happens (2).

Sgt. Mark St. Hilaire

Sgt. Mark St. Hilaire

2013 has been a year which has tested many first responders’ resiliency, mine included.

The test for me began on April 15, while I was attending the ILEETA (International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association) conference in Illinois.  I received a text message from an out-of-state friend telling me that a bomb had gone off at the Boston Marathon.  The Boston Marathon comes straight through the middle of my community.  I started calling some of my officers who were back home to find out what was going on.  I was barraged with more text messages from family and friends checking on me.  The initial reports were confusing, but I soon found out that my community 14 miles west of Boston was safe.

I experienced mixed feelings through the rest of that week.  Many friends at the conference, my family and personal friends assured me that I was where I was supposed to be. Continue reading