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.


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


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

Join the Voices of Recovery

Guiding Hearts

Click here for 2014 conference registration

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.

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

Harassment in the Fire Service

by Shelly Spivey

Shelly Spivey

Shelly Spivey

My story, as my old chief used to say, is “the same, but different”. Many female firefighters experience harassment of one kind or another while on the job. Although what I went through is my unique experience, it may seem familiar to others who have tread these same paths. The names have been changed to protect privacy.

I joined the fire service as a volunteer in 1999. I was bored and was looking for some way to do something “great”. My volunteer department was very accepting and through that acceptance I was encouraged to abandon what I went to college for (education) and pursue a career in the fire service full time. It was a dream I’d had since I was a toddler, and I was going to make it come true.

The first department I worked for was a run of the mill combination department here in the South. My very existence upset some because they’d never had a woman fight fire before, and others were intrigued by the “school teacher” turned firefighter. I took a lot of flack from the other paid staff and the chief. When the freezer broke down one weekend in the summer and 25 lbs of “mountain oysters” ruined, I was forced to clean it up with no help from the guys. The chief thought it was pretty funny that I had to clean up 25 lbs of rotten goat testicles out of his personal freezer in the station. I took it in stride. Continue reading

The Accident

by Ann González

The car perched precariously on a branch
The front tires dangling in the air
She must have jumped to get out.
Her brothers teased her later about off-roading.

People came right away to help, they almost always do.
Nameless people you never can thank afterward.
The boyfriend was there, too, tall and red-eyed,
He ran all the way from his house to the crash.
The paramedic called from the ambulance.
A few scrapes and bumps, nothing serious, he said.
Thank you, thank you, I told him,
As if it had been his own personal decision to spare her.

I couldn’t believe it when I saw her.
So totally unprepared,
A neck brace, her eye swelling shut,
Her cheek raw and bleeding,
The classic bloody nose and fat lip.
You look like Rocky Balboa, her brother-in-law said.
Who’s that? she asked.
You can’t be that young, you can’t be.

I looked over at my husband
The same scared grin on his face
As he’d had when she was first born
Watching the doctors pounding on her back
Trying to get her to breathe.

Some scrapes and bumps, he told me, not that!
I must have looked horrified at my son.
If you’d seen what we usually see, he explained,
This is nothing. Sorry, I should have prepared you better.
He beat the ambulance to the hospital
His colleague had called him—
Got your little sister in the back of the truck.

He was twelve when she was born,
Used to carry her around like a football
He and his twin brother.
It’s a wonder she’s survived this long.
They remembered all the accidents they’d had growing up.
The cars totaled, the motorcycles smashed,
The golf cart that flipped, the bicycles,
If it had wheels, I used to say…
Now they are both EMTs, payback time, I think.

How’s she doing? He called later from work.
How’s my little Banani, nani? His voice cracked.
He used to call her that when she was little.
And I knew how much he hurt.
For her, for me, for himself.
And all the things he couldn’t say.
She’s fine, I said. Don’t worry.
Thank you for being there tonight.

Ann González

Ann González

About the Author: Ann González is a professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies in the Department of Languages and Culture Studies at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. She is originally from North Carolina, but lived for years in Costa Rica. She is the mother of five children including twin sons who are both now firefighter/EMTs. She has written a number of books and articles on Central American literature as part of her academic career, but she began writing poetry last year as a way to relieve the stress of caring for her 91-year old mother with Alzheimer’s.

Welcome to My World

by Robert Cubby

Robert Cubby

Robert Cubby

Many of us have been touched by the changes trauma has brought to our lives. These changes have been grouped into a category of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Let’s break that down a little. Post means after. After what? Trauma – hence, it is past the trauma; after the trauma took place. Stress, what the body goes through to cope  with an insult to it. Disorder, the interesting part. It connotes that at sometime we had order and now we don’t.

We know from our experiences that things now are all out of order. We learn to deal with them, to try to bring order to the disorder. During our therapy, we hope to eventually gain the ability to cope with our disorder. Sometimes, by doing so, we come to the conclusion that we’ve changed somehow and that we need to deal with that change. We accept that change and embrace that change. Continue reading

Discrete Solutions

by Don Prince

Don Prince

Don Prince

As I talk to more and more first responders throughout the country, it is apparent that we aren’t doing enough to help our brothers and sisters deal with the stresses that we face both from critical incident responses and the PTSD that can result from them as well as dealing with everyday life which can add a ton of extra pressure on our lives.

We all deal with these issues differently, and not always in the most healthy ways. And it’s not just about the drinking or using other substances to alleviate the stress. It’s also about how we might start to isolate from our families and friends, lose interest in things that used to give us pleasure and purpose, like the firehouse or fishing or going to the beach. The list is endless. The point is, there are solutions, discrete solutions, to what messes with our heads and it’s OK to ask for help. It only gets worse with time. The most popular emails or messages I get from men and women from every corner of the county is, I thought it was just me and that I was alone, but now I see I am not the only one feeling this way. You are not alone. I wanted to share this story that was sent to me from a friend who reached out and asked for help and has changed his life. Continue reading

The Knife

by Maryann Pope

In playing ball, and in life, a person occasionally gets the opportunity to do something great. When that time comes, only two things matter: 1) recognizing the opportunity and; 2) having the courage to take that swing.
– Hank Aaron

This is the fourth in a series of ten articles.
Visit Maryanne’s page on this blog for additional articles

Continue reading

Project Blue Light Memorial Ride – Ride For Honor

by Vincent Gibson


First annual Project Blue Light Memorial Ride – Ride For Honor

Date: July 13th Time 10:00 am

Place – Philadelphia, PA

Location – the ride will start at the Philadelphia Police Academy located at 8501 State Road in North East Philadelphia and will end 27 miles away at South Detectives, 24th & Wolf Street in south Philly

This ride is being held in memory of two Law Enforcement officers from different states – Joseph Gibson and David Mcllwraith because they served with honor

It is not how they died – it is how they lived .

Project Blue Light – Remembering Police Officers fallen to suicide. We will always remember and honor David and my brother, Joseph and every officer in our nation fallen to suicide. Please join me on July 13th to bring honor to these officers and their families.

For more information, contact Vince Gibson at

Firefighters at Risk ~ The Negative Effects of Stress and Trauma on the Human Spirit

by Peggy Sweeney The Sweeney Alliance

In 2000, I wrote a research paper on the effects of traumatic stress and grief on firefighters. As a firefighter, EMT-B, and mortician, I witnessed first-hand the physical, mental, and emotional traumas these men and women experience daily in the field. I strongly believe today, as I did then, that programs such as Grieving Behind the Badge and First Step Hope: Not All Wounds Are Visible must be provided to help reduce the staggering number of heart attacks, suicides, unhealthy addictive behaviors, and high divorce rates in the fire service as well as the emergency medical service and law enforcement/corrections communities in general. Continue reading

Press Release ~ June 20, 2014

Peggy Sweeney
The Sweeney Alliance

Law Enforcement Officer, Army Veteran, and Clinical Counselor Elected to The Sweeney Alliance Board of Directors

Kerrville, Texas – Peggy Sweeney, founder and president of the Texas-based, non-profit company The Sweeney Alliance, is pleased to announce that Christopher “Chris” Hancock has been elected to their board of directors.

A resident of Missouri, Chris is currently preparing for deployment for his fourth tour of duty in the Middle East. He has a special interest in issues which are unique to the first responder communities – law enforcement, fire, paramedic/EMT – with a focus on helping survivors of trauma, abuse, and victimization, suicide counseling/prevention, and grief. Chris has recently earned a Master’s Degree in Clinical Counseling. In the future, he would like to become certified as a provider of equine and canine therapies as well as incorporating horticultural (Gardening) as another therapy mode.

“With Chris’s educational background and years of experience as a law enforcement officer, soldier, family and youth counselor, I am very pleased that Chris has accepted this board position and look forward to having him share his expertise in the development of future programs for those we serve”.

The Sweeney Alliance is a global leader in educational resources addressing the emotional needs of families and professionals since 1992. In 2001, the Grieving Behind the Badge program was developed and implemented by Ms. Sweeney to meet the needs of emergency responders and public safety officers who cope with traumatic stress and grief. Today, The Sweeney Alliance continues their efforts to assist first responders through their First Step Hope: Not All Wounds Are Visible curriculum.

What It’s Like to Have PTSD

Heads Up! Having trouble understanding PTSD? Do you have a spouse, teenage children, or other family who just doesn’t understand what you are going through. Take 5 minutes, sit down with them and watch this video. Don’t tell me you don’t have the time. If you want to start on the road to healing and saving your marriage and relationships, than do it TODAY! HUGS to all of you.

While you are visiting our blog, be sure to check out all the articles and resources for emergency responders and their families.

Check out the latest educational program from The Sweeney Alliance
for your department or  training conference