by Kevin Tape, Firefighter
Quincy (Massachusetts) Fire Department
Hello, my name is 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.
At age of 17, I was arrested for minor in possession of alcohol and fined $50.
At age 18, I was found to be drinking underage in my college dorm. I received extra duty and was given 4 weeks of restriction, unable to leave campus and frequent check-ins on the weekends.
At the age of 20, I was speeding again and was intoxicated. The Trooper signaled me to pull over and I knew I was toast. I had 7 people in a big, old car and from the back seat I heard, “You can make it!” and I was off. I was chased by two State Troopers and was able to elude arrest. Then, I began to think about the consequences of losing my Coast Guard license, my career and my driver’s license.
I could not stop drinking and driving. My family had moved and I would drive back and forth to hang with friends or they would do the same. I never learned to drink responsibly. We used the most sober person would drive rule.
At the age of 25, realizing again my career and dreams of joining the fire department would be crushed, I decide to quit drinking cold turkey, no recovery, and unaware of Alcoholic Anonymous. I did not drink for 5 years and was appointed to the fire department. Two months after graduation from the Fire Academy, I figured I could handle drinking again. My logic was who could quit drinking cold turkey for 5 years if they had a problem?
On my 33rd birthday, my union hosted a statewide union convention. After drinking for about 12 hours, I passed out and awoke unaware what happened. Returning to my car, I was overcome with emotion, sorrow and hopelessness. I didn’t want to die, but knew I couldn’t carry on like that. I contacted the fire department’s Human Resources Department for an E.A.P. program and they replied an E. A. what? I was on the ledge and left on my own.
My wife was a Human Resources manager for a large manufacturing company with an E.A.P. and I utilized the program. This was the first time I had been diagnosed with depression. I had suffered for 17 years. I was placed on a low dose antidepressant, Wellbutrin, and continued this medication for 9 years.
Now, I could go weeks or months without drinking. I still ended up binge drinking and became a blackout drinker. I began to only drink with friends or family at my Man Town complete with bathroom, beer fridge and 53 inch flat screen and surround sound. I was ok with others drinking and driving home as long as it wasn’t me.
I began to avoid social drinking situations; weddings, funerals, parties and work functions that involved drinking. I never drank at work, but did report to work hung over and less than 100%. Eventually, I did drive intoxicated many times without incident and tried getting rides and cabs but could not condition myself to be responsible. I also liked to play ice hockey and now avoided night time leagues that revolved around drinking. I tried controlled drinking, but would occasionally slip and black out.
I began playing video games as an outlet to keep me occupied. I began with the Wii and liked to play World at War and Call of Duty. I had to buy a second Wii so that my daughter’s wanting to play wouldn’t interfere with my playing. I evolved to the Xbox 360 playing World at War, Call of Duty, Zombies, Black Ops and Modern Warfare. I quickly was playing 5 hours, then 10 and 15 hours a day. For an 8 month period, I played 15 hours a day at home and work. I would play until 5 am and report to work at 7 am. I once played 19 hours, breaking only for meals and bathroom breaks.
During an 8 month period in 2011, I was totally consumed with playing and only attended mandatory family functions and minimal family responsibilities like dinner, movies, sporting events and rides to/from school. I had isolated myself in my basement rarely interacting with friends, family and guests. I had built a wall to keep everyone out, stress to a minimum and separation from reality. I was in survival mode and felt like I was in a bubble and one more problem would suffocate me. On one occasion, my wife came down, stood in front of me tears coming down her face and said, “I can’t compete with this” and I said, “Oh well, can you step aside.”
This was not me. I used to be a caring, compassionate person. I was fully addicted and unable to ask for help. I use the analogy of being in cold water, winter time and being unable to grab a floatation device. I needed to be rescued with a basket.
At this point, a friend intervened and asked me if I was happy. I said not really. He then asked if I would be willing to talk with someone. I said I had done that before and it barely helped but at this point it couldn’t hurt, I had no other option. Again, I didn’t want to die, didn’t want to live. Relieved, he told me he would like me to go to a place called the On Site Academy in Westminster, MA. They treated Police, Fire, EMS and Public Safety for trauma and addiction.
They did an intake to determine what services I would need. This intake was about one and a half hours and revealed a revelation that I suffered from PTSD. It was recommended that I complete a five-day residential treatment program. At the end of this intense week, and being introduced to the 12 steps of addiction, I admitted that I was an alcoholic (December 18, 2011). I also realized that I was a severe video game addict and a behavioral addict, hobbies were my addiction. After three months of treatment and 200 AA meetings, I returned to work and my wife asked for a divorce.
It is important to note that my chief and department chose not to help, support or consider my treatment job related. I used 45 days of my own time, but On Site saved my life. Their motto is “You matter, You count.” Essentially, this program is suicide prevention.
From that day to the present, I have remained sober and in December I will hopefully have three years of continuous sobriety. It took me two years and another serious bout of depression to finally sell all of my game systems and games. I continue to be active in AA, attending meetings and meeting sober friends. Date night now includes dinner and a meeting, going to the movies, walks, concerts. All without drinking.
It is important to note that I did have support from my union and my housemates and a few other department members and that made a difference.
I have returned for 2-5 days of treatment this year, but I have remained sober. I have the awareness to reach out for help and use the tools I have gained. I continue to struggle with depression and have been take Celexa for 2 1/2 years and recently added Lamictal as a mood stabilizer.
Presently, I have received training in Group and Individual Intervention to help my peers and I attend seminars related to suicide. If I can help you in any way, please feel free to contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org.