by Nathan Nixon
Police Officer (Retired)
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?
What happens when you see things and do things that no one else should ever have to endure? What do you do with these things when they are forever burned into your anatomy? What do you do when the citizens say the police should not show emotion because it is a sign of weakness?
What do you do when you see or hear of a brother or sister falling, being killed, simply because they wore the uniform? What do you do when no one understands the bond you have? What do you do when you know that this officer’s family and children will never seem them again, that you will never see them again? What do you do when your agency tells you that you cannot go to their funeral to get some sort of closure, albeit, very little closure at that? What do you do? What do you do when your agency does not allow you to talk to anyone about this event, but instead sends you straight back to work? What do you do?
What happens when you are injured on duty and all of your co-workers and friends from the department stop speaking to you, they do not call to see how you are doing or if you need anything? What do you do when you feel alone, isolated and hurt? What do you do? What do you do when the doctors tell you that you will never return to the profession you love so much? What do you do? Do you find things to occupy your time? Do you sit in a chair at home and hope that somebody calls to find out how you are doing just so you can hear their voice? Do you sit at home injured and wonder why this happened to you, and what you did so wrong that no one wants to talk to you anymore?
What do you do when you feel alone, isolated, and that you have no were to turn? When your mind is playing tricks on you and telling you that leaving this earth would be better than living this hell.
Do you turn to alcohol or drugs? Do you turn to violence against your spouse, children or family? Do you ponder suicide? What do you do?
You may say, I do not do any of these because the things you say here are not part of my life. Well, these are the harsh realities of police work; they are what every police officer goes through at some point or another.
You may say, this is what you get paid to do, and you may be correct. But what happens when the helper needs help? What happens when the helper asks for help, and time and time again is told, no we can’t help you?
You say no officer should be forgotten, but it has happened. After I was injured, I was all but forgotten by my department. After my divorce, I was told this is a personal issue and we cannot help you. I was told that I needed to suck it up and get over it, because life is hard.
I went through many failed relationships because of trust issues. I yelled at my children for no apparent reason. I would wake up having flashbacks to the night I was injured, or some other traumatic, unexplainable event that I witnessed that no other human being should have to see. I asked for help and was turned away or told I had the wrong kind of insurance. I knew something was wrong, but since no one wants to help me, I guess I will have to find my own way of dealing with it.
I stay to myself, I do not open up to others, and I keep my mind occupied so that I do not think of my physical and mental battle scars. Under all of this, I am scarred, Battle Scarred. These are scars I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Through my trust issues and failed relationships, I will always be scarred. Through my children growing up and becoming men, I will always be scarred. Through my divorce and new jobs, I will always be scarred.
People will ask, what is wrong with you? I will tell them I am battle scarred, and even though I cannot get the help I need, I will help you, because this is the type of person I am. We are! When I am feeling lonely and the slightest noise wakes me up out of bed, and I search the entire house with my gun because I think someone may be inside. You may say this is crazy and you are not scarred, you are insane.
I would challenge you and tell you these are the signs of someone who is battle scarred and who suffers from PTSD. You may not be able to tell from the outside that they have PTSD. You may only be able to see that they have a limp when they walk because of their injury, but underneath the physical scars, they have PTSD. Something that they deal with every day, and very few will try and help them.
We need to help all those with PTSD, because as humans, we should all have the right to live a good and healthy life, free of disease and defect. Brothers and sisters, I have been through all of this, and I have come through a much better person. With the help of a few good friends, I am winning the battle against PTSD. But we need to do so much more before we turn to alcohol, drugs or suicide, which is often the case, and makes instances where our agencies do have to become involved.
I challenge you to seek out and find those, like me, who are battle scarred. Tell them that you’re here for them, show them that you are here for them, and never give up on them. These people are a valuable resource to you, and their battle scars can teach you so much.
Lastly, please remember that physical battle scars can be seen, but mental battle scars cannot. Do not put someone off who is battle scarred mentally, because this is the not solution to the problem, and will most definitely make it worse.
I may go through hell, and I may deal with my physical and mental battle scars on a daily basis, but I rise up, through it all. I love my kids, love my life, and I deal with it, live through it and somehow seem to overcome it. Some days are good, some days are bad, but every day that I am able to wake and live this life, is a good day!
About the Author: Nathan Nixon is the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona, a position which involves training and planning facilitation services for 21 Native American Tribes in Arizona. He is a thirteen year police veteran in Arizona.
He started his career in 2002 with the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office where he served in the Patrol Division as a Patrol Deputy. In 2004, Nathan transferred to the Casa Grande Police Department. He became a Field Training Officer where he specialized in training newly hired officers in police department practices and served as the department representative for the state auto theft task force. During his career in Casa Grande, Nathan received two Critical Response awards for his response to calls with armed suspects, where he was able to diffuse the situations calmly and quickly.
In 2010, Nathan transferred to the Hualapai Police Department, where he served as the Administrative Officer, overseeing many duties to include re-writing of Departmental Policies and Procedures, and coordinating officers’ schedules. During his career with the Hualapai Police Department, he became the departments first Commercial Vehicle Inspector. He conducted a traffic study for the department, that is currently used to obtain grant funding for issues related to traffic enforcement and investigation.
Nathan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Emergency Management from Grand Canyon University, as well as a Master’s degree in Disaster Preparedness also from Grand Canyon University. He has been an Associate Faculty Member at Mohave Community College in the Administration of Justice Section, where he instructs students in the field of Criminal Justice and Policing.
Nathan volunteers his free time with the Local Amateur Radio Clubs. He currently holds a Technician Class License and is actively involved with local emergency response/preparedness activities of some of the amateur radio clubs.