by Rev Kevin Coughlin, PhD
When I was a younger man, I took an oath to protect and serve my fellows. I wore a shiny badge on my chest, a bullet-proof vest, and carried a powerful weapon. At academy, I was at the top of my class, a squad leader, and an expert shot. I wore a blue uniform and polished black boots. I loved my job. We had codes for this, and codes for that, we had our own language. We were a special breed!
Some guys thought they were John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, or “The Rock.” Some were close to retirement, bitter, and gray. Others were young, inquisitive, and active. To some it was just a job, and for others it was a calling. The older guys had a tendency to look at every citizen as if they were all criminals. I guess they had seen the bad side of human beings for far too long. Some thought they were above the law, and better than other men. Me, I was the rookie! My main job was to get the older guys coffee at first. That wasn’t what I had signed on to do!
One fall evening I was sitting at the front desk with an icepack on my left knee. I had taken down a three hundred and fifty pound man during a scuffle to arrest him, earlier in the shift. I smashed my left knee on the road as I subdued him. Just then a call came in that there was a house fire near the station. I forgot all about my knee and sprung into action. My partner and I headed to the scene.
When we arrived, the house was totally engulfed in flames; there were live wires shooting all around us, dancing like giant snakes through the air. I tried to vent the house with an axe from the trunk of our car; the glass exploded in my face and temporarily blinded me. My partner started to go into the front of the house. We could hear screams coming from within; I looked up and the roof was about to cave in. I grabbed my partner’s gun belt and threw him over and behind me as the roof came down.
We both had been breathing heavy smoke for too long. It felt as though our shoes were melting from the heat. I had saved my partner’s life, but the elderly couple that had lived in the house didn’t make it. We couldn’t understand why the couple couldn’t get out. Later on we found out that the elderly man was crippled. The wife had refused to leave the husband, the ultimate act of commitment. The fire trucks arrived within minutes, which seemed like hours. Both my partner and I couldn’t breathe and needed oxygen. We were both taken to the hospital for burns and smoke inhalation. We were released later that night.
I was treated like a hero for saving my partner’s life, but I felt like a total failure because the couple had died. They called us heroes; we sure didn’t feel like heroes. We both heard their screams in our minds and dreams for many years after.
I was a twenty year old without the tools to cope with such a tragedy. I was in the newspapers, on the television, the radio, and given a commendation. I still felt like a loser! I stuffed the pain, not telling anyone how I felt. I was a mess for a long time. Granted, I knew that I had definitely risked my life for others, but that still wasn’t good enough. There was no counseling, therapy, or support group. It was just me in my twisted thinking and unrealistic expectations of myself. I hope that anyone that deals with a tragedy of this magnitude gets help in coping with such a loss.
“Drunks fear the police, but the police are drunk too.” – Rumi
This profession is at the top of the list for alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide. I’m glad that I have a different calling today. I have little respect for the John Wayne types, but all the respect in the world for those who are really committed to protecting and serving the public. They go through Hell seeing the bad side of life all the time. God bless them and keep them safe.
Thanks to some inner healing, I am free from the voices that haunted me for so long. Today, I understand that I did the best any human being could do. I’ve learned not to be so hard on myself and that I’m not superman. I’ve seen too much death for any lifetime. I have learned coping skills to deal with this grim undertaking.
Today, I help others to overcome grief, and help them to learn coping skills to live life on its own terms. “You can comfort where you have been comforted.” I often share my experience, strength, and hope to help others succeed. My true calling was to help others; it just wasn’t the original field that I had chosen. Today, I am able to impact many more lives in a positive way through education, awareness, prevention, research, teaching, and designing programs. “The truth sets us free!”
©2014 Rev. Dr. Kevin T. Coughlin PhD
About the Author: Rev. Kevin T. Coughlin, Ph.D, is a Master Coach, trainer, writer, poet, speaker, a Diplomate Christian counselor and therapist. He is Board Certified in Family, Developmental, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Grief Counseling. The Reverend is a NCIP interventionist, a Domestic Violence Advocate, Associate Professor for DCU, a Provincial Superintendent (to be consecrated a Bishop in the Spring of 2016) and an expert in the field of Addiction and Recovery. Kevin is the Director of a Residential Recovery Facility New Beginning Ministry, Inc. and President and CEO of Phase IIC Coaching, LLC., an Instructor at TAA, and an Associate Professor at DCU.
The Reverend has over forty-seven years of experience with the AA program. He has been working in the addiction recovery field for almost two decades, has helped thousands of individuals and their families overcome all types of addictions,: substance abuse, alcoholism, process addiction, shame and guilt, relationship and communication problems, anger management, inner healing, self-image, interventions and much more. He is a published author with one book in the UK and three here in the United States, and has published thousands of poems and articles published throughout the United States and other Nations. He has been interviewed on numerous radio talk shows and published in magazines, newspapers, books, and online publications. Learn more here: Facebook, Amazon and Rev Kev’s Recovery World.