I Wanted the Pain to End… My Journey to Healing Begins

By Mark Honzel

I was a police officer in a medium-sized, violent, Midwestern city.  After 19 years in patrol working various positions as a housing authority officer, a FTO, a K9 handler, and patrol officer I was beginning to have some problems.  I was not sleeping, I was having nightmares, I was hypervigilant, I was anxious, and I was drinking too much – to “help” me sleep and to “help” with the nightmares.  I was worried about how I was going to handle the next dead kid; I had recently performed CPR on a child and an infant who both died.  I had started seeing the police chaplain and then a counselor.  I had depression, anxiety, and PTSD from all of the murders, suicides, vehicle deaths, and violent encounters I had been involved in.

I was at wits end; I didn’t want to die but I wanted the pain I was in to end.  I took FMLA.  I thought that no one knew what I was going through.  I didn’t know where else to turn.  I thought that someone, somewhere in the country had to have dealt with officers in crisis.  At 2300 hours one night in April 2012, I came across a website for an organization called Safe Call Now that promised confidential help.  I called the number and spoke with a dispatcher who volunteered for the organization.  I told her what was going on in my life and that I was looking for help.  We talked for about 30 minutes and she said she would get back to me.  Less than 5 minutes later I received a call from Sean Riley.  Sean stated he was the founder of Safe Call Now and he assured me they could help.  We discussed what kind of help I was in need of.  He talked with someone off the phone and then told me they could have me on a plane at 0500 the next morning and I would be at a treatment facility by 0900.  I had to get some ducks in a row and went two days later.

I spent 30 days in treatment where I learned volumes about myself.  I received specialized treatment for PTSD called EMDR.  I received EMDR treatment, group therapy with other first responders, and individual counseling over the next 30 days.  I cannot begin to describe the weight that had lifted off of me.  I had gained knowledge.  I had gained understanding.  I had gained peace of mind.  I had gained hope.  My PTSD was in remission.  I was not the same person who walked into that treatment center 30 days prior.  I cannot describe how thankful I was to all those people who had helped me.

I went back to work as an officer but my story does not end there.  Several months later I was involved in a car crash and broke my neck.  I was very lucky in that I can walk and have mostly a full range of motion after neck surgery.  My police career was over.  What was I to do now?  I looked at teaching – summers off, right? As well as various other jobs.  But, there was something missing.  The idea of counseling and paying forward help to other officers kept coming at me.  I ultimately returned to school to obtain a graduate degree.  I graduated with a Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in June 2018.  I am currently interning with the Florian Program at Rosecrance in Rockford, Illinois.  The Florian Program is a recovery program specifically designed for Firefighters, Police Officers, Military, and other First Responders.  It is vitally important for these Florian clients to have someone who has walked the same paths as they have, can speak the same language, and empathize with their specific issues.  I, and the other members of the Florian staff, are that conduit.   I am also working at Rosecrance on a different unit until I graduate when I will hopefully join the Florian Program full time.

I have come full circle.  I am taking the knowledge and experience I learned on the streets, in counseling and treatment, and in the classroom to help other officers and first responders who are having issues.  We all deal with pain, loss, and suffering.  I am paying forward the gifts given to me by Sean and all of the others who have helped me over the years.

SAFE CALL NOW: 24 Hour National Hotline:  206-459-3020