By Sean Riley
A dear friend of mine always says and he’s right, “We treat our cars better than we treat our first responders in addiction who are going to die”. When the red light comes on in our vehicles we immediately take the vehicle into the mechanic and have it assessed, evaluated and fixed. When we’re dealing with the alcoholic or addicted first responder, the red lights come on and as a profession we will enable them to protect our partners (blind loyalty), try to fix the problems ourselves (which only a professional can do) or cast them aside and throw them away as if it is someone else’s problem (the easy way out).
The diseases of addiction and mental health when combined are two of the deadliest diseases known to mankind, yet they are the only two diseases that we allow the first responder who’s brain is incapable of making logical decisions dictate the terms of treatment. Maybe for fear of not offending them, ending their career, who knows there are many other reasons usually associated with “The Thin Blue, Red, Green Line”. Ultimately I have determined that the main cause is that “It’s always been done this way in the past”. This is why Safe Call Now exists, an organization that is willing to change the culture and thinking of an entire profession that experiences these diseases at twice the rate of the general population according to some studies and some say even higher. Who knows? I just know first responders are dying from it.
I want to speak with all of you about the alcoholic and addict mind and what the first responder may be thinking and doing when they are in this situation. I am familiar with this because I was “That guy”. The guy who would lie to your face, smile, tell you everything is alright, convince you that everyone else is crazy, function within the work environment, control the situations, create drama within others to direct the attention away from me and convince you that I was right. Fortunately or unfortunately I do not think like you.
Alcoholics and addicts usually have above average intelligence (I would like to think so) and are very creative because we’ve had to be to get what we want and manipulate situations to obtain our main objective… to get the alcohol or drugs at any costs. I remember when my supervisors were impressed with my ability to “Think outside the box” to solve complex cases. The reason for this is I felt I had to perform at such a high level that it would divert attention away from me and my drug use. On the outside I was “That guy” people were coming to for advice on creative ways to solve cases which fed my ego all the while I was falling apart on the inside and in my private life. It’s kind of ironic that my thinking was so delusional in nature, my brain was hijacked by the disease of addiction and there was no logic to my decision making and I was able to convince others that I was this brilliant “Guy” (or at least I thought so). Yet somehow I was able to make it work for over 23 years and as I progressed through my disease I really felt I was superior to others. I’m not proud of any of this and it is actually very embarrassing when I look back upon it all.
Over my 23 years in alcoholism and addiction the little red lights on my mental dashboard came on, I showed them to you but you didn’t know what to look for or you didn’t know how to handle it because it’s not a part of your training. Let me give you some examples (I think I could write a book on this, there goes my ego again)… While I was exceeding expectations, people were amazed with my work and I remember people saying, “Sean does crazy stuff, his thinking is crazy but he solves these cases in amazing fashion”. If people are telling you an employee is crazy, they probably are, no matter how well they are performing. I remember a Captain once told me that my days were either off the charts better than anyone else’s or off the charts worse than anyone else’s, there was no middle ground. Sound familiar? First responders are type-A personalities usually all in or all out.
Coincidences equal clues in my book and that’s one that was missed. Ironically for me, the biggest red lights I put out there were very insignificant to others and they were the little things. I remember that first day when I stopped shining my shoes; let my physical mailbox at work get out of control, not answering emails, having personal mail delivered to the department… “Normal people” don’t do these kinds of things. Once I started letting the little things go, it justified in my mind each and every compromise I would make next and I would convince you my actions were right (delusional thinking). It really is the “little things” and the “little red lights” that come on that will indicate to you something is wrong.
These diseases when left untreated are progressive, chronic in nature and will always lead to jails, institutions and death. I had two of the three down and had attempted the third but was too much of a coward to complete it. What I do know today is that I have to put as much effort into my sobriety as I put into being an alcohol or addict. My disease is sitting out there in the parking lot doing push-ups every day waiting for me to fail so it can kill me. I’ve had people tell me that working for Safe Call Now® and helping others must really be the catalyst for keeping sober.
It’s actually quite the opposite. Safe Call Now is my career, what I do outside of my profession to take care of myself is what keeps me sober. My old alcoholic and addict behaviors do come out from time to time and I have to be on guard for them constantly. I still make mistakes but they don’t ruin my life anymore and I’m able to deal with them without substances, not always in the best manner but much better than when I was in the disease. It’s a lifelong battle for me and I try to live by… “If I have one foot in yesterday and one foot in tomorrow, I just threw away today”!!! All I really have is “Today” and I’m good with that! The good news is, that when treated these first responders will be the most resilient employees you have and will usually outperform their peers.
Today in the first responder profession we have more highly educated, highly trained employees who have been vetted out extensively both physically and psychologically yet they are imploding inside and the greatest danger to them is not the “Bad guy” on the streets, the “Burning buildings” or the “Convicted murderer” in the prison cell… it is themselves! I’m not a mathematician but I can clearly see that these numbers don’t add up? It’s why we exist and do what we do… Saving the lives of those that protect us… one call at a time! Stay safe out there!!!
Safe Call Now: 24 Hour Hotline: 206-459-3020