Jun
11

Reflections on a Career, Dark Moments

By

STIGMA_tough_cops_ask_4_help_posterI want to warn you reader that this entry into my reflections of a career series will be filled with some dark content, I would ask that if you are easily offended you not read this entry. I will not describe scenes in great detail but none the less some of the things I will mention here are not pretty or pleasant.

We talk about the adventure of law enforcement, the up moments, the exciting calls, the great arrests. These are the things that get people excited about law enforcement, the things you see on cops. There is a darker side to law enforcement, that isn’t talked about very often or seen by others. These are the things of nightmares that most cops keep bottled up in the recesses of their mind. They live with these sights, sounds and smells for a lifetime. I bottled this stuff up for years-I never communicated. I bought into the machismo of the profession. Let nothing bother you, or at least never let anyone know it’s bothering you. You must be in control, which is what we are paid to do. People are quick to complain that cops act as automatons at times, uncaring, unflinching jerks. Police officers are always at a disadvantage, we have NO clue what scene we are going into and who has intentions of fighting, fleeing or cooperating, or even when cooperating when that cooperation will end and the person(s) will become combative. So we disconnect, at the scene of a crime or a death we need to be in control when chaos is all around, we need to think rationally and not get emotionally involved when inside we want to hold the dead child lying in the street and cry. We see our own children lying there, or our parents or spouses. But we can’t feel, or show emotion. If we lose control there is no order at the scene. So disconnect from it. The culture of Law Enforcement is never let them see you sweat. Cops are brutal to one another, and the first sign of weakness is pounced on. I’m guilty of doing it and I’ve had it done to me. Weakness can’t be trusted and so you don’t show it. You bottle it up, and when a police officer is in trouble mentally who does he turn to? Sometimes he turns to the bottle more and more he turns to the gun.

When things in your personal life spin out of control coupled with work issues and scenes that just spin around in your head. Scenes such as watching a man burn to death in a car that you had no way of getting to him. Getting there as he screamed his final screams and hearing those screams even as I type this. Investigating why someone would lie on the Amtrack tracks, or step out in front of a speeding Acela train and not even leave a suicide note.  Walking the tracks assisting the ME in recovering body parts and then having to tell the parents that their daughter was killed and the manner in which she died. Getting called to a house in which the occupant hadn’t been seen in over 6 weeks only to enter and be overcome by the smell. Seeing literally hundreds of flies and finding the person in the bathtub where they’d been for 6 weeks. Countless hanging suicides, drug ovedose suicides or accidental deaths. Bags over the head with helium pumped in to commit suicide, gun shots,  stabbings, car wrecks, gruesome injuries. These things NEVER leave you.

In 1997 I became one of those police officers that decided I would be better off dead. I was suffering from depression that I could not shake. Shift work was messing with my body, I had personal issues I was dealing with and I decided I was going to end it all. I sat in the bar of my home crying and stuck to gun in my mouth on countless occasions. My finger was on the trigger and I applied pressure. I couldn’t do it. My thoughts turned to my children and what if they found me. I didn’t want that for them. You see my mind wasn’t worried about leaving them; I was convinced they’d be better off without me. No I just had enough compassion to not want to screw their lives up by having them find me. So my next plan was to have an “accident” at work. I’d pull a car over on the highway and then accidentally step in front of a truck. No rational thought I was gone and I had a plan. I started talking and said the wrong thing (turned out to be the right thing). Someone over heard me say something that struck them as odd and immediately brought it forward to a supervisor. I was relieved of duty, sent for mental screening in which I lost it. I broke down and spoke about feelings I had bottled up since childhood. Brian Finnegan, who shortly after that left for the FBI, saved my life. From that moment forward I was a changed man and police officer. I was an advocate for mental health and suicide prevention for police officers. I was the catalyst in getting a chaplain in our police department; I became a train the trainer in Suicide Prevention and have taught many others on the signs to look for. I have been a member of the NJ Critical Incident Response Team and developed programs educating new officers AND their families on what to expect in law enforcement and the mental changes that will happen. I’ve counseled many officers who have sought me out for private counseling and have NEVER shied away from the fact that I was suicidal and came back from the edge. I told everyone who would listen including college students, high school students and countless police officers. Just to tell them that you only need to hang on one more second. Seeking help DOES NOT MAKE YOU A WEAK PERSON OR WEAK POLICE OFFICER. You must reconnect and reattach. You must talk about how a particular situation or scene effected you. You must grieve, you are HUMAN. Seeking help makes you a stronger person. The easy way out is to end it, the hard way is to face it and come out on the other side. I understand the despair and desperation   but also know the elation of coming out of that. It wasn’t easy, I spent a year in counseling and was on medication for a year. I still fall into bouts of depression but recognize it.  I’m here 16 years later at the end of my career knowing I’ve helped more than a few people and that is something I will always be proud of.

Categories : Family Life

Comments

  1. Jan M. Bayern says:

    I only wish that I had known at the time Eric. I knew something was happening with you, but not what. I tried (sometimes with great difficulty)never to pry into your personal lives, but understood that some of you and I would be closer than others by virtue of personalities and common interests. For others I could only hope that I could keep an open door (and mind.) I know all too well about major depression and how it will literally suck life from your soul. I can tell you that I hit a low point when I was forced to stop working due to my illness. I spiraled to a depth I didn’t even know I had. I’m still taking medication and am faithful about it.

    I cannot tell you how glad I am that your frustrated comments were overheard, reported and an intervention made before you could act further. And I’m thrilled that you’ve engaged in a treatment plan that works for you.

    Be well, Eric.

    Jan

  2. Melynda says:

    Your words brought back some dark times I have had in my life. Getting through them makes the next dark time easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

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