I’m Damaged Goods, But …
My wife hates when I say that I’m damaged goods, but it is true. I’m damaged both physically and psychologically. However, the vast majority of people will never notice, unless they looked very hard for a long period of time, or are very close to me.
Before I continue I want to make one thing perfectly clear, isn’t that what politicians say immediately before saying something that is untrue, or anything but clear? I’m damaged goods, but I’m Okay with it!
This Isn’t a Poor Me, Sob Story
Lately when speaking with other retired police officers, first responders and veterans, many of them have said, “I’m Damaged Goods.”
I replied with “I am too, welcome to the club.” And then we laugh and laugh and laugh. No, the laughter it isn’t gallows type humor. For me the laughter comes from one simple fact, that my life today is pretty damn good. I enjoy my life and look forward to what another day as a retired police officer can offer.
Yes, life is very good now, but it wasn’t always that way. As a matter of fact I’m grateful to be alive. I’ll explain about the dark days later.
Why do I say that I’m damaged goods? To me damaged goods doesn’t mean worthless, broken or less valuable. Instead it means that I’m scarred. Have you ever seen a scratched, or dented television, or refrigerator that is offered for sale at a store? They may lower the price a bit because of the appearance of the product, but it works as well as an undamaged model.
I Have a Permanent Line of Duty Injury and P.T.S.D.
I don’t like to use the word disabled, because I don’t think it is accurate. It doesn’t describe my abilities; to me it seems to state that I can’t do anything physically or mentally. Nothing could be further from the truth!
After a period of time, I have learned to be able to do almost everything I could do before, both physically and psychologically. The physical limitations of my injury, which involved multiple surgeries, steel plates and the total fusion of a major joint, was easier to learn to live with then the mental injuries. But, I have learned to live happily with both.
The vast majority of the time, my wife and I will forget about my physical limitations, only to be reminded. … Hey, you still can’t do that.
In spite of the scars, I call them my street tattoos, which I can’t help but see every day, I can still forget that there are a few things that I can’t do without assistance.
When I forget, only to realize that I am still not able to do these things, I don’t beat myself up emotionally, or wallow in self- pity. I often remind myself, that those steel plates and scars are a reminder that I’m still alive, even though that person was trying their best to murder me, all those years ago. As that guy was trying to shoot me, I remember thinking that this guy was trying to kill me and the thought that came to my mind was … I’m going to die, but it won’t be tonight and it won’t be because of you—insert multiple profane expletives.
I won’t go into a lot of details about that night, but it was a classic case of an unarmed suspect, trying to shoot me with my service weapon. It was truly a life or death battle for my handgun, and by the grace of God both he and I survived.
That Incident Caused My Lifelong Permanent Physical Injury; It Was Also One of Many Incidents That contributed to My P.T.S.D.
I don’t like to talk about those incidents and with the exception of two of the suspects; I don’t even remember their names. Nor, do I want to. I look forward to and hope for the day when I don’t remember those two names anymore.
In addition to all the violence and trauma that many American law enforcement officers/first responders experience, I was also involved in four separate shootings and two very close calls. Again, by the grace of God everyone, including the suspects survived.
As I stated before, I don’t like to talk about these incidents, and to be honest, the details are not important. For you see, this article is not really about me. This is more for those law enforcement officers, first responders, veterans that are suffering and maybe having thoughts of giving up.
Life Is Very Good Now, but It Wasn’t Always That Way
I was first diagnosed with P.T.S.D. back in 1989. I was having troubles with sleeping, drinking too much to get to sleep. I couldn’t relax and was having problems with my marriage. I was still working and doing well as a law enforcement officer. As a matter of fact, I thought that to some degree the hyper-vigilance and always being on guard might have helped me survive on the streets.
The truth is after a couple more years it got much worse. My marriage was failing; I was drinking until I passed out every night, hearing gunshots right next to my ear as I was falling asleep. The nightmares … wow, I don’t even know where to start to describe them. They were a combination of replaying actual violent events, and at times other events that had never occurred. These would replay in my head, night after night. I would awaken often, my now ex-wife telling me that I was fighting a tremendous battle while asleep. Every day I would awake absolutely exhausted.
I was unable to relax, I was on guard 24/7 and many things like a certain brand of car, or song, too much noise, too many people moving about, would cause me to be ready for a fight for my life. Eventually, I began having problems eating. I would get hungry but then immediately become nauseous when I started to eat.
My wife and I argued constantly and I was filled with remorse and shame that I had let them all down.
I Began Seeking Real Help, and Found Little
There were only two major P.T.S.D. support systems at the time. One was for combat military veterans and the other for sexual abuse survivors. I was neither. I was a Cop.
As a result, I was hospitalized voluntarily four times after being retired due to the symptoms of the P.T.S.D. and subsequent depression. The large amounts of alcohol I drank every night to sleep turned out to make things much worse, but it was the only relief I could get.
Eventually, I gave up drinking and was given prescriptions for Ativan, Klonopin and similar medications. However, those just made me very slow, more depressed and increased my thoughts of ending it all.
During my last hospitalization, on a locked down Psych ward, I was told by doctors, that I would probably spend the rest of my life in and out of mental hospitals. They had only one thing more that they could try with me. It was “electroshock therapy,” also known as “electroconvulsive therapy.” I had seen the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and there was absolutely no way that I would let them do that to me.
About that time, I became aware of a treatment center for law enforcement officers and I was convinced they might be the only place that could help me. I contacted them. They had the staff at the psychiatric hospital send them all of my P.T.S.D. records.
Sadly, they stated that they weren’t licensed by the State to treat someone that had symptoms as severe as mine, so I was denied.
I struggled for another six months finding no help anywhere. Everywhere I turned and went for assistance, I felt as though I wasn’t understood and was treated differently. Moreover, I wasn’t allowed in the combat veterans or sexual abuse survivor groups.
After another bout of suicidal thoughts, I contacted that treatment center for law enforcement officers for one last plea for help. I was told they were recently licensed to treat people like me. It was a 28-day program and I stayed for 64 days.
There, I was among other law enforcement officers who were struggling with the same issues. Not all of them had P.T.S.D., but many of them did. I no longer felt like a freak, I was with people who understood, and more importantly, treated by doctors and therapists that comprehended the traumas that first responders experience. They showed and taught me the tools that allowed me to slowly rebuild my life to the point of where it is today.
I tell others that I’m symptom free, which means that my life is not dominated by either my physical or mental injuries. I have occasional nightmares, but they are few and far between. There are things that I don’t do, the list is not important, but from what I understand very common. I still sit with my back to the wall where I can see people coming, I’m on guard more than most people, but nothing like it used to be. I’ve been sober for a very long time and I am happily remarried. I travel and my life is very enjoyable.
Unfortunately, the place I went to for treatment closed a long time ago. However, one of the people that was part of the staff there, and is a retired law enforcement officer and therapist started a unique program for law enforcement officers, first responders and veterans at Transformations Treatment Center in Delray Beach Florida. The program is called Help For Our Heroes.
Transformations Treatment Center’s Help For Our Heroes program, is where law enforcement, firefighters, veterans and all first responders who are struggling with substance abuse and/or P.T.S.D. or other co-occurring mental health disorders receive the separate and highly specialized treatment they need. Their program features first responders and veterans helping first responders and veterans.
For those that are suffering, as I did, or will be, please do yourself a huge favor and check out the law enforcement officers, first responders, veterans Hope For Our Heroes treatment program at Transformations Treatment Center, (888) 991-9725.