None of us ever wants to admit defeat. It is not in our nature. What makes it even more difficult for people like us is what we do. We are the ones going in, giving aid, support, sacrifices and sometimes even our lives in order to save others. We are supposed to be the invincible ones and for the most part we are. But ultimately we are all human; we act and react differently to situations both in and out of the “job”.
Pressure, stress and pain are pretty much unavoidable in all forms; both physical and mental or a combination of any of them. How each one of us deals with these stresses; such as self-medicating and isolating, is what separates us from our families, loved ones and careers.
Since most of you don’t know me here’s a brief history. Some of you might be able to relate to my story or know somebody who can. I grew up in a middle class home on Long Island, attended good schools, and was active in my community and successful in my career. I was also a functioning alcoholic for 30 years of that. In my mind nobody knew about my drinking and I was great at hiding it, or so I thought (like by drinking vodka so nobody would smell it on my breath). What a fool. The talk behind my back was always there from my family, co-workers, friends and ultimately of course, the guys at the firehouse. I choose to believe that nobody would suspect me to be a drunk. I was, after all a Firefighter, Station Lieutenant, Assistant Chief and then Chief of Department and we are all supposed to know better than to drink on the job or anytime else that it isn’t appropriate.
The addiction and the progression of the disease brings all things to an end sooner or later and more times than not it’s a bitter end. Things like marriages, families, jobs, friendships and, ultimately for me my fire service career, are lost or at least strained to breaking points.
Having been asked to resign after 17 years of service because of my addiction and lack of desire to get help I continued to drink and it progressed to the point of me going to detox and treatment for the first time. I was not successful with my sobriety after my 28 days there as I was still not ready or willing to accept that I simply could not drink like other people and I relapsed. I was then in a drunken fog for over two years and completely miserable. After two very dark years in my life that included detoxes, seizures, hospital stays, legal issues and living as a non-person, I was finally able to see that if I continued on this path of destruction I was going to die. Alcohol had defeated me and I had to admit to that.
I finally reached out for help and got into a residential treatment facility and did six months inpatient treatment for which I completed successfully and have not found it necessary to drink since July 13th, 2011. It’s an amazing feeling of freedom and spirituality that I have never felt before in my life.
One of the biggest things I could not let go of was my embarrassment, disappointment in myself and shame of having to resign my position as Chief and my membership after almost 17 years of being a part of something that meant so much to me and for which I was not willing or able to make a choice to correct in order to try and save. Drinking was more important than my career and family at that time. I now see that if I had addressed my addiction years ago and sought the help that was offered to me none of this would have happened. But it is my story and I can’t change that. What I can do is share my message to others and hopefully reach as many people as I can and get them the help they deserve. It doesn’t have to be this way for anybody else who l has an obsession to drink or drug like I do. There is no time like the present to make a change in your life.
There is nothing more rewarding than hearing the words of encouragement and support from the people in your life about how you turned your life around and that they want nothing but the best for you and your future; a majority of whom were the ones talking about how much of a loser you were not so long ago.
Help is available today to just about anybody who truly wants to start their lives over again or can see a pattern forming and want to get help before things progress. Addiction crosses all lines and genders. It also can affect our loved ones as well. Taking the first step isn’t as hard as you think and the rewards are priceless.
About the Author: Don Prince is an Ex-Chief of the Brookhaven FD who served 16 years with the department. He was a member of the Rescue Squad, a rescue diver, served as Station Lieutenant, First and Second Assistant Chief. He was also a member of Shirley Community Ambulance. He is also a person in long term recovery and shares his story with others so that they may able to relate to it and know that they are not alone. He is the co-founder of The Station House Retreat, an addiction and mental health treatment facility specifically for those in public safety sensitive jobs. He can be reached at 561-282-8685 or toll free at 855-525-HELP anytime day or night.