My former police department’s union Christmas party is a version of the same thing every year. There’s food, drinks, dancing, raffle prizes, and people acting like they give a crap about what’s been going on in each other’s lives for the past year.
Last night’s party was no different.
Until I got a text message.
Earlier in the day, I had sent a message to a person that called in for peer support to The Wounded Blue (TWB), an organization I work with for law enforcement in need of a listening ear. Confidentiality is very important to the organization, because if no one can trust us in that, then no one will talk to us. And our goal is to get people to talk to us to avoid depression, anxiety, or worse.
No one in this peer support group is out to take anyone’s career or harm them in any way; we genuinely care for the safety and wellbeing of struggling current and former officers. With that in mind, I’ll call this person Billy, because that’s the name of our Elf on the Shelf, and he’s staring at me while I type.
I had talked to Billy a couple of times in the last few days and I felt like he was in a decent place, with no plans to kill himself. He was waiting to be referred to trauma therapy, because, while peer support is great, some people also need a professional to help them through their stuff. The message I sent him earlier yesterday was just checking in, making sure he was still doing ok.
Spoiler alert: He was not.
He said he was doing “terrible.”
After some time, I found out that he was terrible because his WIFE had told him that he should go kill himself because his family would be better off. Billy has had at least two unsuccessful attempts at suicide in the past couple of years.
Billy told me that he was going to take an abundance of medication to take away the pain he was in, physically and mentally. But he became vague and elusive in his text responses: Did he mean “take away the pain” so he could sleep for the night, or “take away the pain” permanently?
I asked him outright if he was planning on killing himself, and he didn’t confirm nor deny. I walked out of the party room and went into the hallway to try to get him to talk to me, but he wouldn’t answer my phone calls.
His responses easily held bi-meanings and when I read them, I went back and forth from relief to fear each time, unsure which meaning he intended.
Cool, so here’s this guy, hurting and depressed, with a lovely woman he is supposed to be sharing his life with telling him to kill himself, several states away from me, talking about suicide and not answering my calls.
I was stuck.
So I reached out to the founder of TWB for help. I told him what was going on and why I was concerned. He asked me if I thought he was going to attempt to kill himself tonight, and I said yes. Based on his history and how he was talking (and not talking) to me, the founder made the decision to call Billy’s local police department and ask them to do a welfare check on Billy.
He told me he would call me back and let me know what the results of the check were.
Have you ever been so nervous about something that you couldn’t focus on anything else, almost literally? Like a job interview, for example. Say you interview in the morning, and the company says they’ll call you back in the evening to let you know if you got the job. Good luck trying to concentrate on anything else for the rest of the day.
You try to keep yourself distracted, so you talk to people at your current job. But you only really have about half of your attention to give them. You watch the clock like a hawk, willing the minutes to tick by just a little faster. Whenever your phone dings or vibrates, you pick it up like it’s the last Xbox at Black Friday pricing, only to have your heart plummet right when you look at it and see it’s not the call you’re waiting for.
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This was the rest of my evening. I tried to talk to people but my mind kept thinking about Billy. Was there something else I should have said? Should I have called him earlier instead of just texting to check in? Did I do the right thing bringing in my peer support supervisor?
My husband was sitting next to me and he said we should just go home. I didn’t want to cut his night short so I looked around the room to see who I could talk to. Not about what’s going on, just to distract me. As I looked from person to person, I realized that my husband was right (don’t tell him I said that).
I didn’t want to talk to anyone in that room. I only wanted to hear from Billy. I was checking the time every fifteen seconds. I was gripping my phone tightly in my hand because I was wearing a little black dress with no pockets, and I did not want to miss that call.
So, we went home. My sweet husband made me a cup of tea and put on a sappy Christmas movie to calm my nerves.
I got the call during the movie. Praise God, Billy was ok. I didn’t even have specifics yet; I just knew that he answered the door for the police and he wasn’t dead.
My friend, this is a relief I can’t even describe. I silently thanked God, and went back to enjoying my rare time with my husband and watching our mushy, corny Christmas movie, my heart much lighter.
I will be calling Billy in the morning to check on him again. I am afraid he won’t talk to me anymore because he will feel betrayed that I had the police sent to his home. But I’m not sorry that I did. I hope and pray that he understands why, and that he will continue to talk to me. Because his bravery in reaching out in the first place is what’s going to get him healthy again.
Him opening up to me, sharing his story and his pain with me, agreeing to see a trauma therapist when I get a vetted referral for him…that is what will help his head get back on straight.
Billy realized that he can’t do it alone, and, thanks to social media getting the word out about peer support organizations, that he didn’t have to try to.
In that regard, be like Billy. Reach out. Ask for help. It’s not a weakness: it’s a strength. A strength to want to get control of your life again, a strength to ask for help to do it.
My heart ached this evening waiting to hear back about Billy like he and I had been old chums for years. I don’t even know Billy. I could pass him on the street and be none the wiser. But he is my brother. My brother in blue; my brother in pain. I have been where he has, I have walked the road he is on. And it. Is. Painful.
Peer support volunteers truly care, and truly want to help. Even better, they understand what it feels like to be where you may be now. They’ve lived it. They’ve survived it. They’ve turned their painful experiences into guiding lights to help others through theirs.
Use the guiding light. It may not feel like it right now, but I promise you you’re not alone. No one has to suffer alone. That realization may save someone’s life, and that’s even better than food and dancing at a Christmas party.
If you or someone you love is a first responder in need of peer support or other mental health services, please don’t suffer in silence. Please reach out to someone and get the support you need. Help is out there, you need only to ask.
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