People talk about suicide, and how first responders are particularly vulnerable. They talk about PTSD, and peer counseling, and the importance of mental health. They talk about how to avoid the pitfalls that so many of us get tangled up in – things like isolation, compartmentalizing, denial, poor eating and sleeping habits and depression. Substance abuse gets the obligatory mention, right alongside all the rest.
Well, I’ve got some news from somebody who has been there. Substance abuse is the number one hazard that any first responder who is struggling with their sanity faces. Alcohol abuse, due in large part from the socially accepted indulgence in it leads to poor choices, and the more severe the person struggling’s descent into the pit of despair, the poorer those choices become which very well could, and does lead to suicide.
A major problem is the reluctance to address an alcohol problem. Tell somebody that you think he or she is drinking too much and the result is anything but pretty. People hang on to their right to drink like everybody else long after they have lost the ability to do so. To the person who is contemplating suicide, the thought of losing one of the only things that brings them peace is absolutely terrifying. They will fight to the death for the right to keep drinking, and often do just that. They die from self inflicted gunshot wounds, asphyxiation from hanging, blunt force trauma from vehicle accidents and poisoning from overdose.
Then there are those who lose their lives slowly. Liver disease, dementia, cardiac arrhythmia that leads to cardiac arrest and kidney disease are just a few of the manifestations that are created solely by the daily assault on our systems from the peace bringing, and life destroying ethyl alcohol.
Our celebrations always involve alcohol. We believe that to not indulge is somehow shameful, and an insult to the spirit of the gathering. We think that we will be thought less of if we don’t join in. Our biggest fear is that we will be left behind, ignored and ostracized by those who can drink responsibly, and it always appears as if that group includes everybody we want to be with.
The bad news is, we will no longer be part of that group if we choose to abstain to save our own life. It won’t be a hostile separation, and all of the right things will be said, “good for you,” and “you know what’s best” among the most frequent things you will hear. But there will be a shift, and you will feel uncomfortable, but slowly and surely the desire and need to be part of the gang will be replaced with an overwhelming sense of purpose. That purpose is the good news. Clarity of thought returns, a sense of place begins to grow, one that does not depend on the drink to be nurtured, relationships improve, and life begins to appear to be worth living.
Putting down the drink alone is not enough however. Person’s contemplating suicide have travelled a very dark, lonely and hopeless path. The impulsiveness that accompanies intoxication may have been lifted, but the underlying cause of the addiction lies dormant, waiting for the opportunity to return. Keeping that beast at bay is the lifelong challenge of the person who chooses to address their addictions.
The best news is, you are surrounded with proof that life is indeed worth living, even if it must be done without the assistance of intoxication. People who live sober lives carry with them one addiction, they love to help others who struggle with the same affliction. It helps keep us on track. Communities exist for people like us, places that welcome us, accept us, learn from us and stay sober with us. American Addiction Centers is one of many resources that will lead you in the right direction.
Thanks for reading. By doing so you have helped another person who struggles with addiction find purpose and contentment.
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