Firefighters are fortunate; we have two families, one at home and one at work. But when our drinking gets out of control will either family be there for us? Maybe they will, and maybe they won’t. Most of how our families react to our problem depends on how we have treated them. Do we nurture relationships or shy away? Are we honest with the people in our lives or is there a secret existence that they know nothing about, but probably suspect? Do we project the image of a person willing to listen and accept help? Probably not.
Firefighters have strong personalities. People with alcoholic tendencies are masters of self delusion. Combine the two and you have a delusional person who knows everything and can handle his or anybody else’s problems just fine, thank you very much! By the time I got around to facing my drinking problem I had established, without the shadow of a doubt that I would not listen, that I already knew everything there was to know about everything, and that I would never allow myself to be helped. I was the helper, not the other way around. I fixed the broken, put the fires out and made things right.
My two families let me be the maker of the disaster I was creating not because they did not care, or did not see a problem developing; rather they knew from experience that their well meaning suggestions would be completely ignored. There were moments that I might have been reached, but those moments were scarce, and unpredictable. I remember waiting for somebody to save me from myself, and wondering why nobody would. Then, I would come to my senses, have another drink and convince myself that I didn’t need anybody anyway.
When I realized that I was on my own because of my behavior I decided that I was the person who needed to come to the rescue. I was a firefighter after all, and that is what we do. The rescue itself was fairly simple; all I had to do was open myself to the possibility that maybe, just maybe having people in my life who understood what I was going through might be a good idea. The question was which people? Both of my families had been trained to ignore me and my self-destructive ways. We had an Employee Assistance Program and a truly great guy running it, but I didn’t want him to know that I needed help. (alcoholic thinking is called “stinking thinking” for a reason) I had a few friends outside the job but didn’t want to bother them. Again I thought I was on my own.
I remembered a family member from years ago who had some mental health issues, and the psychiatrist I found to help her. What the heck, I figured and made the call. It wasn’t long after that that I found myself at an AA meeting, a day sober and looking forward to what was next.
People have called me thick headed, and I did my best to live up to the moniker. Having two families turned out to be not enough. I established a third; the people in recovery and those who treat them. What I learned is vitally important for my continuing recovery; there is always support. I had to reach out in a different direction than most, but what I needed was there, it always had been. It was present at home, and at work but for some unknown reason I needed more. Thankfully, what I needed was waiting. Struggling with alcohol or other addictive behaviors is life as usual for far too many people.
Once the addiction gets us it is nearly impossible to get rid of it on our own. Beginning the process, however, is something each and every one of us can do.