We Are Not Immune

First responders are people first. We think a lot like everybody else, act nearly the same, and have similar dreams and demons. We succumb to the same temptations, and a percentage of us are prone to addiction. But most of us believe that we are above it. We live hard, party hard, and convince ourselves that we are protected because we are the protectors.

We are not. Far from it.

I’m not much of a statistics guy, but I pay attention to the people in my life. The ones who are cops, firefighters, correctional officers, and ER staff are a lot more like me than the people who work outside my world. We lean toward the daring side of human nature. Maybe it is because of the things we experience. We expose ourselves to tragedy, expecting to avoid it in our own lives. We see the worst, and we are expected to act the best. We are the people society puts on a pedestal.

Until we fall. Then we are not frail human beings. We are disgraces to the uniform, the profession, the human race, and civilization. Our frailty is exposed, our friends turn their backs, the press has a field day, and social media is merciless.

We are sorely mistaken if we think that we will be given special consideration if we make a mistake while under the influence. A nurse who steals pain medication is not looked upon the same way as a wife who helps herself to her husband’s back medicine. An off-duty firefighter who is charged with a DUI is front-page news rather than a police report. An off-duty police officer involved in an altercation while intoxicated is judged harshly.

Nobody cares that we are people struggling with addiction making bad choices. There is no kindness and understanding when we fail. It’s just a jury of our peers, and their verdict is guilty as charged.

Recognizing our problem as something we can treat before we lose everything is essential. I know that the games we play to avoid getting well are nearly impossible to overcome, but overcome them we must. Ruining our reputation, relationships, and career because we didn’t know how to get better is truly tragic, and avoidable.

Alcoholism and drug addiction are lonely diseases. Even when we are in the company of other addicted people, we are essentially a crowd of lonely people. We will not get away with it and be the 90-year-old person surrounded by loving friends and family telling colorful stories. We will die miserably. I’ve seen it, over and over again.

We didn’t magically acquire the tools to be first responders—we had to learn how. We will not magically get over our addictions, either. We need to find a way. We need to plan. We need to implement that plan, and we need to do it now, before something happens, rather than after.

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