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The day I put a gun to my head

Understanding and accepting that you have human weakness is your greatest strength

I sat in my apartment alone, the room illuminated only by the light coming from the TV. I watched the changing colors dance across the satin blue finish as I opened the cylinder and loaded the .357.

The past five years — one fifth of my life at age 25 — had all been wasted. I’d gone to college, gotten my degree and even graduated as the “outstanding” Criminal Justice student.

Yet, despite my best efforts police jobs were tight and no matter what I seemed to do I couldn’t find a job.

We Were Through
She had made it tolerable by being there for me, and telling me that it was just a matter of time, and that things would work out.

We were in love and had talked of marriage. We had problems in our five-year relationship, like every couple, but nothing that our love for each other couldn’t overcome.

Then she told me we were through.

I tried to decide if I should put the muzzle in my mouth or press it against my temple. I would have loved to have picked up the phone and called my best friend. I had been the best man at his wedding. He was off doing what Army Rangers do, in undisclosed locations on confidential missions, and he wasn’t taking calls.

I had never been so alone.

I pressed the muzzle to my temple and cocked the hammer my finger going to the trigger. I had no future. 

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t blow my brains out.”

“There’s always tomorrow.”

I put the gun away and went to bed. I have been told that putting down that gun was an act of courage. I felt a great burden lifted off my shoulders and a resolve to never come to that point again.

I’d like to tell you that the next day the phone rang and she had changed her mind.

That call would never come.

I’d love to tell you that the next day the sun seemed to shine a little brighter and birds sang a little sweeter, but they didn’t.

She Knew Too
The fact is, the next day sucked. Just like the days and weeks that followed, because unfortunately change never seems to happen as quickly as we would like it. But, I was alive to embrace the suck.

It wasn’t easy but I kept plugging away at trying to find a job. I had given up on dating knowing that I could never love someone the way I loved her.

About three months later, I saw a face in a crowd, our eyes met and I knew.

She knew, too.

Two years later, (remember, things take time) we married and in the same week I became a police officer.

No, we didn’t live happily ever after — that only happens in fairy tales. Life still hands us good and bad. We lost her dad to cancer. My wife’s brother and my cousin would commit suicide.

There are the ups and downs of family, life, and profession. The good days far outweigh the bad ones. We have more excellent days than we are entitled to and after almost 30 years we still love each other a little more each day. So while it’s no fairy-tale ending, it’s pretty damn sweet.

Not Even Me
The first article I wrote for PoliceOne was called “The F-Word.” 

It was about the fears that I — that we all — face as police officers. I wasn’t sure what the response would be. But, in the dozens of responses I received publically and privately, cop after cop thanked me for saying what needed to be said.

Others thanked me for letting them know that they were not alone in their fears. The one that stuck with me most was from a former chief petty officer trainer at the Naval Warfare Center. How often do you get complimented by a SEAL instructor?

That is what makes writing this article OK.

No matter who we are, we are all human. We try to pretend the carnage and mayhem of this profession doesn’t affect us, but it does, and that’s ok because we are human. Sometimes life hands us more burdens than we can bear and we need help to carry the load.

If you need help, reach out and get it.

If you see another officer weighed down, do what you can help lift the load.

If you aren’t enough, get them help.

If you are a line supervisor do you practice a bottom up supervision? Does your organization value its’ people, their most valuable resource, enough to create a climate that encourages looking for help when it’s needed? If not, what can you do to change that?

If you are an administrator do you foster an atmosphere that promotes an understanding that we all need help from time to time. That seeking help is a sign of strength not weakness.

It takes strength to know and admit when you are over your head. It takes courage to stand up, admit you have a problem and ask for help. I think Lt. Col. Dave Grossman says it best, “No one takes my life without one hell of a fight, not even me.”

Suicide is the top killer of cops. I’ve been involved with writing about the tenants of Below 100 and have seen the results of the Below 100 initiative with a dramatic drop of in the line of duty deaths in just the last two years. It required a change in culture. What can you do to change the culture to reduce the number of officers that will take their lives in the future?

Understanding and accepting that you have human weakness is your greatest strength. By acknowledging your weaknesses you give yourself the opportunity to strengthen them. You learn to work within your limitations. You know what you can handle and what you can’t and you know when to call for assistance. By ignoring them you give them the strength to grow and the power take over your life.

I still have that gun. It was my first sidearm and I carried it on duty for years and it kept me safe and protected from harm.  I kept it for that reason and because every time I see it, it is a reminder.

“There’s always tomorrow.”

What will you do with your tomorrow?

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