by Don Prince
Former Fire Chief
None of us ever wants to admit defeat. It is not in our nature. What makes it even more difficult for people like us is what we do. We are the ones going in, giving aid, support, sacrifices and sometimes even our lives in order to save others. We are supposed to be the invincible ones and for the most part we are. But ultimately, we are all human; we act and react differently to situations both in and out of the “job”.
Pressure, stress and pain are pretty much unavoidable in all forms: both physical and mental or a combination of them. How each one of us deals with these stresses, such as self-medicating and isolating, is what separates us from our families, loved ones and careers.
Since most of you don’t know me, here is a brief history. Some of you might be able to relate to my story or know somebody who can. I grew up in a middle-class home on Long Island, attended good schools, and was active in my community and successful in my career. I was also a functioning alcoholic for 30 years during that time.
In my mind, nobody knew about my drinking and I was great at hiding it, or so I thought (like drinking vodka so nobody would smell it on my breath). What a fool! The talk behind my back was always there from my family, co-workers, friends, and ultimately the guys at the firehouse. I choose to believe that nobody would suspect me to be a drunk. I was, after all, a Firefighter, Station Lieutenant, Assistant Chief and then Chief of the Department. We are supposed to know better than to drink on the job, or anytime that it isn’t appropriate.
The addiction, and the progression of the disease, brings all things to an end sooner or later and more times than not it’s a bitter end. Things like marriages, families, jobs, and friendships are lost or at least strained to breaking points. Ultimately for me, it was my fire service career.
After seventeen years of service, I was asked to resign because of my addiction and lack of desire to get help.
I continued to drink. It progressed to the point that I went into detox and treatment for the first time. I was not successful with my sobriety because after my 28 days there I was not ready or willing to accept that I simply could not drink like other people and I relapsed.
I was then in a drunken fog for over two years and completely miserable. After two very dark years in my life that included detox, seizures, hospital stays, legal issues and living as a non-person, I was finally able to see that if I continued on this path of destruction I was going to die.
Alcohol had defeated me, and I had to admit to that.
I finally reached out for help and got into a residential treatment facility and did six months inpatient treatment that I completed successfully and have not found it necessary to drink since July 13, 2011. It’s an amazing feeling of freedom and spirituality that I have never felt before in my life.
One of the hardest things I could not let go of was my embarrassment, disappointment in myself, and shame of having to resign my position as Chief. My membership after almost 17 years of being a part of something that meant so much to me and for which I was not willing or able to make a choice to correct in order to try and save.
Drinking was more important than my career and family at that time. I now see that if I had addressed my addiction years ago and sought the help that was offered to me none of this would have happened. But it is my story, and I can’t change that. What I can do is share my message to others and hopefully reach as many people as I can and get them the help they deserve. It doesn’t have to be this way for anyone who has an obsession to drink or drug like I had. There is no time like the present to make a change in your life.
There is nothing more rewarding than hearing the words of encouragement and support from the people in your life about how you turned your life around. They want nothing but the best for you and your future. A majority of whom were the ones talking about how much of a loser you were not so long ago.
Help is available today to anybody who truly wants to start their lives over again or can see a pattern forming and want to get help before things progress. Addiction crosses all lines and genders. It also can affect our loved ones as well. Taking the first step isn’t as hard as you think, and the rewards are priceless.
About the Author:Don Prince served for sixteen years as a firefighter and then chief of the Brookhaven Fire Department, LI, NY during which time he worked at the World Trade Center site in the aftermath of 9-11.
Today Don is in long term recovery from service-related alcohol addiction which has allowed him to fill the role of a recovery peer support specialist for not only addiction related issues but also those in recovery from PTSD or other trauma. A peer support specialist is a person who has progressed in their own recovery from substance or other dependence and is willing to self-identify as a peer in order to assist others with their journey into behavioral health sobriety. Likewise, Don is a Certified DISCflex Behavioral Health Coach, International Master of Addiction Coaching, Nationally Certified Advanced Clinical Intervention Professional, private practice Recovery Coach and Interventionist, and Patient Advocate.
Don has worked with and continues to work with such agencies as Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, Fort Lauderdale FR, FDNY, NYPD and other public safety agencies both large and small.
Don is passionate in assisting first responders and their families get the help they need with addiction, PTS therapy and other job-related issues in addition to the development of innovative behavioral health care programs for these men and women.