by Rick Neeley
In 2006, my best friend and fellow police officer committed suicide while he was on the phone with me. I viewed the in-car camera footage of him shooting himself which lead to the onset of PTSD.
I lasted on the department another six months, and have struggled through PTSD which has led me on a path of suicidal thoughts, hospitalization, separation from my wife for a year and many struggles and battles on the road through the valley of the shadow of PTSD.
We get so comfortable in the hell we are in because we know the names of the streets and we fear leaving it. After years of struggling with anger, isolation, lack of sleep from nightmares, hypervigilance and many other symptoms of PTSD, when change begins to happen and you no longer have those old friends – anger, isolation, nightmares and hypervigilance – to rely on, it can be a scary thing.
You become so used to that being the norm that thoughts of feeling better, sleeping at night and moving on become frightening and overwhelming. This PTSD that was thrust upon us becomes our new identity. It defines us and holds us captive. This is reinforced by those in law enforcement who find the subject too taboo to speak about, and brand those who come forward with it as having lost our minds and treat us like lepers for fear that it may jump off you and onto them.
As I write this, I find myself on the verge of big changes in my life. This struggle of eight years is winding down and the challenges of helping break the stigma and silence of this epidemic called PTSD have begun to provide opportunities for education, awareness and enlightenment that I could not have dreamed of.
People are beginning to listen and that’s scary. I wonder how this tattered and scarred person that has defined me for so long can now move into speaking out and advocate for those still in the midst of the storm. I wonder if I am up to the task and will people continue to listen. My mind races with the possibilities to reach out. Yet there still looms that old fear of being branded as crazy and being criticized for speaking openly about PTSD and how it almost destroyed me and my family.
Yet the excitement of things spurs me on through these thoughts into uncharted waters. How many of us are held back by fear and feelings of further criticism and condemnation. I remember going to a therapists for EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and the total fear and panic of revisiting dark places of pain, trauma and loss. It almost kept me from pushing through to experience the healing from releasing those thoughts that held me captive for so long.
We are not permanently damaged goods. There is hope, healing and restoration after going through the valley of the shadow of death that is PTSD. It’s not our permanent place of residence. We are not defined by this for the rest of our lives. It is but a season and to everything there is a season.
I look forward to this new season with hope, anticipation, excitement and a bit of fear. I would not wish this journey on the worst of my enemies, but I find myself thanking God for the blessing of it. I see through the glass dimly at the changes that have occurred in me. I see the possibilities that lie before me as endless and exciting.
I got into law enforcement with the hope of making a difference. I now depart on this new journey with hopes of making a bigger difference to those who feel hopeless, cast aside or living in fear of coming forward or being exposed. Change is in the wind, my friends. No matter where you are on the path of the journey called PTSD you can still make and be a difference that I suspect many of you got into law enforcement for in the first place.
About the Author: Rick Neeley was a police officer and uniformed investigator in Northwest Ohio for 21 years. During that time, he was a founding member of a county-wide SRT and team leader, Field Training Officer, Firearms Instructor, ASP baton Instructor, Ohio Peace Officers Training Academy certified Instructor, Taser Instructor, and a department crash investigator
Through the process of eight different therapists, Rick discovered EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which began the road to recovery and wholeness. He and his wife, who went back to school and received her degree in Social Work, are beginning a new chapter in their lives in assisting public safety personnel in crisis from trauma and PTSD through a local mental health agency. They have two children, one of each who are grown and on their own, and a mini zoo of 2 Keeshonds, 1 lab mix, 1 cat, and the old man and boss Pomeranian.