We are all familiar with the stress of not just the fire life as far as scheduling, long shifts, and difficult communication go. The firefighters are the ones facing the difficult calls and trying to figure out how to deal with them emotionally. There has to be a release. There has to be something or some way to process everything they see while on duty. The key is to keep it healthy. Exercise. Relaxation. Talking about it. Hobbies.
Here is the story of one firefighter who realized his way of dealing with the difficult parts of the job was not a healthy one.
I’m a 28-year-old Firefighter/Paramedic. The honest truth, for at least the last 7 years every night I wasn’t on duty I have had a glass of whiskey in my hand by about 6 o’clock pm. Some nights it was just 1, some nights it was more. My excuse, I don’t hit my wife, I don’t drive, Im not belligerent. I work hard as a public servant, so if I want to have a drink when I’m not on shift then, damnit, I’m allowed. What I didn’t realize is I was hurting myself and my family. I was taking away precious times and memories. I don’t know what made it, or when it set in, but one day I woke up and decided I was done. This is my story. This is my journey.
I walk in the door after a 36-hour shift. I’m alone. The dogs go out, the alarm chirps its welcoming tone. The liquor cabinet barks like a group of wild dogs inviting me to join the pack. I start cooking supper, trying to keep my mind busy, my hand wandering the counter looking for its foe. My body tremors begging for the sound of ice cubes hitting the glass, a 3-second pour of 160 proof with a splash of something sweet. My family gets home. A crazy 3-year old runs around like a tiny tornado destroying everything clean in its path. Deep breaths drown out the mental contemplation of addiction. 8:00pm. I normally have a little buzz as we sit down. I should be tired. I’ve had 4 hours of sleep from the shift before. I’m wired, but not in a physical way, I just cant get my mind to stop. The yawns fill the room from my family ready to go to bed. I watch 3 tv shows and 2 movies before I finally fall asleep at 3:00am. I wake up with a rocking headache, my insides cramped up. I have to stay moving. This is normal symptoms from the body wondering why. The day will be easy. I never pour a glass before 5:00pm. I feel the urge to work myself today. A lot needs done in the house, weighted vest, music, and dishes will start this day.
When I set out on this day of practical physical cleaning I didn’t stop. Weighted vest went on, sweeper bin emptied, and music came on. From 9:00am until 2:00pm, I went through 3 shirts covered in sweat and the whole upstairs was clean. It felt good and looked good. Once my wife got home we were invited to church by some good friends. Out of the normal for us but so is everything else right now. It was great. We had a great time. My stomach was pretty upset during the service, it was more like a concert with a band and flashy lights, made my already weak stomach pretty motion sick. We went to supper afterwards at one of our favorite little places. They have a great bourbon selection and are known for a heavy pour. Everyone ordered drinks and i got a sweet tea, the bourbon shelf haunting my peripheral the whole meal. My son was exhausted when we got home and passed out as soon as his pjs went on. I on the other hand was up until midnight. I had one of the guys come pick up my liquor cabinet contents today. Figured no temptation was the better answer. Tomorrow is a duty day. Tomorrow will be easy.
I slept all night! I didn’t wake up once before my alarm clock. I can’t remember the last time that was. I woke up refreshed. I got a solid 4 1/2 hours. I was much clearer on my drive into shift, which is a good thing since winter decided to show her ugly face today. Sunday brunch at the station… My stomach is still crampy in the morning, and the headache with the very loud Sunday ritual isn’t helping. I ate a lot less then normal. A LOT LESS! We were busy all day with the public playing bumper cars so I didn’t notice any symptoms. I’m trying to figure out this appetite thing. I’m not upset I’m eating less, just curious as to why.
Well… something happened last night that’s never happened in my career. I slept through the tones in the middle of the night. When I say I slept through the tones, I mean I never heard them. My crew had to come in my bunk and shake me awake. No headache this morning but still some stomach cramps. I think it has something to do with my appetite. HI HO HI HO off to the part-time department I go. Second 36 in a row. I could have scheduled this whole idea a little better. I’m dreading tonight, not being home with my family. I cant wait to see them, but I know tonight will be the biggest hurdle. Two 36’s in a row. I’m really gonna want a wind down beverage tonight. My stomach cramps are making me nauseous on my way home. I don’t know if it was from a busy 36 or because of the total lifestyle change. It feels good to be home. My family was excited to see me and so were the pups. The liquor cabinet stares at me like your date’s dad on prom night. Supper is in the oven, and I sit at the table begging for a new routine. Xbox no. Facebook no. Workout, I already showered so that was out.This part is the biggest hurdle it seems. Not just quitting a habit, but quitting a routine. The last night I was home I really needed a beverage with flavor, so I planned ahead and got some nighttime tea to brew during supper prep. I have collected some pretty sweet whiskey glasses over my tenure. I used one for my tea tonight. My recent favorite I just got, the laser etched black helmet tall glass. The sound of the ice cubes hitting the glass was a familiar sound, what I poured in was not. I thought I could come up with a funny way to explain how awkward it is, but I can’t find the words.
I woke up with really good intentions today, then I sat down… Big Mistake. Once I sat down I didn’t really get back up. I walked around the house saying I need to do this and that but never did it. This resulted in many things. I was very disappointed in myself. I used to drink to cure that disappointment, now what. It also made the night very difficult because I had so much energy. I wasn’t mentally or physically exhausted. Usually I could have drank myself into mental exhaustion. Now I have no fix for this. Not only was I already dealing with these factors but on top of that my wife and I got into a heated argument right before bed. So now I have adrenaline pumping through my veins the same way 160 proof used to. I learned tonight how much communication is key during difficult battle of a time. You cant hide one thing. If your having a hard night you have to tell your spouse so they know where your head is at. Today was my fault 100%, and now I have to deal with all the consequences.[ Read Part 2 HERE ]