When you look at your image in the mirror, do you recognize the person right there in front of you? Are you happy where that person is emotionally and physically? Could you use some fine‐tuning? Could you use an ear to listen to some thoughts you’ve been having? Cops are notoriously protectors ‐ protectors of other people. What I’ve experienced through my own journey and listening to stories from other cops around the nation, we could do a better job at protecting and taking care of ourselves.
Like many of you, my journey as a cop didn’t begin at the Academy. My journey began as a young boy with big dreams of a career in law enforcement. I lived and breathed that dream for years and remember vividly my first day as a cop in New York City. It admittedly didn’t take long before my dream job started impacting my health. I wasn’t sleeping well, sometimes by choice and sometimes because I simply couldn’t. I was frequently closing down bars with my buddies and fellow officers. I developed a coping system that by its very nature couldn’t stand the test of time. When my career was cut drastically short by an injury and my childhood dreams seemingly vanished overnight, that added stressor catapulted me further down a road of poor coping mechanisms and failure to take care of myself. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later and with the help of my very strong wife that I was finally able to get some help. I don’t tell you this story to garner sympathy or try to equate my journey with anyone else’s journey. I tell you this story to show you living proof that help is out there, that swallowing your pride to be the best version of yourself is worth it and that you can’t possibly do your best at taking care of someone else without taking time to take care of yourself first. My physical and emotional well‐being were worth getting help. My family deserved the best version of me that I could be.
However, my personal experience as a cop isn’t unique. The narratives I’ve heard from all corners of the U.S. have similar storylines. Being a cop is a balancing act. The foundation of the job requires that you put other people’s needs before your own. In a nutshell, a cop runs into danger when most other people are running the other way. A cop’s normal daily job stressors can be a heavy load, but if you couple that load with the impact of the shift in perceptions about the profession, that load could be too much to bear. There’s a point though where you have to take a deep dive into the way you are handling the stress, the adrenaline, the fear, the schedule and the trauma to see if your methods are healthy. Some cops turn to alcohol, over‐eating, gambling, risky behavior, drugs or infidelity. Unfortunately, these coping mechanisms don’t eliminate the issues cops try to escape from and oftentimes create another whole set of problems. This maladaptive behavior can be a sign that changes need to be made.
Self‐care and self‐evaluation are some of the best ways to take care of the cop in the mirror. Adjust sleeping hours; take time for exercise or meditation; spend time in a house of worship; eat right; be present with family and friends. Sometimes all it takes is a small change to make a big difference.
I’ve put together several resources on my website www.hurtcop.com that contain valuable information for cops and also contain self‐tests to help cops recognize if the way they are feeling or if the symptoms they are experiencing are indicators that they may benefit from professional help. I wish I had these tools thirty years ago. Recognizing that symptoms you are experiencing are impacting your life is a valuable first step in taking care of yourself. Under that vest and uniform, cops are human. It takes a great deal of strength to ask for help. Resources for PTSD, substance abuse, depression, anxiety and suicide prevention are at your fingertips. If I could tell my younger self one thing, it would be, “Don’t waste time getting the help you need. Time isn’t guaranteed”. When you look at that cop in the mirror, I hope you can give yourself the respect you deserve and the strength to ask for help if you need it