In October of 2004, I was the first police officer on the scene of a fatal motor vehicle collision. Within the first few minutes of being at the scene, I quickly discovered that the seriously injured driver was a close friend. He died in my arms as I was performing CPR on him.
I coped the way that many first responders cope with stress and trauma – with alcohol and a strong desire to bury the experience. I didn’t get any after-care at the time, didn’t explore the experience and the feelings it created, didn’t let anyone know what I was going through. Basically, I did everything wrong.
Over the next few years, I buried myself in work, striving for promotions and accolades. I systematically pushed away my family and friends, creating a bubble around myself, living with the fear, the guilt, the anger. I cut myself off from the people who were in the best position to help me. At work I was cool, calm, put together. At home, I lost my temper, raised my voice, and was a less than ideal dad and husband.
I equate it to masks. At work, I had one mask on that hid everything nice and neat. At home, my real face came out, and it was an ugly, hurtful thing.
For a while, I turned to alcohol on a daily basis to cope. It was so much easier than dealing with the blackness, and I finally got into a spiral that ended with a complete crash about 4 years ago. I was done physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.
I finally admitted that I had a problem and began seeing an excellent psychologist who specialized in PTSD treatment for first responders / military. I let the walls fall down between myself and my friends and family, which let me start to make amends and rebuild relationships I had come close to destroying.
I fought the battle for workmen’s compensation and got it. I rebuilt my reputation at work and ‘came out of the closet’ about my PTSD. I became a very vocal advocate at my workplace and began to help guide other officers through their own struggles with trauma and rebuilding.
Now, a few years later, I’m in a very good place. I’ve created Project Healthy Heroes, which has allowed me to start speaking about my experiences and training first responders and civilians about PTSD, resiliency, and getting through trauma with your mind and body intact, and to work with first responders to heal from their PTSD naturally through taking care of their bodies and letting the mind follow. I even made a video about my battle that went quasi-viral on FB!
What I want people to take away from my story is that there IS life after a PTSD diagnosis, if you’re willing to fight for it. You can continue to do the job you love, you can rebuild your ties to family and friends, and you can actually become a greater, better person through tapping into strength you never knew you had.
You can beat the demons.
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Brian Knowler is a 17 year member of the Ontario Provincial Police. During his time in policing, he has served in a wide variety of roles: media relations, school liaison, bike and all-terrain vehicle patrol, emergency management, recruiting, and incident command. He is a trained CISR team member and spent 5 years on the OPP Trauma Support Team before taking a leave in 2012.
Brian is also a fully licenced lawyer and a proud member of several professional law associations.
Recently, Brian took a step back in his policing duties to re-focus on his family and re-creating what PTSD has taken away from him. This has included a move, a change in responsibilities, and an emphasis on advocacy, writing, and reflecting on where his life and career has taken him.
He recently began to professionally speak and train about PTSD, resiliency, and post-traumatic growth. He’s also new to Twitter. 🙂
Brian firmly believes that his family and natural healing methods have been the key to his recovery and success and that the journey through trauma can be one of rediscovery and rebuilding. PTSD needs to be dragged into the light, not hidden away in the shadows!
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