Extinguish the Fire: A fireman’s story of PTSD, Trauma and Addiction

Scott was a firefighter for 20 years in Minnesota. It was a career that was defined by harrowing rescues, hard training, and tough calls. Living in a small town, too often, he knew the people that he was cutting out of a car, pulling out of a lake, or otherwise assisting on one of the hardest days of their lives, and while he describes putting up a “tough guy shell,” he shares how the job slowly started to wear on him.

In large part, Scott’s addiction grew out of the stress and strain of his work as a first responder. Like many others in his line of work, post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma quickly lead to substance abuse and, ultimately, addiction. Through treatment at American Addiction Centers, however, Scott was able to build a new life for himself in recovery.

PTSD and Trauma

Too often, post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma due to exposure to horrific events on a regular basis strike first responders in overwhelming numbers. Believing themselves to be the one to offer help — as opposed to someone who asks for help — many refuse to admit to anyone that they are struggling and attempt to manage the symptoms on their own through heavy alcohol and drug use.

Says Scott: “I started noticing that I started getting angry a little bit more. I started drinking a lot, drank to get drunk. Started pulling away from my family, and when I was around them, I got short-tempered a lot, around my sons and the girl I was with. Started having nightmares and flashbacks, night tremors — all sorts of things that I figured came with the territory.”

‘It’s no big deal. I’m a firefighter. Firefighters drink.’

Scott worked his way up to assistant chief and felt that he needed to prioritize leadership over getting help for the struggles he was facing. Unfortunately, he found himself using methamphetamine, at first a means of staying up to continue drinking with buddies, but soon it became a regular habit. He slept less, and his anger grew stronger. It was then that he got a call that changed his life.

“About six years ago, we got called out to a car accident. It was a high school kid who was pretty well known in the area, a high school student, and it was a rollover, an ice water rescue, but the vehicle was upside down in the water. I happened to be one that was in the ‘Gumby’ suit when we got there, and it was, if there’s such a thing as a perfect rescue, everything went right. We got him out in what seemed like 10 minutes. We got in the water and had him out in 10 minutes. It was amazing. Everything went boom, boom, boom. He was gone, but it was ice water. Ten minutes in ice water isn’t that long. They can revive him and slowly warm him up. And they got him to Fargo, North Dakota, and they started warming him up and they got a heartbeat and everything was coming around. He had brain functions, from what I’ve heard, he had brain function, and everything looked like he was coming out of it. And then about a month later, he ended up dying of something else. It rocked my world really hard. That was supposed to be a victory for us. That was supposed to be the one that we saved.”

The boy died of a lung infection, and Scott describes blaming himself, telling himself that he must have done something wrong when he pulled him out — and everything spiraled out of control from there. He began blaming himself for every person who had been lost on a call. The nightmares increased, and he began taking meth around the clock to avoid going to sleep so he could escape the nightmares.

Scott attempted suicide in the summer of 2014. Thankfully, the gun didn’t work. When he realized he was still alive, he saw his laptop and began typing all the things he had been experiencing. Says Scott: “PTSD lit up the screen.”

Scott hadn’t even realized that it was possible to have PTSD if you weren’t in the military, and he called number after number after number trying to find someone to help him. He finally connected with American Addiction Centers. He credits the immediacy of treatment, the empathic and caring response, and EMDR treatment with being able to help him.

“It was amazing, the colors that were just coming alive. It was like a freedom, a peace that started coming over me.”

Through treatment, says Scott, others who are experiencing what he went through can find hope again, too, and learn how to live without anger, work through trauma, and build a life without drugs and alcohol.

Far From Finished Podcast

American Addiction Centers hosts Far From Finished, a podcast dedicated to the people who are living out loud in recovery and sharing their unique stories in their own words. Every Monday, AAC uploads a new podcast, each one an inspirational and personal story of someone who has lived in active addiction, undergone treatment, and applied the principles of treatment to their day-to-day lives in order to stay sober. These stories of real-life journeys and experiences are an encouraging way to start the week, a reminder that continued abstinence in recovery is not only possible but can be joyful and celebratory as well.

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