Pressure, stress and pain are pretty much unavoidable in all forms: both physical and mental or a combination of any of them. How each one of us deals with these stresses; such as, self-medicating and isolating, is what separates us from our families, loved ones and careers.
Since most of you don’t know me, here is a brief history. Some of you might be able to relate to my story or know somebody who can. I grew up in a middle class home on Long Island, attended good schools, and was active in my community and successful in my career. I was also a functioning alcoholic for 30 years during that time.
In my mind, nobody knew about my drinking. I was great at hiding it, or so I thought — like drinking vodka so nobody would smell it on my breath. What a fool. The talk behind my back was always there from my family, co-workers, friends, and ultimately the guys at the firehouse. I chose to believe that nobody would suspect me to be a drunk. I was, after all, a firefighter, station lieutenant, assistant chief, and finally, chief of the department. We are supposed to know better than to drink on the job, or anytime that it isn’t appropriate.
The addiction, and the progression of the disease, brings all things to an end sooner or later, and more times than not, it is a bitter end. Things like marriages, families, jobs, and friendships are lost or at least strained to breaking points. Ultimately, for me, it was my fire service career.
After 17 years of service, I was asked to resign because of my addiction and lack of desire to get help. I continued to drink. It progressed to the point of me having to go into detox and treatment for the first time. After 28 days in treatment, I was not successful with my sobriety. Because I was not ready or willing to accept that I simply could not drink like other people I relapsed. I was then in a drunken fog for over two years and completely miserable. After two very dark years in my life that included detox, seizures, hospital stays, legal issues and living as a non-person, I was finally able to see that if I continued on this path of destruction I was going to die. Alcohol had defeated me and I had to admit to that.
I finally reached out for help and entered a residential treatment facility for six months. I was successful and have not found it necessary to drink since July 13, 2011. It’s an amazing feeling of freedom and spirituality that I have never felt before in my life.
My greatest challenges were not being able to let go of my embarrassment, disappointment in myself, and the shame of having to resign my position as chief. I sacrificed my membership of 17 years in being a part of something that meant so much to me, yet I was not willing or able to make a choice to correct and save. Drinking was more important than my career and family at that time.
I now see that if I had addressed my addiction years ago and sought the help that was offered to me, none of this would have happened. But it is my story and I can’t change that. What I can do is share my message with others and hopefully reach as many people as I can and get them the help they deserve. It doesn’t have to be this way for anybody who has an obsession to drink or take drugs. There is no time like the present to make a change in your life.
There is nothing more rewarding than hearing the words of encouragement and support from the people in your life after you have turned your life around. They want nothing but the best for you and your future.
Help is available today to anybody who truly wants to start their lives over again, or can see a pattern forming and wants to get help before things progress. Taking the first step isn’t as hard as you think, and the rewards are priceless.
Don Prince is the former chief of the Brookhaven Fire Department in New York where he served for 16 years. He was a member of the rescue squad, a rescue diver, served as station lieutenant, first and second assistant chief. He is currently working with a team of dedicated professionals who are developing a unique treatment program specific to the needs of public safety personnel who are struggling with addiction and PTSD. The first responder facility will open January 2015 in South Florida. Contact Prince at 561-282-8685.