First Responders and Toxic Suffering

Published on June 19, 2020 by First Responder Wellness

First responders in recovery know that juggling alcohol and/or substance use disorder with their jobs presents numerous challenges, and far from the least of them is the work culture of public servants. The attitude of headstrong determination, although effective for driving professional results, takes a toll on the mental health of the workers.

Suppressing emotions in order to accomplish a task builds inner turmoil, which will inevitably boil over. For first responders dealing with alcohol and/or substance use disorders, this emotional outburst fuels the temptation to use.

Before returning to an environment where your mental health might be overlooked, keep in mind the red flags associated with not prioritizing your mental health. If you feel pressure to work through mandatory breaks, and if any effort to communicate difficulties you are having is met with jokes or scorn from colleagues and superiors, your work environment is encouraging toxic suffering.

This is the type of work culture which places value on completing work at all costs, rather than ensuring the well-being of employees. Before acting on the anxieties these peer pressures impose, take a moment, and run-through this checklist to prevent emotional suppression.

Mentally Note Stressors as You Experience Them

When you feel pressured into exerting your body or mind past the point you feel comfortable, pause. Just take a thoughtful pause. Then, take stock of what is happening, as honestly as possible. Sometimes it feels like our co-workers might be antagonizing us when in actuality, there could be a miscommunication. Other times, we may tell ourselves we are being irrational in order to avoid confrontation with a co-worker who may be in the wrong.

Pausing to take inventory on a situation may seem like a waste of time, particularly in the high-stress situations faced by first responders. However, unless there are lives on the line, this simple act empowers us to clarify the perspective we may bring to any given situation. After this mental sidestep, if you are still feeling pressured to endure conditions beyond your limitations, communicate that in a non-confrontational manner.

Communicate Your Discomfort

This one can be a challenging step depending on the work environment. Many first responders describe working in a setting where feelings of weakness or inadequacy are looked down upon and even chastised. Opening up when tasks are difficult or stamina is exhausted in these environments leaves first responders feeling trapped, frustrated, and ultimately disconnected from their emotions.

This sort of suppression spells disaster for those in recovery, as sobriety and vulnerability are dependent upon each other. By remaining silent, individuals pressured to work beyond their limits experience guilt two-fold: they feel the guilt of perceived inadequacy from peers and the internal guilt of neglecting to verbalize their body’s needs.

Perseverance is more than keeping a stiff upper lip. Sometimes, strength means opening up about how difficult, or sad, or infuriating a situation feels to us despite how taboo this honesty is for those around us. As long as these feelings are shared in a professional and considerate manner to co-workers, there is no shame in owning the truth about struggling to stay “tough” every now and then.

Take Periodic Work Breaks

Especially when anxiety begins to mount, optimize the free time you have to engage in activities helping you cope with trauma and stress. Call up a sponsor. Stretch your muscles. Do a breathing exercise. These brief periods offer mental rest and healing in the face of traumatic events. The responsibility to maintain a safe society weighs down the psychological burden of first responders, particularly during the current COVID-19 outbreak. Still, the value of your own health and safety should represent an important factor when deciding whether or not to extend overtime work.

The mental and physical well-being of first responders should take precedence when the hours grow long and the work fails to subside. The fact of the matter is that the quality of work done by healthy, well-rested first responders will exceed that of overworked and under-rested public servants.

Furthermore, proving to yourself and co-workers how tough you are during a shift is nothing compared to the struggles you face on the path to recovery. Alcohol and/or substance addictions couldn’t care less about how hard you can work, or the number of overtime hours you put in. For individuals recovering from use disorders, the stakes of trading emotional stability for career approval are far too high, and your sobriety is far too important to jeopardize.

The pressures endured by first responders require stress management. When faced with life-or-death situations, your mental health might be the last thing on your mind. Simple Recovery’s First Responders Treatment Program is dedicated to meeting the needs of America’s crucial First Responders. We recognize the sacrifices you make every day as a first responder and have developed our comprehensive treatment program to serve and heal you. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMT’s, dispatch, emergency room personnel, and other first responders put themselves on the front lines of responding to crises and emergencies every day. Dealing with stress and trauma is a part of the job. Unfortunately, repeated exposure to highly stressful and traumatic situations is known to impact mental health and wellbeing in a myriad of ways. If you or your loved ones are ready to begin living alcohol and substance-free lives, please call our admissions staff 24/7 at (888) 743-0490.