Forgiveness is key in any relationship, and at multiple points in one’s life. Sometimes you have to forgive someone who forgot your birthday, someone who broke your heart, or someone who falls victim to their own mind.
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are common in firehouses across the country. It does not care if you are in the city or country, volunteer or career. Statistically speaking, the rate of misuse among fire industry professionals is higher than that of the general population.
Factors That Make Firefighters Prone to Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Being a firefighter means being exposed to stressful situations that may cause men and women to seek relief in a glass.
- Pressure to be a hero. In various articles that I’ve read, many firefighters feel that even though they have willingly signed up for the position, and though they may love it, there is an inherent pressure to be a hero whether perceived or real.
- Exposure to trauma. Sometimes it can be as simple as seeing the destruction of someone’s home and witnessing the owner’s pain. Sometimes it’s a DOA call. Sometimes it’s the action of pulling a person out of a dangerous situation.
- Sleep disruption. Some departments ask their men and women to work as much as 72 hours. Sometimes people can be thrown far enough off of their sleep cycle by working two 15-hour night tours a week. By throwing off the sleep cycle of an individual, you risk throwing off mental and emotional stability.
- Days off. Built into any firefighter schedule, there are days off. I’ve seen this first hand, that it leads the men and women of some departments to get together for beers and cocktails in the middle of a Wednesday for little reason more than they don’t have to go into work until Thursday evening.
Dealing with Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Approaching someone who has a problem with alcohol can be tricky and potentially harm relationships. I have seen first-hand, how those who struggle with the issue can deny that there is a problem, and insist that they are fine. Conversations are often difficult, and sometimes compliance and admissions won’t come before some major turning point.
There are many options for individuals and families to consider, depending on the level of dependency and addiction. They range from self-stopping to inpatient treatments. Families, friends, and the individual in question, along with medical professionals in some situations, need to come together to discuss the best course of action.
It is key to remember that alcoholism isn’t just a personal issue. It affects countless lives at every stage of the disease.
Forgiving an Alcoholic
for·give – verb \fər-ˈgiv, fȯr-\
: to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone)
: to stop feeling anger about (something) : to forgive someone for (something wrong)
Currently, though not with a firefighter, I am dealing with forgiving an alcoholic. This situation has recently come to a head, and I am not yet at the point where I can stop feeling anger toward that person, let alone stop the blaming. It is my hope that if I inspire someone else to forgive, today, I can move on with my own forgiving process.
For storytelling and privacy purposes, I am going to refer to this person as Luke.
Luke was a loving, paternal, role model of a man. In recent years, I knew that there was drinking going on, but I was not aware of the extent of the drinking. I knew that alcohol was being used to quell the silence and resentment in his own life decisions and the state of his relationship, and I thought I was helping by sharing in his experience. I had been there. Years ago, I used to pick up a bottle of wine on the way home after nearly every fight with The Man. Thankfully, I was able to face the dangers of those choices, and stop it. Luke couldn’t.
When Luke’s problem reached the point of no return, it gave me an unfiltered view of how far alcoholism and alcohol abuse can go. For this, I was grateful to be able to help him, but at the same time, I faced a tornado of disappointment in losing my role model, anger at how far he let things get, and fear that he was never going to recover.
One of the first things I was told about forgiving is understanding that this is a disease. Though much of it feels as if it is a slight of judgement and a selfish act, the truth is long-term alcohol misuse can change the way the brain functions. Sometimes people get there because of other bodily misfirings, but once the alcohol has had time to do its thing, the damage is done.
We had talked about Luke’s depression and anxiety before the alcohol abuse came to light. His brain was already in a delicate, damaged place, and the alcohol made it worse. He had no choice after years of misuse, but to continue down the spiral of self-destruction. I need to truly assimilate this information into my brain and my heart if I am ever going to let go of the anger.
When facing the topic of addiction with someone about whom you care deeply, it is important to remember that forgiveness helps both parties. When you forgive, you stop poisoning your system and your world with the anger and fear. You will be happier when you forgive.
You also help the alcoholic or addict in your life truly heal and maybe prevent a relapse. Like I said, this issue is not a personal one. Just as the alcoholic has the power to damage and destroy relationships and families, the family and friends do, too. By the act of forgiveness, you are actively choosing to preserve the bonds of family and friends.