Sometimes the rescuer needs to save himself
As a former Honolulu police officer and alcoholic and a recovering addict, I have seen it all. I have a message for most everyone in a stressful job, with an emphasis on those who live life on the edge -- especially police officers, fire fighters and emergency medical services personnel. Depending upon your lifestyle and career, your ups and downs swing slowly or rapidly. If your career is also your lifestyle, as mine was, your ups and downs can be extreme and very rapid. When you spend your day in response mode and you view injury, death and destruction on almost a daily basis, the adrenaline rush that follows a near-death experience -- your own or another's -- can be addicting. When you save a life, the high is indescribable. When you lose a life, especially a child's, the down is extreme and undeniable.
During my time as a police officer, my friends (other cops) and I drank heavily and partied hard, sometimes to unwind and sometimes to mask a tear. We relieved our stress in the arms of available women. This type of off-duty madness took many of our jobs, including my own. Some of us simply moved on while others took their own lives; rescuers own the stats for divorce, suicide and addiction.
I chose to take my life slowly with self-medication, duplicating my adrenaline rush with a cocaine pipe. I do get to perform a real rescue now and then (once a rescuer, always a rescuer). I have, however, failed miserably at rescuing myself. Nearly 25 years later, I am still jumping from one side of the fence to the other. Now I am back in prison again for possessing a crack pipe. I am facing a mandatory sentence of five years.
On the positive side, I have a captive audience of men in need of rescuing. With my pen, paper and stamps, I help them to obtain drug abuse and mental health treatment. I help them to read, spell and write. I get high seeing the smiles on their faces as they receive news of treatment program acceptance, prison release dates and family correspondence. I feel down when I see them return through the same gates they left.
I am still addicted to the rescue; now if only I can rescue myself. Once a rescuer, always a rescuer -- regardless of the consequence.
Michael Spiker is an inmate at the Oahu Community Correctional Center in Kalihi.