“Facing Stigma” with Adam S.
“I grew up on eastern Long Island and watched a lot of CHIPS so I knew I wanted to be a pilot or cop. Once I realized how much math was involved to be a pilot, it sealed the deal on becoming a cop. I knew I wanted to do police work but my dad convinced me to do at least two years of community college before applying. The departments on Long Island were two of the hardest to get into so I started applying elsewhere. A friend of mine told me about the Arlington, VA police department and I’ve been here ever since 1990. I’ve seen and experienced quite a lot during my time here. I was a first responder at the Pentagon on 9/11 and that was a very sobering moment. I was grateful to be behind the yellow tape, but also to help the military and direct people outside of the building to help keep them safe. Afterward we did a lot of VIP motorcades and some for the families that were involved or the bodies that were recovered. About six months after that I was driving down the road in my car and started crying. I wasn’t making any connection to what was going on until I remembered our EAP office said that sometimes when you experience traumatic events it takes about six months to kick in. During that time I was depressed and trying not to put myself in danger but there was this feeling of wanting something to happen that would put me out of this internal misery. My wife ended up finding out about a relationship outside of our marriage so we got into an argument and in that short period of time, I became completely detached and grabbed my off duty pistol and almost did something I was really going to regret. I could hear my wife talking to me outside the door and my dog barking; it kind of brought me back and out of this fog. I went to the hospital after that and couldn’t leave until they said everything was clear. I didn’t think I’d be able to get back on the force but thankfully I was able to go through my inpatient and outpatient treatment and make my way back after some time off.
I had this great police career where it’s truth, justice, and the American way, but my personal life and relationships were terrible before that incident. I’m still on medication and see my therapist every two weeks, but I’m certainly more self aware. I really had to become honest with myself and address some of the underlying issues I was facing rather than withholding pertinent information from my therapist. Once I started to unpack some of that trauma, I realized that a big catalyst for a lot of this started from my experience as a teenager being sexually abused by a camp counselor over the course of a few summers. Things are so much clearer now that I’m able to see it from this higher vantage point. I’m definitely ok now with being happy. Since then, I’ve been able to help my department build a pretty robust peer support system and mental health awareness program. The area has also grown significantly since my time here and policing has certainly changed with all of the issues going on. We’ve been fortunate in Arlington that our relationship with the community has always been community-based so it’s been solid. I’m lucky to have been in this particular area and this department in that regard. The only real issues we’ve had were with a few people that came from out of town for the riots in DC. The two individuals who had the hardest time were the two African-American officers in our unit. They were getting berated by people and that really hurt me because they’re black and they’re blue and just trying to do their jobs. That hurt me most of all knowing my friends had to go through that. We’re close enough though as a squad that we talked through all that. They gave their opinions of how things are and when I talk about situations like that, I always say I don’t know what it’s like to be black and how it feels. I guess the bigger picture and what I’m trying to say is that I’m more empathetic and sympathetic to what people go through and their backgrounds. As corny as it sounds, it’s great to be out there doing the right thing and helping people out. I just want to leave the community with a good impression and be a better friend and partner; that’s what means the most to me.”