Written by a retired police officer who wishes to remain anonymous.
“Every addiction stems from an attempt to cover up, mask, or alleviate emotional pain. Therefore, the drug war is a systematic policy of locking up people who are in pain, have been abused, abandoned and neglected. They are not being offered treatment, but rather furthering their pain and suffering.”
– Irwin Ozborne
I wanted to be a police officer. I applied, and became one. The city I chose to work for was well-known for its violence. Despite attending a “tough” and “demanding” academy, I was woefully unprepared.
I was excited to work this job. They said, “stay on the south side it will be busy.” A constant array of shootings, stabbings, domestic violence, vehicle pursuits, and assaults of all kinds confirmed this to be true. I was in the front row, seeing it all. I was indeed busy.
As a young officer and a young man, I was taught that drugs are an evil, and we must declare war on them. In the course of my employment I would learn differently. From day one I started my study of human nature, and conducted thousands of informal surveys. Tragedy and trauma were my baptism in this new and strange culture. At the focal point was the issue of drugs, prescribed and not prescribed.
I sought different assignments and got them. I investigated crimes against children; I also conducted domestic violence investigations, missing persons, and a slew of whatever else they threw at you. I was also privileged, in my career, to work among the addicted, the homeless and the mentally ill. I did many things in my career, but I actively sought these groups out. I tended to them, and I arrested them.
My most favored assignment was working and spending time with the mentally ill and addicted. I heard story after story of physical abuse, sexual abuse, trauma of all types, and even abandonment. I talked with prostitutes and listened to their horrid stories. I also spoke with veterans of wars, those of all walks of life, and those who suffered PTSD. Schizophrenia, oppositional defiant disorder, suicidal issues, and personality disorders were prevalent.
I learned that these people used drugs of all types. And, in the final analysis, they were self-medicating. In these people’s life, and as I started to pull my own mask off, drugs were an out. A moment of not having to endure some form of hideous emotional pain, or a review of their reality.
Drugs were the medicine, but not the cure. And criminalizing this problem is not the answer.
Police models do not typically take into account any serious mental health model. As I advocated for the mentally ill, I was met with stiff resistance, and all kinds of biases. Again, I was slowly peeling the mask away-it hurt. Far too many people were being invalidated and still are. The police are even invalidated by their own-at all levels.
In the end, what really happened? Well, it was an experience about myself. I learned that it can be a tough thing and a good thing to have to look into the mirror, I had to exercise self-care. The first thing I had to do was chase the suicidal thoughts from my head. Then, as I took off my mask, I had to acknowledge my own PTSD, my own traumas, my own disassociations, and of my inept bonding issues.
This world of sickness had brought me to my knees.
In the end I did it. I pulled off the mask. The world, while not perfect, is now a better place for me. Somedays I wonder if it would have been easier to suppress all this stuff. The answer is no. Please pull of the mask. Life without the mask is better. And, it’s just the beginning.