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Tony and Laurie

OUR STORY

HUSBAND, FATHER, FIREFIGHTER

My name is Anthony File. I am currently a Lieutenant on the Special Operations team in Charlotte County, Florida. I am a 21-year career veteran with 8 years of volunteer experience prior to getting hired. I am married to a wonderful woman and have 4 outstanding children that have grown into adulthood and proved that raising them right, they will become awesome.

Like most every fire fighter out there, I have seen my fair share of death, destruction,

trauma and the miracle of life. Over the years, there have been many traumas involving children that did not have the best outcome. I, of course, thought that I had dealt with them appropriately over the years. Roughly around mid-year in 2019 I began to have a lot of flashbacks from specific incidents that would come and go as the pleased and last as long as they wanted to. This left me with literally no sleep 7 days a week, week after week. I tried to talk to my wife about these traumas over the years but unfortunately it was too dark for her to listen too. Not wanting to burden her or anyone in the family with the dark demons in my head, I started to isolate. The isolation made things worse. This led to me sink deeper in my own thoughts and desperation.


Ultimately, I began drinking heavily, night after night. For about 11 months, my thoughts were

in control and my drinking became out of control. To try and sleep, I was drinking at a

minimum, a fifth of bourbon every night and even more to try and ease the pain and hopefully fall asleep. Unfortunately, even after the alcohol consumption, still no sleep. I was literally drinking a bottle and half to ease the pain and still sleeping at best an hour a night. Many nights my wife would kiss me goodnight and tell me not to stay up late not knowing that I was not sleeping and drowning in the demons in my head. Once the house was quiet and everyone was sleeping, my darkness would become overwhelming and have me pacing the house, standing at the kitchen sink for hours crying my eyes out and wondering what the fuck was wrong with me.


To numb this, the bottle became my best friend but as we all know, it was like putting a bandaide on an open wound. Every night, week after week, month after month, it got worse and worse. The terror, bewilderment, frustration and despair that I rode with would not stop. It was a relentless battle that seemed that it was part of my everyday life: Isolate, don’t tell anyone my problems, drink to numb the pain and try and push the thoughts of suicide away. But they kept coming back, more and more frequent. Running on about 5 to 7 hours of sleep a week, for about 11 months, I was at a point of complete frustration and desperation.


One night, the desperation took control. I took off driving to try and clear my head. I was drinking trying to suppress the demons and hoping the drive would clear my head. I drove around for an hour and parked and sat with my thoughts, they were in control. I finished my first bottle and took my gun out and placed it my mouth and pulled the trigger back to the wall.


Something stopped me, I don’t know what.


I opened my second bottle and tried to drown out the fact of what just happened. This

continued several times until I eventually passed out in the driver’s seat of my truck from

finishing the second bottle. I woke up 2 hours later at 6 am. Frustrated, angry and ashamed of what just happened, I needed to talk to someone but was too embarrassed of how “weak” I felt. I literally felt alone with no outlet. I continued to suppress every emotion that I could to survive the day-to-day battle of drinking and suicide ideations which led me to more and more isolation from everyone.


A few weeks later, another incident took place that I only remember bits and pieces of.

Another night of isolation and drinking led my wife to find me in the garage a literal blubbering mess of a man. I remember only portions of that night that I literally was talking to the devil. Fortunately, my wife pulled me up and took care of me that night for it seemed like my last one with no energy or hope left to keep going. I WAS DONE!


The next day, my wife talked me into finding some help after explaining and describing

my erratic behavior and I agreed. I searched for support groups, therapists, and anything that might help. Unfortunately, it was the height of the COVID pandemic and the best I could find is an online meeting an hour a day once a week. I knew I was well past that point in my life and needed an in-patient facility. I located the IAFF Center of Excellence and made the phone call. I am not going to lie; it was one of the hardest phone calls I have ever made. I was schedule and entered the facility on August 17th, 2020 and graduation on October 1st.


That place saved my life, literally. The entire staff has dedication to helping us second to none. I received weeks of group therapy, one-on-one counseling, substance abuse therapy and trauma therapy. They got my sleep patterns back to a normalcy and helped me understand what, how and why I got where I was at with the traumas associated with work and gave me the tools to manage anything that may come up. It was a lot of hard work but worth every bit in the end.


WIFE OF A FIREFIGHTER, LIVING WITH PTSD: MY STORY


My name is Laurie, this is my story. It’s hard to know where to begin. As the wife of a firefighter for over 20 years, I thought I knew how to be supportive. I thought I knew how to be a safe place to land. I thought I knew how to take care of my husband, and ease his exhaustion and weary head. It creeped up on me so slowly that I didn’t realize what was happening until we were both drowning and couldn’t grab a life preserver.


I am not unsympathetic and I am no stranger to mental health issues. My background is in substance abuse prevention, which includes many aspects of mental health and suicide awareness. So how did we get here? How did I not know how to help him? How did I not see that he wanted to end his life to get away from the torment that was going on inside him?


Over the years there were many times that I encouraged him to seek counseling after a

particularly tragic call. It was always met with the same answer, “I’m good” and for a long time I accepted that. Maybe it was just easier for me to want to pretend that everything was all ok, so I didn’t push. I wanted to believe he was good, so I didn’t push.


When I say that it crept up on me, I guess that’s not entirely true…it just seemed that way. I was in my own denial. I started noticing over the last couple of years that an occasional beer or two was turning into 3 or 4 or more. I was finding more and more empty bottles in the trash and growing concerned. Still, he reassured me that he “was good”. The silence in our home was deafening. As time marched on the silence grew louder, the spurts of anger grew more frequent, and I felt like I was walking on eggshells. He withdrew more and more. I was afraid to leave the house because I didn’t want to leave him alone. Alone meant he would drink, either at home or go to the local sports bar and drink. I was afraid he would get into an accident and kill someone. I still wasn’t putting two and two together at this point. He didn’t want to spend time with me, but he was angry if I left the house. I really just thought our marriage was falling apart.


I thought it was me. I thought I just wasn’t enough anymore.


I tried to do things to improve our relationship, but nothing was working. Eventually, the more he withdrew and isolated, the more I withdrew and isolated. When you’re in it, you just can’t see the forest through the trees. I was scared I was losing my husband, but I didn’t realize just how close I was to losing him forever. It hurts my heart so much to know that he was contemplating suicide, and I didn’t know. …that he went through that alone.


As he got deeper and deeper into not sleeping at night and drinking way more than ever, I knew, his behavior became more and more erratic. I was never afraid of him, more afraid for him. It’s hard to think back to those times, and there isn’t any way that I can accurately convey the hell that was going on in our home. I saw this loving, funny, sweet, caring man as someone I didn’t recognize. That part of him was gone. I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t reach out for help. I was starting to realize just how deep his trauma went, and felt it wasn’t my story to tell. I think by this time I was begging him to get help. If loving him could have helped to make things better, trust me, he would have been better. I love this man with every fiber of my being, but loving someone doesn’t cure everything.


I was so relieved when he agreed to go to the IAFF Center for Excellence. I knew that he would get help there. It was a tremendous weight off both of our shoulders. I realized early into his treatment that his trauma was also my trauma. It was ok for me to talk

about it. It was ok for me to reach out. It was ok for me to be angry, sad, hopeful, weary,

worried, concerned, and everything in between, that someone else was taking care of him. He was getting help and relief doesn’t begin to express how that feels.


It did not happen overnight; we did not automatically go back to being the happy couple. It is work. We are still working on it. We are still nurturing and putting together the broken pieces. We check in with each other on our mental health a lot, we have done things to de-stress our lives, we are working on ourselves, and we are giving back and helping others who are in the same place we were. We are in a good place and I love the life we have built, broken pieces and all.

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