Trauma Can Induce Negative Coping Strategies
My name is Adam M., and this is my story about using negative coping strategies after experiencing a trauma.
I was a police officer for 21 years. On Friday, April 8, 2016, at 5:15 p.m., I was involved in a critical incident when I used deadly force against someone who armed themselves with a hatchet inside a busy department store. This person died. I faced many personal and professional mental health challenges, including negative coping strategies, after my critical incident. It has taken me many years to get back on track. I continue to struggle, but I am better than I was.
There are many different coping strategies people may use after experiencing trauma. They may be good and healthy, or they may be negative and unhealthy. My coping strategies were negative, unhealthy, self-destructive, and dangerous. I used alcohol, marijuana, casual sex, and self-harm as some of my poor coping strategies for years after my critical incident.
My poor coping strategies easily put my relationships, job, and health at risk, but I did not care. I wanted to escape from what I was feeling. I wanted to numb my emotions, my thoughts, my body, and any memory of taking someone’s life. I wanted to feel better, even if only momentarily. I was selfish and reckless, and I did not care how my self-destructive and dangerous behavior affected other people. I did not even care how my behavior affected my family, friends, co-workers, or the public.
A Main Negative Coping Strategy – Alcohol Abuse
One of my many negative coping strategies was abusing alcohol. Prior to my critical incident, I collected wine and enjoyed a glass every now and then. However, after my critical incident, I began abusing liquor. I would consume whiskey and vodka straight from their bottles, on the rocks, or I would create my own cocktails by combining over-the-counter medicines. There were times that I would mix in whatever leftover prescription medicines I had in the medicine cabinet, and it did not matter if they were prescribed to me or someone else.
I was on a prescribed antidepressant while I was abusing alcohol. The label on this medication specially stated, “Do not drink alcoholic beverages while taking this medication.”
A warning label did not deter me from abusing alcohol. I very well could have blacked out and never woken up from consuming these dangerous cocktails, but at the time, I did not care. I did not care and wanted an escape from my emotional pain. Abusing alcohol may have been a quick fix, but it caused me even more stress, anxiety, and depression.
Another Negative Coping Strategy – Harming Myself to Get Out of Work
There were many times I did not want to go to work. I just wanted to stay at home and isolate myself from the world. I wanted to lock all the doors of my home, close all the curtains, and shut everyone out of my life. I called in sick from time to time, but on one occasion, I intentionally injured myself so that I did not have to work. I used an old 12-inch adjustable steel wrench to cause superficial injuries to my left knee. I limped into the local emergency room. I explained to the doctor and nurses that I had tripped and fallen walking out of the back door of my house and struck my knee on the steel covering of an underground septic tank. I received x-rays of my knee, a prescription for pain medication, and crutches. I was discharged from the emergency room with a doctor’s letter releasing me from work for about one week. This deception got me out of work, and I was able to enjoy the time alone at home.
Another way I was able to get out of working was to make myself sick intentionally. I constructed a plan to visit the local Burger King drive-thru while traveling to work. I ordered a bunch of breakfast food and made sure I washed it down with a large soda and a large orange juice. I needed to make sure I added beverages to my breakfast buffet to ensure it would all come up easier when I made myself vomit.
I continued to travel to work. I was about to pass the local Mcdonald's and thought to myself, “Two is better than one.”
I decided to travel through the Mcdonald's drive-thru and order even more breakfast food and beverages. I quickly binged what I purchased and proceeded to work.
I arrived at work, and upon exiting my vehicle, I played the role of the sick employee. I walked into the police department and made myself vomit in the bathroom. I made sure the bathroom door remained open so that anyone walking by could see or hear me. I made sure that not all my vomit made it into the toilet and landed on the floor for added effect. I was immediately sent home.
More Negative Coping Strategies
Another way I dangerously coped was by drinking and driving. Prior to attending any type of social event, even as simple as going to the grocery store, I would consume alcohol. I would travel to a nearby gas station and purchase many small bottles of liquor. I would immediately consume the alcohol in my vehicle prior to traveling to my destination. I would rationalize that it would take about 30 minutes for me to feel the effects of the alcohol, and by the time I was impaired, I would have arrived at my destination. I was very fortunate that I was not arrested for drinking and driving or, even worse, killing someone.
I used casual sex as a coping strategy and to distract myself from my emotional discomfort and pain. I would meet women, and sometimes within 30 minutes, we would have sex. Sure, I felt great during sex, but it caused me more harm than good. Although this type of sexual behavior was risky, self-destructive, and caused me stress and anxiety, it was not enough to convince me to stop. I wanted an instant feel-good escape from my life, and casual sex provided that.
Another dangerous and unexplainable way I coped was by putting my duty weapon to my head. I did this at least a dozen times. Sometimes I even placed the barrel in my mouth. I very easily could have accidentally killed myself. My rationalization was that I simply wanted to hear and feel the metallic click of the trigger being pulled while the barrel of the gun was resting against my right temple. I did this while I was under the influence of alcohol. I still do not truly understand why I did this and sometimes wonder how many times it happened while I was blacked out from excessively consuming alcohol. I am very fortunate to be alive.
My Negative Coping Strategies Come to a Head
I suffered in silence for many years after my critical incident, and I am ashamed of the negative coping strategies I used. I find it hard to believe that nobody realized or even had a gut feeling that I was not doing well. I have always wondered if people were slowly watching me self-destruct because they did not know what to say to me, how to help me, or they simply did not want to get involved.
I was diagnosed with a mental illness in January 2022 and deemed unfit for duty by the police department’s psychologist. I was granted a 90-day leave of absence and began intensive therapy two and three times a week. This therapy included in-person psychotherapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), biofeedback, and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
I was finally undergoing treatment that helped me heal and understand why I adapted to negative coping strategies to self-medicate. I only wished I had begun that therapy five years earlier.
In May 2022, my leave of absence was not extended, and I was given the option to resign or be terminated from the police department. I refused to resign and was terminated.
I Have Moved Past My Negative Coping Strategies
I continue weekly therapy that includes psychotherapy and EMDR. I also take prescribed medications that help me with my depression and generalized anxiety.
I have been able to move past my negative coping strategies because of the support I receive from family, friends, therapists, my girlfriend, and my current employer and co-workers. I would not be where I am today without their support. I am very grateful and will never be able to put into words how much their support means to me.
My Message to Others Who See Someone Using Negative Coping Strategies
Please reach out to someone if you believe they are struggling with their mental health. I know it may feel awkward or uncomfortable, but most people will not admit they are struggling, and most people will not reach out for help. You could be a light during a very dark time in their life.
HealthyPlace thanks Adam for sharing his personal experiences. We understand they may invoke a strong reaction in some readers. For that reason, we will be carefully moderating the comments on this post to ensure everyone's safety.
Author, G. (2023, January 20). Trauma Can Induce Negative Coping Strategies, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, June 7 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2023/1/trauma-can-induce-negative-coping-strategies