Life Outside of the Police Badge: A Story of Alcoholism and Sobriety
By the time I was a junior in high school, I knew that I was going to be a police officer. My sense of right and wrong had always been strong, and I was the one who often stood between bullies and the bullied. I knew without a doubt that this was my calling – to don the uniform, badge, and gun.
At seventeen, I became a police explorer, Troop 247 to be exact. The first meeting was at the Harker Heights Police Department. I walked into the first meeting not knowing anyone, and told them I would someday work for that very same department. They laughed, but I knew then this would be the place for my life’s work. When I was told I had to learn at least half of the 100 required 10-codes and half of the phonetic alphabet, I memorized all 100 of them and Adam through Zebra. I got excited every time I was given permission to ride with the officers. Even traffic stops fascinated me – everything did. I watched, and I learned. Immediately upon graduating high school, I began taking Criminal Justice classes at the local community college, and, as they say, the rest is history. I was hired two weeks after I turned 21.
My first call out of field training turned out to be a suicide by cop. I received a pat on the back and was told I did a good job. This was, in fact, the first time the chief of police had ever had anything nice to say to me. I lied my butt off to the psychologist I was required to see before I could return to duty and passed the shoot-don’t shoot scenarios with excellence. Inside, I was devastated, but I was a single mother, and I wanted this job more than anything. No one warned me that alcohol was not the way to handle a stressful event on the job; in fact, quite the contrary.
I learned from more seasoned officers the motto “Work hard, play hard” and I took it to heart.
As crazy as this sounds, my field training officer and coincidentally, my first shift sergeant, owned a bar in the same city I worked in and so it was not uncommon to be off by 11:00 p.m. and be sitting on one of his bar stools by midnight.
Eventually, I became a field-training officer, and I became the youngest officer ever promoted to detective. I was ecstatic. Anytime there was a difficult call on shift; I would ease the stress, frustration, and sometimes pain, with alcohol. I was not a full-blown alcoholic – yet. Did I mention I have Tourette’s syndrome? No, not the kind that makes me yell obscenities, I only do that when I fully intend to say what is coming out of my mouth. I had not yet been diagnosed but I had known for many years that when I was tired or stressed out my “twitches” would increase. I had also discovered as a teenager that when I consumed alcohol, the twitches were barely there at all. Now I had a job that I loved that was full of stress and sleepless nights, and the twitches had become more discernible. I would control them when I was around citizens and other officers, but they were there.
As a detective, I was assigned all of the juvenile cases, both suspect and victim. I missed the road, but I loved my new role and I excelled, especially in juvenile victim crimes. I felt this was to be my life’s work. I took every opportunity to show people who you are more than the circumstances with which you grew up.
I grew up in an extremely dysfunctional home, hearing stories about my family members and what losers they were. Drug and alcohol abuse runs rampant on both my mother and father’s side of the family. I was determined not to become one of “them”. The District Attorney’s office gave me the moniker “Confession Queen”. I became very adept at getting people to trust me enough to tell me their stories, even when it involved criminal activity or horrific victimization. There was a feeling of exhilaration each time I successfully closed out one of those cases with the status “one in custody.” What I did not become adept at was taking care of myself. I thought I could shoulder the world’s problems and was strong enough not to let it affect me. I was wrong. I knew nothing of self-care at a time when self-care should have been paramount. I was the only police officer in Harker Heights assigned to work juvenile cases. In effect, I was the Juvenile Division. Needless to say, my caseload was extremely high.
After about six years of working with juveniles, I spoke to my Lieutenant about being transferred back to patrol because I needed what, at that time, I defined as a mental health break. There was no one available with whom I could voice my concerns. My husband was a teacher and did not understand the world in which I worked. He did not want to hear the gory details of my day (or night as often was the case). The other officers could not comprehend the toll of working with young victims of horrific crimes, nor the emotional drain of interviewing the suspects. Any time a child died in Harker Heights, I was assigned the investigation. I explained to the Lieutenant that I did not think I could handle any more autopsies of children and fathers telling me why they sexually assaulted their daughters. My plea for change went unheeded because the department was extremely pleased with my arrest statistics. The mentality was that “if it is not broken, do not fix it.” The issue they failed to take note of was that I was breaking. I began using alcohol to feel “human” again. I was truly miserable in my skin and the only solace I found seemed to be in a bottle. I became a highly functioning alcoholic.
In this same period, partly due to my willingness to be on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for crimes involving juveniles, I was selected as Bell County Officer of the Year. I felt fulfilled with the professional accomplishment, but this did nothing to slow down my drinking. The fact is, I did not know how to handle my distress properly, and I wanted out. I thought I had found a way. I boarded for promotion and became a Sergeant. I was assigned the midnight shift and had a three-month-old infant at home. I requested a reassignment to the day shift but my pleas went unheeded. I was told to quit whining and do my job. No one cared that I was working all night and trying to balance that with breastfeeding a baby. I am not saying it is not possible, but it did not agree with me. I returned to the detective division feeling completely defeated. They assigned me right back into the juvenile position.
At this point, my drinking was out of control, but I was still a highly functioning alcoholic. I had not yet admitted I had a problem and continued to work and drink for two more years. I was assigned a case involving my first Field Training Officer. This officer was no longer working for the Harker Heights Police Department, but I still interacted with him on occasion. I knew his entire family well, including children and grandchildren. The case involved allegations that he had been sexually assaulting his grandchildren. I went to my Lieutenant and requested he give the case to a detective not familiar with this individual. Again, I was told to quit whining and do my job.
In the same week, I was assigned a case where a father had come home, shot his eight-year-old son and fifteen-year-old daughter in the head, and then killed himself. I had spoken with this family on numerous occasions because the father was having difficulty getting the children to listen. I would speak with the children, the father, and the mother, trying to assist with whatever situation they brought to my office. I recognized the address when the dispatcher called me to go to the crime scene, and I went to the scene and processed it. The parents were divorcing, and I later learned that the father had made comments to the effect that if he could not have the kids, no one would. Initially, there was a lot of concern over the location of the mother but after several phone calls I located her. As the department’s death notification officer, part of my responsibility was to notify the mother that her children were deceased. Without a doubt, this was the most difficult notification of all previous notifications. I remained professional, but I was falling apart inside.
I realized that I had lost control over my life and my drinking (if there is such a thing), and went to the Chief of the police department. I was completely honest and told him I was drinking too much. His response was that I was a fourteen-year veteran, and I just needed to do my job. He asked me if I was drinking on duty, to which I responded no. That was a partial truth. I would drink so much the night before that I was coming to work hung over and still feeling inebriated.
I felt completely alone and ashamed that I was not handling the stress of my job anymore. The final straw was receiving a call from one of my officers telling me that my former Field Training Officer’s wife had told him about the murder-suicide case. He subsequently shot himself in the head. I specifically requested she not do so because I knew that was what he would do. Don’t ask me how, I just did. That was not the first time one of my officers had committed suicide over a pedophile case assigned to me, but it would become the last. He left a suicide note apologizing to me for putting me in the position of having to investigate what he had done. What little bit of sanity I had managed to maintain up to this point departed. The Sergeant on duty called me at home to tell me to go to Fort Hood and photograph the former officer’s body in order to close out my case. I refused. Ultimately, I was terminated for failing to follow a direct order.
I stayed drunk for twelve years after that time in my life. Four different treatment centers and sporadic Alcoholics Anonymous meetings did nothing to sober me up. I became a “loser” just like the rest of my family. That is how I felt at the time. I believed I was a complete failure, and I could not stop drinking. Eventually, I lost my husband, children, home, career, and sanity. I frequented food pantries to feed myself, and churches to help with rent when I had a home in which to live. I would get a job, but they never lasted for more than a few months at a time because work interfered with staying inebriated. As I had not yet learned how to handle the pain, shame, and humiliation, sobriety was not a viable option. My drinking eventually led me to become homeless, living out of my car while simultaneously dodging the company trying to repossess my home-on-wheels for lack of payment. I was arrested a total of four times for Driving While Intoxicated, twice by my former department. The first arrest was by an officer that I had trained during my stint as a Field Training Officer. I had become a pyrrha, but no one could hate me more than I hated myself.
My last drink was on the front porch of a location where Alcoholics Anonymous meetings were held. I called 911 on myself. When the dispatcher asked what the nature of the emergency was, I told her I was drunk. That did not go over very well and she asked again what the emergency was. I told her that I was going to continue to drink until I was dead, and I meant it. That seemed to convince her that the situation was dire and she dispatched an ambulance. I had finally reached a point where I was no longer continue living this slow death. The disease was going to kill me shortly, or I was going to have to learn to live again. Three days later, after being medically detoxed (for the third time), I found my way to a sober living facility where I remained for three months. I have not had a drink since.
I am forty-four years old, and my sobriety date is March 10, 2013. Today, I work at Texas A&M University in the Office of Student Success, working with students with disabilities. I have since discovered that I do not have to wear a badge to help others. That is what my calling was all along, not the badge. I am also a student. I attend on a Pell Grant, and I am an honors student working on a Bachelors of Social Work. That will be used to attain my Masters in Chemical Dependency Counseling. My goal, my new life’s work, is to help other brothers and sisters who are still suffering the same hell that I went through. I want to get the message out that there is life outside of the badge. My life is full and I love what I am doing with it. Life is not perfect.
By the time I sobered up, that baby was twelve years old. He wants to stay with his father as he has brothers and a sister there. I understand, it sometimes hurts, but I do not have to drink over it. I see him every other weekend, and several times in between. We have a wonderful, crazy relationship that I would not change for anything. I have discovered that I am much stronger than I previously thought, and I am a survivor.
Who knew that true strength lies in asking for help and not in pretending I did not need any?
I view my alcoholism as a disease. Just as cancer patients must do certain things to keep their disease in remission, there are things I must do. I read my Big Book, I attend meetings, I work the steps, I pray a lot, I have a sponsor, and I have a sponsee to whom I am passing the message. Rather than being ashamed of no longer being a police officer, I frequently share my story with others in the hopes of helping just one more first responder see that there is a way out of the bottle and the hellish grip of addiction. I try to pass on my most treasured possession, aside from my sobriety – hope.
About the Author: Erika Rose Jordan is 44 years old. She was a police officer for fourteen years before her addiction to alcohol took over and almost cost Erika her life. Today, she is living happy, joyous and free thanks to her Higher Power and Alcoholics Anonymous. Her sobriety date is March 10, 2013.
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