What do all those professions have in common? They help people. They keep people safe. Many times, when everyone else is running the other way, they are running towards those who need help. They are among the bravest, most selfless professions known to man. Lay people sometimes have no idea the personal sacrifice involved in entering and becoming effective in these professions. The only reward is that you may have helped someone. You may have made someone’s life easier.
These professions define who you are. They are held in reverence by those who hold them. That piece of paper, your license, holds more meaning, than anyone who doesn’t have one, could ever begin to understand. Losing it is like losing a big part of yourself. Imagine that part of who you are is being dangled over your head or living in constant fear of losing it. Losing a part of you in the blink of an eye. That is what happens to a substance impaired worker in a helping profession. We are taught to treat our patients and the public with respect and kindness but, when it is one of us, all of that goes out the window and we are treated harshly and without regard to our own personal safety. Who in their right mind would self report if they knew that was going to be the result…years of emotional torment.
The fact of the matter is that we are all human. We all experience loss, betrayal, pain, grief, and so much more. We all have moments in life where we fall apart…where stress gets the best of us….we experience depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse. Society excuses most professions when substance abuse becomes an issue, in order to get the help they need with little or no questions. Except when you are, a Police Officer, Doctor, Airline Pilot, Firefighter, and Nurse. I will used alcohol abuse as an example. The accountant comes to work drunk. In most cases, he is given the option of treatment and if he takes the option and successfully completes rehabilitation, can return to work without severe ramifications….after all, he is only human. Now, I will tell you what happens to the, “the helping professions”.
Police officer comes to work drunk
He is most often fired. Sometimes arrested. Generally, blacklisted and unable to get another job as a police officer. Public humiliation comes in the form of calling the local news agency and tipping them off (they have the discretion not to do this). Their pride at being a Police officer gone in a second….the shame weighing on them is too much for any one person to carry. Their Badge and gun taken from them…..that has to be the most gut wrenching feeling. To walk away without something that defines you at such a deep level. There is little thought of their own personal safety.
Nurse comes to work drunk
In most cases the Nurse is fired and then has to fight for her licence and is then at the mercy of poorly trained people to oversee their recovery. They are mocked and degraded by those who oversee their recover, their bosses and coworkers (if they are lucky enough to find another job) and the whole thing is put online for anyone to google. Some are arrested against the advice of the Department of Public Health. Public humiliation. Most suffer from PTSD…not from the alcohol or drug abuse but, from the abuse and humiliation showered on them after they are caught under the influence…long after they stop using the drugs. Actually, it follows you until you are old and grey and stop renewing your license or if you die. On a personal level I have, as an experiment, applied for hundreds of jobs. I have incredible experience as a Nurse and used to be sought after for jobs. Now, the prospective employer looks up my license and never even bothers to call me. They don’t even bother to understand my side of the story….it is discrimination at its best.
Firefighter comes to work drunk
Read Police officer story above. Firefighters are generally treated better except in cases of relapse or getting into a drunk driving accident. Those things are unforgivable offenses. They are left with nothing. The profession they love gone in a heartbeat with no hope of redemption. The greatest source of pride stripped from them. The brotherhood of firefighters stands beside them but, the administration does not.
Doctor comes to work drunk
News spreads quickly through the entire hospital. Said Doctor, is asked to leave and not come back pending an internal investigation. Little or no help or human kindness are offered. The News reporters are called under the guise of protecting the public from this , “Monster”. Public humiliation. The Doctor is put into a program hand-picked by the Department of Public Health (much the same as nurses are) and left at the mercy of ill-trained, ill-intentioned power-hungry animals with anything but the Physicians best interest at heart. Their pride is ripped from them by one single moment. Countless physicians have committed suicide unable to withstand being abandoned by their colleagues and their profession….unable to withstand the shame.
Airline Pilot comes to work drunk
He is arrested at the gate. The News agencies are called and they do anything they can to sensationalize it. Extreme public humiliation.The pilot is put into a program and grounded for no less than a year. They lose friends, loved ones, material possessions and their pride. They now not only have to deal with recovery, they have to deal with criminal charges. They have to fight and fight to get reinstated long after they have done all they need to do to recover.
Doing the hard work to obtain a license in any of these professions requires immeasurable dedication and skill. That license becomes vitally important and intensely linked to who you are as a person. It is a source of pride. Falling into the grasp of drug or alcohol addiction and having that license put into jeopardy is the most horrific feeling in the world. I know this from personal experience. The humiliating way in which ‘recovery’ is structured within these professions is worse than the addiction itself. The shame brings you to a low in depression you never thought possible. Suicide and suicidal thoughts are common. The burden placed on the ‘helping professions’ is enormous. Meanwhile, the accountant is allowed to deal with their issues in privacy.
Some of you may disagree with what I have said here but, keep this in mind. One in ten of us will fall victim to alcoholism or addiction. The only thing worse than an impaired caregiver getting caught and treated, is the impaired caregiver who is so afraid to get caught because of the extremely punitive nature of the treatment and public humiliation they will receive, that they don’t go forward voluntarily to get the help that they need and go on to hurt the very people they vowed to help. A caregiver should not go on to suffer from PTSD from the treatment they received for substance abuse at the hands of the department of public health or the department of public safety.
We know enough about addiction to do things better for our caregivers. It’s a matter of public safety. If an impaired caregiver goes undetected then the lives of those they care for could potentially be in danger. The life of the caregiver could be in danger. It serves no purpose to treat our caregivers like criminals and degrade and demean them for the disease of addiction. It puts them at risk of suicide. It’s a matter of treating our caregivers the same way we are expected to treat our patients….with kindness, love, understanding, and dignity.
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