Be Better or Be Bitter

Doug Wyman his story of his family's struggles with drugs, sexuality, gender, mental health, and suicide, all while he was helping his community walk through theirs.

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As a law enforcement officer, you spend a lot of time helping other families during and after a crisis. You spend much of your time arresting people who are driving drunk, using drugs, stealing, or other illegal activities and you’ve probably called people who engage in those activities “losers”, “idiots”, “scumbags” or other derogatory names.

Now, put yourself in a situation where, as an officer, those people are your family. Not extended family but your immediate family: your wife, husband, children, mom, dad, brother, or sister. What then? Doug Wyman, a former chief of police and law enforcement veteran of 32 years, reached out to me and said he wanted to share his story so other officers didn’t feel alone. You can do your best to protect those in the community, as well as try to protect your family, but sometimes it is not in your control.

Doug shares his story of his family’s struggles with drugs, sexuality, gender, mental health, and suicide, all while he was helping his community walk through theirs. He is honest and open regarding the details of his life so please consider this a warning if any of those topics are a trigger.

Cops have their own struggles too

Doug experienced several different layers of struggles within his family while putting on a brave face for those he served in the community. His family navigated their way through a revelation that their youngest child was a victim of an assault by a babysitter at the same time that he came out as gay. His youngest had a rapid onset of gender dysphoria and then transitioned to transgender.

During this time his older son was involved pretty heavily in drugs and was arrested numerous times. There was a lot of conversation within Doug’s family about asking his oldest to live with relatives to remove him from the environment to aid in his sobriety. This idea unfortunately failed, and his oldest son became homeless resulting in a very serious arrest.

With both sons going through difficult transitions, Doug’s wife’s mental health was failing. She grew up in a family where mental health wasn’t talked about and taking medication was out of the question. Throughout their marriage, there were phases of extreme insecurity. With Doug working overtime, climbing the ranks, and doing extra duty assignments it added to her uncertainty. At the beginning of 2017, Doug’s wife was involved in a work incident that caused a downward spiral. There was a period when she had to be evaluated at the hospital several times due to auditory and visual hallucinations. At one point, she didn’t even recognize Doug. There were never threats of self-harm, so there was never a commitment. Doug’s wife would be released into an environment where she didn’t want to talk about the problems, didn’t want to consider medication, and was alone while he was at work. This cycle went on for several months, and it eventually culminated in Doug’s wife taking her own life with his service pistol while getting ready for work.

After performing life-saving measures on his wife, police arrived and transferred Doug to the hospital under suicide watch. The trauma Doug experienced left him with feelings of failure, humiliation, and shame.

The conflict

As a police officer, there can be an internal conflict of wanting to help others while experiencing feelings of shame of not being able to handle your family’s issues. As Chief of Police, Doug struggled with being responsible for his community and family and felt like he couldn’t protect either one. There was this expectation that as the chief, he had his life together, but in reality, home was not a place that could be looked at as “safe” anymore. There was no place for decompression from work and no place to take a break from his family. How can you go on a call and give others advice on drug addiction in the middle of an opioid crisis while your son is struggling as well? How do you answer the question, “What would you do?” In Doug’s case, he was human and provided honest feedback.

“I’m in the same place you are. I have no idea what I’m gonna do.”

Combating the feeling of failure and dealing with internal struggles

Early intervention and support

Early intervention is key. It can make the difference between having post-traumatic stress injury and having experienced post-traumatic growth. Whether it is from a peer support group, a chief from another police department, family, or friends, accept and take advantage of support when it is offered.

Destigmatizing guilt and shame.

Those feelings are stopping you from getting help. Take that leap of faith and know that it will be okay. It may not feel like it at the moment, but it will be.

It’s human to be impacted!

Intellectually, it’s human to be impacted, but there’s a vulnerability or the fear of weakness, emotional risk, and exposure to go and get help. Don’t sit in the shame spiral but rather have the understanding that it is human to be impacted.

Don’t get caught up in magical thinking

Magical thinking of “Could have, would have” doesn’t provide any real magic. It compounds the shame and guilt of playing Monday morning quarterback in your head. At the end of the day, whatever trauma you are dealing with, still happened.

Shame and choices

You have two choices, be bitter or be better. Brené Brown explains this concept as “If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three things to survive. Secrecy, silence, and judgment. If you put light on it and dose it with empathy, it can’t survive. “

Bitter is the easiest of the options to choose. Bitter is darkness and it’s really easy to sink into it, hide, and be in the shadows. It can lead you down the path of least resistance, making it sound righteous, but you end up deeper into the abyss.

Being in the light means you have to expose it, and you’re going to have to do some hard work. It might feel like a gut check but if you choose to be bitter and go dark, you miss out on life. Choosing to be better allows you to become stronger, more self-aware and to write a whole new chapter of happiness for yourself.

Acceptance is not agreement.

“I didn’t agree to my wife’s death, I accepted it.”

Acceptance is understanding that something happened. It’s a fact and there’s evidence that a situation occurred. This is the starting point of understanding that there are certain things in life you have absolutely no control over as hard as you may try. Accept the fact that you’re struggling, you’re hurting, and that things aren’t perfect.

All families struggle, but we all struggle in different ways. Just because you put on a uniform, or you’re in leadership, doesn’t mean that you have all your shit together. If you can admit to yourself that you need help and you’re strong enough to be able to execute, it is much better on the other side. Move through your struggles with adversity, and resilience, and accept that certain aspects of life happen. We are all human.

Doug Wyman is a former police chief for 12 years. He was in law enforcement for 32 years and he retired back in 2020. He currently teaches mental health for the New England Chiefs of Police command school and teaches about supporting families of LGBTQIA + youth for crisis intervention team programs in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. He’s currently working full-time as an investigator for the Massachusetts Department of Health. He’s also a trauma-informed coach, a group facilitator for survivors of suicide loss, and currently attending a chaplain certification course.

Doug Wyman: dyman1636 @gmail .com.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/douglas-wyman-6b80852a/

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Be Better or Be Bitter

Doug Wyman his story of his family's struggles with drugs, sexuality, gender, mental health, and suicide, all while he was helping his community walk through theirs.

Share:

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