Jonathan Hickory: Officer PTSD to Officer Resilience

Jonathan Hickory police officer and author of Break Every Chain went from Officer to the Year to facing termination after his struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and alcoholism only to find resilience through help and his walk with God.

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Jonathan Hickory is with me today to talk about how important it is to share that there’s struggle out there. He is a Master Police Officer in Charlottesville, Virginia with 17 years experience policing. He has mentored and instructed other officers in police driving methods and as a field training officer and serves on the peer support team and works with stress incident management. He has been married to his wife Stacy for 16 years and they have three kids together. Similarly to me, him and his wife got together and got married at the start of his career.

Like many police officers, Jonathan used to be against mental health and said he felt invincible for years. He agreed that the mentality surrounding officers is to just “suck it up.” He thinks it would be a great idea for officers to get mental health training at the beginning of their career to help them through things.

The Path to Officer PTSD

Jonathan’s struggle involved post traumatic stress injury, depression and alcohol. There were several aspects that contributed to the development of his struggle including some unresolved childhood pain as well as the job.  Jonathan grew up in New England with three siblings and a breadwinning engineer for a father. By the age of 11 his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and passed away a year later. Three months following his father’s death, his family moved to Virginia.

He notes that he had lots of unresolved trauma, anger and depression. He wasn’t receptive to counseling and at the time it wasn’t as prominent. Once he became an officer and started to see the darkness that officers are exposed to, he realized that he wasn’t ready for it and wasn’t able to deal with death like he thought he could.

As a crash investigator, he was continually exposed to gruesome accidents and struggled coping.  He turned to alcohol within a few years and hid it from his wife and job. He continued with this pattern barely surviving his marriage and then his wife gave birth at five months to a deceased baby boy.  When it happened, all the death and dysfunction he had experienced personally and on the job, had come into his own home and family.  He was wrecked. He refused to go for help. He felt that his own therapies of working out and riding his motorcycle would help.  After the death of his child a new darkness fell over him.

Jonathan calls this the self destruct period which happens when people are overwhelmed. For him, this involved infidelity, heavy drinking, as well as taking risks on the job including responding to calls in an unsafe manner. He says, quite frankly, “I didn’t care what happened to me and who I hurt along the way.”

Jonathan went from being named Officer of the Year to landing an internal affairs investigation within a one year period of time.  Like many officers, he was showing up as a highly functioning, over-achieving officer but was hiding his pain.  He thought he would lose his job and lose his wife and custody of his kid. He realized that everything that mattered to him could go away if losing his job came to light.

It was at this point Jonathan considered suicide.  He felt there was no way out and no point to his life if he lost his job and family. We talked about how the brain can overcompensate and attempt to protect you from what is hurting you. That’s what the suicidal thoughts were, a way to end the pain he was feeling.

When he thought about the gun nearby he had a vision of fire and it scared him and made him stop. He realized that there would be no going back if he did that. He knew that the only thing he could do for himself was to turn his life over to God, even though he barely believed in God at the time.

“There’s a belief & relief that you’re not in control. Faith is powerful but you can’t tell someone to pray all of their problems away. Even with hope I knew I needed to do something.”

The Turning Point: Officer Resilience

Jonathan went to work a few days later and talked to an older Lieutenant.  Who recognized the call for help and got the police department psychologist on the phone that moment. He remembers it being an order, not a choice. Seeing the psychologist opened his eyes to his journey of healing and recovery. Now his marriage has been restored, he is a chaplain and working on peer support.

If you’re in the storm you have to have courage and reach out to someone.

He says you must pursue healing because you CAN heal. Courage is thought of as strong but what courage really involves is vulnerability. He says that you have to push past the lie of you’re the only one who has been through this.

He was ashamed to write about counseling and his struggle when he started writing his book. He was still convinced there weren’t other cops like him. He knew it was a lie but was still afraid to publish and expose his weaknesses. However, his book lets others know that they are not alone.

I asked Jonathan how can you help your officer spouse see that you notice that something is off? Could his wife have done anything to help him?

He says he hid drinking and the job made him angry and bitter and that it happened gradually over time so she couldn’t have done much. However, he notes that awareness training when he started his career would have been a positive help. He also says that spouses should make sure to give the officer a transition period when coming off a shift before being a “husband” or “father.”

How to Take Care of Yourself as an Officer

Jonathan says taking care of yourself is like maintenance. You have to do it every so often. It’s also important to note that therapy looks different for other people.

Break Every Chain – The Book & Movie

Jonathan’s book about his story will hopefully become a movie soon. His friend who narrated his audiobook passed along the copy to the producer of a movie he was working on. A new door has opened with the move and he says they are hoping to reach a lot of officers with the movie.

You can go to his website breakeverychainbook.com and become a sponsor for the movie.  If you donate $100 or more you will get your name in the credits.

Contact Jonathan Hickory

Follow the book’s Facebook or Instagram

Instagram – @jonathanhickory

https://www.breakeverychainbook.com/

Podcasts

Jonathan Hickory: Officer PTSD to Officer Resilience

Jonathan Hickory police officer and author of Break Every Chain went from Officer to the Year to facing termination after his struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and alcoholism only to find resilience through help and his walk with God.

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