Self-Inflicted Wounds

After years of normalizing alcoholism, enabling behaviors from those around him, the lack of consequences, and poor decision-making, John was in a position to potentially lose his job and ultimately his marriage.


Policing changes you. I was told early on that policing would change my husband, and that was just the way it was. His career would impact him and together, we would just have to accept that fact. It was like hearing that he had a permission slip to behave however he wanted because of policing. Are we both officers and spouses going to be impacted by policing? Of course. Does that mean we have to take it sitting down? No. We can make decisions to be aware of the impact and at any time start to self-direct our course. That is exactly what John Kelly did. He shares his story of unhealthy coping skills, his downward spiral, the impact on his career and family, and how he recognized he needed to stop blaming others and take responsibility for his own self-inflicted wounds.

What are Self-Inflicted wounds 

Self-inflicted wounds are problems that are created by not taking responsibility for our own decisions and assigning blame for our struggles on others. Wounds can also be created by not recognizing the impact that an event has on our belief system or behavior.  Wounds can stem from feelings of powerlessness, lack of control, seeing ourselves as a victim, or taking on blame that is not ours to own.  These wounds can occur when we do not take the time to heal and incorporate the resilience that we need to move forward.

Wounds can come in the form of bad behavior, unhealthy relationships, mindset, and how we perceive ourselves.  If you see someone with a self-inflicted wound or experience them yourself, you may think, “Why do they continue to make choices that they know are going to land them in a place they don’t want to be.”  You think, “they are doing this to themselves”.

In John’s case, he experienced the early impact of self-inflicted wounds as a child. He grew up in the home of an alcoholic and learned that drinking excessively and on a daily occurrence was normal. This mindset stayed with him while he attended a military college, and the culture of drinking was exacerbated. As he got older, his drinking patterns became more acceptable and normalized among his family and friends.

These habits continued into John’s adult life where he developed self-inflicted wounds from his decisions and the environment around him.

The Impact on the Law Enforcement profession 

By the time he was hired on to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, he was a full-blown alcoholic. In the early 90’s, the culture of the profession was different and everyone had each other’s six, regardless of the circumstance. You could drive drunk, knowing there were no consequences because you wouldn’t be arrested. You would get a free ride home. This kind of enabling encourages behaviors that would otherwise be unacceptable and doesn’t offer a reason to change.

Progressively things got worse. His habits led to reckless driving, endangering people around him, and reporting for duty while intoxicated. “It would be easier for me to count the times when I wasn’t drunk driving than the times that I was.” On one particular occurrence, John went on shift while drunk, and his shift mates had to cover for him. They picked him up, drove him to a friend’s house, handled the rest of his calls, and had him sleep it off.  John was later dismissed after missing roll call and was scheduled to meet with his two sergeants the next morning.

Addiction and the Impact on Relationships 

It wasn’t the actual act of drinking that created an issue in his marriage. It was the childhood trauma of watching his parents argue about his father’s alcohol use. John learned that speaking up during arguments perpetuated the argument and at times, made it worse. As a result, he developed coping skills of shutting down and not communicating to avoid conflict. When you don’t voice your opinion, there is no room for disagreement.

This spilled over into his marriage and John was unable to communicate basic needs like saying what he wanted for dinner. Over time, it wasn’t just the small stuff.  He lacked the ability to talk about intimacy, finances, and life decisions. All the things that really matter! This led to resentment towards his marriage, the inability to connect with his wife, and ultimately an affair. Having the affair was a continuation of non-confrontational ways because it allowed a physical void to be filled without having to communicate.

There was disappointment from his wife, daughter, father-in-law, and others around him. The downward spiral continued to happen which resulted in dark thoughts and moments where he considered death. When the walls start closing in and it gets darker, “You get to the point where you’re just like, you can’t even look at the person looking back at you in the mirror.”

You have to take a look and realize many things happen in the law enforcement profession. It’s easy to assign blame to all those things, whether it be childhood trauma, normalizing behaviors, or lack of consequences. If we take a critical look at our lives, 99.9% of the time, the reason why we’re in the place that we’re at is because of the decisions that have been made. Different things can happen, but ultimately, it’s our decisions that create a problem and how we choose to find a solution.

How to care for self-inflicted wounds

Get help!

Find someone you can trust and get help! Go to somebody that you trust and can confide in because they may know the organization and the culture and the real way to go about getting help. The first step is confiding in someone that you are struggling with and then finding resources to help navigate your journey. There are a lot of departments or counties that have peer support, and that’s a great place to align or find someone.

Normalize the struggle!

After attending an AA meeting for cops run by cops. John realized there were a lot of familiar faces in the room. He never knew that any of them had an issue. They were all struggling but nobody was talking about it outside of the AA meeting because it isn’t looked at as a badge of honor. We have to normalize some really uncomfortable, difficult conversations with the understanding that there are many who are all the same. We all have varying degrees of issues, so don’t hold yourself to unrealistic standards and create more problems than you can solve.

Change the mindset in leadership. 

The importance of a command or an agency, creating an environment that makes it okay to fail is underrated. How do we treat people that fail on a personal level, who stumbles and that fall? How we treat each other is a reflection. Leadership needs to use their rank for the reason it was intended, which is to help and support people under their charge that need help. Everything has a risk, but it takes fortitude and courage to push back and support the officer in need. “These conversations among leadership are not happening and leadership needs to believe that there’s something more to rank than to be self-serving.”

Don’t be afraid to extend the opportunity to redeem! 

Give the opportunity for redemption and after it is given, it is up to the individual to decide what to do with it. Regardless of what the policy says, you’re not a liability. You’re an amazing person who’s human, who has fallen. No one has to forget the failure but let them prove that they can be better and worth saving.

Realign with the person you want to be

Who’s the person that you want to show up as? What’s your character? Do your behaviors and beliefs show up in that way? There has to be a realigning over and over again to the person that you want to be and it has to be a part of your continual process. Don’t get stuck in the loop of normalizing unacceptable behaviors.

A strong relationship is the number one resilience factor!

If we want healthy officers, they need strong relationships. Don’t push away from your relationship when you are dealing with a problem or struggling. Pull them closer and create your support circle. Have difficult conversations without the fear that your spouse with think of you less or that they are ashamed. Don’t stop doing the things that made you successful in your relationship. Having a relationship is hard and it’s tough. Struggling alone is harder.

Here is a quick checklist of what to do if you are experiencing self-inflicted wounds:

Take care of your mental, emotional, and physical wellness

Understand the importance of you being you and adding value to your own life by acknowledging that there can be no taking care of others until we truly take care of ourselves.

Make yourself a priority so you can be there for the people in your life that you love and that love you unconditionally.

Own your mistakes and admit when you’re wrong, Be okay with it. Be okay with not being perfect, being okay with failing people, and then say it won’t happen again.

Be a better version of yourself by working on yourself.

Reconnect with relationships.

Wounds don’t get fixed overnight. They take time to heal.

John is a 30-year veteran of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. He worked patrol investigations canine training and was in the motorcycle unit for six years. Throughout his career, he has been involved in numerous critical incidents and received countless awards and honors. He is well known for his ability to educate and motivate, without losing the importance of the mission at hand as he prioritizes the importance of being accountable to each other. John retired in December 2020 and is currently still making an impact during retirement. He has been married to his wife Nicole for 27 years, with an ongoing joke that they have been married for 27 years despite his best efforts to destroy the marriage and the relationship. He is the author of a book called Surviving Self-Inflicted Wounds, A Deputy’s Life of Redemption. His book shares his own struggles, and the impact on his family, while sharing an important message to officers.

If you want to get ahold of John Kelly, visit or @lawenforcementlifecoach. He also has a podcast called Sometimes Heroes Need Help


Self-Inflicted Wounds

After years of normalizing alcoholism, enabling behaviors from those around him, the lack of consequences, and poor decision-making, John was in a position to potentially lose his job and ultimately his marriage.