WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KRON) – After confronting his own trauma, a retired Walnut Creek Police Sergeant is now helping other first responders face their fears and heal.
He’s behind a new documentary and book detailing deeply personal experiences.
Michael Sugrue has put away his badge years ago, but his lessons learned on the job will stay with him forever.
Although they are painful, he publicly addresses them as part of his mission to save lives.
Being a police officer was Sugrue’s calling. He proudly served the Walnut Creek community for more than a decade but even in the seemingly quiet East Bay town, Sugrue said he had several traumatic events on the job where he had to draw his gun.
He wrote about it in his new book, “Relentless Courage: Winning the Battle Against Frontline Trauma”.
Fatal police shootings went up last year to 1,055 nationwide, and at that moment that kid who Sugrue said was a good guy who just did a bad thing, suspected of residential burglary, sadly nearly joined a statistic during a fast-moving encounter.
Sugrue says he himself almost joined another one after a different case where he had to kill a man who was threatening people and while he says he saved the life of a couple, his own was life was left in shambles.
“My life literally spiraled downward to where I lost nearly everything. I lost my marriage, my health started to fail, I started to put myself in dangerous situations at work hoping I’d died in the line of duty,” Sugrue said.
In fact, bluehelp.org reports more first responders die by their own hand than in the line of duty. Psychologist Dr. Shauna Springer who co-authored “Relentless Courage” sheds light on the dark truth.
“Well, they see hundreds of traumas throughout the course of their careers, whether military or as first responders. Traumas most people have no understanding or awareness of. And they also tend to have a blindspot for where they may be most at risk in terms of self-destructive urges. A lot of times because of their stoic culture and a stigma around saying that they’re not okay they will suffer in silence. And as a result, sometimes the behaviors and acts that we see as heroic are actually suicide attempts,” Dr. Springer said.
Turning to therapy, Surgue turned his life around and now encourages other first responders learn to do the same and ask for help.
Along with the upcoming book, he partnered up with non-profit Mission 22 for a documentary they hope will first responders cope with post-traumatic stress.
“At my deepest darkest times, I thought I was alone I thought there was no one else out there that was suffering like I was. I thought no one else would understand it no one else would get it they would judge me and look down upon me. When I found these meetings, I realized I had a whole other family,” Sugrue said.
Together, Sugrue and Dr. Springer stress the importance of shaping a new culture around first responders that encourages them to talk about trauma in a trusted environment that won’t jeopardize their work.
“There is hope and that there is help and all you have to do is get the strength and courage to ask for it,” Sugrue said.
“You can come back from this and grow through trauma and grief and have a better life than you can imagine,” Dr. Shauna Springer said.
Here are a few resources where police can call if they need help:
|National Suicide Prevention Lifeline||1-800-273-8255|
|Veterans Crisis Line||1-800-273-8255|
|Cop 2 Cop||1-866-267-2267|