Updated: Mar 22
By Special Guest Writer
9-1-1 Records Custodian and Communications Officer
Peer support saved my life... and I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening. The saving my life part, I mean.
Six years ago, we had a very traumatic incident happen at our center. Erin, my supervisor, my friend, was killed by her ex-husband in a murder-suicide. It rocked me to the core. It triggered a whole bunch of past traumas and those things came bubbling to the surface. On top of that, my mom had a stroke earlier that same year that changed her whole persona, my marriage of 15 years was on the rocks (it ultimately ended later that year), and I worked nights and juggled “being an involved, good mom”. I was doing my best to keep it together, but my coping skills were zilch. Nada. Nil. I just didn’t realize that just yet. My world was crumbling around me and I found solace by numbing out. I crawled into a bottle or a bed and stayed there for quite a few years if I’m being honest.
When I was at my lowest of lows, my dearest friends and my work family, my B- shift beauties, consistently showed up. They texted me when we weren’t at work; they called me out on my behavior when it was needed. My new supervisor even confronted me once about my drinking and how she was concerned that it may affect my ability to be my best self at work. I know that was a hard thing to do, and it got my attention for sure. I wish I could say I immediately turned things around in my personal life and got my mental health under control. It was a slow process – kind of like watching moss grow. I am certain that I am here today because I had people in my life care enough to throw me a “rope of hope”, if you will, so that I could climb out of my pit of pain and despair.
I didn’t always listen. I sometimes scoffed at their concern. I painted on a smile and pretended like all was just dandy in my world, but they did their part. They cared. And they showed me they cared. THAT is peer support. It was not their job to make sure I used our Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) or went to a therapist to help me with the tremendous stressors I was experiencing. It wasn’t their job to police my abuse of alcohol. It wasn’t even their job to make sure I showed up to work. Those actions were for me to decide to do. And eventually, I did. I had to choose to grab the metaphorical rope and do the hard work of “climbing out”.
I think we’ve over-complicated this idea of peer support. We have mystified it. It’s almost become a buzz word like something your center “has or doesn’t have.” Peer support, simply put, is us looking out for each other. It’s noticing when something is “off” with your co-worker, your peer.
It’s not being afraid to speak up… to the person you are concerned about… not to everyone else! It is not something you HAVE; it is something you DO. Yes, there are peer support TEAMS and those are good and helpful when utilized. But what happens when a team isn’t there? What happens in the mundane moments of just everyday work life? Peer support begins with YOU: the 9-1-1 professional. You are the one who will notice those subtle changes in your co-worker. If you say you care, show them you do!
Check on your coworker who just lost a family member or close friend, or the coworker whose kid is having a rough time in school. Check on the one who used to come in looking a little more put-together than they do now. YOU initiate! Don’t brush it off by saying, “If you need anything let me know." We are 9-1-1… the masters of mess, the coordinators of chaos, the bad asses behind the headset. You know good and well we are stubborn and NOT asking for help. So, you got to do the asking. Help create a safe space for them to open up to you. Then guard that information with your life. Don’t go sharing their personal business with anyone and break that sacred trust you are building.
I am happy to share that I am in a much better place now. I am not ashamed to say I see my therapist at least once a month and I take meds that help with my mental health. I’ve been sober for a year. It has taken me years to get to a good place mentally, physically and emotionally... years to put the pieces of my shattered world back together... but I put in the hard work needed for my healing. My life is like a piece of mosaic art: messy, jagged and broken, but beautiful.
I am passionate about this industry and my heart’s desire is to learn all I can and share what I’m learning in order to help save others from drowning in their personal pain. Even if it’s just sitting in the darkness with them and reminding them that it won’t always feel this way.
We can’t do this job as loners. Well, we can but we will pay for it with our souls. Be the change agent in your center. Be the one who sees, the one who cares and the one who acts. You just might be saving a life!
About the Author:
Sabrina Denise is a proud mom of 3 world-changers. She is a 10-year veteran of the Forsyth County (GA) 9-1-1 Center where she functions as the 9-1-1 Records Custodian and Communications Officer. Sabrina is an active learner and is currently certified in many areas related to peer support, mental health and customer service. She proudly serves on the CISM team for her region. Her goal is to teach 9-1-1 professionals how to combat bias in the workplace, breaking the stigma surrounding mental health in public-safety, putting callers first, and the importance of empathy and kindness as it relates to 9-1-1 call-taking.
Forsyth County 9-1-1 Center (GA): Website