Healing the Trauma of First Responders

By The Fix staff 05/22/19

Getting treatment from people who understand the unique experience of first responders is critical.

Dean Grindle, Deer Hollow Alumnus
Dean Grindle

When Dean Grindle arrived at Deer Hollow Recovery and Wellness Centers in Draper, Utah in February, he wasn’t sure he wanted to live. But two months after attempting suicide, he wasn’t 100 percent certain that he wanted to die, either.

“I had no idea what I was getting into, what I was doing, or why I was even doing it. Ninety-nine percent of me wanted to die,” Grindle says. “But there was that one percent that kept telling me to do it.”

Today, Grindle, 45, has been sober for six months. He recently started working again, and is staying in a sober living facility run by Deer Hollow. He credits the program with saving his life.

“The thing that made Deer Hollow so unique was the number of skills that I could use on the bad days and the good days. They all dovetail and if one doesn't work or make sense, I have plenty more to choose from,” Grindle explains. “Deer Hollow gave me options. They saved my life by giving me hope and teaching me self-compassion. Today, I am worthy of being a human being.”

Grindle, who was living in South Carolina before his suicide attempt, found Deer Hollow because he was looking for a treatment program that specifically catered to first responders.

“I wanted to go to a first responder PTSD program because in the past when I would share stories about what I’d seen and done, most people, including therapists, didn’t understand,” he says. “I knew I had some chance of someone understanding if I was around first responders.”

When Grindle first started working in law enforcement in 1995 he was able to stop drinking in order to meet the demands of the job. But he became ill in 2003 with an infection that ultimately led to nerve damage. He was given powerful prescription painkillers, which he soon became addicted to.

“At first, I took it as prescribed. I then realized that this stuff could cover more than just physical pain,” he says.

For seven years Grindle battled addiction, until an overdose in 2010 brought his condition to a head.

“I woke up in ICU four days later, looked around, and thought ‘Well this didn't turn out like I wanted,’” he recalls.

After the hospitalization Grindle went to inpatient treatment for 60 days. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, so after treatment he left his law enforcement career in order to focus on his health and sobriety.

He was doing well until 2013, when he was in a bad car accident in which the other driver was killed.

“I wasn't speeding or impaired, I just wasn't paying attention,” Grindle says. “I stayed sober, but it rocked my world. All the things that I had believed in about myself and who I was were shattered. All those years of protecting the innocent…”

Despite the added trauma from the accident, Grindle maintained a tenuous hold on his sobriety. However, his marriage faltered, and ultimately ended in a “bitter divorce.” Grindle wasn’t going to meetings or doing any work on his recovery, and finally his addiction and mental health challenges caught up with him.

“I began drinking again in 2016, knowing the consequences full well,” he says.

Rock bottom came two years later, when Grindle was desperately trying to regain his grasp on sobriety. In 2018 he went to five detox programs and a 30-day inpatient program, but it wasn’t enough.

“When I returned, things were very messy, and the thoughts I had of not being worthy of recovery overwhelmed me,” Grindle says. On December 28, he attempted suicide.

After surviving the attempt and going through detox, Grindle boarded a plane to Salt Lake City to go through the first responder program at Deer Hollow. Although he was still dealing with a lot of pain and shame, the staff stuck by him.

“At Deer Hollow, there were good days and some very rough ones,” he says. “There was about a week and half, early on, that I went on what Clinical Director Dr. Amy Crawford called ‘my vacation into the volcano of shame.’ I was literally going to walk off and die somewhere.”

Yet, the staff at Deer Hollow guided Grindle and began teaching him coping strategies.

“They didn't rescue me,” he says. “They continued to support me as I worked my way out of it. I began to use the numerous tools and skills that I had been taught to stick with the program. Then one day during a Psychodrama, it all just clicked. The trauma, the addiction, the feeling of worthlessness, all of it made sense.”

Today, Grindle shares his story in hopes that more people in law enforcement and treatment centers will recognize the importance of treatment specifically for first responders.

“PTSD and related substance abuse in law enforcement is overlooked by agencies and governments,” he says. “It is literally killing my brothers and sisters in the first responder services.”

Deer Hollow Recovery and Wellness Centers is a treatment center in Draper, Utah, that guides clients in moving towards physical, spiritual, psychological and social recovery.

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