First Posted in Uniform Stories 2015:
A rookie in the US will hear “Calling in a Code 10 (X), Serg” Who out there knows what that is? Also knowns as Duty Booty.
“Crash pads” offered by property managers in return for increased police surveillance on their units will be another shock for the rookie who probably married their childhood sweetheart, and “badge bunnies”, endless groupies that hang around cop bars, willing to do whatever to earn their … err… stripes. For the most part rookies will, for the first ten years of their career, shrug all these off as something other cops do.
A few years ago a good friend confided in me his dark hyper-arousal, sex secret, it was the first of many conversations replicated time and time again. I asked anybody and everybody I could who might be able to shed light on what was obvious to me the number one addiction in policing: sex. Most squirmed uncomfortably and with a raised eyebrow, said, “Umm…” As inspirational insightful comments go “umm” leaves a lot to be desired.
I asked Jonathan Douglas (President of the Ontario Psychological Association) and he joked that psychologists were mostly just jealous. Another cop friend of mine on twitter has told me to quit objectifying male cops, and we’ve all had a good laugh (google Norwegian Cop and you’ll understand why). But, as Jonathan quickly pointed out, there’s a very serious side to this issue and one that we need to be aware of:
Sex addiction numbs emotions, destroys relationships, increases risk of criminal behaviour, hurts families, leads to embarrassment, shame, and guilt.
So what is this all about? And, how’s a rookie to navigate this world or understand it? How is anybody to get their mind around such a difficult topic laced with so many landmines?
I often refer to my police friends as adrenaline junkies: I’ve watched many of them in recovery from PTSD struggle with the loss of those continuous adrenaline rushes even when it comes with such a heady exhaustion price tag on off-duty days. Hyper vigilance keeps cops alive, but at some point (around the 10 year service mark) it becomes hyperawareness. Now instead of being aware of threats, everything is a threat: the filters are breaking down, the noise overwhelming and deafening. What started out as a text-book police career hits that “one” event and things start to spiral out of control. The healthy coping mechanisms learnt no longer work, the fear of becoming one of those jaded, cynical, hopeless old timers becomes very real, no longer able to bounce into the next shift with renewed energy and optimism the metallic taste of adrenalin greets the copper every morning and nothing works anymore.
Sex reduces hyper vigilance and stress. It used to be that only undercover officers lived in a constant state of fear: fear of discovery. However, now with the violent climate we live in, politicians actively painting targets on cops backs, that ever present threat, the need for constant vigilance is a universal police experience.
“I felt there was a void within my soul. Having sex, getting drunk, took away the pain and anxiety. I would be angry, depressed and sad. Sex gave me a high.”
“I was highly energized and just wanted to screw to get out my frustrations. After you have sex, you feel better.”
“I think about sex all the time. I get aroused at really embarrassing times. I can’t seem to control it. I just need it. A lot. Like three times a day, minimum.”
One trauma too many including suicides of friends and colleagues impact a cop until self-soothing, no matter how destructive, is the only option. There is a death wish in most addictions, no less so in sex addiction. The compulsive need to have sex no matter the cost to self or loved ones, despite lived experience of those harmful consequences.
What is important to realize is that most of the “sex addiction” is the chase, not the capture. Hyper-arousal is a constant fact in many of my cop friends, a “dirty-secret” they believe to be their own personal hell and shared with me, trusted as non-judgemental and caring, a single understanding voice in a world of shame, guilt and self-loathing. Don’t think this is a man-only issue, either. It isn’t.
The fantasy life, the chase and the build up to capture of that forbidden booty increases heart rate, adrenalin pumps. There is an intense, emotional arousal in this scenario that gives a release like none other: self-soothing, emotional calm nirvana. The endorphins released in the brain are intoxicating.
I call this sex loop “circling the drain”.
This is a vicious path that becomes narrower and narrower: stress/release; anxiety/relief; shame/escapism. There is ultimately a loss of control, an obsession with the next “sex fix”, an inordinate amount of time and energy focused on the pursuit which is 90% of the high needed. At first it is easy enough to hide it from loved ones, there is an unspoken understanding within policing that “these things happen”. At some point though the wheels come off and everybody gets hurt.
It’s time we broke this door down and spoke more openly about the number one addiction that is hurting our police and their families. Sex is unlike any other addiction in that you can’t just “quit it”; there’s no “cold turkey” we are programmed to require it. It is dangerous in that it encompasses so much from flirting to Code X, the line is murky and the subject so little understood.
If a cop is lucky their spouse is educated in PTSD, when seen through a PTSD lens this behaviour can be understood, we can empathize and support healing. The faster it is recognized as PTSD the faster the descent into sex-addiction as a self-medication tool can be stopped, if it isn’t, it will lead ultimately to suicide either through chowing down on that gun or a slower, more painful isolated death of shame and self-loathing. The impact on cop families is immense, the price paid by children of police terrible.
Time to talk about this.