by Jon Ammeson
I am also a husband, father, son and brother. And a Police Officer.
As I write this, tomorrow will be my 47th birthday. It will also be my one year anniversary of sobriety, and the beginning of a new life for me and my family. I feel very fortunate to be here today to share my story.
As a kid, I grew up in a troubled home. My father is a mentally disabled veteran and an alcoholic. My mother worked very hard to try to keep things together. I have one sister that is seven years younger.
I did very poorly in school and was supposed to graduate in 1986, but I had to continue another year to get my high school diploma. I experimented with alcohol and marijuana, among other things, with the group of boys that I ran with. Needless to say, we got into a lot of trouble.
It wasn’t until I was about 19 years old that I wanted something better for myself. I attempted to get into the military, but was told my feet were too flat and too much of a liability. Mind you, this was before the Gulf War broke out.
I talked my way into a local technical college and began course work in police science. My interest in law enforcement really took off and I excelled in school. I was accepted as an intern with the city of Madison (WI) Police Department. A good friend of mine, Randy, mentored me during that year.
Unfortunately, after many rejections, I quickly realized that I was not going to get hired anywhere unless I was certified by the state. That translated into money that I did not have. So, I decided to come in through the back door and packed up and moved to Arizona.
I got my first law enforcement job as a correctional officer for the Arizona State Department of Corrections. I was assigned to the special management unit working in a Supermax prison. I made it three and a half years before I decided to move back to the Midwest to be closer to family.
During my time in Arizona, I was one hell of a weekend warrior. My occasional binge turned into more of a lifestyle, as I began hanging out with a regular crowd of officers who visited the tavern after each shift. It was just part of the routine. I never realized that I was developing a dependency on alcohol.
When I arrived back in Wisconsin, I was offered a job at the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office as a correctional officer and supervisor. I was very close in age to a lot of officers under my supervision, and we had more than our job in common. We loved to party. It was a fun way to blow off stress and the camaraderie we had was unshakable.
After almost four years at the sheriff’s office, I was offered a position as a patrol officer for the city of Beloit (WI) Police Department. Up to this point, I was a non-sworn correctional officer and was thrilled at the opportunity of hitting the streets. I was a little bit older than most of the rookies, but felt that I had experience that would help me be a better cop. I continued to drink on a regular basis. I had gotten married and had two children by the time my first few years were complete at BPD.
Then things quickly changed. I got divorced. I moved into my own apartment. The house went into foreclosure proceedings. I started to drink daily. I began to deplete my sick bank at work.
I quickly turned into the guy people told stories about around the water cooler after a weekend with friends and family. I went from drinking beer and mixed drinks to tumblers of vodka with a little splash of Diet Coke. Eventually, I couldn’t go anywhere without having a nip to get a head start on things. My social life became nonexistent.
I married a woman that I had known since grade school. In retrospect, it probably was not the best timing for either of us. I owe a huge amount of respect and gratitude to my wife, Bethany. She has steadfastly stayed with me through the next chapter of my life, and continues to do so to this day.
The last few years of my life before sobriety were extremely dark. There is actually a lot of it I can’t even recall. My blackouts were very frequent and I was drinking to such an extent it’s amazing I didn’t lose my job, get arrested, or cause a terrible accident and hurt somebody. I became suicidal at times. I remember one evening during a drunken stupor, I called the crisis center looking for help.
I told them I did not want to give them my name because of my job and the stigma that I thought it would create. I was advised that if I didn’t, they couldn’t do anything for me and I hung up. I was extremely depressed and wanted to quit, but I didn’t know how. Every single morning I got up I was new man, and every night after work I was the old man all over again. I didn’t have enough willpower and I didn’t want to tell anybody because I didn’t want to appear weak.
My sick bank went into the negative. I was told multiple times by administrators that I should contact the Employee Assistance Program. Every red flag possible was flying at full mast.
I occasionally visited counselors, but I wasn’t consistent and certainly didn’t want to quit drinking. I gave great advice to citizens at work. It seems like everyday I would go to a call where I would witness an overdose or take somebody to detox. I would tell them how serious it was that they change their lifestyle. Inside, I was hoping that I would be killed in a car crash or by a suspect because I knew that would be easier than to continue to put my wife and kids through what I was doing to them.
August 7, 2014 was my birthday. It was also the day that I almost died. I began drinking vodka as soon as the store opened at 9 o’clock in the morning. I took our kids fishing and consumed a pint while at the lake in under an hour. I stopped at the liquor store and bought more vodka on the way home. It was the last I remember.
My wife tells me that I probably had a seizure that evening, but she didn’t call 911 because she thought I would be upset that my friends showed up. I wound up in bed somehow because I had to work the following morning. I got a call to report for duty at 3:00 a.m. and cussed out my supervisor and hung up on him. Then I called back and called in sick for the following day.
The next morning I woke up with the realization that if I didn’t go inpatient somewhere immediately it was the end. Bethany suggested a rehabilitation facility about 20 minutes away. Within hours I was in scrubs in detox. I have no recollection of the next 72 hours.
Luckily, I made the decision to stay for at least 30 days. I told Bethany that it was something I had to do and thank God, she stood by me every step of the way. During my stay, I was diagnosed with PTSD, depression and anxiety. I was prescribed medication and began making laps around the outside track during my lunch just to kill time. It was very difficult to live in housing with 12 other addicts all going through the same thing.
So tomorrow, I celebrate my 47th birthday. For that, I am very grateful. I continue to take things day by day and go to meetings and counseling. I’m still on medication, but I feel so much better than I did a year ago. I continue to walk. Just moving my legs has helped me lose about 35 pounds. That and not continuing with an enormous empty caloric uptake everyday.
I am currently networking with other first responders and providers to find the best way I can offer help to those who feel there is no help. All I can say is to take the first step. If you are like I once was, you have nothing else to lose. Except the opportunity to feel better. Sober life is pretty damn good. As quoted from my youngest son after the first family visitation while I was in rehab:
“Dad’s different. …….I like this dad better.”
About the Author: Jon Ammeson is a 16 year veteran of the city of Beloit Police Department. He is a member of the honor guard and is currently assigned to first shift Patrol. He is married to Bethany, his guardian angel. They have three sons: Paul, Braden and Evan. Jon continues to enjoy the sober life by camping, family functions, riding their Harley Davidson motorcycle, and appreciating each day to its fullest.