My name is Adam A. Meyers, and I was a police officer in Wisconsin for 21 years. On April 8, 2016, at 5:15 p.m., I was involved in a critical incident when I used deadly force against a 25-year-old who armed themselves with a hatchet inside a busy department store.
I killed that person, who was not a murderer or a rapist or a bank robber, just someone whose mental issues and choice to arm themselves presented a deadly threat to me and the public. It’s a hard thing to live with.
So even though the shooting was ruled justified, it led to many personal and professional mental health challenges for me. I have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and it has taken me many years to get back on track. I continue to struggle, but I am better than I was.
There are many different coping strategies people may use after experiencing trauma. They may be good and healthy, or they may be bad and unhealthy. My coping strategies were really bad and very unhealthy, self-destructive, and dangerous. I abused alcohol, marijuana, casual sex, and even tried to harm myself for years after the shooting.
My poor coping strategies put my relationships, my job, and my health at risk, but I did not care. I wanted to escape from what I was feeling. I wanted to numb my emotions, my thoughts, my body, and any memory of taking someone’s life. I wanted to feel better even if only momentarily. I was selfish, reckless, and I did not care how my self-destructive and dangerous behavior affected my family, friends, fellow officers, or the public.
I WOULD DRINK ANYTHING
One of my many poor coping strategies was abusing alcohol. Prior to my critical incident I collected wine and enjoyed a glass of wine every now and then. But after my critical incident I began abusing liquor, mainly whiskey and the cheapest vodka I could get my hands on. I would consume whiskey and vodka straight from their bottles, on the rocks, or I would create my own cocktails by combining over the counter liquid sleeping medicines or allergy medicines. There were times that I would mix in whatever leftover prescription medicines I had in the medicine cabinet, and it did not matter if they were prescribed to me or someone else.
I very well could have blacked out and never awakened after consuming these dangerous cocktails, but at the time I did not care. I did not care and wanted an escape from my emotional pain. Abusing alcohol may was a quick fix, but later it caused me even more stress, anxiety, and depression.
I even drove drunk. Prior to attending any type of social event, even as simple as going to the grocery store, I would consume alcohol. I would travel to a nearby gas station and purchase many small bottles of liquor containing about 1.5 ounces of whiskey, vodka, or whatever I could afford at the time. I would immediately consume the alcohol in my vehicle prior to travelling to my destination. I would rationalize that it would take about 30 minutes for me to feel the effects of the alcohol and by the time I was impaired I would have arrived at my destination. I was very fortunate that I was not arrested for drinking and driving. I was even more fortunate that I didn’t kill someone in a crash.
I HURT MYSELF
There were many times I did not want to go to work. This was not because I had other plans or because I was hungover from consuming too much alcohol. I just wanted to stay at home and isolate myself from the world. I wanted to lock all the doors, close all the curtains, and shut everyone out of my life.
I called in sick from time to time, but on one occasion, I intentionally injured myself so that I did not have to work. I used a steel wrench to cause superficial injuries to my left knee. I struck my knee a dozen or more times, enough to cause redness, abrasions, and bruising, and limped into the local emergency room. I explained to the doctor and nurses that I had tripped and fallen down walking out of the back door of my house and had struck my knee on the steel covering of an underground septic tank.
My story was believable enough. They X-rayed my knee, and I received prescriptions for pain medication and crutches. I was discharged from the emergency room with a doctor’s letter releasing me from work for about one week. This occurred during a busy holiday work week. Although I was not able to truly celebrate the holiday, this deception got me out of working, and I was able to enjoy the time alone at home. I didn’t think about the other officers who had to work more on the holidays because of me.
Another way I was able to get out of working was to intentionally make myself sick. Once I went to a couple of fast-food places while traveling to work and ordered a bunch of breakfast food and made sure I washed it down with soda and orange juice. I needed to make sure I added beverages to my breakfast buffet to ensure it would all come up easier when I made myself vomit.
I arrived at work. And upon exiting my vehicle, I played the role of the sick employee. I walked into the station and made myself vomit in the bathroom. I made sure the bathroom door remained open so that anyone walking by could see or hear me. I made sure that not all my vomit made it into the toilet and landed on the floor for an added effect. I was immediately sent home.
I HELD MY GUN TO MY HEAD
Another dangerous and unexplainable way I coped was by putting the barrel of my duty weapon to my head. I put that .40 caliber Glock to my head at least a dozen times. Sometimes I even placed the barrel in my mouth.
But I didn’t really want to kill myself. Although I very well could have, because if you don’t rack the slide and remove the round from the chamber, a Glock will still discharge a round when you pull the trigger.
My rationalization for what I was doing with my duty pistol was that I simply wanted to hear and feel the metallic click of the trigger being pulled while the barrel of the gun was resting against my right temple. I did this while I was under the influence of alcohol. I still do not truly understand why I did this and sometimes wonder how many times it happened while I was blacked out from drinking. I am very fortunate to be alive.
I FINALLY GOT HELP
I suffered in silence for many years after my critical incident and I am ashamed for the ways I poorly coped. I also find it hard to believe that nobody realized or even had a gut feeling that I was not doing well. I could not have been that good at hiding my poor coping strategies. I have always wondered if people realized I was in trouble but didn’t know what to and did not know what to say to me or how to help me. Maybe some of them just did not want to get involved.
Fortunately, I came back from the brink. But it wasn’t easy to do so. And it didn’t happen overnight.
In September 2018, I drafted a written contract with myself to not consume alcohol. I don’t remember writing the contract, but there was something inside of me that recognized how self-destructive drinking had and has become for me. This contract quickly became null and void because it took me another three years to reduce my alcohol consumption.
But things have gotten much better. I was diagnosed with a mental illness last year and was deemed unfit for duty by the police department’s psychologist. I was granted a 90-day leave of absence and began intensive therapy two and three times a week.
The treatment helped me heal and to understand why I adapted poor coping strategies to self-medicate myself. I only wished I would have begun the therapy five years earlier, but it was better late than never.
In May 2022 my leave of absence was not extended and I was given the option to resign or be terminated from the police department. I refused to resign and was terminated.
I continue weekly therapy. I am also prescribed Lexapro and propranolol, medications that help me with my depression and generalized anxiety.
I have been able to move past my poor coping strategies because of the support I receive from my family, friends, therapist, girlfriend, and my current employer, and co-workers. I would not be where I am today without their support. I am very grateful and will never be able to put into words how much their support means to me.
Here’s my message to every law enforcement officer. If you believe someone is struggling with their mental health, reach out. I know it may feel awkward or uncomfortable, but most people will not admit they are struggling, and most people will not ask for help. You could be a light during a very dark time in their life.
Adam A. Meyers is the founder of Stop the Threat – Stop the Stigma, an organization dedicated to officer wellness that encourages those who work in the law enforcement profession to speak about their own mental health.