‘I want to be Jared again!”: An officer’s story of trauma and the process of healing
The bravest moment in this U.S. Marine veteran and LEO’s life was when he asked for help
At first glance, Jared Nesary appears to be a real-life GI Joe action figure. He is tall, muscular and has a defined jawline and the stereotypical tattoos of a warrior.
Jared’s resume continues to paint the picture of a real American hero: U.S. Marine Corps veteran, 22-year law enforcement officer, SWAT operator, K-9 handler, lead active shooter/rescue task force Instructor, lead de-escalation instructor, school resource officer, gang officer and training officer. What Jared’s tough exterior does not show is the prolonged exposure and effects of cumulative trauma; the mental and emotional wear and tear of over two decades of public service to his country and community.
Psychologists say law enforcement officers experience direct and vicarious trauma at a significantly higher rate than their civilian counterparts.“First responders have many vulnerabilities because of their constant exposure to death and destruction. There are other risk factors for them and others who are experiencing cumulative stress that put them at higher risk for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),” writes Dr. Michelle Maidenberg.
Jared’s trauma story starts well before his military and law enforcement service. From an early age, Jared experienced violence and abandonment. This exposure laid a rocky psychological foundation for the rest of his life. As Jared continued through life, he experienced loss and heartache. However, instead of processing and healing from these experiences, Jared did what most law enforcement officers have historically done, he shoved them down deep, sucked it up and drove on. He was a Marine, a SWAT cop and there was no time to talk about feelings and emotions or show weakness.
One of the more significant losses was when Jared’s police K-9 partner, Bruno, died of an autoimmune disease. At this point in Jared’s life and law enforcement career, he had been exposed to multiple traumatic events including homicides and suicides, had been threatened and assaulted by criminals, and had two marriages crumble. But it was the loss of his best friend, Bruno, that really cut deep. The cumulative stress at this point in his life was taking a toll on his overall mental health and wellness.
That one call
Then on November 27, 2017, Jared got a call that became a breaking point that sent him into the darkness. Jared states that you either have had this one call, or this one call is coming for you.
Jared and his law enforcement partners responded to a dispatched call of an armed robbery. Officers quickly located the suspect vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee. Officers attempted to perform a traffic stop, but the driver of the Cherokee took off at a high rate of speed. The ensuing high-speed pursuit led out of their municipal jurisdiction and into other, more remote cities. Jared was initially the number two vehicle, responsible for calling the pursuit out to dispatch and other responding officers. Other officers joined the pursuit as the Cherokee continued to flee. The suspect then began shooting at officers.
As the pursuit continued, it came within one mile of Jared and his wife’s residence out in the county. When the Cherokee finally came to a stop, the suspect quickly exited with a gun. Officers were forced to use their firearms to stop the suspect from killing them. By the time, Jared joined the two officers who had shot the suspect, the suspect was down and not moving.
The aftermath of an officer-involved shooting is a surreal experience – flashing lights, crime scene tape, medical personnel, county corners, administrative staff and investigators. Jared’s captain arrived on scene and told him to drive to the station to be interviewed by detectives as a witness officer.
As Jared drove back to the police station, he relived the near-death experience. He felt overwhelmed with emotion, but he refused to cry. He had to be tough. At the police station, Jared felt lost and alone. While waiting for detectives, Jared’s lieutenant and captain (both served on the SWAT team with him) told him that the detectives were going to be a bit and they asked him to check back into service and handle some pending calls for service.
Jared was in a daze, holding back tears, but he did not want to appear weak or show fear. After all, he had not fired his gun. Jared did as he was told but was operationally ineffective. He recalls that he did not handle a single call for service. At about 0530 hours, just before getting off shift, Jared was able to provide his statement to detectives at the station.
As Jared drove home, he once again relived the high-speed pursuit and being shot at. At home, Jared could not sleep. He had been on Ambien for 5 years to help him sleep due to working the graveyard shift, but Ambien had no effect on him that night. Jared had nightmares, flashbacks, and relived the pursuit and shooting all over again. He heard sirens ringing in his ears for the next three days. He could not open up to his wife, who was also a police officer and involved in the pursuit. He didn’t know what was wrong with him and he was scared to talk about it or tell anyone. Jared went back to work the next evening.
In the days and weeks that followed, Jared became increasingly agitated. He was unreasonably angry with people who lied to him on normal calls for service. He had a visceral reaction while sitting at home one night with his wife who was eating corn chips. He felt that she was eating the corn chips at him as she crunched away. It was all he could do to not lash out with rage.
Jared’s mental health began to rapidly deteriorate. He was too embarrassed and ashamed to tell his wife. He was a lost and broken man. He thought that ending his life was a possible solution to stop the pain and suffering. At his breaking point and in an act of self-compassion, Jared did the most courageous thing he has ever done. He asked for help. Jared reached out to the department police chaplain who was also a retired officer. The chaplain listened, empathized and referred Jared to Deer Hollow.
Treating the invisible wounds
Deer Hollow is located in Draper, Utah. It is a leading mental health center for trauma treatment in the country specializing in first responder and military personnel suffering from PTSD, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and behavioral addictions. Its clinical team has extensive experience and deep cultural competencies to effectively treat the often-invisible wounds first responders carry from their professions.
During the intake and assessment, the staff at Deer Hollow asked Jared why he was seeking treatment now. Jared’s response was raw and genuine, “I want to be Jared again!”
Jared recounts that in treatment, “I had to take off the armor, be vulnerable and surrender.” And Jared did exactly that. He fully immersed himself into treatment, following the schedule and treatment plan designed by the medical staff. Some treatment sessions moved Jared out of his comfort zone, but he was committed to healing, and he learned to trust the Deer Hollow staff. Jared confronted years of suppressed and deep-rooted trauma related to his childhood and law enforcement service.
As Jared unpacked his trauma, something remarkable began to happen. He started to feel like Jared again.
Jared eventually returned to the job and in December 2020, retired from law enforcement. Jared is now the first responder coordinator at Deer Hollow and travels around the country sharing his story and inspiring first responders to “smash the stigma” of shame around mental wellness struggles that often stop them from reaching out for help.
Paying it forward is part of his healing. His mantra that he passes on to other first responders is, “You are never alone.”
“No matter how dark the darkness gets, or how far you have fallen, you are never alone in this battle,” he said. “There are professionally trained trauma therapists who understand our culture and speak our language. We want to be able to go get our memories, we don’t want our memories to come get us. Trauma is treatable and doesn’t have to be a death sentence.”
Treatment saved Jared’s career and his life.
Jared’s story is only one of many first responders who had the courage to ask for help. Now, Jared wears a big smile. He won his life back, thanks to people like his police chaplain and the professionals at Deer Hollow. Jared is also equipped with knowledge about the process of healing and is dedicated to helping other first responders, military, and veterans in their battle with PSTD, and other trauma struggles.
In the words of Chief Warrant Officer Dashiell R. Faireborn, “Knowing is half the battle.”
Learn more about Jared, Deer Hollow and the free mental health and wellness trauma-focused training for first responders, military, veterans, peer support, corrections officers and chaplains, by going to www.deerhollowrecovery.com, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.