Road to Recovery: One IAFF Member’s Journey

Author: IAFF Staff

August 2, 2019

Meet Mike Borman, a member of Papillion, NE Local 3767 and a retired 15-year fire fighter/paramedic. Borman struggled with a nine-year opiate addiction before seeking help at the IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery in June 2018. This is his story of recovery.

IAFF: When did you know you absolutely needed to seek help?

Borman: I hit rock bottom. I lost my job, was told by my wife that I needed to go to in-house treatment. I needed a lot of help, because even the fear of prison wasn’t stopping me from doing illegal stuff. I needed to get help so I could be around to see my kids grow up. I was stealing, doctor shopping, banned from local pharmacies and just tired of trying to remember all the lies I told. It wore on me physically and mentally. I was never happy and always angry, ready to fight.

IAFF: What was your experience attending a treatment program exclusively for fire fighters? 

Borman: It was the most terrifying thing, but yet the most rewarding thing. Buying a one-way ticket was something I’ve never done before to go somewhere and not know when I was going home was frightening. I was picked up at the airport by a driver from the Center of Excellence and we had a 40-minute drive. He made me feel relaxed and explained that I was not alone; I had 20 other brothers and sisters waiting to greet me with open arms.

There were so many things that happened that will impact my life forever. Yes, the fire service is a brotherhood, but being at the Center of Excellence — that’s a brotherhood!

I could have gone to a local treatment facility in Omaha, but I chose the Center of Excellence because everyone there has walked the same walk as I have. We’ve all seen death, fire and other mass casualties. We have so much in common as fire fighters, but to go to a facility where everyone there wants to better themselves is amazing.

I could write a book about the experience, but that book doesn’t do it justice until you’ve been there. I would recommend any one of my brothers or sisters to attend the Center of Excellence. It saved my life and my marriage.

IAFF: If you’ve sought treatment before, what was different about your experience at the Center of Excellence?

Borman: The facility is top-notch. It is exactly like the firehouse, but you’re not answering calls and helping others, you’re helping who is most important — you!

IAFF: What would you say to IAFF members who are reluctant to seek help for fear they’ll be judged by others in their department?

Go. Just go. You’re not any less of a fire fighter. You are actually stronger. To ask for help is so hard to do, but once you’ve accepted the fact you need help, you can start to rebuild yourself. You may not rid yourself of the pain that you’ve endured, but you can learn to deal with it.

Many of the Center of Excellence alumni I was in treatment with are now in charge of running peer support groups at the firehouse. People may or may not come up to you and commend you for going to the Center of Excellence, but I guarantee you that people see change and are saying to themselves, “I want what he/she has.”

IAFF: Since completing treatment, how is your life different?

Borman: My life has been amazing. I struggled with addiction for nine years and could not figure out why I was using. I had an amazing therapist who always challenged me and told me from day one that I can’t say, “I don’t know.” That challenge helped me figure out why I was using and how to help deal with the pain that I had for years prior to when I started using.

Since being back from the Center of Excellence, I’ve been able to repair my marriage and be an active father in my children’s lives — [I’m not] the one sitting on the couch, not interacting with anyone or making excuses to leave the house. I’m present in my family’s lives.

I am now a probation officer helping others who have fallen into the legal system due to addiction.

IAFF: Since returning home from the Center of Excellence, how have your crew members, family or friends responded to you?

Borman: I have so much respect from my family. Leaving my family was hard, but they see the change in me, and they want to be around me — unlike before when so many times, friends and family would avoid me.

IAFF: Has aftercare or continued outpatient treatment helped you stay on track?

Borman: I continue to attend meetings, both SMART and AA. I’m also taking medication. With these tools in my toolbox, I’m confident that I will be sober. I have lifelong friends who I met at the center that I keep in contact with and to this day reach out to them daily. They keep me accountable as well.  Letting a fellow fire fighter down is a hard thing to deal with and I don’t want to know how that feels.

IAFF: Is there one takeaway from your experience you can share with other members?

Borman: You gain lifelong friends — you’ve cried on their shoulder or they’ve cried on your shoulder. The things you hear in those walls will open your eyes. But there’s not a doubt in my mind that if I needed help, that if I contacted one of my treatment buddies in another state, that they wouldn’t hesitate to help me in any way. To have that support, it’s unexplainable.

If you are interested in sharing your recovery story, contact Behavioral Health Specialist Lauren Kosc at [email protected]. The IAFF Center of Excellence for Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery is a unique treatment setting exclusively for IAFF members who are struggling with depression, addiction, post-traumatic stress and other mental health concerns. Call today to learn more about treatment options.

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