Sgt. Joseph F. Rafferty III resigned from the Bucks County Sheriff’s Office after serving 25 years on the force. Besides his duties as a Sergeant in charge of warrants and internal affairs, he was also a SWAT negotiator and involved in the counter-terrorism unit attached to Philadelphia. 

Joey was charged with DUI in October, 2016 following an August 13 traffic incident that occurred in Newton, PA.

Can You Share Some of the Details of Your DUI Incident?

One morning I decided that I was going to drink and I was going to get into my car. I ended up getting so drunk that I got into my patrol car instead of my personal car. I picked up my children and realized I was out of control because I was bouncing into curbs. My kids were flipping out so, I ended up dropping them off at my ex-wife’s sisters house and I just kept going.

I drove around trying to avoid people so I could get home to my house, which was 23 miles away. I ended up popping a curb and blew out a tire. So, there I was on the side of the road with a disabled vehicle. As a cop, there was a lot of attention on me because I was off duty and swerved off the road while driving my patrol car.

The Stigma Around Substance Use Disorders

In law enforcement, it’s frowned upon if you’re an alcoholic or you’re into drugs or you start to call in sick to work because you’re always drinking. I was a very prominent official – a Sergeant in the Sherriff’s office. I had 4 kids, an ex-wife and I was paying all the bills. I was doing everything I was supposed to do but then I started drinking. I was a functioning alcoholic – I would go to work and I would show up on time.

But then it got to the point where the alcohol just ruled me. As soon as I came home for work I would grab a beer before I even took off my uniform. And then I started to hide, I hid from my chief, I hid from my employees. It was because I didn’t want them to smell booze on my breath or booze from the night before. When you’re abusing alcohol or drugs you don’t want people to see the way you’re acting so you hide.

I was a prominent supervisor that used to run things and do everything that I could do to better the department. I was very astute when it came to my employees and I knew if they were falling into that fox hole of drug or alcohol use. But unfortunately, I couldn’t identify my own problem so, I had fallen into that hole.

How Did You End Up at Transformations?

The DUI brought me to Transformations and it was the best thing I did. I sat in Summit and detoxed. I was like alright, I’m done drinking so I must go down to Florida and fix myself. I wasn’t court ordered, I decided to travel out-of-state for addiction treatment on my own.

But here’s an interesting observation, I went down there and I was embarrassed, I went down there dejected. I left my kids behind and I dropped everything to go down and get better. There’s a definite stigma behind first responders reaching out for help – they’re usually the one helping everyone.

I loved the First Responders program at Transformations because you could just be you and you didn’t have to worry about anyone judging you. At first, I bought into that stigma because I was in law enforcement and I looked down on everyone in the group. But one day I wrote on my blog that I’m no different, I’m a user just like everyone else. It was kind of earth shattering for both myself and everyone in the room.

Incarceration After Addiction Treatment

I was charge with DUI as soon as I finished treatment and went back home. I’m a police officer so I’m held to a higher standard. I knew all the judges because I had so many years on the force and I think they were all worried that everyone would accuse them of being lenient. I plead guilty and I was put on probation.

My attorney had suggested that we try for house arrest. His thought process was, “You’re a police officer, you locked up half the people in Bucks County so you can’t go to jail.” But I just wanted to get it over with. I was credited for the time I was in treatment at Transformations, but they tacked on an extra 6 days.

The judge saved me. What would have happened if I had house arrest is I would have a case of beer every day. Then the house arrest people would come by and say, “You’re drunk that’s a violation” and I would have been put back in jail for 90 days. So, they helped me by putting me in jail.

I did a lot of self-reflection in jail, it was just horrible for me, there was a lot of embarrassment. I embarrassed my kids, I was on the front page of every area paper in the area. But they never got to the root of my problem which was mental illness.

PTSD and Substance Use Disorders

It wasn’t until I enrolled myself in treatment that someone finally realized I had a mental illness, which was Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When I was discharged from Transformations they recommended a couple of facilities near me if I wanted to continue therapy once I returned home. It was okay, here I am a Sergeant and I’m not working now because I had to retire. But now I had to work on my PTSD – what is it, what’s the effects of it, why was I on the job so long and nobody noticed?

I Googled PTSD and the signs and how to fix it and you can’t fix it. With PTSD, you don’t know why you’re angry, you’re just angry and you’re about to snap on somebody. They thought my problem was so severe that I couldn’t work, but what I can do is volunteer. That’s why I started doing the outreach programs.

Giving Back Through Community Outreach Programs

First Responders and Veterans have anger issues but no one knows why they are angry. So, they self-medicate, whether it be pills or heroin or alcohol. That’s pretty much what happened to me. I wanted to catch people before they fell into the hole of drug or alcohol abuse. My whole focus is on mental illness before you start substance use, I really think they go side by side.

To help me manage my PTSD I got a service dog, his name is Loki and he’s a German Shepherd. He wears a vest and he can go wherever I go. Loki is amazing, he follows me from room to room. Some people might be annoyed but he’s learning my triggers that set me off. I can’t tell why I’m angry but I can tell you I’m angry so he’s helped me with that.

I do an outreach program with Officer Yeager of the Falls Township Police Department. I go around to schools and talk to students. It’s not about mental illness, but rather about not making mistakes because once you get stuck in the system you can never get out.

Recovery Journey Final Thoughts

Going down to Florida to TTC was an eye opener for me. A lot of the kids that were in treatment with me never learned basic life skills. They didn’t know how to cook so they were all amazed when I started cooking for everyone. But someone took me aside and said, “You’re no longer a cop here, you are here to work on yourself not help others.” That was very difficult for me because as a Sergeant, I was used to taking care of everyone but it was me that needed the help.

Life isn’t on hold when you are in treatment, it’s still going on even when you’re not there. All your old problems and triggers are still going to be there when you get back home so you must be prepared for it. I finally figured it out – I could either sit around and drink all day or I could do something productive. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to reach out to someone and help them not fall into that hole of drug or alcohol addiction.

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