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Inside the Mind of a 9/11 First Responder, 20 Years Later

The nightmares have all but disappeared. That darn jumper and Mohammad Attah, however. Two faces I can recall in a split second. I hug my family a little tighter. I tell them and my friends that I love them a bit more and then I fight. I fight the demons of anger and cynicism the most. Year after year they come for me somewhere around two weeks before the anniversary date. Even while using tools like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy and stress management techniques, they are still able to grab ahold. They grab at my heart and taunt me with thoughts of defeat. They whisper, “You’ll never really be okay.” And “You will never win.” I pause. I take a deep breath, and say with a smile, “I already have.” I remind myself of my why. Seventeen years ago, in my basement in the dark, I did not pull that trigger pressed against my head when Post-Traumatic Stress consumed me. Seventeen years ago, I made a choice to stay and fight. To bear the scars in my brain from September 11th so that others could learn and benefit from the pain. It was the most difficult decision of my life, and in the end, the most rewarding.

What was born from the pain is a passion driven purpose to help others find a way out of their darkness and despair. To educate and help smash the stigma of Post-Traumatic Stress that surrounds first responders with clear message, “You are not alone.” My book The Silent Fall: A Secret Service Agent’s Story of Tragedy and Triumph After 9/11 the catalyst.

I am never alone on September 11th. I purposely surround myself with other 9/11 first responders, and others who serve, some retired and some still on the job. Those people who “get it.” They get where my head is, my short temper, my frustrations. No one tries to fix anyone. We simply listen and offer support. We are united in our grief and determined to never forget.

On September 11, 2021, twenty years will have passed. Although our world has changed tremendously, my world, for that one day is infinitely small. I think of the words, “United We Stand,” and find comfort knowing that at least here, in my hometown we will never forget.

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