Chris Hoyer worked as a police officer in Phoenix for more than 20 years. He started in patrol and eventually joined the neighborhood enforcement team, which involved a combination of patrol work and undercover investigations.
“We were pretty much responsible for anything going on in the neighborhood. We handled everything from drug complaints to prostitution cases,” he explained. “It was a fantastic experience for me because I got access to more training and worked citywide rather than being bound to a specific area.”
His idyllic career took a tragic turn in 2016 when Chris got into his first gunfight, during in which a fellow police officer was killed during an ambush.
“That was the day I pretty much checked out of law enforcement,” Chris admitted. “It was a catastrophic experience, but I had to work for another two years until I could retire.”
The slain officer was not his partner, but rather a member of the same team who worked weekends and nights. Chris, on the other hand, had more seniority, which allowed him to work the day shift and have most weekends off.
“Before that incident, working in law enforcement was a lot of fun. I could show up for work wearing jeans and a T-shirt, and drive around in an undercover car, all while getting paid,” he explained. “It was an unbelievable experience that gave me a lot of purpose and fulfillment.
“I know most police officers say they got into the career to help other people, which was definitely true for me,” Chris added. “There were several times when I was personally called out by citizens who said I changed the trajectory of their lives. Those kind of stories gave me purpose for doing the job.”
Turning pain into purpose
Chris was technically 49 when he retired from law enforcement, but the ambush had far-reaching impact on his life. His marriage ended, along with his career. Shortly afterward, Chris moved to San Diego where he began writing a book about his experiences as a police officer.
“The book was never supposed to be anything more than a collection of my personal experiences. It was an opportunity for me to get everything out of my mind and onto paper,” he explained. “But, when my new girlfriend, Natalie, read the first chapter, she saw even more potential for what I wrote. She is a book editor and did a lot of the hard work to make my writing flow more smoothly.”
Chris titled his book “When That Day Comes: Training for the Fight.” It would become a manual for how police officers need to take care of themselves mentally, emotionally and physically.
“One night in 2017, I woke up about 2 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. I realized as much as I thought I had been taking care of myself on the job, I really hadn’t doing enough,” said Chris. “The first part of the book was about healing from the trauma of an ambush experience. That’s where everything started to mentally fall apart for me.”
Because of everything he wished to convey to police officers, when Chris was done writing, he wanted to make sure readers were changed by what they read in his 348-page book.
“I joke about it by saying it was hard for me to write a police report, but I could write a book,” Chris explained. “People who know me well and read the book said it was like having me read it to them. I thought that was a huge compliment.”
The book features a lot of real-life stories about being a police officer. As a result, it became a professional guide to the law enforcement career field.
“One of my heroes, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who was a U.S. Army Ranger and is a best-selling author, described my book as one of the best law enforcement prep books he ever read,” said Chris. “For me, that was a huge accolade.”
According to Wikipedia, Dave writes about the physiological and psychological effects police officers and soldiers experiences whenever they must use lethal force.
“I didn’t want the book to just be a collection of stories about my time in law enforcement,” said Chris. “I wanted it to be a training resource about tactics police officers can use to protect themselves.
“But, it’s even more than that. It’s a life guide applicable to people who may not work in law enforcement,” he added. “Someday, something is going to happen in everyone’s life that will require them to confront an unfortunate reality.
“It could be a divorce or a tragic illness. My daughter has lupus, which is a huge fight for her that involves the rest of our family,” said Chris. “I wrote the book to be very relatable to anyone who reads it.”
He is happy with how the book turned out because Chris knows it can help people who must face, endure and overcome a variety of unfortunate life experiences.
“There were a lot of things I struggled with during my career; however, I didn’t know how to fix them,” said Chris. “I wrote about all the things which knocked me on my rear end, then I showed how I was able to regain my composure and heal.
“The book is about identifying a problem, and then taking steps to get better,” he added.
Writing from the heart
Chris said the book isn’t really structured, like a textbook. Rather, it includes stories from his heart, followed by lessons he learned through those experiences.
“God bless my girlfriend. She came into the process, knew what I was trying to convey with my message, and then made it stronger,” he explained. “For example, police reports are typically written in all capital letters and very little use of punctuation.
“She had no idea what to do with my writing. I just told a story like I remembered it, then she cleaned it up,” said Chris. “She’s a self-proclaimed grammar Nazi who always corrects things like billboards. It’s hilarious.”
Speaking from the heart
By serving on the neighborhood enforcement team, Chris had to talk to a lot of people every day. After writing his book, that speaking experience came in handy when he began sharing his stories.
“On my job, I was forced to be in the public eye, and it didn’t take a lot of training for me to be comfortable around other people,” said Chris.
“A close friend of mine told me a lot of people have stories, but aren’t willing to tell them to others. And, those who do tell their stories aren’t often willing to tell them in front of a crowd of people,” he explained. “But, he said I am different. I guess I am because I really like speaking in front of others.
“For me to stand in front of a crowd of 600 people and be as vulnerable as I can is a special trait,” said Chris. “I think It’s my obligation to share my story in hopes it can save at least one other person.”
That’s great advice for people over 50, because they have a lifetime of stories to tell. People should not take their stories to the grave, rather share them with others who may find transformation and healing. At the very least, others will realize they are not alone in carrying burdens they’ve experienced.
“Everyone has a story to tell, whether it goes into a book or not,” said Chris. “But, when you write it down, the message remains forever. It is something your friends, family, grandkids and everyone else in the world can benefit from for years to come.”
A new career
From writing his book and talking about it with others, Chris developed a new career as a trainer. He speaks to law enforcement agencies around the country, but also to mental health professionals who must treat people who experienced traumatic situations.
“I remember listening to a guest speaker when I was going through the police academy. He talked about a critical incident he survived. Thinking back, I realized that story had a major impact on my mental preparation, and it served me throughout my career,” said Chris. “That’s my motivation for sharing my own story with others who may have a similar experience at some point.”
For Chris, he was haunted not only by the ambush experience itself, but from post-traumatic stress and even survivor’s guilt in the years that followed.
“I can be triggered by something and find myself right back in that situation. But it dawned on me that I am far from being the only man or woman who goes through this,” said Chris. “I need to share my story with others so they can realize they aren’t the only ones who endured that situation. There is hope for getting better.”
When typing out his story, Chris always kept a notepad next to his computer to write down ideas that popped into his mind so he wouldn’t forget to include them in a chapter.
“I had a lot of stuff bottled up inside me which I needed to share with others in the law enforcement community,” he explained. “Many people in that profession also keep their feelings bottled up. They pound their chests and tell everyone they’re okay because they feel they must save the world. Consequently, they can never be a victim themselves.”
Helping police officers to take care of themselves is one of Chris’ biggest motivations for writing and talking about his story.
“People can get way too absorbed in their careers. They need to step back in order to unwind from time to time,” he explained.
Keeping emotions bottled inside has tragic consequences. For example, police officers have a much higher divorce rate that other professionals. They see a lot of horrible things on the job, but they don’t want to talk about the emotional burden with a spouse or a friend because they think that person could not truly understand what the police officer is going through.
“People in my generation were repeatedly told not to share their stories with a spouse because they didn’t need to hear what’s going on,” said Chris. “But, of course, they need to understand.
“When I would walk in the door, my wife could tell what kind of day I had just by the look on my face,” he added. “When I don’t want to share my feelings with her, that’s when accusations begin.
“She remembers how I was so open and willing to share my feelings with her before I became a cop. So, when I stopped sharing them, she took it personally even though I was trying to protect her,” said Chris. “But, you aren’t protecting your loved ones by not sharing your stories or feelings. In fact, you’re doing the exact opposite by ignoring them.”
Chris talks about his 40-hour family, which he lived with on duty, and how it differed from his real family at home. The folks at home need to know how they can help the police officer so he or she can help them in the long run.
“If you want to be okay, you can be okay. All you need to do is take that first step and admit you want help, then accept it,” he explained.
Signing the flag
When Chris speaks at conferences throughout the country, he travels with a special U.S. flag. It features a blue stripe on it symbolizing the “Thin Blue Line” of police officers who protect everything precious about America.
“I ask law enforcement officers, veterans and other people who are special to me to sign the flag as a proclamation to keep everyone on the same page,” said Chris. “It demonstrates we are all in this together, whether you are a cop, veteran, nurse or mother of three kids. We are all fighting the same battle together and we need to take care of each other.”
One of Chris’ favorite mementos is a photo of him at Police Week in Washington, D.C., that was attended by almost half a million people.
“For me, that photo is a reminder there are a whole bunch of people who truly love us and want us on that front line,” said Chris. “There are few people stupid enough to get paid to be shot at, but police officers and veterans are facing danger every day. That comes with the territory.
“These people may be fine today, but there will come a time when something happens which will cause them to not be okay. I want them to know I understand what they are experiencing and that they can call me,” said Chris. “During my time on the police force, we buried 17 people who died in the line of duty, including my best friend’s dog, who was buried on my 20th wedding anniversary.”
Advice for people over 50
Whatever seasoned citizens decide to do with their lives, Chris said it needs to be driven by purpose.
“If you choose to follow the path of being a public speaker, it is very fulfilling. Wherever you find motivation, purpose and drive, you should do it,” he explained. “I know I am making a difference in the law enforcement community, even though I have been retired for five years.
“Retirement was the best thing I ever did for my mental, emotional and physical health,” said Chris. “Everything that came with retirement was like a huge, gigantic weight being lifted off my chest and shoulders.
“For people in the law enforcement community, there really is no such thing as retirement,” said Chris. “My girlfriend tells me all the time that I never really took off my uniform because the career got into my blood. We don’t ever really slow down. We always need to be doing something.”
There are still a number of things remaining on Chris’ adventure list that he and Natalie would like to pursue. For example, he’d like to go back to where he grew up in New Hampshire to do some speaking. He would also like to visit Australia and Italy.
“I was invited to speak in San Francsico where I got a chance to walk cross the Golden Gate Bridge,” said Chris. “Sometimes I forget how great the United States really is, so we need to get out and see everything this country has to offer.”
His book, “When That Day Comes: Training for the Fight” is available on Amazon as an ebook and audiobook.
If you buy the book using the links above, Forward From 50 may earn a small commission.
After closing his business and enduring several painful years of uncertainty regarding what to do with his life, Greg founded Forward From 50 to help men and women over 50 to live more purposeful lives by pursuing things they are passionate about. A Wisconsin native, Greg currently lives in Arizona.