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National Survivor’s of Suicide Day November 17 2012

Today I spent time thinking about those I’ve lost to suicide and their families.

I got news this past week that another friend from my early recovery overdosed and died. This makes six friends since March. Five had been in recovery at one point for anywhere from one to twenty years before they decided that they could drink or smoke weed without getting caught up in old ways.  The news is never easy. Over the years I ‘ve been clean, there’s been a lot of death. Overdoses and suicide top the list followed closely by AIDS and Hepatitis C. I’ve spent a lot of time searching for meaning, contemplating life and death, and coming to terms with it in a way that makes sense to me personally. At one point I started to numb out. I would hear of a new death and mentally delete their number from my cell phone – gone! They were gone. Over! The end! I noticed my lack of emotional response and figured, really, how much death can one take? Nowadays, I’m back to feeling that funk land hard in my stomach and the sad sound as my head whispers “Fuck!”

My best friend committed suicide in the mid-80s. I wrote about her in an earlier blog on my other site http://www.pattypowersnyc.blogspot.com/2011/09/finding-one-day-at-time.html. That death hit me at a time when my own life was spiraling out of control. I felt I understood what she was feeling at the time -that feeling of not wanting to play anymore, of being tired, of not believing things would ever change. Little did I know that within three years I’d find recovery and my life would change radically.

I’ll confess that, for years, I held a little idea at the back of my most private thoughts: I would do this life-on-life’s-terms recovery thing as long as I could but if I ever got tired and want off the ride instead of getting high, suicide would be my way off.

At seven years clean I was hit by a depression I’d never experienced before – coming out of the blue and unattached to any plausible explanation. There was nothing going on in my life I could pin it to. I felt like I was inside a bubble preventing me from feeling a connection to anything or anyone.  I spent days laying on the sofa telling myself “This too shall pass.” The next day I’d awaken to realize nothing had changed. I had no desire to get high and wondered how long I could live this way.  When would enough be enough and I’d check out? I was also writing a novel where the main character would attempt suicide so a variety of methods were at my fingertips. Needless to say, it wasn’t a good time to spend days alone with my mind. Was this feeling ever going to pass?  The day I woke up feeling alive again was one of joy and relief. Shortly after this, a friend’s son hung himself.

While laying in my self-absorbed darkness fantasizing about suicide, it never occurred to me to consider how my death would affect others. Witnessing first hand how his suicide impacted the lives of his family and friends eradicated suicide as my exit strategy.

There was a hint that the latest death may have been intentional because of his history with depression.  Addiction and depression are closely linked. Perhaps this has played a role in all the earlier suicides. Much has been discovered and documented linking addiction and depression since my early years in recovery. Back then many recovering addicts shunned the idea of taking any sort of pill. Instead they believed in toughing it out, working a stronger program, finding a god. Many struggled with undiagnosed mental health issues for years, living in pain, until they finally sought help. It wasn’t that recovering addicts wanted to martyr themselves. Antidepressants were a new concept and many of us twelve-steppers were naïve and ill-informed.

I think a lot about my friends who’ve died, wondering how many of those overdoses were suicide.  How many kept their depression a guarded secret in recovery? How could we have helped?

That is the biggest question survivors of suicide torment themselves with – “What could I have done?” It’s heartbreaking to see and hear the grief lingering years later, wrapped around them like a blanket for the remainder of their lives. If a loved one has committed suicide please find support groups and professional counseling. The impact of suicide can be trauma.

For anyone who is considering suicide I will pass on something someone said to me during a particularly difficult time:

Patty, life is like a long phonograph and right now the needle is skipping but there is still a long beautiful song left to play. I know the pain is so big you can’t breath and it feels like it will never go away but this is really just one moment in time of a very long story and when you get past it, you will always look back and remember this period as a hard one but you won’t even be able to connect with the pain that right now feels like its going to kill you.  It will just be a memory that things were rough. While you’re in it, it feels so much more meaningful – but it’s really a just rough patch in a skipping record. Not worth killing yourself over. Because then it’s over forever.

Hang on and ask for help!

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Patty is a nationally recognized certified recovery coach and writer. She lives in New York City.


2 comments

Dearest Patty,
I have lost several friends to suicide in the last year as well. One did not carry as much pain as my friend had suffered through a terrible bout and recovery from throat cancer that left him with no saliva. He made the best of it but when the disease returned 6 years later he chose (at 73 years old and 37 years sober) to take himself out in a deliberate high speed car crash. That hurt but I understood.
Another was very possibility the result of poor medicine. He was being proscribed several different anti-depressants and anxiety medications. He was also relapsing regularly. Several of the medicines were “black label” i.e.: side effects include thoughts of suicide….(If feeling those please seek immediate medical help..right..) My dear friend hung himself in his garage leaving behind his wife and two young daughters… That was one that really hit me…I miss him today and wish any of us could have reached him or that he could have asked for help…
The last stunned me as my mentor and sponsor in another 12 step fellowship took his life. He had helps many and was an icon in that fellowship. Perhaps of that “status” he would not expose his depression but kept up the “I am fine” face…then the bullet… I miss him tons and take the lesson of sharing my feelings with honesty without concern for “face”. Also never hesitate when I need to ask for help. I also make sure I get to meetings (often small) where I can let my “ass” hang out.
The holes in their loved ones heart (and mine) that these suicides left are present and deep. They are a painful reminder the suicide is a permanent (and painful) solution to a temporary problem…

“No matter how hard the past, you can always begin again.” Buddha

Thank you sister,
David

Dear Patty,I cannot say what I will not ever do,but today drinking and suicide is not a option.For me today it is about having a healthy balance and taking care of myself.Getting enough sleep,having friends and social contact,eating right,exercising,positive attitude.Trying to keep as much stress out of my life as possible.Really watching myself financially because that can put major stress on me.11years ago it was not like that it was about getting drunk and thoughts of killing myself.Today i am blessed God has been good to me.

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