Suicide, addiction and abuse.
Recently my feet swelled up beyond anything normal from the heat we’ve been having here in Berlin. I was concerned, so made a doctor’s appointment, but of course I had to consult Dr Google as well. One of the causes of sudden feet swelling is a blood clot in the leg, which scared me of course, because that can kill you. So the night I found that out, I was brushing my teeth before bed, looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, am I gonna see you tomorrow?
Then I realized how much I look forward to seeing myself every day. I don’t mean in a vain way, but rather that I’ve been taking it for granted that I always would, and now here was (a totally imaginary) possibility that I wouldn’t.
But that got me thinking about people who kill themselves. We think so often that it’s about depression or mental instability and all these things, and it is. But I think at the very base of it is someone looking the mirror and hating who they see. Someone looking the mirror and thinking, I never want to see this person again.
Years ago my cousin Diane killed herself. As a child, she suffered severe abuse at the hands of her father and others, so much so that it caused grand mal epilepsy, which, as an adult, she suppressed via a heroin addiction. When she tried to get sober, the only person who would take her in was my uncle, e.g., her dad. She told me, shortly before she died, that she didn’t want to become like her dad, and she was worried she would.
I always believed that she meant she didn’t want to become a bitter, suffering old man that everyone feared, who clung to his alcoholism over everyone and every thing in his life, and who, no matter how bad his drinking ever got, never seemed to hit “bottom”. She told me that her addiction was so strong, she worried that she didn’t have a bottom either, and that her only bottom was death. She told me that she didn’t want to be like her dad.
But now, all these years later, I think I understand that what she meant was, she didn’t want to become abusive, and abuser of other humans, so full of hate for herself that she could only take it out on others. Like her dad. That when she looked in the mirror, she was starting to hate what she was becoming, staring to hate who she saw.
We did not have a pact, my cousin and I, no agreement to keep each other safe. But we were close, because of our shared histories. At that time, was the only person in our family who saw her as a human being, who saw in her a valuable life, to be cherished and held. My cousin reached out to me a couple months before she died, and these are the things she told me: I’m afraid my only bottom is death. I’m afraid I’m going to be like my dad. She wanted me to come and see her, to get on a bus from my Chicago suburb and come see her in Milwaukee. She wanted me to save her.
But I was only 18. I did not have the strength for her and for me, and I did not have the maturity or the wisdom or even the basic tools I have now. She wanted me to pull her up, but I knew I would get pulled down instead. I knew from her language she was considering suicide, and I knew that a visit from me wouldn’t stop her from killing herself, only delay a decision she had already made. I knew I would be left, broken, in the dirt, with nowhere to go and no one to help me up after she was gone. And I knew I couldn’t go where she was going.
She knew that too.
So I didn’t go, and she killed herself two months later. She left a note explaining her actions, and I had many dreams that she visited, where we often talked like we used to, and she taught me things about herself and her life and life in general, life on the other side. Life as an addict, a prostitute, a survivor of abuse… as a punk rocker, a language nerd, as someone fascinated by the law, as a sensitive woman, a sharp comedienne. A plucky survivor. A scrappy fighter. A woman. A woman. A human. A friend.