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the one with a trigger warning
TW: This post discusses suicide.
U.S. National Suicide Hotline: dial 988
Twenty-one years ago I lived in Spokane, WA on the third floor of an old apartment building which sat between downtown and the Browne’s Addition neighborhood. We called it Browne’s Addiction and for good reason. It was a great place to buy drugs. I spent my two years in Spokane wandering the streets of Browne’s drunk or stoned or tweaking or tripping or balancing all of the above. Or imbalanced, as it were.
I was there to get my masters of fine arts degree, majoring in creative nonfiction. My drug use was purposeful, gris for the mill of my writing. Hunter S. Thompson was my hero. The photograph above of a young Thompson at his typewriter in Puerto Rico was my talisman. During a meditation someone once asked me to imagine what my internal writer looked like and immediately there he was, clacking away in his t-shirt and boxer shorts, biting hard on the pipe between his teeth.
Thompson claimed the drugs were fuel for his journalism. I took him at his word and tried to follow along.
By the time I got to Spokane I had already been to rehab once. It only served to solidify my identity as a drug user, after which I became truly addicted. It was as if I was behind the wheel of a car about to crash and there was nothing I could do to stop it, so I tried to pretend I was enjoying myself. Every night I chased my demons and they chased me. Every morning I tried to go to class and make debauchery appear glamorous. It was exhausting. I got a reputation for being able to fall asleep anywhere—in class, at my job, in the bar—with my feet on the table and my head on my arm, snoring. Very glamorous.
In my second year of grad school I received an internship as the managing editor of Willow Springs literary magazine. It came with a scholarship. It was a huge deal but I could barely hang on. I showed up late for work and struggled to keep up. The two other students I worked with grew tired of me. I started to notice everyone was growing tired of me. I wasn’t just exhausted, I was exhausting.
And then 9/11 happened. And it seemed the world was ending. I walked around Spokane in a post-apocalyptic haze. Not only was I crashing, the whole world was crashing, and it felt like there was little future for any of us. My drug use developed a dangerous edge of desperation. Something was definitely chasing me. And now I was running.
At the time I didn’t have words for what was going on in my brain, but after many years of therapy I learned I was suffering from multiple mental health disorders. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. The drug use was self-medication. And for a long time it worked. In the summer of 2001 it stopped working. And after September 11, I figured it was time to kill myself.
Suicidal ideation was familiar to me. But when it merged with my OCD, all I could do was drink myself into a blackout to escape the intrusive thoughts. My brain is trying to kill me, I would tell people at the bar. They would laugh because whose wasn’t? One night I took the wrong drugs or too many of them or who knows what and I was utterly trapped in the nightmare of my own mind. There was only one way out.
And then someone I loved called me on the phone and asked me if I was okay.
That was it. A phone call. The next day I went to a 12-step meeting and I’ve been healing ever since.
It took years for me to emerge from that crisis. And I still struggle with mental illness. I still struggle with depression, anxiety, cptsd, ocd, suicidal ideation, you name it. None of that went away. In fact, this year I felt like I was drowning all over again. But as Richard Rohr writes, when you find yourself drowning and you can’t get out, you must learn to breathe under water. From my experience, this can not be learned alone.
What I’m saying is this: please don’t hesitate. Make the phone call. We all know someone who needs it. We can’t always save people but we can damn well try. If you are going so far as to post the suicide hotline on your social media, make the call. Text first if you must but make the call.
And if you are the person who needs to learn to breathe under water, hold on. Some days that is all we can do. It is enough. Just hold on. And remember, please remember:
You are loved. You are worth holding on for. You have a spark of the divine within you, a spark of God, a critical piece of all that is Sacred. You belong here. We need you.
You are holy, you are loved, you belong.