I’m a survivor of many events in my life. I’ve survived addiction, I’ve survived parental alcoholism and I’ve survived a suicide.
My brother, may he rest in peace, took his own life 13 years ago this week. I remember the day I got the phone call as clearly as it was yesterday. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I was sorting through the laundry when the phone rang. My cousin who rarely called me was on the other line. She told me he committed suicide and then everything changed for my family. Although my brother was mentally-ill and non-compliant with his medication and was at great risk for suicide, it still was an incredible blow to us all. My family has never been quite the same since and I’m sure that not a day passes that we don’t think of him. The emotional pain that comes from suicide is a complex amalgam of helplessness, anger, shame, guilt and sometimes relief.
I was stoned throughout most of his funeral. I managed to get a hold of some expired barbiturates and tried to numb the pain as I sat through the agony of it all. After the funeral, I vowed to not do any more drugs so I could grieve properly, feel the pain I was supposed to feel and carry on with my life. I managed to do it, without any meetings, without support groups, therapy or alcohol. I managed to cope by sheer force of will and stayed clean and sober for about 5 or 6 months.
But I had only fooled myself because it was a year later when the real sadness came. The grief was like a swarm of malevolent insects that swept over me and carried me into a deep depression that I only exacerbated by getting high at every possible opportunity.
I write this today not to justify my hitting bottom but because I wanted to share with you it was only after I had a significant amount of sobriety under my belt that I was able to really deal with my loss. To mourn is essential and without clarity I was unable to process his death. Before sobriety, my brother’s death was like a very delinquent bill that I knew I had to pay. I would try to avoid it by getting high and I knew that I had to deal with it someday that it wouldn’t just go away.