“It says here that less than a year ago you almost jumped off a bridge?”
I’m asking this of a young woman, not yet thirty, as part of her intake assessment to the drug and alcohol rehab facility where I work. I HAVE to ask questions like this in order to assess if someone is safe enough at that moment to be admitted or if they need to be taken to a more appropriate facility or what is known as “a higher level of care.”
This wasn’t her first attempt and during her rattling off the details with little-to-no affect she initially remembered two others, and later in the conversation remembered that there was another one that she had forgotten about while she was in sixth grade. Sixth. Grade.
It’s not lost on me or people who know me well that asking those suffering from addiction about suicide attempts comes with heightened and loaded emotions. Both my mother and my best friend, albeit 30 years apart, committed suicide, my mother by overdosing on pills and my best friend by hanging. My mother never turned to substances to ease her pain and trauma of surviving the Holocaust but my best friend, driven by a raging crystal meth addiction was spun into such a paranoid and psychotic alter ego that undoubtedly some imagined forces egged him on.
The men and women who have sat in front of me, men and women of all ages with different drugs of choice pretty much all admit to self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. Some don’t want to discuss their past trauma but others will, and after hearing some of their stories I truly don’t know how they are still standing. I don’t. There have been many who have found their parents dead from overdose. There are those who have lost children, been raped, have been shot-up with heroin for the first time at age ten BY THEIR PARENTS, and have been hung by hooks from their belt loops as punishment.
It is impossibly hard to picture my very best friend going through the machinations of preparing for his death. I can only go so far before I have to shake myself out of it. I think of people stockpiling pills, buying a gun and bullets, figuring out the best place to sling a rope that will hold their weight.
The one patient I will never, ever forget was a beautiful woman in her forties who one day put weights in her shoes and clothes and lay down on a large rock with a bottle of wine, and waited and hoped that a powerful tide would pull her out to sea. It didn’t happen and she was disappointed that it hadn’t. I hope she is out there somewhere having found the hope and happiness that she was clearly missing at that point in time. I pray that she is no longer sad and suffering.