Saturday, October 15, 2011

Death, Relapse and Triggers.

I paced slowly behind my students, all focused on the computer screens in front of them, intent on the legal research problems I had assigned. One of my students -- I wasn't sure of her name -- was unusually quiet. "Are you okay?" I asked.

"I'm just not feeling well," she said quietly. I told her to take care of herself and I think I touched her shoulder before I moved on to the next student.

That night, Melissa -- it turns out her name was Melissa -- committed suicide. I went to the funeral, partly out of duty and partly out of grief because I should have at least known her name. As I settled into the pew, I heard the first notes of the song her family had chosen -- "Angel," by Sarah McLachlan -- and I lost it. 

Several family members and close friends spoke; every word was steeped in grief and anger and frustration. It was clear that Melissa was surrounded by good people who loved her, and that she had reached out many times before. This time around, though, she had reached out to no one, to ensure her success. I cried through the entire service, so sorry that I hadn't known her better and so moved by her community. Yet in the following days, I discovered that I wanted to join Melissa, and that feeling lasted for months.

Sometime after that -- I really don't know how long -- I left my partner, and we moved into a place of our own. My sponsor, a brilliant physician, soon joined me in the condo; he had very little money after suffering through some tough medical issues. He was great with my kid and my dog, and it felt good to have recovery in the house. I was glad he was there, because at the time I was crippled by depression and dark thoughts.

One night I heard a crash in the living room. I found my dear sponsor naked, on the floor and unable to speak or walk. It looked like a stroke and I called 911.

Only, it wasn't a stroke. It was a hydrocodone overdose.

Of course, I had to ask him to leave.  For months afterwards, just like with Melissa, I wanted to climb into the abyss with him, to follow him to this liberating place of no accountability. And I was angry. Why the hell should he get to take this irresponsible, selfish path while I was stuck, sober, with the misery of the present?

A few weeks later, he texted me a suicide note. I did what I could, which wasn't much, and fortunately he didn't act on it. As far as I know, he's still out there somewhere, using, and there's nothing I can do now except await the final phone call.

I do miss my sponsor something fierce. I still rely heavily on the last suggestion he gave me when he saw how I interacted with my partner: He said, "Lynne, save yourself."

In the years since then, I've seen other deaths and other relapses. They've brought me sadness and gratitude and a myriad of other emotions, but none has affected me viscerally like Melissa's death, or my sponsor's relapse.

None, that is, until yesterday when I heard about Gary. Gary chose Melissa's path. It's the fourth pointless death in as many weeks in my little recovery community. I knew Gary, although we weren't close. I had watched him grow in sobriety over the years. I was angry and sad and confused, and again, part of me wanted to join him. Not like before, thank goodness. But it was there.

Ironic, isn't it? Just yesterday I blogged about the jagged beauty of watching someone move through hard times in sobriety, and how I add their experience to my store of faith for when I'm in trouble. But I was in trouble now, and I never gave that store of faith a single thought. To tell you the truth, not much crossed my mind at all. I was just pissed off, and terribly sad.

But I took action by rote. I went to a meeting and shared. I answered my phone when it rang. And I made a phone call of my own. although it probably wasn't the one I really needed to make.

I did the next right thing, and now I have another day.

Gary, you had a smile that could light up Yankee Stadium. I love you, my friend, and I'm going to miss you.

I know only one way to do your life justice. So in your memory, and Melissa's and Kevin's and Tom's and Dowman's, I'm going to save myself.


  1. A sad blog for sad times. I'm glad you ended with that final paragraph. I love you and would be lost without you.

  2. I have heard it said that on the road to recovery we have to step over a lot of dead bodies.

    Is suicide a selfish act, as many people say? Leaving others to be traumatized by your death, to clean you up or cut you down? In Gary's case, I can't imagine that was his intention. He just wanted to stop hurting. But I kind of wish he had called 911 as he faded out, so close friends didn't have to find him, hours later.

    Strange, what we think about, and how driven we are by confused emotions at times like this.

  3. I don't know you at all, but I found a link to your blog on Ruthie's blog. My sponsor died this week. Now I've lost three sponsors, but I still have friends in the program and am not alone. Not alone is the trick to this life we are now on.

    The man who 12 stepped me into the program tried to commit suicide. It didn't work and left him brain damaged and stuttering. That didn't stop him from helping others for the next twenty some years of his life. My husband and I were able to be there for him in his last year, and for this I am very grateful.

    I'm glad to meet you.

  4. I feel bad for the ones who take their own lives, or take a drink or drug again, but I save my admiration for those who don't.

  5. This is just an endless conundrum. The 12-steps so indeed to be the only realistic chance to recover from this disease. And equally true is that the program is still not remotely a panacea. Addiction is a tenacious disease that usually wins, statistically speaking. Of course there's depression without addiction, and on top of addiction.
    I had thought that no one could beat crystal meth addicts at rates of relapse and suicide, but it would seem would aren't remotely cornering the market. Perversely, this comforts me.
    I do remind myself that someone else's misery has absolutely no bearing on my happiness. In fact, choosing joy on a daily basis is probably the most effective thing I can do for everybody.

  6. Anonymous8:37 PM

    Wonderfully written, as always. Hugs to you and your friends, Lynne.

  7. You touched me with this one. I've lost a sponsee to suicide and have another who just this afternoon got out of the psych ward. Letting go can be so difficult sometimes.

  8. I just found your blog through Guinevere. Thank you so much for sharing it with all of us. I have a tendency to absorb the emotions of people around me and lately have been struggling to stay afloat in the emotions that are mine - happiness, for the moment.