How much reflecting can I really do? The number of people I have lost in my life to suicide is staggering. The number of strangers I’ve lost just the same. Sure, I never knew Chris Cornell, Prince, Kurt… any of them personally. But so what? They shared their deepest feelings with me. They bared their broken and bloody souls and I screamed back, cried back, roared back “I hear you. I get it. I feel the same way.”
But their pain was their pain and my pain is my pain. We never really know what someone is truly going through.
Okay, so I’m an alcoholic. I was probably born one, but didn’t catch on until my late twenties. Further, I didn’t do anything about it until my early thirties. I tripped, stumbled, blacked out… did all the crazy things that alcoholics do and then some.
The one thing that got me tripped up all my life was… me. I am so damn hard on myself! I can go down my list of “nots” and really spiral into a dark, lifeless hole.
I am not pretty enough; smart enough; talented enough; GOOD enough. It seeps in like a cool November breeze and before I know it I am sitting there shivering with rage. I cry, curse at myself. Hell, when I was a teenager, I even used to hit myself if you can imagine that one. I just hated myself so much. I hated me, I hated my mother for giving birth to me and I hated God for allowing my birth. Surely, it was a mistake. Why on Earth would He put someone as pathetic and ugly as me on the planet?
Yeah, ugly. I suffered with my self-image for a long time and still do… sometimes. I was picked on all through school as a child and then a pre-teen and a teenager. I was even made fun of as an adult. I resorted to violence to fend off the teasing when I was younger. When I was older, I just drank more. Surely the alcohol would numb my self-loathing.
I guess I felt, “hey, if I can’t be pretty, I’ll be a brute.” Even though I weighed maybe seventy pounds soaking wet when I was thirteen. At five feet seven, that right there my friends is a ‘bean pole,’ as I was called.
There were much worse names.
I was picked on in junior high school because I didn’t “fill out” like all the other girls. I was so flat chested, I didn’t even wear a bra. One time, some boys were walking down the hallway behind my friend and me and they grabbed at our backs to snap our bra straps. I found out later they did that to prove I didn’t have a bra on because I didn’t have breasts. They laughed their asses off that day. I ran in the bathroom and cried.
I felt worthless. I felt ashamed. I felt soooo ugly.
So yeah, I became violent. I started getting in fights with other girls and I started beating up boys. Beating up boys! Not so much beating them into a bloody pulp, but I got the best of them for sure.
Now, you would think that after all these years, and all my years sober and all the step work I have done and all the resentments I have talked about with my sponsor and all the shit I have let go, that this would be the big one I wanted to let go, because, after all, who the hell wants to hold onto a big pile of shit?
I just don’t know how to let it the hell go! I am so mad still (sometimes.) I am not mad all the time, but sometimes I just get mad. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and still see that skinny, flat-chested girl who used to get picked on. The girl who boys didn’t like. The girl who boys didn’t ask to go to dances and when she was at dances, they certainly didn’t want to dance with. The girl who never got put on the “list of girls.”
A lot of people say, “Darlene, get the hell over it. That was a long time ago. You’re beautiful!”
Yes, there are times that I feel beautiful. But there are other times, usually when I am watching television or I am on the beach or at a big concert or something, that I just get way lost in the hoopla of what is defined as beauty today.
For the record, I don’t watch much television and I rarely go to the beach. I listen to a lot of music, do a lot of writing and I do my readings everyday because a small part of me knows it is all in my head. A small part of me sometimes sees something beautiful in me.
I never think of drinking over this. Hell, I can’t remember the last time a drink entered my mind. Thankfully, I have a lot of women in my life and a pretty good support system. Thankfully, I have the rooms and the literature I read.
Thankfully, most times I recognize it is all in my head.
National Brain Injury Awareness Month (Photo credit: Army Medicine)
So, March is National Brain Injury Awareness Month (I just found this out yesterday). Let’s add that to the seemingly endless list of “celebratory months of awareness.” This one hits me at a personal level, however, because in 1996 I suffered a brain injury as a result of an overdose and almost died.
Now some people would say, “big freaking deal, you od’d!” Well, the thing about it is that I did not want to wake up from an intentional overdose that I told no one about. There was no letter, no teary-eyed phone calls.
I was twenty-three years old, frightened and disgusted. I did not want to wake up.
But I did wake up. I woke up and have been a different person since then. I am not sure exactly what day I woke up as I have no recollection of any events immediately preceding my overdose, my hospital stay or my journey home. I only know what my family tells me and then the snippets of flashbacks that float into my head from time to time.
My family told me it happened on July 19, 1996. My 6-year-old daughter Sarah found my dead body. 911 was called and EMT’s worked on me for thirty minutes before they felt a pulse. I was rushed to Frankford Hospital in Philadelphia and apparently was in a coma. I don’t remember. Sometimes I think I remember, but then I realize that I remember what people have told me over the years, and in some warped sense those stories become twisted false memories.
I have a brain injury. So at times I have issues with differentiating fact from fiction. I have issues remembering things period.
When I overdosed (and died) I was not getting oxygen to my brain. This affected the part of my brain that holds my short-term memory. My long-term memory is intact, but my short-term memory is forever scarred. If I can get information from my short-term to my long-term, I have it forever.
But that is the trick. Getting from the short to the long.
I can’t remember:
what I read.
what people said.
how I got where I am.
how to get home.
and tons of other crap that I forgot.
Now, this is par for the course for a lot of people. But not for me. It was never for me. And now it is and some days I am fine and other days mortified because I feel like an ass.
I once wandered around the parking lot of the Willow Grove Mall for an hour because I could not find my car.
I once wandered around the floor of the Pep Boys Headquarters for almost an hour because I couldn’t find my cubicle.
I once drove around aimlessly for two hours because I got lost, stopped to ask for directions, and got lost again.
The list goes on and on, like I said. But of course I forget all that stuff and I don’t remember anything unless it’s in my long-term memory or by association.
These days, I am a little better. The doctors told me to do brain strengthening exercises like puzzles, reading, writing and stuff. I write a lot and the other stuff I do, well, when I remember.
When I was a teenager I thought I knew everything.. I guess most teenagers feel this way. I have a teenage daughter, and I see a lot of myself in her.
Remember when we were fourteen or fifteen and we thought our parents were idiots, totally uncool and basically, had no idea what they were talking about? Yeah, that’s where I am now. I find myself repeating a lot of the ideals that were told to me at that fork in the road age.
I remember my first heartbreak. Ugh. I was so devastated! I was totally head over heels in love with a boy that lived around the corner.. he was kind of cocky, super cute and really wanted nothing to do with me.. I am not sure why it was this last quality that attracted me most to this boy. Perhaps it was the fact that my father ignored me for most of my childhood and since I couldn’t get his attention, I could try to get a boy’s attention.
Needless to say, he wanted nothing to do with me. So I decided to date his older brother. Yeah, not the best idea. He was a really nice guy (ack!) and I just didn’t pine for him like I pined for his brother. Strike one. I dated the older brother for about three weeks and then the kid I crushed on decided to test my loyalties to his older brother. He told his brother (I came to find out later) that he was going to flirt with me and that I would ditch older brother. Younger brother nailed it. He was pretty smart for a sixteen year old, and I was devastated when he said to me, “I knew you didn’t like my brother, so I tricked you.” Nice, eh? However, I did like his older brother. He was tall and he made me laugh with his Peter Gabriel and Kinks impressions. But his brother liked me too.
I was so crushed by the “trick” played on me (which was one of a few different boys played on me) that I had enough and decided that it was time to get on with it. It was time to die.
I went into my room, I put on some Pink Floyd, took the razor blade I got from my dad’s top drawer and slit my wrists. Extreme, I know. But no one knew who I was. No one understood me. No one got what I was going through. Certainly not my parents. They were never really around at that crucial teen stage and it didn’t matter anyway. I felt it was too late for me. I was screwed.
I still have those scars on my wrists. They are a haunting reminder of how unhappy I was. The pictures of me around that time (none of which I am smiling in) are haunting reminders as well. I now use those scars to remind people about depression and suicidal thoughts should they ask. Not many do.
If I could go back and talk to myself, I would tell me that it was all going to be okay. That I was going to grow up and be a beautiful woman so smart and too wise. I would tell myself that everyone goes through a heartbreak or two and that it is the heartbreaks, failures and things that don’t work out that make us wiser and keep us strong. It is those things that help us to grow into strong, resilient individuals. I would tell me to have faith, it will all work out.
Suicide is selfish. Truer words have never been spoken. Okay, truer words have been spoken. But on the topic of suicide, there is no other way to really describe it. I can say that I have been truly selfish once in my life.
It was a hot day in the middle of July 1996. A whole host of events had led up to that day. I was upset; disgusted. I really felt there was no other option. How could I go on? What shot did I have at a decent life? I felt hopeless and weak.
I stood above the sink with a bottle of prescription muscle relaxers. The tap flowed as I put my plastic cup under the cold water. With a pile of pills in my hand and tears streaming my artificially tanned cheeks, I begged for a sign that I didn’t need to do this; that it would all be okay. The telephone didn’t ring. My cat didn’t meow. There was just the steady sound of running water.
I took the pills and chugged from the plastic cup. There. It was done. I didn’t have to suffer anymore. As I walked crying into the other room it hit me like a bolt of lightning. My life; others lives flashed before my eyes. What the fuck was I doing?
I ran to the kitchen to take it back. I put my head over the sink and rammed my fingers down my throat. The harder I tried to make myself throw up the weaker I became. It was in that moment that I begged God to forgive my sins. I stumbled into the living room and collapsed on the floor. That was the last thing I remembered.
I woke up in the hospital days later with no recollection of what I had done. My mother was by my bedside and I asked her where I was. She told me I had suffered a stroke and that my oldest daughter had found me dead. Rescue was called that day I collapsed on the floor and they had worked on me for roughly twenty minutes before getting a pulse.
That day was July 19, 1996. My mom would call on the nineteenth of July every year for the next eight to remind me of the progress I had made since I fell apart.
The stress of being a young mother of four children with a dead beat husband would make anyone fall apart. My family was masterful at the cover up.
At about year six, I started to remember pieces of things. Events that seemed almost dream like flooded my mind. As I remembered them, they overlapped each other like a poorly dubbed cassette tape. I would mention these thoughts, these pieces of a movie almost, to my mother. She would side step my notions quite gracefully.
At year seven I had called my mother. I was excited. I had a dream. A violent dream, but nonetheless, a dream. Now, you might think, so what? We all dream. And I know that I had dreamed every night since that hot day in July, but when I awoke from my sleep every morning, I had nothing. A glimpse of anything that had run through my subconscious mind during the night never resurfaced in my head.
That dream meant so much to me. It meant normalcy. To dream meant that I was going to be okay.
I wish I could say that my life and the lives of my children returned to normal after that night in July. I wish I could pretend that a glass of water and a bottle of muscle relaxers coupled with a dark state of mind didn’t alter so many paths.
The lives of my children would never be the same after that day. My life warped into what seemed a strip of bad scene selections from a sub-par movie.