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Holding Space in Crisis

I almost lost my best friend last weekend to suicide. She tried to take her own life.

She texted me while I was working: “Call me ASAP. I need you to come to hospital and spend the night with me. No joke.” I informed her that I was still working with a student, which she understood, and I went back to work until she explained why she’d been admitted to the hospital: she’d attempted suicide. I felt the wind knocked out of me. Frantically she texted me to come as soon as possible, as she believed the nurses in the ICU were waking her up to say nasty things to her. These nurses even went as far to tell her family that she’s hallucinating; and my friend didn’t feel safe. She begged me to stay the night as her husband refused.

I could see the look of horror on my face on camera in between her texts. I realized that I needed to be there for her, so I ended the tutoring session then and there. After I explained to my own family why I was leaving, I took off, my heart and brain both racing as I began driving, trying to understand what had happened. Did she need anything from home? I stopped to get headphones for her, thinking she might enjoy some music.

When I get there, I put on my proverbial own oxygen mask so that I can be her advocate as I walk into her ICU room. Immediately I see that she’s got a PICC line, the staff had a hard time inserting an IV and she’s bruised up one side and down the other. I finally get the story from her: she’d overdosed on a number of medications – including painkillers and insulin – while she was housesitting her parents home, resulting in kidney failure. One pumped stomach later, the nurses draw her labs every two hours to make certain that her kidneys are indeed working as they should be.

She complains that the nursing staff is abusive; they’ve make comments about her, saying that she’d overdosed to get attention, that she is a princess and she is going to call her Daddy. When she confronts the nurses about their poor behavior, the nurses deny it, brushing it off as a hallucination. As she’s on suicide watch, the hospital provided her with a sitter, a one-on-one person who has to watch her at all times, documenting every thing that she does, noting all the unprofessional conduct by the medical team before I arrived.

Once I got there, she informed me that the nurses were still commenting about her…and me. When I asked the nurse about it, she denied it, saying my friend was hallucinating and fabricating tales. I didn’t believe a word of it and explained that due HIPPA, it was illegal to discuss any patient care within earshot of others.

The charge nurse called her supervisor who came down to talk with all of us. My friend explained how she felt. The nurses, of course, covered their misbehavior, claiming that my friend had been hallucinating. I interrupted their stories and explained that no matter what, my friend does have recipient rights, which are something we have in Michigan. These rights protect and promote the constitutional and statutory rights of recipients of public mental health services and empower recipients to fully exercise these rights.

The minute I mentioned “recipient rights,” the two nurses apologized, and we began to discuss moving my friend to a step-down unit as she was medically stable. Two hours later, my friend was moved to a quieter, private room where we got settled in. Her kidney function went down to normal so she was medically cleared for transport to an actual mental health facility.

We learned that Community Mental Health (CMH) was on their way to start the intake process to find her a mental health facility – that’s when things started accelerating at an astronomical rate. My friend had no idea how to process this, so I patiently helped her. Her parents and her husband arrived for the intake meeting.

This was when I saw mental health stigma magnified.

Thankfully, the CMH person was neutral, asked all the appropriate questions, and took my friend’s requests seriously.

When my friend’s stepmom stepmom began blaming my friend for what happened, I was floored “Your dad is so angry at what you did to him.”

I couldn’t hold back, I was so angry, and interrupted, saying “I’m sorry. With all due respect, when you make comments like that to her, you are blaming her for her illness. We need to help her instead of telling her what she did wrong. She didn’t do this to you.

Her stepmom got angry at me and said, “Well, with all due respect to you, you haven’t been here for the past eleven years.” I responded, “You’re right. I haven’t. But constantly telling her how bad she is isn’t helping her heal.”

When her parents left, my friend said, awestruck: “That is the first time anyone stood up to my stepmom.”  I began to pack for home once I felt she was stable, and her husband had arrived, stating that he’d have come earlier, but he’d only had a half a tank of gas, she was stable now,

I looked him and smiled with my sweetest Southern smile and said, “I had only the change in my pocket, a quarter tank of gas, I cancelled my tutoring job that I was doing, cancelled my other two tutoring jobs and packed up to stay the night.”

He looked at me, laughed and said, “What is wrong with you?” I explained, “Nothing is wrong with me. My priority is taking care of those I love, and I love her.”

I was hurt for my friend. It is hard enough battling mental health demons, but when you are alone with no emotional support from your family, it is almost insurmountable.

Once I got to my car, I video-chatted with one of my friends, and I finally cried. I let it all out. I cried body-rocking sobs for my friend, the pain that she is shouldering on her own, the fear of the unknown that she is facing, and the aching of wanting to heal. I sobbed in anger against mental health stigma, the blame people put on those with mental illness, and the broken system that is failing so many. No one should be blamed for his or her mental illness. It ‘s like being blamed for having cancer, diabetes, or asthma.

I received a text from my friend’s husband: “Thanks for being such a good friend to my wife. I don’t think I have ever witnessed such devotion from a friend of hers. I will try to keep you in the loop as much as possible, okay?.” I thanked him for keeping me in the loop so that I could help rally around her, to help her recovery and mental well-being,

This is my prayer.

I pray that we work on our own recovery and wellness, be our best advocate, and to put on our oxygen masks first.

Danceband On The Titanic

There is a picture of me, somewhere out there, probably still on my dad’s phone unless they’ve turned into Christmas Card people, in which case, the picture is most definitely out there in the world for all to see.

I hope it is not.

I didn’t see the picture until I was 5 months sober, staying in the unfinished basement at my parents house, grateful that I was no longer homeless, while I hunted for a job. Before this, I’d been staying there after a stint at a ramshackle, rundown motel, the kind of place you probably could dismantle a dead body, leave the head on the pillow, and no one would think anything of it. But it was my room, and despite the lice they gifted me, I loved it. Until money dried up and suddenly I was, once again, homeless. I’d moved in there after I was discharged from the inpatient psych ward, in which I was able to successfully detox after a suicide attempt. Got some free ECT to boot.

(WINNING)

Despite what you see on the After School Special’s of our childhood, I didn’t take a single Vicodin, fall into a stupor, and become insta-addict – just add narcotics! No, my entry into addiction was a slow and steady downward spiral of which I am deeply ashamed. It’s left my brain full of wreckage and ruin, fragmented bits of my life that don’t follow a single pattern. Between the opiates, the Ketamine, and the ECT, I cannot even be certain that what I am telling you is the truth; what I’ve gathered are bits and pieces of the addict I so desperately hate from other people who are around, fuzzy recollections, and my own social media posts.

About a year and a half before I moved from my yellow house to the apartments by the river, Dave and I had separated; he’d told me that while he cared for me, he no longer loved me. While we lived in the same house, we’d had completely separate lives for years, so he moved to the basement while I stayed upstairs. I’d been miserable before his confession and after? I was nearly broken. Using the Vicodin, then Norco, I was able to numb my pain and get out of my head, which, while remarkably stupid, was effective. For awhile.

Let me stop you, Dear Reader, and ask you to keep what I am about to say in mind as you read through this massive tome. I’m simply trying to make certain that you understand several key things about my addiction and subsequent recovery. I alone was the one who chose to take the drugs. No one forced me to abuse opiates, and even later, (SPOILER ALERT) Ketamine. This isn’t a post about blaming others for my misdoings, rejecting any accountability, nor making any excuses for the stupid, awful things I’ve done. I alone fucked up. My addiction was my own fault. However, in the same vein, no one “saved” me but myself. There was no cheeky interventionist. No room full of people who loved me weeping stoically, telling me how my addiction hurt them. No letters. Nothing. It was just me. I was alone, and I chose to get – and remain – sober.

The delusions started when I moved out, sitting in my empty apartment alone, paralyzed by the thought of getting off the couch to go to the bathroom. Always a night-owl, I’d wake at some ungodly hour of the morning, shaking. It wasn’t withdrawal, no, it was pure unfettered anxiety.

It was the aftermath of using so many pills, all the fun you think you’re having comes back to bite you with crippling anxiety and depression.

Which is why I’d do more.

Yes, opiates are powerful, and yes, I abused them, but things really didn’t become dire until I added Ketamine to my life.

Ketamine, if you’re unaware, is a club drug, a horse tranquilizer, and a date rape drug. You use too much? You may wake up at some hipster coffee bar, trying to sing “You’re Having My Baby” to the dude in the front row who may or may not actually exist. In other words, it’s the best way to forget how fucked you are.

The delusions worsen as time passed. I could see into the future. I could read your mind. I was going to be famous. I was super fucking rich. In this fucked-up world, I could even forget about me, and the life that I’d so carelessly shattered. I remember sitting in Divorce Class at the courthouse, something required of all divorces in Kane County, weeping at all that I’d thrown away – using a total of three boxes of the low-quality, government tissues. I left with a shiny pink face and completely chapped nose and eyes that appeared to be making a break from their sockets. I went home, took some pills, took some Ketamine, and passed out.

I retreated ever-inward. I didn’t talk to many people. I didn’t share my struggles. I was alone, and it was my fault.

The hallucinations started soon after Divorce Class ended and my ex and I split up. He’d left my house in a rage after a fight and went to live with his sister. I got scared. His temper, magnified by the drugs, the hallucinations, and the delusions, grew increasingly frightening. Once he’d moved out, the attacks began. I’d wake up naked in my bedroom, my body sore and bruised, and my brain put the two unrelated events together as one – he was attacking me. It happened every few days, these “attacks,” until I found myself at the police station, reporting them. I was dangerously sick and I had no idea.

My friends on the Internet (those whom I had left), sent me money for surveillance cameras. I bought them, installed them – trying to capture the culprit – and when I saw what I saw, I immediately called the police and told them the culprit.

The videos in my bedroom captured an incredibly stoned, dead-eyed, version of myself, violently attacking myself, brutally tearing at my flesh. In particular, THAT me liked to beat my face with one of my prized possessions – a candlestick set from our wedding, take another pill or hit up some Ketamine, then violating myself with the candlestick. It lasted hours. I’d wake up with no memory of events, sore and tired and unsure of how I’d gotten there.

I’d never engaged in self-injury before – not once – so the very idea that I’d hurt myself was unbelievable, but right there, on my grainy old laptop, was proof of how unhinged I’d become. Charged with filing a false report, I plead guilty.

In early September of 2015, I decided to get fixed, and made arrangements with work to take a few weeks off to do an inpatient detox, and, for the first time in a long time, I woke up happily, rather than cursing the gods that I was still alive.

It was to be short-lived.

Several days later, sober, I was idly chatting with my neighbor about her upcoming vacation (funny the things your brain remembers and what it does not), standing by my screen door, when karma came calling. It sounded like the shucking noise of an ear of corn, or maybe the sound that a huge thing of broccoli makes when you rip it apart – hard. It felt like a bullet to the femur. I crumpled on top of my neighbor and began screaming wildly about calling an ambulance, yelling over and over like some perverse, yet truthful, Chicken Little:  “my leg is broken, my LEG is broken!”

I don’t remember much after that. I woke up in (physical rehab) and learned that my femur (hereafter to be called my “Blasfemur,”) had broken, fairly high up on the bone, where the biggest, strongest bone in your body is at its peak of strength. Whaaaa?

The doctors and nurses shrugged it off my questions, with a flippant “It just happens” and sent me home, armed with a Norco prescription, in November, to heal. I added the Ketamine, just to make sure.

A couple of weeks later at the end of November, I was putting up the Christmas tree with the kids and my mother. It was all merry and fucking bright until I sat down on the couch and felt that familiar crunch. Screams came out of me I didn’t know were possible, but I’d lost my actual words. My mother stood over me yelling “what’s wrong? what’s wrong?” and I couldn’t find the words. I overheard her telling my babies that I was “probably just faking it” as she walked out the door, my screams fading into an ice cold silence. They left me alone in that apartment where I screamed and cried and screamed. Finally, I managed to call 911 and when they asked me questions, all I could scream was my address.

I woke up in January in a nursing home. When I woke up, I found myself sitting at a table in a vast dining room, full of old people. For weeks to come, I thought that I’d died and gone…wherever it is that you go.

This time, I learned, my (blas)femur and it’s associated hardware had become infected after the first surgery, which weakened the bone, causing it to snap like a tree. They put me all back together like the bionic woman, but the surgery had introduced the wee colony of Strep D in the bone into my bloodstream, creating an infection on meth. I’d been in a coma for weeks. Once again, I learned to walk, and once again, I was sent home in late January with another Norco prescription. The nursing home really wanted me to have someone stay with me to help out, but I insisted that I was fine alone. In truth, I had nobody to help me out, but was far too ashamed to tell them.

The picture I referenced above was taken some time in May, as far as my fuzzy memory allows me to remember, after my third femur fracture in March. This time, I’d been so high that I fell asleep on the toilet and rolled off. Glamorous, no? Just like Fat Elvis. Luckily, my eldest son was there and he called 911 and my parents to whisk him away. I remember my father on the phone, telling Ben that I was a liar and I was faking it. I was swept away in the ambulance for even more hardware, and finally? A diagnosis:

HypoPARAthyroidism.

It’s an autoimmune disease that leaches calcium from the bones, resulting in brittle bones. It is managed, not treated. There is no cure.

But, I had the answer. Finally.

After my third fracture, I once again was sent to the nursing home, and quickly discharged with even higher doses of Norco, when my insurance balked, I’d used up all my rehab days for the year. By this time, I’d lost my apartment, my stuff was in storage (except the things that we’re thrown away, which my father gloated about while I was flat on my back) and my parents let me stay with them, which was about the only option I had. They couldn’t really kick me out if my leg was only freshly attached. I feel deeper into a depression, self-loathing, and drug abuse as I realized what a mess I’d made with my life. How many bad choices I’d made. How many people I’d hurt. How much I’d hurt myself. How much I loathed myself. How I once had a life that in no way resembled sleeping in my parents dining room. How I’d been a home owner. How I’d been married. How lucky I’d been. How I threw it all away. My life turned into a series of “once did” and “used to.”

The only one who hated me more was my father.

While we were once close confidants, in the years after my marriage to Dave, his disdain had become palpable. My uncle had to intervene one Christmas, after my father mocked me incessantly for taking a temp job filling out gift cards while I was pregnant with Alex. It may seem normal to some of you, this behavior, but in THEIR house, NO ONE was EVER SAD and NOTHING was EVER WRONG. WASPs to the core, my family is.

When I moved back in, broken, dejected, and high, our fights became epic. For the first time in my life, I stood UP to one of my parents. Then, I was promptly kicked out.

Guess I’m not so WASPy after all.

I want to say that the picture was taken around May of 2016, but my estimate may be thoroughly skewed, so if you’re counting on dates being correct and cohesive, you’ve got the wrong girl.

This is a picture of me, though you probably wouldn’t recognize me. I am wearing the blue scrubs that you associate with a hospital: not exactly sky blue, not teal, not navy, just generic blue hospital scrubs. These are, I remember, the only clothes I have to my name. I was given them in both the hospital and the nursing home, a gift, I suppose, of being a frequent flier, tinged with a bit of pity – this girl has no clothes, we can help. Whomever gave them to me, know that you gave me a bit of dignity, which I will never forget. Thank you.

I am wearing scrubs, the light of the refrigerator is slowly bleaching out half of my now-enormous body, as opposed to the darkness outside. There is a tube of fat around my neck, nearly destroying any evidence of my face, but if you look closely, you can make out my glasses, my nostrils, my hair cascading down. My neck is stretched back at nearly a 90 degree angle from my body, my head listlessly resting on the back of my wheelchair. My mouth gaped wide, which, should I been engaging in fly catching, would have netted far more than the average Venus flytrap. I am clearly, unmistakably, and without a single shred of doubt, passed the fuck out.

It is both me and not me.

High as i was, I don’t remember a thing about the photo being taken. But there I was, in all my pixelated glory.

By the time I saw the photo, I was once again in my “will do” and “can do” space. I’d kicked drugs in September 2016 and had found a job that I enjoyed. I stayed with my parents while I began to sort out my medical debt and save toward a new car and an apartment of my own. My spirits were high, my depression finally abated to the background, and I was tentatively happy. I’d apologized until my throat was sore, but my fragmented memory saved me from the worst of it, but I was not forgiven. I don’t think I ever expected to be. And now, I never will.

It’s okay. I can’t expect this. I know I fucked up.

My father, who’d actually grown increasingly disdainful of me, the more sober and well I became, confronted me when I came home one day after work, preparing to do my AFTER work, work.

My mother shuffled along behind him, Ben, the caboose. All three of them were in hysterics, tears rolling down their cheeks as I sat down in my normal spot on the couch. After showing them a video of two turtles humping a couple of days before, I eagerly waited to see what they were showing me.

What it was was that picture. Of the not me, me.

They could hardly contain their laughter, my father happier than ever, braying, “Isn’t this the best picture of you?” and “You PASSED OUT, (heave, heave) IN FRONT OF THE FRIDGE!” punctuated, with “I’m going to frame this picture!” The tears welled in my eyes while my teeth clenched, they laughed even harder at my reaction.

Like I said, if they’ve become Christmas Card sending people, this will be the picture of me they show, expecting others to laugh uproariously. Before I moved out, in fact, my father made certain to show the picture to anyone who came over. “Wanna see something hilarious?” he’d ask. Expecting memes or a funny cat playing the piano, they’d agree. I could see it when they saw it, my dad chortling with laughter, nearly choking on his giggles, the looks on their faces: a mixture of confusion and pity. Even in my drug-hazed “glory,” I’d never felt so low.

Maybe that picture is splashed all over the internet, in the dark recesses I don’t explore, and maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s hung on their wall, replacing all of the other pictures. Maybe it’s not.

Maybe we’ll meet again.

Maybe not.

Goodbye, My Little Boy

Losing an adult child to Dextromethorphan addiction is a nightmare no parent should ever have to experience.

This is Ethan’s story:

Yesterday, the phone rang with the call some part of me has been expecting for a year or two now. It was the Galax Police Department calling to notify me they had found my 23-year-old son dead in his apartment after they were asked to do a welfare check.

It’s the call no mother wants to get, but after living with his addiction for so long, it was one I expected at the back of my mind. I thought I was prepared, but really, until the phone rang I clung to hope that he would turn his life around. I’m still struggling to wrap my head and heart around the idea that he really is gone. Our communication has been spotty for years, so full of anger at times, I’m used to not hearing from him for days or weeks. Just a week ago, he called wanting a PlayStation 4 for Christmas.

I told him no.

He’d skipped Thanksgiving, I think at least partly because he was angry with me over a Facebook post in which I was thankful for him, despite the fact that he hadn’t always been the son I imagined. I was uncertain over what Christmas would bring. Maybe that was the cloud that’s been hanging over my holiday. I hadn’t even bought him any gifts.

Now I won’t have the chance. Ever again.

There’s a picture of him on the living room wall, holding my dog last Christmas, sporting a goofy toboggan and a grin. When he was straight, he had a lethal sense of humor and was always worried about me.

In my memories, he is the golden haired little boy who trooped behind his older sister and worried her to death as she played; the elementary schooler who liked being smart and didn’t care for basketball or karate; the middle schooler who put on weight and had braces and didn’t like himself as much as he should have. I still loved his smile. He’s also the sullen teen who stretched out, became tall and lean, who gave up band and skateboarding, who put his fist through the wall and refused chores. Yet on good days, he still gave awesome hugs and when he managed a smile, the room lit up.

The good days, however, seemed fewer and farther between the older he got. Instead of correcting his path, he intentionally chose it, repeatedly. We argued, by text, at great length last month about all the wonderful things he thought his drug of choice did for him and whether or not he was happy. When he was high, he thought he was Death incarnate, or maybe god. He was immortal, capable of anything he set his mind to. He hated everything around him except the video games in which he could further escape from reality.

I know he had dreams – of being a video game designer, of having a family, of being a dad. He told me he wanted to be a good dad, which was so sad because his dad was such a deadbeat. My son was great with children. His nieces adored him. But he poisoned his chances at that when he started using drugs, when he chose to keep using them. In many ways, I lost my son when he and his best friend started getting high. He was never the same after that; moody, angry, scary and demanding.

He always thought that since it wasn’t an illegal drug, or even one he had to obtain illegally, that it was safe. Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant and central nervous system depressant. It’s sold over-the-counter and safe in recommended dosages. Taken a whole pack or more at a time, however, it mimics the effects of PCP. It causes psychosis, seizures, organ damage, and potentially death.

He left home for nearly a year when he was 16, loading his belongings in a rage on the day my grandfather died. Even when he didn’t live with me, I gave him a phone to keep in touch, came to his rescue when he needed me, took afternoons off work to deal with a broken heart. He came home the next summer because they didn’t have room for him any more and I wanted him to finish school, which he did. But frankly, I was afraid of him and his angry outbursts. He turned 18 and graduated, still with no purpose or desire to have one, and I made him move out.

He had a few jobs, wrecked a few cars, and was living in his car when one last accident ended its usefulness. By then he was having seizures. He was unable to work, so I rented him an apartment and took him regularly to Winston-Salem to see a doctor and psychologist. We didn’t know that, even then, he continued to use. Then he found a roommate and they got high together, he went into a psychosis and pulled a Japanese sword on the roommate, and we found out the truth. He was in jail when we cleaned out his apartment and found bag after bag of empty blister packs of drugs he stole, by the way.

I should have known by the illogical rages, I guess. But even though I knew the drugs had caused the neurological damage that brought on the seizures, I didn’t know their effects as well as I would have some widely-discussed street drug.

(ed note: Will be creating a dextromethorphan abuse resource page in memory of Ethan. Love, love, love to you – Aunt Becky)

When he got out of jail, I refused to enable him any more. He moved to Virginia with my parents. He never worked again, except odd jobs at the church and for my family. When my dad’s illness meant mom couldn’t take care of him too, he first rented a house, then lost his job at the church, and wound up in the homeless shelter. During that time he been in a horrific wreck in which he should have been killed. He was high, in a blackout, hit a parked car and went over an embankment. He was ejected and broke multiple bones, including his back, but was not paralyzed.

We were all convinced he’d hit bottom.

For months, back at the shelter, he stayed on the straight and narrow due to random drug testing. He was a house monitor, had friends and was fun to be around again. When he moved into an apartment, the first thing he did was get high. This summer police called me and asked if I was his mom. I expected the next words to be a death notification. No, he was on the streets acting strange.

He spent two nights in jail for public intoxication.

I hate to admit how seldom I’ve seen him since his birthday in April. He was in a downward spiral that I knew I was powerless to stop. I talked to him on the phone fairly regularly and tried to make sure he knew I loved him. Often, his voice was unintelligible and I would strain to have a conversation, never knowing if he was high or if was an aftereffect of the drugs. Sometimes he called in tears from emotional pain. Lately there had been physical pain as well, but he would not see a doctor.

For years I’ve prayed for God to heal him, to help him choose sobriety, and more recently to take away the pain that seemed to drive him.

At last, Ethan hurts no more.

At one level, my prayers have been answered.

There’s a hole in my heart and an ache in my stomach. I’m not sure if writing about it makes it more real, or less. I know now I’ve had almost a day to process and I’m still not sure I’m ready to do anything else. I hate that, right now, so many of my memories are not good, but maybe that’s what I need to get through the next few days. I refuse to take a photo album down and bring happier ones to the surface.

I’ve been touched by how many people have reached out to me; wept again when I realized how many of my friends have already, in some form, walked this path. I don’t know what to tell people I need beyond time. I’m trying to go on with life, to do the things I enjoy instead of trembling in a corner in sackcloth and ashes. I know that may raise a few eyebrows, but my grief won’t change his death, just as it never changed the way he chose to live.

I know I’m fragile right now and I’m trying to take care of myself. I wish I could hug him one more time and remind him again that I love him – no matter what. That not being possible, I want to hold my daughter and granddaughters and feel the breath in their lungs and the beat of their hearts.

I want to somehow know that he’s finally at peace and that I won’t ever have to feel this way again.