The Link Between Suicide and Addiction
Any addict will tell you that addiction is a hopeless place. No addict can imagine the excruciating emotional, spiritual, or physical pain that addiction creates. We all take a drug or a drink and feel GREAT one time. Some of us are able to feel less awkward in social situations for the first time, others feel the emotional pain we’ve carried evaporate for one moment and feel weightless for the first time. Regardless of how or why we start using, there is no way – even in the face of the news media or seeing others die from addiction – to predict the oncoming despair we will feel once we are caught in the grip of addiction ourselves. For many of us, that despair and hopelessness is so powerful and so overwhelming that we have suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. I am one of those addicts, and I’d like to share my story of hope with you.
(Trigger Warning: This post talks about suicidal thoughts and ideations. If that topic is triggering for you, please stop reading. This post is mean to provide hope. But if you are feelings suicidal, please stop reading and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.)
When Suicidal Ideations Occur During Addiction
My sobriety date is February 16, 2006. I celebrated 14 years of sobriety yesterday. My anniversary is incredibly emotional because I nearly killed myself on my sobriety date. Never in a million years did I believe that my addiction would bring me to a place where I would carefully plan my own suicide, pick a date, and very nearly follow through. I knew addiction put me in dangerous situations. I knew its hopelessness. I felt the alienation from my family, and I knew what it was like to have no money and no job. Still, I never anticipated that I would be a suicide survivor. That’s an important point. I knew I was in danger of overdose, but I NEVER THOUGHT I WAS AT RISK FOR A SUICIDE ATTEMPT. But, I very much was. And, we all are.
I’d been using for ten straight years in 2006. I’d lost a job, I was isolated, I was depressed. But, that’s not what provoked my suicidal ideations. I was using a highly-addictive benzodiazepine (among other things). And, in 2006, my addiction became unmanageable. I could not control the withdrawal. And, suddenly, I began to have seizures in the middle of the night. I literally woke up in MID AIR because I’d have seizures so strong that they threw me out of bed. While I was awake, I either felt a few hours of relief or was shaking and sweating and rocking back and forth on my bed in agony. I felt like I was dying a slow and painful death – and, I was. On one life-changing night, I woke up in mid air again, but I was upside down. My head was a split second away from the crashing into the floor. In moments like that, life moves in slow motion, and I very clearly remember thinking, “you’re going to break your neck”. By the grace of God, I fell hard head first onto the floor, but did not break my neck. My legs crashed into the wall. My whole body hurt. I got up amazed I wasn’t paralyzed and got back into bed. By this time in my addiction, I was way too numb to cry. I just made a decision not to live THAT way anymore. And, in a split second, I decided I was going to kill myself.
Addiction, Suicide, and the Great Lie
Obviously, I’m writing this and I didn’t follow through. But, before I finish telling my story, I want to talk about the powerful combination of addiction, suicidal thoughts, and the great lie – because this truth is life-changing, and I’m alive to tell it. I had emotional issues that needed to heal. My mental health was suffering, and I was in the throes of depression. But, I didn’t decide to commit suicide because of those things. I was suicidal because I believed the great lie – which was that I WOULD NEVER BE ABLE TO GET CLEAN AND SOBER. I believed I was forever trapped in this endless hell of shaking, seizures, sweating, rocking, sleeping. I did not want to die. I wanted to stop the torture. And, like so many addicts, I was absolutely certain that the only way out was death. I had been to treatment. I knew about AA and NA. I just didn’t believe I could make it. And, ladies and gentleman, fourteen years later I’m here to tell you that I was completely wrong, and that the thoughts telling me to kill myself were all lies. Not one of the beliefs I held when I decided to end my life provided true. NOT ONE.
So, let’s dispel my myths in an effort to dispel yours. I was not worthless. I was not useless. I was not a burden to my family. They would definitely NOT have been better off without me. I was not incapable of getting sober. My prospects for a future were not erased. I was not a lost cause. I was not a hopeless case. And, I was not ALONE. I felt completely alone, but what I learned after choosing life was that God had been with me as I screamed at him in anger, and that my family was willing to do anything possible to help me find my way.
BELIEVING I WAS ALONE WAS A LIE. I WAS NOT ALONE, AND NEITHER ARE YOU.
In Our Darkest Hour, Suicide Prevention is Possible
Before I continue, I’d like to pay respect to the millions of people who have committed suicide in the face of addiction. Suicide is not a selfish act. It is an act of desperation and is borne from unimaginable pain. It stems from mental illness, anguish, and hopelessness. I was lucky to survive, and while I believe I had a spiritual experience, I very much believe that I was just incredibly lucky. My spiritual experience was not what saved me. Because I believe God is available to everyone, and He divinely intervenes for us all in different ways. I lived because my spiritual experience changed my mind. The only difference between me and my fellows who have died from the thoughts that almost killed me is the fact that I consciously chose life.
Having said that, here’s what happened to me on February 16th, 2006. I was sitting in my bedroom, blinds drawn, in the darkness. Suicide notes were scattered all over my bed. I’d written dozens of them. I had planned to overdose, and had what I needed beside me. I’d picked February 16th as the day to die months before. I woke up that morning with a sense of dread and relief. I thought my suffering was going to end that day.
And, as I sat in the darkness, I had a vision and a thought. I saw myself dead on my bed. I saw what whoever broke down my door to find me would discover if I followed through. And, then I remembered a promise I’d made to my brother when I was a very, very little girl – which was this:
I will always be here for you. I will always protect you. I will never leave you.
And, those two things, most importantly the last thing, literally propelled me up and out of bed. I was swearing like a sailor because I was so angry that I couldn’t kill myself. But, I knew that I couldn’t. Because if I did what I wanted to do, I’d break the promise I made to my brother. In the end, I loved him more than my own life, and for whatever miraculous reason, I had what AAs call a moment of clarity, and knew I was not going to die that die.
So, mind changed, I sprung into action. I was literally terrified that I would give in and kill myself, and I moved with a swiftness. I called an inpatient program. I drove 80 mph down the road to get there (I don’t recommend my poor driving habits – especially in such a dangerous mental state.) I secured a bed, went home, threw whatever I could find in a bag, went back, and checked in.
All I did was take the help that the world offers to people who consider suicide or battle addiction. I sought help. It was begrudgingly, and I was furiously angry, but all that matters is that I took the measures needed to prevent my own suicide.
What Being A Suicide Survivor Means
Here’s a story for you. My father and I had been alienated for a long time. I’d spent YEARS praying and asking God to give us the chance to heal. I made every deal with God one can make. I begged. I cried. I prayed the same prayer thousands of times. Two weeks after almost taking my life, a counselor at the rehabilitation facility said, “Come with me. You’re leaving.” I stood there in full withdrawal, facing a closed door. She opened it and on the other side stood MY FATHER. After 30 years of praying, my prayer was answered. And, on every annual celebration of my sobriety, I remember that I was 14 DAYS AWAY from God answering my prayer.
In the past fourteen years, I have done much more than stay sober. Because I’m not just a recovering addict. I’m a suicide survivor. And, it has changed me profoundly. I wake up before the sun rises, because I want to see the promise of every new day. Even when I’m struggling and life is hard, I want to see the sun rise. I have had the opportunity to heal every broken part of my past. I have had the chance to be a good daughter every single day – and, remember, THAT WAS MY DREAM. I have fought cancer and when I did, I thought about the absolute miracle it was for someone like ME to fight for life.
I love more. I feel more deeply. I pray more. I thank God more. I have more gratitude. And, most of all, as depressed as I may ever get, I remember that I nearly robbed myself of having my greatest prayer answered. God (or whatever you believe in) was standing at the cliff’s edge for me – waiting to answer my greatest prayer. Had I jumped off that cliff, I’d have missed the greatest blessing of my life – a happy, healthy relationship with my father.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or thoughts of suicide, please contact us. We’re here to help.