You Are Not Alone (Trigger Warning: suicide/addiction)
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255 - for deaf/hard of hearing and en Español use this link.
Addiction helpline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357) — you aren’t alone I know it feels like it sometimes. xx A
This is painful for me to write — not just because I can’t believe Michelle is gone but because in another timeline she could be typing all of this about me. Also because I don’t talk much about the last moments of my life before I got sober. Only the people closest to me — mostly in AA - know I was thisclose to intentionally drinking myself to death.
My friend Michelle died by suicide a week ago Sunday. I knew her going back 100 years. We used to hang out in New Orleans when we were all young and still having so much fun with no consequences kind of drinking.
The kind of drinking you grow out of if you are lucky.
Kristy - one of my best friends and mutual friend of Michelle sent me a text: Michelle died. While neither of us were really surprised (the number of people who have died from New Orleans that used to run around with our crew back in the 90s is staggering — many by suicide or accidental OD - and some, murder — this is New Orleans) we ran through scenarios.
What the fuck happened?
The family hadn’t posted anything on social media except she passed. A week went by. Kristy and I searched obituaries - I went so far as to individually check each mortuary in Nashville to see if there were any information that hadn’t made it into print: a picture of Michelle with birth-death-shareamemory: Lite a Virtual Candle. But nothing.
We knew she was on and off the wagon and in 2017 Michelle sent me a text: I was just diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I responded: WTF call me. That was the last real interaction I had with Michelle. She and I would exchange ridiculous photos of Richard Simmons, marionettes and squirrels, old ladies smoking cigarettes, Grey Gardens (she watched in Nashville while I watched in NYC - she chose the appropriate costume for our cross country viewing).
Kristy and I came up with our own ideas: she might of accidentally OD’ed? Drank herself to death? Parkinsons? Suicide? Any of these were possible. Everyone who knew Michelle knew she struggled — and I do mean painfully, achingly struggled — with alcoholism. She would disappear then come back on the scene. Out of no where a note or an email (‘Duran Duran is in Nashville I know you want a roadtrip xx Michelle’) then no word.
I am lucky. I’ve been sober for over twenty years — it took time to get sober and I went through my own self created and perpetuated hell — but many die. Michelle and I talked about this off and on over the last two decades. She would get some time, then not. She would reach out, I would be here. Then poof - gone again.
By Sunday night (one week after Michelle died) Kristy and I came up with a story that made us feel better: maybe her Parkinson’s was aggressive? Maybe, with her family (a sister, niece and parents — no husband or partner or kids of her own) she decided to take herself out of the world before Parkinson’s could. Maybe they knew ‘this is goodbye’ this is for the best and somehow like a loving fantasy they supported her on her way out.
We didn’t know it was suicide then. But we wanted to ease her passing if only selfishly to assign clear headed agency to her end. She was 52.
Last Night: Kristy calls on the verge of tears “Michelle hung herself” I almost threw up. The desperation, the sadness, the last mintues hours seconds of Michelle’s life boiled down to a catastrophic, dramatic and unimaginable end. I don’t know if I will ever figure out how to write about the method she chose (I have talked with friends about why this is so stunningly different for some reason than other methods. Talking about it helps me).
My friend Lucretia died by suicide. She drove her car out to a field, rigged a tube from the tailpipe and drifted off to sleep. She attempted once before — get this — with a gun. And lived. She used to laugh about it (as we drove back and forth to AA meetings: how lucky we were then huh?) recounted her near death experience like reading a teletype aloud in someone else’s words: No Feeling. Stop. Just Facts. Stop.
But somewhere I knew — and Lucretia knew — it was really just a matter of time.
Living with mental health issues treated or untreated is a slog, pour booze or substance one top of it and it’s a time bomb.
I have gone through all of this myself. On the night before I went to rehab for what can only be the last time I laid on my couch, enough vodka in the house to drink myself to death. It was an option on the table. It felt fine. It made sense at that point. The alternative: not drinking facing the destruction I created of my life, my family’s, and my god facing my then pre-teen daughter? The things she saw that I did? At that moment, permanent sleep (I kept telling myself that is all it was) was easier and I was so tired. I was only 29.
But I am here. Not by my own hand. I had given my sister a key to my apartment. She and her husband came and dragged me out and dumped me (literally) at a detox center. And then I was utterly alone. My family was done. It was on me. My daughter safely with her father — what kind of horrible mother…? — but she was safe.
It was the third rehab and for me (touch wood, thank god, goddess, Jesus Mary Joseph and all the saints) and was the charm.
I think of Michelle. Was she alone in her apartment looking at the ceiling thinking what I thought? Was her sister - unable to get ahold of her like mine - and had to make the fevered horrible drive to her house not knowing what she would find?
Her death and life mean everything. I’m not here to tell you your business. All I can tell you is this: There are many paths to the waterfall. I was lucky enough to live long enough to be given grace to find the one carved specially for me. You have one too.
Today Michelle’s sister posted there would be a memorial service in Nashville after the 4th of July: Michelle’s a firecracker.
I just remembered: we got tattoos together. Two unhinged drunks though it was a great idea get totems to menfolk tattooed on our body. Mine a simple “t” and hers a heart with a keyhole and through the keyhole you could read: “925” — the guy she was dating named after industrial metal — but as an alloy makes a shiny piece of jewelry. The T? On my sternum for a man who was married who I loved — I was only 28 and thought he hung the moon. Twenty-two years later we are married, I am sober, we have two adult children (each brought into our marriage) and have lived through death, disease and raising a horrible yet delightful cat.