TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains sensitive topics, including mental illness, hospitalization, suicide, and child abuse.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
I fall into the warm abyss. I dive into the ocean of my despair. No fight left, my muscles welcome the peace and silence of utter solitude. Darkness engulfs me.
Someone brings me food.
Someone else lifts an arm. From far away, I see it is my arm. No sound, no feeling, everything underwater. I watch the blood pressure cuff fill and release. Fill and release. Like a squid moving backward. An intravenous tube goes into the arm. It fills with fluid. Cold saline interrupts my sea retreat.
A cup. A pill.
Another tray of untouched food.
Then, a disembodied voice, “Get up, you have visitors.”
It’s bright out on land. And stiff, dry, loud. The visitor’s lounge couch makes me itch, chafes against my newly re-formed vertebrae. My mother’s silence is deafening, soul-crushing, blinding. Her mouth hangs open. Like a fish. She can’t believe her daughter is on a 72-hour suicide hold in a hospital psych ward. I can’t believe I’ve been disturbed from my drowning to explain the situation.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Two days prior, alone in my apartment, I waded through the surf of my depression. The tide called to me. A handle of vodka, a bottle of pills, and a friend’s phone call.
Miracle number one. I answered the phone.
“What are you doing? We were supposed to meet.”
“Leave me alone. I’m going to kill myself.”
“I’m coming over.”
Ten minutes later. The waves lapped around my thighs, played with my groin. The vodka gone, the pills nearly there. She let herself in.
“Get up, get dressed, we’re going to the hospital.”
Miracle number two. I went with her.
It’s amazing how fast you can see a doctor in the ER when you say the “S” word. The tide came to my chest. They secured me to the hospital bed. The tide covered my shoulders, splashed on my throat and face. A doctor entered, with a security guard.
He asked, “What are you going to do if we release you tonight?”
Miracle number three. I answered honestly.
“I’m going to kill myself.”
The last waves break over my head. I am surrounded by glorious, healing water. Pulled down by the riptides and the undertow and the life I tried to fake for thirty years.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The tide recedes in the visitor’s lounge. She’s still staring. My mother shakes her head like a dog shakes water off its back, and starts to talk. At least, her lips move. Her voice, slow and muffled, tries to break through the draining wall of water within me. Her eyes bend low. Her hands knot like the tentacles of an octopus. She speaks to the floor, not to me. From five hundred miles away I hear her words.
My father beat me. Over a dress. She didn’t know what to do. Poor family. Five children. One dress. Family pictures. A strong-willed girl refusing to wear dresses. I long to swim away, but I sink into the wet sand. Her words bind me to land. My father hits me again and again and again, in my underwear, until I submit, wear the dress. The crashing surf subsides for a moment with my mother’s final statement.
“You were strong-willed before that, but you never tried to get your own way again.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Everything is black. The dreaded moment. I am consumed by the flood I feared would overtake me. The fear, rage, confusion, doubt, sadness, anxiety; everything crashes down. I held up the dam for a long time. Held it up with drink, and sex, and religion, and success, and avoidance. But it’s here. It’s now. I sit in the psych ward on a suicide hold. My mother tells me my ‘perfect’ childhood was not perfect. I fall into the depths of everything I tried to escape.
And it’s right where I want to be.
I lay for three days, a week, fourteen days, in comfort, peace, and freedom. Freedom from the play-acting, the perfection, the pretending. Freedom to face my fucked up life.
Finally, I don’t want to kill myself. I go home. I stop the drinking, the one-night-stands, the running from myself. I float up. My journey to solid land begins, and the memories surface. My forgotten childhood lays in wait between the muscle folds, electrical signals, and chemical reactions of my brain. I enter that Bermuda Triangle of consciousness.
Flash. Me in my underwear. A navy blue 1980’s dress, lacy bib, huge floppy bow. I’m six or seven. I hate that dress. I hate dresses. I don’t understand why I can’t wear pants for our family picture. My mom turns away. My dad’s handprint burns on my arm.
Flash. The family picture hangs in the stairwell of our house. I hate that picture. I get a knot in my stomach every time I look at it. That dress is hideous. I close my eyes and run past the picture as fast as I can.
In the Bermuda Triangle, fog descends. I search for the other side.
Flash. Me naked. Dad angry, grabs my arm and drags me somewhere. Mom is nowhere.
Flash. I hide from dad. In a closet. Scared.
Flash. In just a t-shirt. Dad tickles and wrestles me until it hurts, until I beg him to stop, until I pee myself. I’m ten years old. He laughs at me and gets out his camera.
Flash. Mom turns away. Mom ignores. Mom leaves the room to care for one of my other siblings, or maybe just do something for herself. Her life is so hard. I have to help. Be a good girl.
I swim for shore through the fog. Flashes come and go, come and go.
I huddle under a long curtain of leaves beneath our giant willow tree, shielded from outside, hidden behind the copious branches that reach down to the ground on all sides. Dad won’t find me here.
Memories like translucent jellyfish float around me. Phosphorescent and ethereal, beautiful and dangerous. Will they carry me to safety or sting me to death?
I’m in bed. I’m uncomfortable because I want to turn around, but if I turn around my back is to the door. I can’t sleep with my back to the door. Something bad will happen. I remain uncomfortable; try to fall asleep.
The fog lifts, I arise on a bed of benevolent jellyfish. All is clear. In a dark room my father does to me what no parent should ever do to their child.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Decades after his actions, I wake on land. The violated little girl who wanted to end her life is gone. I am in my own home, with my wonderful husband and two beautiful children.
I am not helpless, six years old, in a dark room at the mercy of a broken man.
I am not a depressed and alcoholic thirty-year-old without the will to live.
I am forty years old, strong-willed, powerful, healthy. Alive. I take my buried memories by the hand.
I say, “Hello, welcome to the safety of land. Come out of the deep, into the light. You are safe. You are loved. You can heal.”
I hear my voice. It’s been here, silent all these years. Not silent anymore.
“Child abuse and neglect is the single most preventable cause of mental illness, the single most common cause of drug and alcohol abuse, and a significant contributor to leading causes of death such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, and suicide.”Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score
If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, you are not alone. Please reach out and call the US National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.