It’s been 4 years today. It doesn’t feel like 4 so much as 40, or 400. Lifetimes have passed since 4 years ago and I’ve shed my skin and myself too many times since then to count, but the scars linger. They just aren’t as deep and have healed to be visible but painless.
Four years ago, my husband attempted suicide. It wasn’t like in the movies, with blood and gore, or finding him slumped over OD’ing. It happened on a beautiful spring day and I didn’t even know until the next morning when he called, asking me to take him to the hospital. He’d already been through rehab and had relapsed, as addicts do, and I’d sent him packing, thinking I could finally get my life stable and give my kids the life I knew they deserved. But crazy isn’t part time and sometimes has a 401k that is difficult to roll over to a new account. Crazy is a full time, lifelong job for some people, and I was definitely caught tight as a straight jacket in it.
The crazy part of it though wasn’t the act or the attempt. That was straightforward and typical in the ways statistics make things like that typical. He took too many pills and drank too much and put a gun in his mouth but couldn’t will himself to pull the trigger. So, he turned to more pills and more drink until his brain went unconscious. It is a wonder that he woke up, but he did. Checking him into the hospital was almost routine and not unlike his checking into rehab 3 months earlier. It was jarring seeing him in hospital scrubs and paper booties, but not crazy.
No, crazy came later when I realized just how deep in it I was. A friend had picked up my kids from school and after I left the hospital, I picked them up and brought them home to go straight to bed. They were so innocent and blissfully unaware of the chaos of that had consumed my time away from them. Once I was sure they were asleep I faced the biggest challenge of the day, calling his parents.
I had always been afraid of having to call them to give them terrible news. After 6 deployments I had it rehearsed in my head, call one, then call the other on conference, tell them both together so I don’t have to go through it twice. I had already spoken to my mom several times, and she was sympathetic and wanted to come to be here for me and the children, but I told her to stay home, that I was ok and I was already taking care of the kids on my own. I just couldn’t bare the thought of having to hide my constant grief in my home and having someone here would mean that nothing would be private any more. My father and I weren’t speaking, so I didn’t have to worry about telling him anything, plus I’d had a feeling he would just condescend to me about how each of us have consequences for our actions, rather than comfort my fear and pain.
So, I called his father first and quickly told him I was going to call his mother and speak to them both. Once she was on the line I just blurted it out. I couldn’t think of a way to cushion it: I said he’d tried to kill himself and he’d been committed temporarily. I had to explain that I’d kicked him out for relapsing and this seemed to be, and I was hopeful it was, the end of the downward spiral he had been on. As I told them the details, I imagined seeing him sprawled at the bottom of a hole, literally smashed against the rock bottom he had just hit. But I didn’t see myself there, too. I didn’t realize I still had a ways to fall.
His mother was crying softly but said to me, “You’re so strong. You’ll get through this. You’ve been through so much but you always take good care of yourself and the kids.” She wouldn’t come help to be with him or there for him, because she was leaving on a cruise with her girlfriends. His father made the same old hangdog excuses about not having enough money to come to be with him. It made my blood run cold. I loved him but I’d already put my foot down. I’d kicked him out and I didn’t want him back here when he got released from the hospital. I didn’t want to be responsible for him but I knew he had nowhere stable to go. He was still the father of my sweet babies and I wanted him to be better for them. I had to be the one to help him.
I could feel the pattern repeating. I would take care of things and patch everything up to keep him, and us, rattling along. Broken, but moving. There was an expectation from them, and from him, that I would keep doing what I’d been doing. And I was not strong enough to say no. I was not brave enough to save myself, or my children, from the continued hell I knew we would be living. Hell is full of volunteers, sure, but also full of those who don’t have the will to go any way but the direction they’d always been going. And I still had a ways to go.
The thing about mental illness and addiction, I’ve learned, is that it is never just one person’s fault and one person’s responsibility. Addicts and enablers are bred in familial dysfunction, usually generations of dysfunction. It takes either a complete break from that dysfunctional family/environment/relationship or a familial effort to heal together. I always think of this quote, “Your trauma is not your fault, but your healing is your responsibility.” Healing can be done on your own, but it takes really strong boundaries. One of the hallmarks of a severely dysfunctional family are unhealthy boundaries, avoidant and/or aggressive behaviors that trigger specific reactions within each other. Becoming aware of my triggers has been one of the primary ways I’ve fortified my emotional boundaries.
This date has been a trigger in years past, although, not this year. I remembered, because it’s also my best friend’s anniversary, whose wedding I was in the day before this all went down. In that way, I may never get to completely forget when it happened, and I can’t forget it happened because it was the catalyst for so many other events that changed the path of my life for the better. It didn’t trigger the anger or depression that it did even 2 years ago. It was just another “crazy” story in my past, but a story worth noting and remembering, because even from such darkness light can be born.