On a certain day in 2010, I was driving on the freeway and listening to the same song over and over. It was “Livin’ on a Prayer,” by Bon Jovi, and it was my current talisman. The thing, phrase, image I’d latched onto for this day to encourage me to refrain from actively seeking death. That line from the chorus rang in my head:
Oh, we’re halfway there…(shrieking) AH AHHH Living on a prayer…take my hand, and we’ll make it I swear
“Halfway there” was the key. You see, when I was listening to the phrase I started thinking about my age. If I doubled my current age, I got a number that made it likely I’d have expired from natural causes. That meant I was halfway there: halfway, or more, to a natural, non-self-inflicted death.
It may not seem like a very inspirational thought, but I assure you it was the best I could come up with at the time. I had no pleasant thoughts about the future, no feeling that things were going to change for the better. Life had become little but a quest to avoid pain: the pain of withdrawal, the pain of guilt, physical pain. My energies were absorbed by this ultimately futile but recursive project.
The idea that I was halfway to death was comforting because I saw the hell my life with drugs had become, but I was absolutely convinced that life without them would also be unbearable. My brain had lost its ability to self-soothe, or to feel any natural pleasure. I saw the life ahead of me, one way or another, as an endless parade of deprivation, effort and anxiety.
What I had left were some beliefs of mine, old ones and deep. I believed I had an obligation to try as hard as I could not to commit suicide. I didn’t believe it was a sin or anything; I just had a sort of conviction that dying by suicide would affect what happened afterward. Like showing up for a class without having finished the prerequisite. When I couldn’t do anything positive for myself; when my actions and lack of actions screamed passive suicide, I stubbornly held back from doing anything active.
Not that I was kidding myself about the chances of causing my death in a passive manner. I dreaded the thought of dying that way. I longed for an honorable death the way a soldier might long for an honorable discharge, and I had very clear ideas about what kinds of deaths felt honorable to me and what kinds didn’t. Throwing myself on a grenade to save others? Definitely yes. Drug overdose? Definitely no. Plane crash? Yes. Cancer? Depends whether I caused it by treating my body like crap. Car accident? Depends whether drugs or overeating contributed to it. Old age and related issues? Yes.
Anyway, on that day in 2010 it really was comforting and even cheering to think I had passed the halfway mark. To imagine reaching the finish line, dying honorably and being welcomed to the next level, whatever that is. To imagine being greeted with love and maybe even an approving word for completing my time. It was the best I could hope for.
Do you feel that way today? Is endurance your watchword? Is a shred of determination what keeps you here? I’m not going to try to throw rainbows and unicorns in your direction; besides, this site shows that I still have my share of darkness. But my testimony today is that changes did happen: weird ones, uncomfortable ones, ones I thought were impossible. My future, once a stark plain, is a complex landscape shrouded in uncertainty.