Two different scenarios: Bridie wants to live, more than anything. Lowell wants to die, maybe not as much as he thinks. Why is death so often at the centre. We have too much of it; we don’t have enough of it. I suppose it’s a pretty usual feeling for a lot of people, at least based on the scope of my conversations, which I admit are not a normal sample. In my work, it’s how we respond to these thoughts and feelings that makes the difference. I remembered right before I went to detox, I had thoughts of ending my own life. I store these memories in my deepest heart and I conjure them up every now and again so I can re-appreciate just what that experience was like. I remember I felt like such a failure. I had let so many people down, including myself. I couldn’t see going on. Narcotics had replaced me. The sensation they gave me was so attractive. I guess that’s the difference between recreation and addiction.
Narcotics took me to a place where I felt at home. I’d heard others use that same language: at home. And abstaining took that away. Back in the day, right at that moment of transition, I thought I would miss it all too much. For a very short time I even tried to use alcohol to mimic the effect of the narcotic but that just loosened my behaviour, not my soul as the pills did. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve been down that road. And that road was leading Jody and me on a journey neither of us wanted to take. Inevitably, as I changed we changed. I began to be the failure I feared I already was. We were unraveling.
One afternoon almost ten years ago, I was in a very dark, Corona induced tongue-loosened state when I revealed my wish to die to Jody. She was especially frightened because over the last few months she had become familiar with my many subtle references to death and with these last comments the lock pins fell into place for her. Her response was to take me to the hospital. I am forever thankful that she took me to The Royal, not the hospital where I worked, and thankfully I was able to convince her in the parking lot not to strong arm me into the emergency department.
I wonder now just what would have happened in my life, in my career, if I had been certified as an involuntary patient and admitted. Not that it should have such a deleterious effect but it certainly would have. Theoretically, involuntary commitment is meant as a safe guard, a last ditch measure to manage unraveling behaviour when a person can’t manage it him or herself. Had this happened to me, the consequences would have been compounded by the fact that I did not want to go down that road and I was prepared to stop the outcome. And by stop, I mean physically deter and abscond. Aggression and elopement are very serious matters in psychiatry. They have their own scales and check boxes, which means they have very serious consequences. This does not for a moment mean that people who feel like killing themselves should not look for help but it absolutely means that we as a system should consider helping differently. And this is how I exercise my personal experience in my role as a nurse.
I came to value that dark night of my soul above almost all others in my walk on this earth. It affected my work, it affected my personality and it affected my relationship with Jody, all for the good – eventually. Being able to disclose and talk through my deepest secrets, my disappointments and regrets, with the person I respected the most brought me a new perspective, a ‘high definition’ perspective. I wasn’t just keeping the lid on my drug use. I was transforming myself. And it got much easier to abstain after that; after I decided I wanted to be a different person, to experience life differntly. In my work now, I understand entirely when people give an ultimatum to someone they love. But I understand deeply, from my own experience, that it will take the person him or herself to make up their mind before any substantial change is realized. And that’s the hook I use in my work. So, I hoped to take a stab at shifting Lowell’s perspective on Monday. And, of course, this was third-party pay work so I was also making money for the program! Win-win.