Rebirth — A Survival Story
My Christmas brush with suicide and the promise I keep
Trigger Warning: This is a true story exploring themes of suicide, addiction, and medical detox from alcohol dependency. It may be triggering for some readers.
December 25, 2018–8:00am
Christmas morning dawned unwelcome and bleak, its cold sun pointing a thin ray of light onto the puke-green wall. Carols, loud enough to annoy but too quiet to discern words, rang hollow chords from unseen speakers.
A religious celebration of joyous birth, interfering with my plans for faithless death, hung above me like a dim star of bitter juxtaposition.
Life or death? Live or die?
Hot tears, seeping endlessly for hours and mixing with withdrawal evoked sweat, soaked the thin bedding and paper pillow under my pounding head.
Failure’s drum, relentless and booming, kept perfect rhythm with harmonic beeps of electronic monitors attached with sterile tubes and colorful wires. They mocked me. The resulting post-suicidal orchestra taunted me with a symphony of judgement, squeezing the last drops of dignity from my arid soul.
I shouldn’t be here.
Every few minutes, the tightening of the blood-pressure cuff reminded me where I was. Here, neither wholly alive nor fully dead, I remained trapped in a loveless world I couldn’t escape nor survive. I was so tired. Imprisoned in this half-dead purgatory, reality ripped at my center.
With one foot planted in hell’s ravenous flames, the other stuck in scared-of-death quicksand, a frightful tug-of-war raged in hopeless perpetuity.
Fear, all powerful and paralyzing, made living impossible and death unattainable.
I failed at both, lacking the requisite courage for either.
No Wise Men stood beside my bed to guide me. Defeated ghosts of Christmas past had left too, their unwanted lessons ignored. Alone, bereft of a spiritual tether to any trusted faith, my detox continued without meaningful purpose.
Somewhere between silent night and holy night, I closed my burning eyes to all that was calm and bright.
Morning darkness swallowed me whole.
“Merry Christmas! What’s your plans for the day?”
One of my few remaining friends, existing on life’s outer edges, sent an obligatory text.
With shaking hands, my dishonest thumbs moving at a glacial pace, I replied with typical glib avoidance.
“Spending a week in an all-inclusive. Merry Christmas.”
What was one more lie? I hadn’t navigated within a hundred miles of total truth in years. It was partly true. A pleasant private room, 3 meals per day, and daily housekeeping.
A good liar always wraps lies in thin blankets of truth.
What I said mattered little, anyway. People quit listening ages ago and in that moment, still deciding whether to live or die, I told myself I didn’t care and nor did she.
This lie, however, was naked and painful. I cared too much, wanting desperately to be comforted, have her beside me, and feel loved again.
Sober but medically sedated, my heart spun off its broken axis.
I plodded through years of crushing loneliness, accepting it as a well-deserved punishment for a life badly lived, but I had never swallowed the distasteful aloneness that accompanied putting the phone down.
In feigned toughness, I turned the power off.
On cue, the nurse, the kind one, arrived with more valium nestled like a welcome treasure among a colorful trail mix of unidentified pills to treat yet explained maladies.
There were many.
Trapped in my mental pain, I was unaware of the tenuous viability of my ravaged body. With my organs fighting to stabilize, heart pushed beyond reasonable limits, and the possibility of another stroke high, medical professionals had ensured my physical survival unbeknownst to me.
2 days of intermittent consciousness relegated vague conversations to brain fog. I remembered little, and what I did drifted over my head as medical gibberish.
“Try to rest,” she said. “We want to try you on some solid food at lunch.”
That I remembered.
During the foodless last week of death drinking, my body went into starvation; Alcoholic ketoacidosis — a life-threatening illness itself.
Under medically induced calmness, I rolled to the right, facing the curtained window, and pushed thoughts of Christmas away. Once my favorite holiday, spending consecutive holidays alone made all of it unbearable.
The holidays were never about religion.
Christmas for me was about family, togetherness, and love. Years of inevitable spiraling into utter madness removed those gifts from my life, leaving holidays as an overpowering reminder of how far I had fallen.
It had relieved me, knowing I wouldn’t be here for this one.
I balanced on the thin edge of suicide ideation for years, succumbing to its constant whispers of promising peace in an eventual surrender. I don’t believe we intellectually decide on suicide, but succumb to its haunting calls after years of constant contemplation.
Innocent at first, it becomes rooted — normalized by repetitive thought. I had attached the possibility to unfavorable outcomes for years. A once innocent tagline to thoughts of impending doom — it was habitual.
“If this fails, I can always kill myself.”
“If I’m still getting worse in a year, I could kill myself.”
And then, when everything fails, nothing can get worse, and options don’t exist, it’s no longer a tagline. It’s the only message making sense in a mind that doesn’t.
6 months before Christmas, I succumbed and the moment of smooth transition from contemplation to planning passed without conscious awareness or logical resistance.
“It will be better for everyone when I’m gone. This can be over forever.”
As time passed, an odd sense of relief came with knowing nothing mattered. I had little, but I gifted the few meaningful belongings in my possession to special people. Perhaps my way of gaining control.
I spent days grieving my life and death. Rooted only in the past, I relived it all, crying rivers of tears over everything — the good and the bad. I raged in my resentments for those who hurt me and wallowed in deep remorse for those I hurt.
Day by drunken day, I slipped away, my ghost-like figure walking unnoticed among the living until stepping into the final abyss on the morning of December 23.
The psychiatric nurse closed the door, waving goodbye and offering a small thumbs-up gesture. She was the third person since my admission to hear my story.
I had been telling it for years, so another version didn’t matter, and adding my recent exploits didn’t take long. The bottom line was simple.
I wanted to die. It didn’t work, and my shitty plan of stepping off into the great surrender landed me between the stainless steel bedrails of another failure.
A soulless vessel of unresolved emotional pain, chronic alcoholism, and untreated complex trauma — I could not escape myself. In the end, personal ineptitude and chance saved me.
Between empty interactions with well-intentioned nurses, attending physicians, psychiatrists, and social workers, the afternoon hours filled with deep reflection and harsh contemplations of suicide itself.
I saw understandable validity in all my reasons, but couldn’t deny the piercing arrow of guilt stuck in my heart.
How could I be so selfish?
Self-loathing thoughts of my obvious cowardice brought another round of dry-heaving. I long accepted, or so I thought, my label as a screwup and failure. I always thought myself horrible, but now, absent from the poison of alcohol, it seemed impossible to hate myself more.
Then, without conscious reason, ghosts of past acquaintances emerged from the thick alcoholic fog, and I recognized each sallow face walking toward me.
Young and old, destitute and wealthy, ugly ducklings and stunning beauties — I’d met them all, listened to their worst, and found inspiration in their best.
All the varied, individual faces of addiction and recovery, sobriety and relapse, hopeful leaps forward and devastating falls back. They all came to me — 15 years worth of beautiful souls lost to suicide, or overdose, or unhuman isolation.
They weren’t horrible.
People hurting, lost, and trying to find a way home or back to people they loved. And some, the saddest cases of all, could never change enough for those they needed.
They needed to hear someone loved them.
The numbers of those lost in my recovery communities had long ago exceeded available fingers and toes with which to count them. Even I, dodging suicide myself, had grown numb to the loss.
Like the idea itself, repeated exposure normalized chosen death as an acceptable part of the recovery community. In a sudden bolt of realization, this was unacceptable to me.
Life matters, even ours… even mine.
Amid the institutional white-noise, hushed medical conversations, and that ever-present loop of Christmas songs, I cried for them, cried for us, and cried for those to come.
I cried because somewhere a child was being born, celebrated and loved, innocent and beautiful, only to become one of us.
In an undefined moment between the bland Christmas dinner served on plastic plates and my first shaky steps away from the bed, something shifted inside.
Part of me knew the months ahead would include emotional pain, burdensome challenges, and seemingly unwinnable battles with my personal demons. But I had answered, through my day long soul-searching and honest reflection, the one question I had to.
Despite my years of constant ideation and eventual planning, I wasn’t ready to die. I wanted to live and proved it by sabotaging myself in the key moments. Whether out of fear or complete ineptitude, I got in my own way long enough to be saved.
I wanted saving, and accepting that meant I must try.
I rested semi-upright in the bed and closed my eyes and imagined each of those faces as they returned to the fog.
I tried to remember one word, look, or moment with each. It seemed so important to remember them, connect with their memory, and feel their presence.
Life or death. Live or die. Words separated by minutes and fate. As the last face disappeared into my imagined fog, I whispered a quiet promise from life.
I promised to try. A promise to me, to them, and to us.
Deserving or not, I remained.
Author’s Note: This story is dedicated to the countless people lost, those left behind, and the millions of people like me who struggle with recurring thoughts of self-harm. In writing my experiences, I hope to raise awareness of the growing epidemic of suicide. We need your help and your love.
Much needs to be done and how much you can do is up to you.
Here’s a few simple things we can all do to help:
- Become aware of suicide prevention services in your community and share this information within your social networks.
- Discover and support community groups dedicated to increasing awareness and access to mental health and substance abuse services.
- Check in with people you care about.
- If you love someone — tell them. Love is an action word.
Copyright 2021 - David Sales