By Christopher M. MacNeil
By the time I was 24 years old, I long ago passed that line between social drinking and alcoholism but prided myself that relatives who actually bet money I wouldn’t even live to see 24 lost. It was little comfort, though. By the time I was pushed into that desperate decision to stop life on that Thursday morning in January, I had long ago quit asking why I could not begin any day without at least three mixed drinks, what was so wrong that I carried a flask in my car to have a mid-morning shot and why literally every night I drank myself into oblivion. They why’s didn’t matter any longer; I knew that morning that my life as it was then had to stop and, so cognitively and emotionally ravaged by years of daily drinking that I didn’t consider thatstopping the drinking was an alternate solution – at its worst, I was at a fifth of Canadian Club a day – I saw only that every day of the rest of my life would be like “this,” and “this” was no longer acceptable. Only in dying could I stop it. And I tried, with what police later said were about 60 anti-depressive and mood-altering meds that I had been prescribed by a psychiatrist.
I woke up in a hospital intensive care unit, stymied about how I got there. It was later that I learned my only older sibling, a sister – who herself died in January 2008 after her three-year war with breast cancer – decided to “check” on me, something she’d never done before. She said she found me sprawled on my living room floor, no pulse, no breathing. She dispatched an ambulance, and the burns on my chest where paramedics “hit” me with the electric “paddles” to get my heart started again remained for three months, a reminder of the desperate, lonely and empty soul I had become.
Ironically, it was anger – at God because even He – rejected me by letting me live and the conclusion that I “can’t even die right” – that got me to stop drinking. I figured there was no reason to drink anymore if I couldn’t even die right. I had gone to Alcoholics Anonymous for about a year before my suicide attempt but, clearly, I didn’t get it. With time on my hands that would otherwise be spent drinking, I started hitting the meetings two or three times a week. For six months, I carried a chip on my shoulder and that anger at God because of what He “did to me.” Until that late July afternoon. Sitting on the stoop outside my apartment, drinking coffee and thinking what BS coffee was when only a few short months earlier I was inside, door locked, curtains drawn and drinking myself into that oblivion where there is nothing, nothing to feel and nothing to hurt. Drinking my coffee sitting on my porch step that July evening, I could hear a gang of kids playing loudly in a nearby park. And this, what I to this day believe to be the first “spiritual awakening” that AA promises, as I was thinking that I wished those “son-of-a-bitch kids would shut the hell up,” I noticed at the same time the setting sun behind the top of a huge oak tree and the sound of birds chirping. Then, my own spoken words: “Oh, dear God. What have I done to myself?”
In that moment, I realized that the sound of children playing, a setting and rising sun, and outline of a clear sky behind a towering tree – they had always been there, but I hadn’t noticed. I had been too drunk to notice.
My anger at God gone, the brutal reality of what I myself had done to myself and near tears, I knew I had to be at a meeting and, then, this time, to listen and begin again to live. An “inner voice” suggested I not drive and, in a rare instance, I listened to it. I called another AA member instead and said simply that I wasn’t drinking, that I wasn’t OK but I was going to be, but that I needed a little help to get to a meeting. My friend complied, asked no questions, sat with me at the meeting, I for once shut up and said nothing but listened and I accepted at that meeting that God apparently still had business with me.
By the grace of God, I have not had a drink since and the regularly scheduled visits to the shrink gradually became fewer and now are non-existent. In the years after my botched suicide attempt, I can to understand why the time I decided to die was not in the cards. It took years amending for the hurt I inflicted on others by my alcoholic drinking and behavior, but eventually I became accepted once again.
Most of those people in my life have long since gone on – both parents, all 10 brothers and sisters, extended relatives. Now I am needed here as the sole caregiver to a terminally ill senior citizen.
In the years after my last drink, as part of my own evolution in life’s ever-changing process, I came to understand that the “reason” for my “need” to die was not alcohol but that deeper and darker reasons that I turned to alcohol in the first place. I long ago came to terms with those reasons. But the most important fact that I have discovered is that we, as individuals, must accept ourselves for we who are, not empower others to demean or hurt us because we might not rise to their standards and to live life without setting out to hurt ourselves and others.
I am a suicide survivor, though I do not and never have thought of myself on those terms. Instead, I see myself who came through it and, by the grace of God, listened to be able to live again.