CW: This essay discusses suicide. If you or someone you know needs immediate help, please call 911. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting CONNECT to 74174. The world need you.
By Lisbeth Welsh
“Adrian died yesterday.”
I was 11.
“Adrian died yesterday.”
Adrian was 20.
He seemed like such a grown up to me then. Now I’m staring 40 square in the eye. I realize how short his twenty years actually were. My last memory of him is the top of his legs. I stood looking out of my parents upstairs landing window. His gold Ford Sierra was parked outside. I looked down from above, his torso and face obscured by the sun visor.
“Lets go see Adrian.” My friend Sara said.
“No not tonight.”
I was 11. He was 20. How would I know ‘not tonight’ would turn into ‘not ever again?’ How could I know that I was staring at him in the exact seat he would die in the next day? I will spend the rest of my life wishing I’d run out to that car. But I was 11. It wouldn’t have re-written history. I know that. I know that because I have spent years battling my own monsters. Twenty years. No more than the amount he survived. From eating disorders to self-harm to depression and anxiety. With no self-respect and little self worth.
“You’re not taking this seriously. I’m not wasting my time or anyone else’s until you realize this isn’t a game.”
I was sitting in my first psychotherapist assessment. I was incensed. So much so, that I headed back to the bar and my favorite combination of vodka and Jagermeister. He assessed me two more times.
“I want you to consider paying for private help.”
I was living in the UK. On the National Health Service to see him, I would have waited a year.
“You will be dead before I am able to see you. You might not have killed yourself but you’ll be dead from the lack of care and concern you have for if you live.”
It was my first big life lesson in accountability and self -limiting beliefs.
“I don’t have the money.”
At least, not that was spare in the overdraft I lived in from five nights a week at the bar, my pack a day Marlboro lights and the weed I smoked all weekend to get me back to the bar on Monday.
“If you want to get well, you’ll figure it out.”
I figured it out. I got my company to agree to pay for my first three months. Three times a week. Things got a little better. Though the crutches never went away. I cannot count the nights I sat wasted on the floor of my bedroom. Just alcohol. Never drugs. I was too scared to take drugs. After all, I didn’t want to die. I was scared to die. The problem was I didn’t want to live either.
The problem was Adrian. I could never put my family through the pain that he had again. His death was keeping me alive. But the emotional pain would get me every night at witching hour. There I would sit. Crying. Drunk. Chain smoking. Angry at myself. Hating myself. I was fat. I was stupid. Who did I think I was? I brought no good to the world. Not unless I was drinking, partying, entertaining, being fun. Then people loved me. Then people wanted me. I kept that going for six years. And my job in the music industry enabled all of the destructive behavior. Eventually I grew up a little and for a while things got better.
And then it all came around again. This time it was a little worse. This time I had a little bottle of vicodin to numb the pain. When I ran out, I found other people’s. It mixed fabulously with the red wine. I cared less about surviving at this point than I had before therapy. I went to sleep each night, hoping I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. And then my best friend had had enough. For the second time in my life I was lucky enough to have someone close enough to make me go to the doctor and tell him I thought I was losing my mind. The poor guy had never treated me before. I was a stranger walking off the street into his office as a new patient. I had suicidal malpractice suit written all over me whichever way he decided to move forward. The nurses took turns sitting in the exam room with me for almost two hours whilst I cried and fell apart. It bought him some time to think about what to do with me. He gave me enough anti anxiety pills to calm me down so he could get me back for a second appointment and start to unravel the mess.
“I’m only giving you a couple of days. Don’t bother taking them all at once. You won’t die, you’ll just sleep and feel like shit.”
Good to know. I had to go back weekly for 3 weeks. He would only give me enough meds to get me through each couple of days and each layer that he was peeling back.
“You need intensive psychotherapy.”
“I can’t afford it.”
That familiar line again. I now lived in the US. I had no insurance. I could afford the wine and cigarettes and cabs and drinking. But I couldn’t afford treatment. So he figured a way to do it himself. He saw me and treated me for months. Mentally, emotionally, physically. He still does. He promised he would help me. And he did. And for my side of the deal, I promised to call his cell before I let any suicidal urges become prevalent. And there was that accountability again. He got me through until I was strong enough to begin doing it for myself and until I finally relented and found a therapist to help support me once more.
She gave me personality tests and I hated it. I pushed back against her analysis. I hated that she wouldn’t let me wallow in the giant list of blame and finger pointing I had created for my life. My mother was sick. Adrian died. Paul died. My ex boyfriend was emotionally abusive. I had an addictive personality. The list went on. And on. And on.
“Those people aren’t here. There’s no point talking about what they did or said. We can only focus on you in that moment.”
What kind of bullshit was this? Apparently, the kind of bullshit that started to teach me responsibility for my life. That kind of bullshit. I hated it. Her methods brought great discomfort but for some reason I kept going. I’d had enough of being miserable. I’d had enough of being unhappy. I was exhausted and I’d just had enough.
Fuck you Adrian. I was stuck going through all this misery and discomfort because you hadn’t all those years ago. I couldn’t do what you did, so now I had to do what I did. This time I had enough money. I’d found out about Adult Therapy centers for training psychotherapists. It only cost me $25 a session. I could afford to go every week for that price. I was unemployed but I had savings in the bank and I could make it work. And I did. It was hard work. I had to spend a lot of time fighting my urge to pack it all in. I had to learn to give ‘it’ up every time I sat down with her. I had to give someone else the power to steer me. I’d done it all so wrong for the longest time and I was ready to hand it over.
I was still having dark times. I was still having those moments. But now I sat and cried with my dog instead of my Marlboro lights. That gut-wrenching sob of emotional pain was still the same though. I would get stoned every night to the point of not feeling. I would sit alone in my apartment not wanting to admit to anyone how lonely I felt. How much of a failure I still believed myself to be. Messily trying to piece everything together whilst still pushing back against my therapist and occasionally kicking and screaming at the world around me for good measure.
And then something wonderful happened. As if being rewarded for all the work and the struggle I was putting in, I started working for the most inspiring incredible woman. I would soon enough learn that she had her own share of life struggles and had come out of them with an attitude that was so alien to me.
“What did I do to contribute to this situation?” she told me she would ask of herself for certain things
“What’s the lesson here?”
Her questions were phrased differently than the ones I asked myself. She wasn’t a victim. She was a student of her own life and each knock made her grow and strengthen.
“If you want what they have, then do what they do.”
I started applying her approach and my perspective and life experience began to change.
“Ask better questions, get better answers.” Mr Robbins again.
And he’s right. I even relearned all I thought I knew about health and made friends with food because of her. Things started to get better. Things started to feel better. And then I got suckered into a free call with a life coach. Whatever. I’ll take a free hour of help. By the end of the call I’d signed up for three months of coaching, By the end of three months, I’d signed up for three months more. And she kicked my ass. I pushed harder against her than I did my therapist. And she pushed even harder back. And things got better again. How does the quote go, when the student is ready for the lesson, the teacher will appear? I don’t remember who said it. But I know I got better enough to get my ass to a Tony Robbins event and walking across a bed of hot coals. Who the fuck am I? Where the fuck is that drunk chain smoking mess that loved to sit on the floor and cry at 3am? Not that I miss her. I walked on fire. She wouldn’t have. It was the first time I really showed up for myself ever. And it felt great.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still not easy. Even as I type this, with every vice I mention I feel the internal pull of wanting it. I would kill for a cigarette right now. Or to be stoned. Or to have the fun of the sixth shot of jager. Or to be zoned out with a vicodin staring at the TV. I want and crave it all. But I know if I do, tomorrow will be harder. Instead, tonight I will engage in the sixth day of my Kundalini meditation to keep my head clear and my whole energy grounded. Instead, I will acknowledge the dark and uncomfortable feelings that for the last few weeks have for some reason been swirling up around me once more. I will acknowledge them. And I will thank them for whatever it is they’re trying to tell me. And I will put in the work and figure it out and let it go. However long that process takes.
Because fuck you Adrian. One morning, you got up, went to the store, bought a hose pipe, drove to a remote spot in the woods and laid down in that car seat forever. So now every morning, I will get up and do what you couldn’t. You left me no other choice. Because no matter how little I gave a fuck about me, I had a mother, a father, a brother and a sister that I could not do that to. Then I had a brother in law, a niece, two nephews and another niece. I had the responsibility of a weird little puppy and I owed him the rest of his life at least. Damn all of this accountability.
But because I’ve had to do what you couldn’t, I’ve learnt a lesson that you never will.
It does get better. Not all the time. But almost all of it. None of us are alone. There are people out there that can and will help. My brain still takes me to dark places. But these days, it’s more charcoal than obsidian. I’ve learnt to dance with the fear and the loneliness and the grey clouds. I’ve learnt how to ask myself better questions. I’ve learnt to keep swinging and to keep pushing and that despite the uphill climb, the view from the top can be pretty breathtaking. Life isn’t easy. Life isn’t fair. But it is worth sticking around for each amazing, heartbreaking, joyful, bittersweet, happy, sad, wonderful, painful, blissful agonizing second of it.
I hope you found your peace Adrian. Because the way you chose to search for yours led me on a beautiful journey I might have otherwise have cheated myself out of in mine.
Lisbeth Welsh is a music industry executive who spent 15 years traveling the world and drinking too much Jagermeister. She’s still traveling the world but drinking a lot more water and secretly writes and dreams of her beach house in her spare time.