Suicidal in Sobriety
You've done everything AA has suggested and you still want to kill yourself. Now what?
When I first got sober, I was on a pink cloud. I couldn’t believe I didn’t have to drink. When I drank, I felt like I was being kidnapped. The alcohol took me wherever it wanted me to go. I was its hostage and I didn’t think I’d ever be able to break free. When I was told that I didn’t have to drink, it was like the parting of the Red Sea.
There was a pay-off to drinking, of course: It gave me relief from my thoughts, which also held me hostage. My mind was a mass of whirling dervishes, obsessing over every resentment, spiraling down into suicidal thoughts. A person might bump into me on the sidewalk, leading to an existential crisis—I don't exist—leading to the sensible solution of suicide, given my lack of existence. Such thoughts went on for days. The only way to turn that off was with alcohol and drugs.
I thought everyone thought about committing suicide all the time. I thought that was just a part of alcoholism.
Somehow, I got sober and, for a time, my suicidal thinking was lifted. I made multiple meetings a day and cried through all my shares for the first year. I lived by the slogan, “You can’t save your ass and your face at the same time.” I let it all hang out.
Even though I was in pain that first year, being sober immediately solved a lot of problems. I got more out of meeting with my sponsor that I had ever gotten out of any therapist I had ever seen and for the first time, people really understood my obsessive thinking. I became the poster child of a willing newcomer in AA. I worked all 12 steps. I went to a meeting every day, sometimes two or three times a day. I reached out to women who had less time than I did. I called my sponsor all the time. Yet as I got my first year chip, I began to notice that I was becoming suicidal again. I couldn’t understand it because my alcoholism was being treated quite thoroughly. I was so suicidal in fact, that I didn’t even realize I was suicidal. I thought everyone thought about committing suicide all the time. I thought that was just a part of alcoholism. It wasn’t until a sober friend reached out and said, “You know, I don’t feel like you do. Suicide is never an option for me.” Really? Crap.
I decided redoing the steps would solve everything. I went through all 12 steps a second time. I went to a nutritionist. I even started exercising. Finally someone told me to try therapy. I started sharing certain things with my therapist that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing in the rooms of AA—like having an inappropriate relationship with my father when I hit puberty or being raped by my coke-dealing boyfriend. It helped, but my suicidal thinking continued to worsen. At this point, I had been sober for a year and a half and I was getting scared. I started putting my hand on the wall of subway platforms so I didn’t go in the opposite direction. My therapist finally suggested I go a psychiatrist.
The psychiatrist put me on a mood stabilizer, but I continued spiraling downwards. I would call her at least once a day, bawling. She said when I felt this bad, I should take myself to the ER.
I couldn’t understand it. Why was I taking so many actions and not getting anywhere? I looked fine. Sobriety had made me nice and shiny and I was functioning, but I found myself unable to climb out of my rabbit hole. It was not for lack of trying.
The day I finally took myself to the ER was meant to have been a great day. I was bar-tending at the time and it was my last ever shift. I walked to the train with my tips in my pocket and I called my sponsor, crying. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t jumping for joy, finally rid of that toxic job. I got off the phone and started bawling. I couldn’t stop. I ducked into a vestibule because people on the street were staring at me. I kept crying. Why couldn’t I stop crying? I felt like I was being attacked by my tears. They would not stop running down my face. It was then that I knew: if I went down into the subway station, I was going to jump in front of the train. Instead, as I stepped out of the vestibule, I had an out-of-body experience. I saw my arm rise up into the air and I watched my hand flag down a cab. I got into the cab and heard my mouth say, "Emergency Room NYU Medical Center.” The cab ride was like a movie. I just cried and watched the lights go by and cried and watched and cried and watched. I walked up to the nurse’s station and said I was suicidal.
They put me on suicide watch as I waited for a bed to become available. I couldn't sleep because there was a loud horn-buzzer that went off every 15 minutes—to this day, I still have no idea what the point of that noisy thing was except to deprive me of sleep. I waited for 18 hours. Yes, 18 hours. It took that long and I was that desperate. They actually told me I could go home because I didn’t “look” suicidal. That made me even more determined to get a bed. I knew I looked fine and I knew I’d be a pretty corpse if I left the hospital that night.
It was there that I committed myself. Sober. At the time, I felt humiliated because I had worked so hard at getting healthy and I just wasn’t. Feelings, however, aren’t facts and the reality of my situation was that I could have relapsed or killed myself and instead, I asked for help. I needed specialized, round-the-clock help to get me out of suicidal impulse. Sometimes staying sober just isn’t enough.
After my hospitalization, I enrolled in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which is a specialized therapy focused on changing behaviors. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder from my childhood and my alcoholism. I’ve been in DBT for three years now and I very rarely have the desire to kill myself today. When I do have those thoughts, I use them to take my mental temperature and they tell me where I need to take care of myself. They help guide me toward a life that is rapidly becoming one beyond my wildest dreams.
During my intake with that psychiatrist, she said if I hadn’t gotten sober, I wouldn’t have made it past 30. It is because of sobriety and AA that I learned to ask for help and it is because of asking for help that I have triumphed over my suicidal ideation. One day at a time.
Sloane McDermott is a pseudonym.