While I have visited this topic before, I now have the perspective of a couple of years and a lot more education, training and experience. I also know a bit more of the story although there are still missing pieces and there will always be. It is important to note that suicide is the result of multiple factors including health, family history and environment.
1. Charles was going through withdrawal from heroin addiction
We didn’t know this or any of these things to be honest. And he didn’t tell us. But I know from a previous withdrawal, he suffered suicidal ideation–one of his text messages hinted at it although I was not in the know enough to have recognized what he was saying.
A lot of people do when they go through withdrawal. That’s why they take things like shoestrings and the drawcord to sweat pants when people check into detox. It’s flat-out brutal, heroin’s way of kicking you in the @$$ for trying to leave it behind.
2. No sleep
Charles had had sleep problems since he was a toddler. He suffered from delayed sleep phase syndrome or DSPS and I feel certain he had slept little or not at all for several days.
3. Experiencing a major depressive episode
I heard later from friends later that Charles was very depressed and several tweets and social media posts indicate depression and suicidal ideation. But I didn’t recognize these as signs of suicide. I thought they were signs of hitting rock bottom and we would be able to go get him that weekend.
He had sold his computer and his bike–his last two possessions that he valued. I remember when he told me, “I have nothing.” It wasn’t what he said, it was the despair in his voice.
4. An upcoming court date
I read later in Facebook messages how nervous and out of sorts he was about his upcoming court date. I knew he was worried about it but had no idea until I read that message that he was petrified. The initial experience with the police and the commonwealth’s attorney was frightening. The cops played their judge shopping game and it was continued. It was a miserable experience with no evidence and I still resent how he was treated when there was no true probable cause.
5. He was alone and felt abandoned
I had thought he was with friends. He had initially told me that when he first walked out of detox. So I was under the impression he was still staying with these friends. The truth is he was in a ratty apartment that had a lot of active heroin addicts. The group he had been staying with was in the west end for a few days and they didn’t return as expected which added to Charles’ woeful mood.
Throughout his childhood, he hated being alone. And as a teen, he had been strange when I would ask why he never wanted to be alone. The truth is he would avoid the question and just tell me to just trust that it was best which I wondered about. According to his rap diary, he was afraid he would kill himself if he had too much time alone.
6. Broke up with his girlfriend
She adored Charles and had been very loyal. But as someone who had found sobriety and wanted to stay that way, she couldn’t stay with him any longer. She broke up with him and I don’t hold that against her. It was in her best interest to separate herself from him since he was still using and she was not. He was using her and not offering anything in return other than heartache. Active users tend to use those around them which is part of the heartbreak of substance use disorder.
7. He felt worthless
That last phone call with me didn’t produce the results he was looking for. I was expecting a more obvious cry for help that I now know he was not capable of. He was expecting that I would understand him in his irrational state of mind in withdrawal, no sleep, depressed and suffering from suicidal ideation. Now I think he wanted me to just say, “I’ll come get you.” I’ll never know if my rescuing would have saved him or not and it’s not something I can change now.
Society’s view of someone who is addicted definitely contributed to his feelings of low self-worth. At one point, the house manager at the recovery house was taking him back to detox after a relapse and on the way, they stopped at the hospital for a suicide risk assessment. They turned him down despite having insurance because “they didn’t take those people anymore,” meaning those who are addicted. I know Charles. And that would have made him feel like human garbage.
8. Previous attempt
I didn’t know whether to define a previous suicide attempt as an attempt. It was the result of medication. I asked his therapist and his psychiatrist and both glazed over the question as if I’d never asked it. Charles and I both sat poised on the side of the sofa. We wanted to know and I think Charles wanted to tell. But that topic was squashed and so he didn’t talk. And if they had, I think he’d have owned up to it. Because they dismissed it, I thought it didn’t count because he was on medication and he tried to overdose but I don’t know what he took.
At the time I thought we had doges a bullet. He swore he’d never do it again and was very remorseful. But we can’t extract promises from individuals and shame them out of it.
A common, yet highly inaccurate belief, is that people who survive a suicide attempt are unlikely to try again. That’s what I thought because that’s what I wanted to think. Surely my son would not check out on us and leave us with all that hurt. Didn’t he love us too much for that? But the truth is, if someone has an attempt, their chances of killing themselves is that much higher because a history of a previous suicide attempt is the strongest predictor for future suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, and death by suicide. Almost two-thirds of those who die by suicide had a previous attempt and it is a serious risk factor.
9. Previous exposure to suicide
While talking about suicide doesn’t “give them the idea,” being exposed to a suicide in one’s family or at school does increase their risk. Kids who are exposed to one at their grade level don’t even have to know the student well to be at risk for decades after. Charles lost a close friend from wilderness to suicide named Cal Riley. He was heartbroken over it. And given the number of songs he wrote about Cal after, he suffered more than I ever knew.
Given that Charles wrote so many lyrics in his journal, I was able to find answers to his suicide although there will always be questions that remain. I included those lyrics in every other chapter of my award-winning book, Diary of a Broken Mind. Because you need to understand our story from his point of view and mine. And many of the why’s are universal.