I’m writing this because I didn’t know it and remember telling someone in recovery who said, “We talk about that in our groups all the time. I thought this was common knowledge.”
I didn’t know it. And while I’m not trying to panic parents who have a child in active addiction going into recovery, it wasn’t on my radar and here’s why it should be on yours.
We get sucked into phrases like “rock bottom” and “tough love” but no one ever defines them. They are all left up to our own interpretation. Tough love for one family might mean not giving a family member in active addiction cash. Another family might interpret it to mean cut off all communication and the love and support that goes with it. The latter, by the way, often recommended by recovery centers but not by me. That can compound a patient’s feelings of suicide.
My point is this. Before recovery happens, there is an awful phase called withdrawal. Even medically-assisted withdrawal is difficult and often triggers suicidal ideation in a good number of individuals. The feeling is exacerbated by shame.
I know Charles wanted to avoid withdrawal the second time around because he knew how he would feel–both the physical sickness and pain from withdrawal and the emotional pain of wanting desperately to end his life. At the end of his addiction and before his suicide, he was desperately trying to score drugs to keep withdrawals at bay until he was ready to face it again. I believe he wanted to make an appeal to us for medically-assisted withdrawal.
This is when they need to know they have your love and support which can be hard if it’s not the first relapse. But honestly, no one wants this disease and it is hard for those of us watching the suffering but it’s ten times more difficult for the person actually enduring it.
Twenty five percent or more of overdoses are thought to be suicides although judging intent after the fact with no note is always a difficult if not impossible call to make.
If your loved one has been through withdrawal before, it’s worth asking, “Have you had thoughts of suicide?” Don’t count on a rehab facility to ask it. And if they say yes, alert his care team overseeing the process. Of course, if they are in jail, try to let the facility know although I know that the criminal justice system is hardly sympathetic sometimes and hard to get through to a decision maker.
Charles was angry and unpleasant during this phase, screaming at the top of his lungs over the phone the first time he went through withdrawal. Talking to him was pure hell but we called daily and I believe our daily calls, however unpleasant, made him feel loved and helped him survive. We didn’t know about his thoughts of suicide and his hints were very subtle.
The second round we didn’t know he was going through it but it was during withdrawal that my son took his own life. So if you hear, “I can’t do this any more,” “The world would be better off without me,” “I’m so worthless” or any phrase that you feel in your gut is not right, ask the question, “Are you thinking of suicide?” Then give it your best effort that whomever he is surrounded by knows it.