Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Recovery, Step 1: How Not to Jump Off A Bridge.

A couple weeks ago I felt an intolerable urge to jump off a bridge. I even had a specific bridge in mind, the oldest still-standing bridge here, one of my favorites in this “city of bridges.” It’s especially beautiful at night

though the image that looped in my mind was of jumping off the side (specifically, the west/downstream side, the side pictured above) during the day.

In other words, while everyone around could see me. Performance of a lifetime.

This was the week that Allgood visited. I hadn’t confided my urge to jump off the bridge to Allgood because, at the time, the desire was so weird, so true, that I hardly recognized it was happening. Just like the bleeding—I’d been bleeding for three weeks before life forced me to recognize that I was actually bleeding OUT.

I’d confided other things to Allgood, because he cares about me, and because I thought that if I talked to him, the pain that I thought maybe was making me think about jumping off the bridge would ease. But I also told a few other people about my urge. For example, I called my sponsor. And I told a therapist, who fortunately recognized how much trouble I was in and asked me to guarantee my safety to her—to promise that I would commit myself to a psychiatric facility rather than waiting for someone else to do it. (Or, of course, jumping.)

These acts—telling other people what I was thinking and promising someone else I’d take care of myself first—are the same as telling someone before I use. Because, as a commenter said here recently, what we’re all engaged in doing in recovery is “keeping from killing ourselves”—whether it’s jumping off a bridge (quickly) or drinking/using (sometimes, though not always, more slowly).

I began to be suicidal on a Wednesday afternoon, and I don’t know why it was that the act of jumping off a bridge was the one that overtook my imagination. There are less painful and messy ways to die. It was only two days later, when I found myself looking at a story on the San Francisco Chronicle’s website about what happens to the body when it hits the water, what the Coast Guard has to deal with, what the medical examiners usually find inside, that I knew I was really off my rocker. By then I’d been crying most of the day for two days and unable to work much.

I was also unable to make the simplest of decisions. I couldn’t decide what to have for lunch. I couldn’t decide whether to accept my friend P’s weekend invitation to join her and her daughter and another friend, with my dog and three other dogs, at her house in the country. It seemed like a massive decision, an un-scalable mountain.

“You know, P,” I said over the phone, “I’m not really doin too well.”

“I hear that in your voice,” she said kindly. “L and I don’t mind. You can just sit all weekend and watch the dogs.”

“But what if Flo doesn’t get along with the big dogs,” I asked. There would be Ginger and L’s two adult male dogs, Cooper and Simon.

“She’ll be fine,” P said.

In fact, she was fine. Here she is, being fine:

 

For most of the weekend we sat and watched The Dog Movie. We also ate—the four of us women cooked for each other. We cleaned up. We rested. It was very hot, in the 90s, and the puppy and I would go into our dark little room and she would laminate her belly to the cool wood floor and I’d lie down on the bed and turn the fan on my body, and we’d nap.

Sunday the tide turned, I could get through the day without weeping, I began to laugh again. I brought Flo home Monday.

And when I got back, I realized this is what happened to make me nuts: I’d stopped, on schedule, taking the massive dose of progesterone prescribed to me to make me stop bleeding. I’d read Ayelet Waldman’s recent piece in the New York Times Magazine about her desire to top herself when her progesterone began crashing in perimenopause; I spoke to my doctor about it, she confirmed my analysis. I’ve put safeguards in place to help me through this month.

But it was a shock.

I began speaking about it in meetings. To make it real. To avoid hiding it out of shame. And I was amazed by the responses I received. My 73-year-old friend Martha (who is one of my surrogate mom figures) told me, inside a meeting and with tears in her eyes, that she wanted me to stick around because I was very important to her and she couldn’t do without me. My friend Big Daddy, also 73 and six-foot-four, put his arms around me and let me cry on him. “I want you to learn to be more permissive with yourself, Baby,” he said.

But you have to exert discipline around these thoughts. They are unacceptable.

My friend E called me and listened while I told him what happened. Which humbled me because E, also in his 70s, is having chemo for cancer. He sees himself as being in recovery from two life-threatening illnesses. And here I am, comparatively “healthy” and engaging in this thinking.

Then there was Allgood, who I eventually told over email that I’d been in real trouble. I got a series of replies, among them this one the other night while I was at my son’s graduation from middle school:

Dear G—you have helped me enormously. Promise me you will call me before you visit any bridges …..please.  Love, A

Always strange to hear I’ve helped someone. But why shouldn’t I be able to help someone?—it’s selfish to think I can’t.

It’s also selfish to beat myself up for having these thoughts. Or for any reason, really.

15 Comments

  1. How brave and generous to share this.

  2. The fact that jumped off the screen at me from the Waldman article is “that 67 percent of women’s admissions to psychiatric facilities are in the week immediately prior to menstruation.” Unfortunately, the only surprise was in actually reading about this phenomenon in the mainstream media, as it directly mirrors my own experiences every month. I make sure I mark days 21-28 clearly on my calendar so I’m never blindsided. Why don’t we hear more about the link between the menstrual cycle and mental illness more often in the media? What are other women doing to ease their symptoms? SSRI’s or other anti-depressants? Topical progesterone cream? Supplements and exercise? Awareness and patience and a couple days per month of white knuckling it? I’m curious to hear any success stories.

  3. SOOOO good to see your post this morning, G, even though my heart stopped when I saw the title. A line from Titanic came to mind as I type this…”you jump, I jump”. I have followed you for nearly two years. From October 4, 2010, the date my 30 year painkiller addiction came to an end and my recovery began. Yours was the first blog I read in my struggle to understand how this could have happened to me. I am a 56 year old Nana who has suffered from migraines for 40 years. Most of the 40 years were before triptans, when all I had was narcotics. I’m not sure when I crossed the line from pain relief to pleasure, but cross it I did. Since 10/4/10 I have written pages of bits of wisdom from your blogs that I have read and reread a hundred times as I continue on this journey. You have kept me on this journey forward. Your words have given me many “aha!!” moments. So many times I’ve yelled at the computer screen “that’s exactly how I feel”!! When I realized a couple of days ago that you hadn’t posted since May 29, I’ve been worried about you. I’ve been praying for you without knowing what I was praying for exactly. This morning you came to mind again and again I lifted you to God. Then I came to see if you were here and my prayers have been answered. I agree with Martha. I can’t make this journey without you!! Concentrate on your health. You jump, I jump. Love, D

  4. Guinevere sorry to hear you were feeling that way and it was good to read that you got to a meeting and talked about it give it less power after that and we can let go let god Really enjoy your blog just like so many other on here

  5. Thanks for your kind words, and for reading. Although let’s please not jump. 🙂

  6. As always, my friend, good to see you here.
    I was told years and years ago, maybe just after I had my son (about 15 years ago), that my suspicion that my migraines were hormonally related was “an academic question.” As in, when I posed my suspicion, the physician said, “That’s academic.” In other words, he blew me off. Instead he sent me to a headache specialist who gave me Vicodin. Not that I was necessarily unhappy at the time to receive drugs. But I did try to get him to send me to an endocrinologist.
    It’s my understanding that topical treatments are less strong than internal ones—they won’t affect mood, but they’ll affect things like lubrication, etc. It’s great that you’re still young enough that you can mark the days on your calendar. Since I turned 45 or so, regularity has been a thing of the past.
    For me, the problem with white-knuckling it has always been that the feeling of depression/suicidality is always so real. I can repeat like a mantra that it’s just “that time of the month,” but it doesn’t do much good.

  7. So glad you’re here writing this. You’re so much stronger than you know.

  8. Ah, I hadn’t thought about the irregularity that everyone begins experiencing in their 40s. That certainly throws a wrench in the wheel. Surely, other women have dealt/are dealing with this and have found solutions, but where’s the literature? On a more personal note, G, I’m glad you’re okay, and I understand how strong and scary and inevitable-feeling the suicidal ideation can be, and I thank you a hundred times over for writing about this.

  9. heart you. glad you’re here.

  10. mudder milloy

    June 17, 2012 at 6:51 am

    wow, thank you for sharing G…I only know you through this computer but I look forward to your writings and you help me immensely..TY..

  11. Lynn Baby Hating Granny

    June 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    I ran in to Berkies Meet the Burgh today at Pitt and she sugessted I read your current entry. I, too, am a recovering alcholic, sober sine 1984, and a woman in recovery from debilitating depression. Fighting depression is similar to recovering from addiction; it taked diligence, energy and most of all practice. When I have suicidal thoughts I have to practice “not entertaining them” in the same way I do not entertain the thought of picking up a drink when I wonder what Mike’s Har Lemonade tastes. like. I do not beat myself up fo having these thoughts but it is my responsibility for what I do with them

    I am very aware of my warning signs before I become depressed. That’s the time I can do something about it, not when I’m in the throughs of depression; it’s too late then as I have no energy and am not thinking clarly. I’ve learned tools, through therapy, that really wor for me. Turn off the TV, get off the couch and do somethng I enjoy, which often involves social interaction.

    Well, I shared my experienc, strenth and hope, which is all we can do for one another. I wish you well.

  12. remember the blog post you did on mentally ill people? now you know why compassion and reaching out is crucial in AA…go easy on yourself…its alright. hugs

  13. oh yeah..be brutally honest and share at meetings..you WILL help someone

  14. Dearest G – a week or so ago, as I was careening down the Interstate at 70 mph, I thought to myself: “I could just so easily end it right now – swerve off the side of the road in to that canyon below, and end all my pain, misery, suffering, anxiety, fear, uncertainty, blame, regrets, self-pity, etc.” And, after just spending two days with my imperfect/yet perfect grandchildren, and a day with my 94 year old mother who has driven me nuts most of my life but now I’m just beginning to understand, I also am reminded that life is both dark and light. And so, I’m choosing to believe that those of us who feel so deeply, and analyze, and doubt, and consider carefully, and search for solutions, and don’t pretend to know, and entertain all possibilities – – – that those kinds of suicidal thoughts occasionally pass through our consciousness. I’m hoping that these are fleeting, yet normal responses to life’s pressures and ups/downs. Yet, I also wonder if timing and circumstances could, in fact, tip the balance towards the ‘perfect storm’ of taking one’s own life? A lot of this just boils down to a dice throw – similar kinds of ‘fate’/serendipity forces that converged to ‘protect’ us, and our children/ancestors, as careless/fearless adolescents and young adults could also fall the other way.

    I can’t help but think that your willingness to share this most intimate fear – (and so generously reveal your own vulnerability) will serve as a shield, of sorts. By articulating its existence, and allowing us to’ give witness’ to it, you’re giving us, your devoted readers, permission to also feel those thoughts – and recover from them with you. Thank you.

    It’s going to be ok. We’re all just Bozos on the bus (as my therapist said to me). I’m glad you’re here, and I’m here . . . and we can learn how to live and love life together.

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