Death and Recovery

For T, J, and E

They found your body a few hours later. Washed ashore, at the bottom of the stairs, bloodying the concrete. You had drowned, fallen, jumped. Medical bureaucracy will assign a cause of death. And it will always be wrong. What extinguished the energy that sparked your sentience is not what killed you. There is no form, no amount of paperwork that can capture the accumulated collisions and constellations culminating in your final denouement. It seems a vain pursuit to even try to ascribe certainty to an incomprehensible situation, one not even understood by its now-deceased narrator.

Memory darts between two poles, carried by links of identification made possible not by reason but shared experience. On one end are the final moments. The abject terror that seizes every muscle, locks the heart in a vise, and floods the mind with an unquantifiable blur of imagery impossibly perceived in crystalline fashion. That moment when a threshold has been crossed, death is near, shrieking panic oscillates in every cell, and the continuation, or not, of our existence is entirely out of our hands. Finality takes on new meaning when it is actually on offer. I have made a couple visits to that place. For whatever reason, or no reason at all, I made it back. For you, the exits were locked. In you, I hope the terror has ended. In us, it has morphed into grief.

The other is from some time before. An exhalation, a smile, a relief, a diminishment of torment. For a moment there is safety and reprieve. Days pass as we reveal more of ourselves to one another. The intimacy of surviving the storm creates bonds fostered by a hope that the future may be different. In that bubble we came in as strangers and left as co-experients, our separate journeys irretrievably impacting the others’. Yet that intermission was just the beginning. A restart with modified tools and perspectives. The real work lay on the other side of the door.

Between the two poles, life meets recovery. We all intersected on an axis that goes by many names: addiction, alcoholism, moral deficiency, deviated neuropathways and GABA receptors. I prefer soul sickness. All just models attempting to explain that which is beyond human capacity to decipher. The models agree on one thing – there is no cure, only hope for remission. And the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against us. So we all fell, over and over again. And it hurts. There is no physical pain with which I am acquainted that matches the existential anguish of ingesting a substance knowing it will only lead to ruin as ruins seem a preferable alternative to unmediated life. The solution and the curse appear to be one and the same. It is the graveyard of hope.

Spend enough time in a devastated internal landscape and it begins to feel permanent. To feel trapped in life is why so many of us have prayed to die in our sleep. To feel trapped in life leads us to continue to roll the dice, and sometimes we drown, fall, and jump. The proximity with which death lies to addiction and recovery means it makes the short trip over to claim one of us with alarming frequency. Yet each loss is a singular event, a soul no longer sick, but gone.

As stigma outlasts life, I don’t offer your name(s) here. But know I feel your absence as a weight hanging from my heart, straining to unmoor me. Your presence was a lightness, grounding me with its gravity. Thank you for what you gave. Thank you for trying. Know without shame or blame that you are missed and loved.

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