Suicide loss touches survivors in many different ways. Today’s guest blogger, Trevor, reflects on the double stigma that can be felt by those who lost someone following a battle with addiction, specifically. This experience is particularly difficult because family and friends may feel guilty that they weren’t able to help break the addiction in addition to preventing the suicide. However, it’s important to remember that it’s unfair to shoulder any blame for what has happened. These circumstances are so much bigger than any one person.
What Losing a Friend to Suicide After an Addiction Battle Taught Me
I met Tom in 2009, and our bond was instant.
We’d spend our days planning our new sober lives between group sessions.
Maybe we’d work with recovering addicts? We could help them make friends, find jobs and maybe we’d even start a softball team. We’d call it “Life’s Curveballs” (his name).
My stint in rehab was over before Tom’s, so I was forced to build my network without him. In the back of my mind, I always thought my efforts were for the both of us.
But when Tom got out of rehab, I didn’t hear from him. He fell back into old patterns and spent the next few years in and out of sobriety. I would only see him when he was sober, but our bond remained as strong as ever.
Tom seemed to be doing so well when I saw him last, and I was hopeful for his future.
Six days later, I got the word that he had taken a lethal dose of heroin.
There was a note.
He wanted us to know that this was no accident.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from this experience:
- Drug and alcohol abuse is a risk factor for suicide
According to a SAMHSA study, substance abuse is the second highest risk factor for suicide, behind depression and mood disorders. Whenever I worried about Tom, it was more about whether he’d accidentally overdose. Although the end result is the same, his suicide leaves me with many more questions than I’d have if it were an accidental overdose. One of the most dangerous questions is whether I could have said or done anything to stop him.
- Recovery can exacerbate depression
People who abuse drugs are more likely to have mental health issues, and the recovery process adds another layer of difficulty. The second stage of recovery is called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), and it includes symptoms of depression and anxiety, among others. During PAWS, the recovering addict’s brain is learning to readjust to functioning without the drug.
- Light is the only cure for darkness
In the months since Tom passed, I kept true to our plan of helping recovering addicts find their way to sobriety. I’ve learned to pay special attention to people in the post-rehab moments when life is confusing, and PAWS symptoms can be most severe. I’ll never make sense of Tom’s decision, but helping others helps me cope with the pain.
If someone you love is showing signs of depression and drug abuse, all you can do is your best to help them. They may try to push you away, but these people need you more than you know. Recovery does have to be their decision, but no one should attempt this journey alone.
And if you have lost someone to addiction and substance abuse, know that you aren’t alone. I have suffered a great many losses in my lifetime, but losing Tom to suicide is one that haunts me more than most. Find an outlet for your pain, anger, and confusion; don’t let these things suck you into the darkness.