AND WITH US, TO DRINK IS TO DIE
BY: TAMI HARPER WINN
When the silence is ripped open by the words, “She’s dead”, somehow it feels like it can never be stitched back together again. Those were the words I received on February 5th, 2018, just a few short days before my mother’s two-year celestial birthday. Standing in the coldness of my living room, a vacuum of terror began sucking the last living breath out of me. On the other end of the telephone was my sister’s husband telling me that my little sister was gone. She had hung herself.
I dropped the phone, hit my knees and cried out to a God I desperately needed. I wasn’t going to make it through this one. Shrieks filled the void between heaven and earth as my tears soaked the carpet below me. The fist pounding produced blood stains on my living room floor where my son found me moments later.
“Come on momma.” He placed his hand on my shoulder. “We got to go.” He helped me up, walked my numb trembling body to the car and together we headed for the hospital where my sister was. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. She had finally done it.
My sister nearly completed suicide two years ago, shortly after my mother’s death. It was a fight then to keep her alive. At the tender age of thirty-seven she wasn’t able to battle the demons that she fought her whole life with anymore. It was a close call then. But we were only buying time. I knew in my heart then that we were.
As we entered into the waiting room of the emergency room, pleading for someone to help us, I felt a sinking feeling. I felt like I just might dissipate into thin air. I was told by the hospital trauma nurse that the police were in with my sister’s husband and that they would be out soon to talk to me. No one would tell me if she was really dead or if I was just having a terrible nightmare.
Shortly after, the detective that had been with her husband appeared and asked if she could speak with me. Standing outside the hospital that I now had come to literally hate, she took me to the side to tell me what I had been waiting to hear. But, it was not what I expected her to say at all. “Your sister is a very beautiful woman.” She is a very beautiful woman, not she was a very beautiful woman. “She is in CT right now, on life support." she said so matter-of-factly. "They are looking for any signs of brain activity.” So she was alive? I felt the world spin out from under me as the detective caught me. What was happening? This definitely had to be a bad dream.
“She has fresh track marks on her arms and burns on her stomach.” she said. “But the ligature marks on her neck say she definitely attempted to hang herself.” She went on to tell me how my sister was found, who saved her, and that right now, the detectives were at the scene doing an investigation. “Do you have any idea why she would have wanted to do this?” she asked.
Do I? Let me name the list of reasons. “Well, for starters, the woman you see on that bed with fresh track marks on her arms and ligature marks on her neck lost both her parents within four months of each other, and she is the baby of the family.” I tell her. “But, more importantly, that’s what it also looks like when the only way to stop sticking a damn needle in your arm is to make damn certain you don’t ever again.” I break for any type of response. “Short and sweet, she can’t live without it and now she can no longer live with it.” I watched her face as she heard those words. Nothing.
But that was the cold hard truth. My sister was the poster child now of what it meant when they said, “And with us, to drink or drug is to die.” For us, it was just that way. She had made her point. However much she wanted to die, her God wasn’t done with her yet - at least not so far.
It would be three more days before she would be brought out of her coma to see what kind of damage had been done. For three days, family from all over the country had come to stand beside her bedside and wait. Prayers were offered on her behalf, tears were shed, and unanswered questions hung in the air.
It would take many more days after that for her to gain complete control over simple body movements and speech. She had no recollection of what had happened, nor wanted to. To everyone, it was clear that she was severely beaten down. Sadness clung to her like an old wet robe. There was a distant look in her eyes I can only describe as a longing for the end. I told my family and friends, “I fear that we are only prolonging the inevitable.” Her pain was so deep. The secrets that her little heart held were killing her. Her appearance was only highlighting the truth. We are only as sick as our secrets. Here, I with almost eight years of sobriety, was at a loss on how to help her. At this point she hadn’t asked for it. Her actions were evident that she didn’t want help anymore.
That was almost a month ago. She is home with her family today. It is torn again, but she is alive - for now. Each day we move forward. What we have for any type of security is scattered about the universe, waiting to reassemble itself. When the phone rings, no one jumps for it anymore. I, myself, pause and wait before answering it. I don’t live in fear, but I do wait in sadness.
It has been sixty-nine days since my youngest left home. In that short of a period, my life has completely managed to come unraveled and strewn around in a whirlwind of insanity coupled with miracles. It’s a crazy unnerving cyclone. With all that was hitting me so fast, I stepped back to examine my life and my part in it and took a break from blogging. I took a small moment to pause and try to regroup as each new event unfolded. No amount of time will stop life until my last breath is drawn, so I decided to surrender and just lean into it. I picked up my computer, found my saving grace with each click of my keyboard, and spilled the blood and guts of my life in recovery all over the white pages before me.
I do not know if my little sister will be here tomorrow, or even tonight as I write this. I do not know if the others in my family that struggle with their own demons, will be here either. Each day is borrowed time, especially with addicts and alcoholics. Today is the only day I have to stay sober myself. I am not even promised tomorrow. Finishing my first blog in nearly two months, I stare at the screen before me. As if a lightning bolt had struck me, I am seized with the inalienable truth of my disease, "And for us, to drink is to die." Quietly I bow my head and say a little prayer. The reality is that all any of us really have is simply one day at a time - God willing.
~ Tami Harper Winn ~
The story written here is solely the work of the author’s. Any use or reproduction of this article is prohibited without written consent of the author or credit to the author.