The Story I Choose To Tell
Immediately following my husband's suicide, I sought out therapy. I was in shock and I knew I needed help right away. I contacted a group that worked with families and asked to schedule a session. There was a delay in getting a regular appointment time. There were calls and texts made back and forth. I waited. This went on until I finally let them know I needed grief counseling like yesterday. Finally they fit me in. What I didn't realize was my initial appointment was meant to be an assessment. I met with the head therapist for intake so she could decide who would be the best fit for me. But I was in shock. I hardly knew which end was up at that point. So I sat on her couch and word vomited my entire story without even taking a breath.
Brian told me he was moving out. We didn't have a fight but there had been some distance between us for about a year or so. Nothing I could put my finger on but something we both felt. We had brought it up here and there, casually, but didn't really get into it. I would send him texts while he was at work. "What happened to us?" Neither of us had the answer. We put off addressing it and hoped it would just sort itself out. Then one day we had a talk. It was about money, a topic on which we never saw eye to eye. During a pause in the conversation, I decided to push on. I had his attention. And when I mentioned that I didn't even know how he felt about me now, he said he didn't know if he wanted to be married anymore. I was gutted. I never saw it coming. Truth be told I hadn't exactly been happy but I definitely didn't want our marriage to end. I asked why he was leaving instead of going to marriage counseling but his mind was made up. And three weeks later he was gone.
I was hurt but I was also furious. I couldn't believe he could just walk away from our son and me. I assumed he just wanted his freedom to party and sleep around, leaving me with all the responsibilities. And once he left, nothing after that made any sense. He would come on Sundays to see our boy. He was as friendly as if nothing changed but as distant as if we weren't together anymore. He seemed a little confused, which was confusing for me. He wasn't asking for a divorce but wasn't rushing back to me either. We were in limbo. His visits were becoming sporadic. Sometimes he couldn't come. Mostly he couldn't stay long. There were times he didn't feel well. And he almost always just didn't seem like himself. I wasn't sure what was going on but figured it was a result of him having too much fun without me and I was jealous.
He was becoming more unreliable and what seemed to be distracted. I was disappointed and told him how I felt. I told him our son deserved more from him. He eventually admitted that he needed help. That his drinking had become out of control. Even then, he wasn't admitting to everything he was using but confessed to being ashamed he had let things get that bad. I then found out that he was on a leave of absence from work and we were running out of money fast. He started looking into short term disability and the possibility of entering rehab. He started to communicate with me regularly and started turning to me for support. If I'm being honest, I wasn't exactly feeling loving or supportive. I thought he was just being irresponsible and that all that freedom wasn't good for him. I thought he just made some poor choices and now I was having to pay for that. He left us and didn't look back until he suddenly needed me again. He needed me to take care of him the way I always had and I was feeling cold and detached.
Over the course of the next few months, the situation seemed to be spiraling out of control. He had a black eye he didn't remember getting. He was having challenges with paperwork that needed to be filed in order to receive financial assistance. He was attempting to get clean on his own. He mentioned moving back home and I asked him if he thought it would be a good idea to expose our son to whatever it was that was happening. He agreed it would not. And then one night, just after midnight, he sent me a text. I didn't read it until the middle of the night, when it sounded like a bunch of nonsense at the time. I went back to sleep and reread it in the morning. It sounded like he was high out of his mind and pouring his heart out to me. I replied to ask him if he was okay and I never got a response.
I tried to reach him throughout the day and figured he was sleeping it off. At a certain point, when the hours were piling up, I knew that something was wrong. I had probably known it all along but I tend to overreact. I didn't want to make that same mistake again. So I waited. And I waited some more, checking my phone constantly for his reply. He wouldn't ignore me. He wouldn't let me worry this way. There was no reason for him not to call. I was at a Christmas parade with friends later that night and slowly starting to panic. I knew he was probably gone. I thought he had mostly likely fallen off the wagon and had take things too far. I had to make the call.
I got home and put my son to bed and called the police. I asked to have a welfare check and I then I paced the kitchen floor. After two hours, I called to follow up and they had no record of my call. The dispatcher promised to send officers right away and asked me to call back in half an hour. I waited some more. I prepared myself for what I would hear on the other end of the line. "We found him unresponsive." I was bracing for it. When I made the follow up call I was told that an officer would call me back. I knew that had to be bad news. My phone rang and my heart stopped. The officer's words sounded nothing like they should. "Unfortunately, he committed suicide." I wasn't prepared for that. I gasped and broke down. I didn't know what I was supposed to do next. I just kept repeating the word "fuck" and trying to think straight. The man on the phone gave me some details and more information that is all a blur to this day. All I could think of was my son sleeping in the next room. All I could think of was that my husband was gone.
Each week, I would return to my therapist's office, repeating different parts of this story. I was recounting the events, one by one, trying to piece it together. I would sit on her couch in utter disbelief and just recall little bits and pieces of what transpired. It was like I was telling her about a book I read. I was trying to make sense of it. Trying to make it mean something about him and the decision he made. Feeling like it was my fault. Feeling like there was obviously something I could have done. I was trying to figure out how I didn't see it coming.
I would call my best friend every day after dropping my son off at school and ask questions. I didn't realize they were the same questions that I had asked the day before. They felt like epiphanies and new leads to unraveling the truth. It was like a mystery we were trying to solve. She would patiently listen and try to give me answers that felt real. She would help to deconstruct the chain of events to try to understand the best we could. She would remind me of details I had forgotten. She would just listen.
After telling the same story over and over and over again, I believed it to be true. What I didn't realized was that if I were to take a step back and actually look for the facts, I would really only find very few. In fact, it was based heavily on interpretation and bold assumptions. These interpretations and assumptions felt so real. But none of them were serving me. To be honest, a good portions of the story had left me feeling guilty and full of shame. It gave me regrets. It made me feel like a victim. Like all of these things had happened to me. Like I was being punished for something I had (or had not) done.
There are so many moving parts and unanswered questions. And because my husband is no longer here, I will never hear his side of the story. His point of view. His words. And even if I could, I would still have my own thoughts and feelings and reactions to what he was telling me. I will never know why he chose to leave me. I will never know why he didn't reach out for help. I will never know why he didn't go to rehab or see any other way out of what felt like an overwhelming amount of chips stacked against him in the end. I have had to learn that there is no reason why. It's not that I'm choosing to lie to myself. It's that I'm choosing to love myself instead. I'm taking what I know and how well I knew him and deciding what feels useful to keep.
Brian was struggling for a long time. He was keeping it to himself. He was hiding from his fears and medicating himself. He was trying to fill a hole that could never be filled. No amount of scotch or money or sex or pills or awards or Facebook likes would ever be enough. It wasn't about me or what kind of wife I was. It wasn't about how he felt about me. I know how much he loved me. I was enough. He wasn't happy. His unhappiness wasn't because of his marriage or his job or his freedom. It was inside of himself. And he realized that the minute he walked out the door. But he didn't know how to fix it. He had no idea how incredible he was. All he saw were faults and failures. A long list of regrets. He didn't want to die. He wanted the pain to end. I forgive him for what I thought was selfishness. I have enormous empathy for him. I am working on forgiving myself for what I didn't know. For protecting my son and myself. And I am choosing to tell the story that heals me.