Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Anatonomy of a Suicide Part 2 - Austin

(See Blog Post from Feb 9, 2010 for Part 1)

Appalling ignorance best describes my level of preparation the first time I called a Crisis Line -- the night before a friend attempted suicide. Multiple interventions since then, an Intensive Suicide Intervention Workshop, and a number of books have given me at least a basic understanding.

I have written extensively on this topic, but published very little. Most of my writing is a struggle to come to grips with questions I cannot answer. Most of it wrestles with the reality that I have some understanding but no expertise. Most of it has a disturbing level of "me" focus, because I've written from the raw emotions of fighting, one breath at a time, to keep a friend alive.

Posting Surety is an education all its own. The odds were stacked against my friend from the start. Stringent, court-imposed restrictions held him accountable to me. In turn I had committed myself legally, morally and ethically to hold him to those restrictions, including any repercussions for violations. Friendship is subject to great strain when one party is suddenly put in a position of authority and obligation over the other. Violations -- highly probably given the specifics of the restrictions -- in a very real sense would put the power and the obligation of slamming prison doors shut into my hands -- but without access to keys to open them again.

How do you interpret the heart-cry when the man accountable to you has vilated one restriction to obtain money, then used that money to violate another restriction? How do you share the pain when wild eyes stare at you from a darkened room and a slurred voice repeats: "It's been Hell man! It's been Hell! It's been Hell," and you are the one legally and morally bound to turn him over to the police?

He had been helping his wife move. Their children were with her parents. Restrictions from the court and from Children's Aid did not allow him to be with his children, consequences of his own actions, but emotionally devestating none-the-less.

The call from his wife confirmed my fears. I tracked him down, already sick with the knowledge that the best possible outcome for the night would probably see him behind bars again. Daring to call myself his friend -- more, a friend who has poured life and energy into him, the responsibility of sending him back to jail did not sit lightly.

Is there any dignity salvageable when someone intoxicated, angry and suicidal has two poor options to choose fom? (1) Turn himself in to the police -- or (2) wait until the police find and arrest him? He chose a third option, one I had not forseen. He stomped down the stairs from the apartment, then in a staggering half run, headed for the bridge and climbed onto the railing. His eyes stared at me from that railing -- showing terror of actually jumping, and equal terror of facing another hour of life.

How do you share that kind of pain? How do you take enough of that on yourself that a friend can bear what is left?

He clung to the railing with both hands. His eyes continued to stare wildly. He told me over and over that he was going to jump. I said I would go over after him. The water was a long way down, but less than a meter deep. We could both expect broken bones. But giving up on him was not an option.

I have not broken my word to him yet. I had earned the right, in his life at least, to be believed. There wasn't much point in jumping if a meddling friend was going to be down there keeping his head above water. He came off the railing.

Interference by drama seekers is a painfully common part of suicide intervention in any public setting. I had never experienced it before. I am thankful I have never known who aggravated a slowly calming situation and pushed it once more past the breaking point. My friend threw himself over the railing again.

I caught his arm as he went over and pinned it against the railing -- all my strength and weight and stubbornness in the conflict.

I made a mistake then, a mistake I'm still grappling with, trying to fully understand. I began to pray -- OUT LOUD. I am a strong believer in prayer. I suspect it is the most untapped resource of the North American church, and too often, of my life. I had been praying almost constantly in the hour before that moment, but praying silently.

There are clearly times when a hurting person is helped and strengthend by verbal prayer. Highly intoxicated and hanging off a bridge while trying to jump does not seem to be one of those times -- hard as that is for us steeped in church types to grasp.

He screamed curses at me and at God while he fought to break my grip on his arm.
I don't know when someone finally called 911. I know the ten minutes or so that I held him seemed hours long. My physical strength was exhausted. Stubbornness alone held on. I deliberately and consciously tried to break his arm. It seemed the one thing that might save his life, convince him to stop fighting me. I did not have the necessary strength. I hung on like death itself, every second feeling my weakness grow. I continued to pray -- out loud. The battle had been engaged on the spiritual level as well as the physical. Now was not the time to back down.

He clawed my glasses off my face and threw them onto the roadway. I was incredibly vulnerable. I could not protect myself without releasing my grip on his arm. He is a strong man. His rages are ugly, violent things. My face, my eyes were open to him. Yet my glasses were the beginning and the end of his clawing at me.

He gave up. My stubbornness outlasted his. He came off the railing and then off the bridge. The same drama seeker showed up again, and threats and curses crossed the highway. But within moments the fire department arrived, prepared to risk their lives to save someone intent on destroying his. They showed exemplary restraint, giving space, but moving quietly into position to cover access to the bridge, moving gawkers back. They spoke quietly, courteously, bringing a non-threatening authority and strength to the situation.

The police arrived a few moments later and they too showed a courtesy and gentleness that astounded me. I followed the cruiser to the hospital and gave the pertinent information to the police officers -- information I was legally bound to give. Perhaps an hour later they formally arrested my friend. He left the hospital between two officers, throwing bitter accusations back at me.

I dragged myself home, exhausted in body and spirit, unanswerable questions assulting my mind. Yet my friend lived to see the morning. He continues to see mornings each time the sun rises.

I have questions I cannot answer about personal atonomy and the freedom to choose -- even choices as permanent as death. As our nation moves closer to accepting euthanasia and assisted suicide as "Rights," I wrestle with those questions. But my friend is at home with his wife and children tonight as I sit at this computer. He has had many tough times since that night, but he has had many rich times as well. Somehow, my questions fade in light of that.

Changing "Rights" in this nation may make such intervention a "Crime" in the not too distant future. It may be me who goes to jail if I insist on saving someone's life. I dare to believe life is worth the risk. But I don't think I'll post Surety again any time soon. I'd rather not put myself back into the position of being legally and morally bound to send a friend to jail.


Dolores Ayotte said...

Brian...I said it after Part 1 and now I say it again after Part 2, you're a good friend! It's not easy to be a friend to an alcoholic. Take care!

Kathleen Gibson said...

Brian, I'm not surprised by your piece...somewhere on my shelves in our last move I found the stapled and copied (my, how technology has changed!)booklet you wrote decades ago, during the time you were an active pro-life protester and spent some time in jail. You have Christ's heart, one willing to take the heat for others'. Thanks for your humble example of serving Christ with spirit, soul, and body, and loving others as yourself.

Peter Black said...

The ladies, say it well, Brian, regarding your being a good friend, and your humble example of serving Christ.
Kathleen's comment provided me a window on your life -- re. your pro-life imprisonment -- of which I knew nothing.
Lord bless and keep you, always.

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