I was institutionalized half my lifetime ago. I tried to kill myself. Specifically I went and found all the sleeping pills in the house (we had lots because my family bought them at Costco). We were living in Redwood Estates up in the mountains. It was a weird old house. Long and narrow—it looked a lot like a giant barn. At just under 2700 square feet the house seems like it should be perfectly adequate to the needs of any family. Five bedrooms and two baths. That’s a lot! We must have been rich. Only we had 12 people living in that house. When I was 15 and I overdosed I had my own room. No one liked me enough to share a room with me. They would rather have every other room in the house be 3-4 people rather than anyone have to be near me. I wonder why I was suicidal.
They don’t understand how they set me up. I lived in this weird world. I went to school with these rich kids—they had freedom and security I couldn’t even dream about. They broke huge rules without consequence. There was always a way to fix any problem. And my family left me alone all the time. They alternated between telling me how wrong my behavior was, I was bad., bad, bad; and telling me that I was so smart I could handle anything. Then they sent me to my room to be alone. I talked on the phone with boys and men because I didn’t feel secure enough to call girls. Girls didn’t like me. Boys and men did though.
I used to call the dj at the radio station in the middle of the night for company because I was lonely. He became my friend. Then he became my lover. I was 12 and he was 25. That’s not part of the overdose story, but that’s the kind of thing I was doing when my family told me to go be by myself.
I don’t remember what set me off that night. It doesn’t really even matter. I’m sure it would be possible to spin it as sounding idiotic and small and I’m sure it would be possible to spin it so that it is the inevitable step in my decent into madness. Cutting wasn’t doing much for me any more because I was afraid to hurt myself more. I’ve always been kind of a coward. That’s why I don’t think my cutting is actually such a big deal. It is not the most damage I inflict on myself and I don’t understand why it is the one people freak out about. Avoiding. I’m avoiding. I’m trying to remember where the pills were stored. It’s evading me. I’ve lived in a lot of houses. The details get fuzzy. I know I came back upstairs with a glass of water. That was foolish. You see, the sleeping pills were the uncoated chalky blue kind. They tasted awful.
It was hard to continue swallowing pills. I started off trying to take them by the handful, but it made them dissolve too much in my mouth. I think those tricksy bastards in the manufacturing company had a plan. They don’t want to feel bad about the deaths of stupid ninny white girls like me. The kind who take many boxes of sleeping pills because they are so afraid of waking up the next day and having to inhabit this body and this brain for another day. During that time far more so than now, it hurt to be me. I gagged my way through that box. By the end the simple act of trying to swallow the pills was pushing me to nearly vomit and I didn’t want to puke. I knew that would force me to live. I swallowed around 90 pills. Three boxes of 30.
Then I sat on my bed and I waited to die. It was one of the longest nights of my life. There was this big part of me that wanted to know what it felt like. I didn’t want to fall into death from unconsciousness—that sounds comfortable. I wanted to be ripped in agony from life because that was the only real way to get away from the agony of pain I was in. It sounds so emo. It sounds so trite and common and standard. Doesn’t every stupid teenager do the same thing? I was a goth, of course I was suicidal. I was conforming to non-conformity.
Only that’s not how it was. My father started molesting me when I was a baby. He put a gun to my head when I was nine years old and asked me if I deserved to live while I was sucking his cock. I was raped over and over starting when I was seven. I’m not emo. There is nothing emo about me. If anything my reactions to my life show a gross underestimation of how severe the trauma I went through was. My brother was hit by a car when I was eight and was in a coma for five months. I moved every 3-18 months until I was an adult. I was not emo. It’s a miracle I survived with any shred of sanity.
When we visited Los Gatos I was expected to fall into the role of a happy well adjusted teenager. All these people were living the same old same old lives and they couldn’t understand my constant disruptions. What was my problem? My mother acted like I had been standing nearby while other people were abused but I was just a whiner because my life wasn’t that bad. I was told constantly how everyone around me had it worse than me and I needed to just shut up.
As I lay there in bed waiting to find a true cessation of my pain in death instead I found out that if this was death I didn’t want it. It was far worse than the mushroom trip gone bad a few years ago. Far far worse. That night still haunts my dreams. You remember the scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom when he has to stick his hand into the wall of bugs? That was what my bedroom walls looked like. My bedroom had those awful super dark brown faux wood paneling you see in ugly trailer homes. There is nothing good about the experience of those panels. It was already a horrible cave of a room. And my heat came from the candles I burned, so I always had a dozen or more candles going, otherwise it was too cold.
I watched the walls stream with bugs and I lay there and cried. It was all a lie. There was no peace in death. Death was just more hell, and an even more terrifying level at that. I had to cry silently because I didn’t want to wake anyone else up. I wandered the halls some. I chased lizards up and down the hallway as they darted from shadowy area to shadowy area. I know I vomited at some point, in the bath tub. I did my best to clean it up. I don’t know how successful I was.
At some point as I lay there in a sniveling ball of disgusting mess I noticed that it was time to start getting ready for school. I tried to. But I was erratic and crying. I begged my mother to help me get the kittens out from under her bed because otherwise they were going to poop. That scared her. I don’t remember anything about the ambulance ride. I remember waking up briefly in the ER as they shoved a tube down my throat and forced me to vomit up charcoal. It was painful and invasive. It felt like my body was being raped in a new and exciting way. Death truly holds no promise of cessation from pain. I am not sure I believe it happens any more.
I was fairly immediately put on 72 hour hold. 5150’ed as they say out here in California. I was a danger to myself. I think I just now right this minute got to the point where I understand voluntary commitment. You see, I didn’t tell anyone I was raped or molested or assaulted or abused. They all thought I was a spoiled Los Gatos kid. Sure, people knew I moved around a lot and my brother was hit by a car. But none of that was treated like it was traumatic in and of itself. I was told I hadn’t been traumatized therefore I was just crazy.
Not very many people came to visit me. Strangely, my brother Jimmy made an appearance. He told me that he loved me and he hoped I could find a way to deal with my problems. Because I am the one with problems. It’s not like anything happened to me that kind of explains or justifies my choices. I was just freaking out, right?
To this day if I am in a group of people and the group is told to “draw their feelings” I feel completely irrational rage and I struggle with not committing serious violence. I want to break someone’s fucking nose for saying that to me. I tried with the art therapy leader. That was when I was dragged kicking and screaming and flailing down a hallway.
Don’t picture long and narrow and white like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or anything. This was the 1990’s in the bay area in a child/adolescent wing of a hospital. It was pleasant neutral colors. That doesn’t actually humanize the experience of being forced through a doorway and on to a table. The padding on the table does not prevent injury to your soul. The straps don’t prevent you from hurting yourself. All it does is show you that you are a non-person. A thing to be controlled at all costs. It doesn’t matter why you have these feelings inside of you. It doesn’t matter how badly you have been harmed. You have to keep fucking control over yourself or we will god damn control you. No veneer of civility over it makes a difference.
There is a humiliation to being overpowered that most people never really understand. People get this intense feeling of scared, overwhelmed, maybe angry when they are held against their will. Truly being overpowered when you feel like you are fighting for your life is not something you ever forget. My body was compromised.
My father may have raped me. But the institution convinced me that the whole fucking world believes I am just a thing and I do not deserve normal human consideration. The institution made me into an animal. When I feel unstable, which is honestly fairly frequently, I spend a lot of time looking around me and gasping in fear if someone moves towards me too suddenly. Now I know that the people around me don’t always have respect for me as an autonomous person. When are they going to violate me again? When am I going to lose the right to make decisions for myself, again?
Can anyone really call my fears irrational with a straight face? Ok fine, the kind of abuse I went through is a statistical blip. It’s only because of kind and intensity. The smaller incursions on my humanity happen all the time and I am expected to ignore them. I am supposed to ignore people stepping all over my right to body autonomy. Because I don’t actually have a right to body autonomy.
All I have to say is it’s a good thing that my life is trending better. Maybe some day I will truly believe it is irrational for me to feel fear about people hurting. Maybe some day it will be irrelevant and unlikely and all those other things other people get to experience. My children will not understand.
It has to be enough.