I was five years old when I had my first suicidal thought.
It was January 31, 1998. My father’s body was found sprawled on a bathroom floor with needle marks running up and down his arm, lying next to a syringe. He had overdosed on a mix of crack and heroine.
“He’s in heaven,” my family said.
Well then, I thought, I want to go to heaven too.
And thus began a thought pattern I’ve been fighting to this day.
Memories of my father are like the horizon. He’s there but he’s not really there. He’s a mirage in the distance. He’s fractured remnants of light reflected from above that I can sometimes see but never touch, with waves upon waves of grief flowing between us.
They say denial is the first stage of grief. Before you move on to things like guilt, anger, depression, loneliness, bargaining and eventual acceptance, losing a loved one puts us in a state of shock and denial. This can last for days, weeks and sometimes months for adults. But for children, denial can last years.
I remember looking down at my dad’s open casket vividly, like it was yesterday. I remember stroking his cold, hardened cheek. I remember my mom in tears next to me, whispering “I bet you think he’s going to wake up.”
“No, I know he won’t,” I remember responding. I was, after all, the man of the house now. It was time to grow up.
At face value I knew things were going to be different and I physically noticed that he was no longer around. But still, a little voice inside my head couldn’t help but ask “what if he is?”
When I was 11 I wrote my mom a letter, pretending to be my father. I told her that I was still alive and that I was okay. Looking back now, this was the first sign that I was a ticking time bomb.
When I was 13 I had my first drink. A vodka-sprite.
When I was 16 a classmate committed suicide. I wasn’t close to the kid. In fact I hardly knew him. But still when I got home I snapped on my parents and siblings and began smashing things into the wall.
When I was 17 I got caught drinking and driving for the first time.
When I was 18 my on-again-off-again girlfriend and I were having a cordial discussion. I said something along the lines of “I want you back,” and she said something along the lines of “no.” So, logically, I punched a hole in the wall and started throwing bottles everywhere. Not AT her, that would have been rude. Just in the general vicinity, minding my own space.
She left in tears and went to my best friend and roommate who proceeded to call the cops on me. They came in and found me with a handful of pills and a shard of glass. That was the first time I was taken to the hospital in the back of a cop car.
The second time was later that same year, after I had started broadcasting school. Again, an ex-girlfriend drama. I was threatening to jump from the balcony of a campus high-rise where she was living. The cops came and this time I got a psychiatric assessment at the hospital. I was diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, possible post-traumatic stress disorder and was warned that I was on the onset of substance abuse.
A couple months later I got caught drinking and driving for the second time.
A couple months after that I started abusing sleeping pills.
A few months after that I started using cocaine. My father’s legacy had finally caught up to me. It was the drug that eventually led him to his death and I wanted it to lead me to mine.
Six months later I started therapy. I have been on a healing journey ever since.
Trevor Jang is a reporter for Roundhouse Radio in Vancouver.