When I was 16 and first diagnosed with depression that would torment me through subsequent seasons of my life, people would tell me, if only you could see how beautiful you are, you wouldn’t be sad anymore. Even my therapist told me I should focus on the features of myself I liked instead of obsess about the ones I didn’t.
As if that would make the negative voice in my head that so often intruded my thoughts go silent.
It was times like these I’d take a microscope to my life and pick out all the ways everyone else’s lives were better. I would scan over the entirety of my body and find all the features I disliked. Each part of my life I had reasons to hate in my mind, I’d write them down like a shopping list.
I don’t know when I accepted depression as part of who I was, but I know for many more years than I care to admit, I found a way to hide from it. And for a time, I hid so well, it almost cost my life.
When my sister was killed a month before my sixteenth birthday, I answered the hospital call. But it wasn’t like the call a year before, where her first alcohol related accident rendered her comatose for a week in ICU. Forcing her broken body and traumatized brain to learn how to walk and talk again.
This time there was a chilling sense of urgency on the line. How far are you from the hospital? How soon can you get here? It’s important you come now.
My mom and brother rushed to the hospital. A friend had spent the night whose family was out of town. And I needed to go to school. I needed normal. I needed to pray to God that He wouldn’t allow a worse outcome than what we narrowly escaped from the last time. Praying silently in the bathtub, I yearned to hear the opening of the front door and the good news to overwhelm me with a deeply desired relief. Even if it meant another long recovery, that we could handle. But deep in my spirit, I was also fearing the news that would alter the path of my destiny.
And for me and my already wounded family, and the innocence of a young girl that drained with the bath water, our lives were forever changed. The sunken look on their faces made the words that followed unnecessary. But they seeped from my mother’s mouth as my brother tried to keep her from falling.
She didn’t make it this time…
Everything good I once stood for was shattered in that moment. In just those six little words. And here would begin the tumultuous relationship with depression and all its manifestations that I would be forced to know.
And the unfortunate truth about this traumatic chapter of my life, instead of leaning on God for strength in His promises that He’d carry me through while I processed my grief, it became a lame excuse for my subsequently defiant behaviors for the purpose of honoring the life of my sister.
In my 16 year-old mind, my sister was the life of any party. Her smile lit up the room and people were drawn to her like an addiction. An addiction I would eventually take on as my own. She was alluringly beautiful and drew laughter from people that kept them thirsting for more. And perhaps typical with teens growing up in the 80’s, alcohol had become a weekend enhancer to her audaciously charming ways. At least in these two life altering events that ultimately stole her from mine.
It mattered not that I went on to graduate college from a major university, or that I followed what I defined as the “typical” societal pattern of graduation, marriage, career and parenthood in that well thought out predestined order.
I made sure to honor my sister with alcohol as my dependable counterpart every step of the way. It became a crutch to the lies I chose to believe. That my life was worth far less than hers, and that in the unspoken words that would play like a broken record, everyone around me really wished it would have been me.
I spent several years living out what my sister no longer could. Flirting with disaster with every encounter, often not knowing where I’d wake the next day until daylight forced me to opened my eyes. I eventually met a strikingly handsome man who settled me down but willingly embarked upon the journey of high-functional alcoholic living at its finest.
It would be several years of juggling marriage, family and careers as a typically happy family before the loss of my dad and both in-laws in a span of a few years would cause depression to resurface beyond my ability to contain it with the amnesia of a drink. So I sought out relief through antidepressants, because it helped me out of my slump as a teen and came recommended by some friends.
And despite the incessant warnings about the dangers of drinking on medications, I ignored them until the physical side effect became so exasperated and the compulsion to ward them off increased. And then I couldn’t stop. The toxic poisons fused together overpowered my mind, stole chunks of memory and rationale, and for a year and a half, rendered me helpless over any life worth living. I lost my career, almost broke up my family and narrowly ended my disastrous life. And all that was supposed to be in honor of my sister.
Closest to death I will ever be without dying is how I describe the curse I fell under before I was able to break free from my addiction.
And it was only by the same grace of God who I pleaded with in the bathtub many fateful years ago, pleading for him to keep my life “normal” because I had already had taken on too much to handle, that I was shown my story wasn’t over and I had no choice but to survive. My story needed to be told. Even to just one.
That negative voice in our heads that tell us we aren’t good enough to be the one to survive the loss of a sibling is an outright lie. God doesn’t have favorites but He does allow free will. No one will ever be able to answer why my sister had to die at the hands of another, but that doesn’t mean that my life didn’t matter. I took the long way around discovering this truth. But hopefully my story can help shorten the path of another.
So as a new way to honor my sister, what is your life story?
The story of how you thought your life should go, but through an unfortunate twist of life events, got derailed because you encountered pages you weren’t prepared to write? And how did you survive? How did the tragedy turn into triumph? And can you use your experience of victory to help another? Because if we’re still on this Earth, we somehow survived, and it’s certainly for a purpose.
How can the detours of your story, where you undoubtedly gained wisdom and strength, help someone else change the ending of theirs?
~ Kel B.