Bob Ries is a musician. He was 52 years old when I interviewed him in Seattle, WA, on February, 28, 2016.
CONTENT WARNING: If you're uncomfortable with discussion of specific suicide methods, please read with care.
I've done a lot of work, especially through the twelve-step program, looking back and trying to identify stuff, especially from early childhood, that molded and imprinted me to be who I grew up to be. I had a severely alcoholic, abusive father—verbally, mentally, and physically abusive, not sexually. My mom didn't really know how to cope with that, so she turned really hard to Christianity and more or less became strung out on that. My dad was strung out on alcohol and all the behaviors that come along with that—or the lack of behaviors, I guess.
I came out of the womb and felt like I didn't fit in and didn't belong. I can remember going to school and being like, "I'm not like all these kids." Different, you know?
Jump forward a little bit. I came from a musical family, so I guess that was a positive. There were a lot of positives. It was just a very dysfunctional childhood and family. By the time I got into later adolescence, and right around the time I discovered the guitar, I discovered how to change the way I feel with substances.
Primarily, back then, it was pot and beer. That was it for me at that moment, because I was already mentally on this path of slow self-destruction. The substances diffused that a little. It made me feel like, finally, I belonged or something. Especially if I had a bag of weed or the beer, then everybody wanted to be my friend, so I felt accepted.
That progressed. My grades started to plummet. [I had] multiple behavioral problems, escalating from in-school detentions to in-school suspensions to out-of-school suspensions. Eventually I ended up getting expelled in the eleventh grade, mainly for getting caught dealing drugs on school property.
I was an unruly child, basically. That's what the courts deemed me as, when I was facing going to a detention center for my behavior outside of school. I was getting older, so now I'm getting up into my early teens and playing in bands and, of course, I got kicked out of school. Then I got kicked out of the house.
My dad had already left. He split when I was about ten years old. I didn't know how to deal with him leaving. I remember taking his suitcases and stashing them behind the couch, because I didn't want him to leave. I have a vivid memory of clasping of my arms around his ankle as he was trying to walk out the door. He was a disciplinarian; without him in the household anymore, my behaviors escalated to the point where my mom said, "I can't take him anymore," and threw me off to my dad.
My dad was in full-blown alcoholism, had just left my mom and was living this swinger lifestyle, so I cramped his lifestyle. I lived with him for about a month and then he kicked me off to my older brother, who I lost to an overdose, unfortunately, in 1999.
The party was on. My brother was an addict, as well. Of course, he died from a heroin overdose. From the time I was about ten years old, we always jammed together, played together, and I ended up playing with him in bands for a period of fifteen years before I moved out here to try to run away from my addictions.
I'd pretty much painted myself into a corner by the time I was thirty years old in Cleveland, Ohio. My family didn't really want anything to do with me. Other dope fiends really didn't want anything to do with me. They would say, "You know what? We're fucked up, but you're really fucked up."
I was living in this dilapidated carriage house in Cleveland that a friend was letting me stay in for free. It didn't have running water, didn't have electricity. Basically, I had a wire spool for a coffee table, a little chair, and this plywood two-by-four loft bed that kind of sagged. I didn't have any mattress for it or anything, I was just sleeping on a blanket with another blanket on top of me.
I had pretty much gone to what I thought were the depths of where addiction could take you, only to find out that it would get way worse years down the road. I was self-destructive with behaviors and with drug use, but I didn't necessarily have any obsession or compulsion to hurt myself. Basically, I just ran the gamut of dealing drugs, using drugs, and living the whole rock 'n’ roll lifestyle. That's where I found myself at thirty years old, in that dilapidated little carriage house.
A friend of mine popped by with another friend I hadn't seen for a while and gave me a few hundred dollars to get a certain quantity of a certain substance. Of course, I did what any good addict does: I went straight away, called my dealer, and took some of the money and bought drugs for me.
I was sitting at home in my little chair. I had all these bills piled up, laying out on that wire spool, and a single candle sitting there. Of course, all my works for doing dope were sitting there. I just looked at everything. Everything of value had already been pawned. I didn't have anything but clothes. Everything else, I had sold or pawned to get money for dope. I remember thinking, "I'm just going to go." I threw a bunch of stuff and what clothing I had in a couple backpacks I had, and took what was left of the money.
I called my dealer to get what I thought would be enough drugs to get me on a Greyhound bus somewhere. I went down the Greyhound station and the next bus that was leaving was going to Seattle. I was like, "Okay. Whatever."
Five hundred dollars left of the money in my pocket and I split Cleveland. I had heard that Washington state had really good treatment options for drug addiction, so that was one motivating factor of coming out here. I had considered coming to Seattle before, so it was blind luck that I went down to the Greyhound station and that was the next bus that was leaving.
I made the three day trip out here on the Greyhound bus. I got into Seattle at the Greyhound bus station, was out of dope, and I was dope sick.
I had already used my tools of manipulation to talk to somebody on the Greyhound bus and say, "Well, what areas do you want to avoid when you go to Seattle? Where are the bad areas? Where are the drug areas?"
They were like, "Oh, you don't want to go down here," so I got off the Greyhound bus and, of course, that's where I went.
I don't know how much money I had spent eating at Burger King and whatnot on the way here, but I still had a few hundred bucks. Within probably less than a week, all the money was gone. I was staying in a hotel in the International District—The Bush Hotel. I blasted through the money doing dope and paying for the hotel room. I met people on the streets and was letting them stay in the hotel room and sharing dope with them. Next thing you know, I'm three thousand miles away from home, don't really know anybody, I'm broke. Homeless, now, staying in the missions because I didn't really have anywhere else to go but the shelters and the mission.
Des: What year was this?
Bob: I got here in the summer of '94. I ended up getting a job down at Pike Place Market. I got a job at one of the fruit and vegetable stands. I talked a guy into hiring me and paying me under the table, cash daily, which worked for me because I could keep up my dope habit, you know?
I was working at the fruit and vegetable stand and this gal came walking by and I was like, "Wow. Cheryl? Cheryl!"
She turned around. She's like, "Bob! What are you doing here?"
I'm like, "I just got here," and came out from behind the fruit and vegetable stand.
She, of course, being an old friend from Cleveland, knew my whole story. I went up and hugged her, and she's like, "How are you doing?"
I was like, "Oh, I'm doing great. Moved out here," and just spouted all kinds of lies, basically.
She actually grabbed my arms and turned them so she could look at them. At that point, I was using veins kind of on the underside of my arm so when she looked at my arm, she couldn't see the track marks.
I was like, "Oh yeah! I'm great. I'm clean, I'm doing great," and everything.
She's like, "Where are you staying?"
I was like, "Oh, I'm staying down at a motel in the International District," which was a lie because I had already ran out of money and was living on the streets.
She was like, "Oh no, you're not. You're coming to stay with me."
I took my couple backpacks of clothing over to her place. I was staying at her place and going to work, meeting the dealer after work and going home. I was going in her bathroom before she would get home from work and doing my thing. After about three days of doing that, I felt so guilty.
I came out of the bathroom after doing dope one time and just broke down crying. I said, "I need help." I was strung out. She kind of freaked out a little bit, but dealt with it and helped me deal with it. That's the first time I ever called a detox center or anything like that.
I called King County Detox and they said, "Call back tomorrow. We don't have a bed." I called back the next day and they're like, "Oh, we still don't have a bed." I called on a Sunday morning and they're like, "Yeah, we have a bed tomorrow morning. You show up."
That's the first time I ended up in detox. They transferred me straight from detox into my first inpatient treatment center after being there for about four days. I went through a ninety day treatment program— the first one I went to. I went into after-care after completing the program, where you still get to live at the treatment center, but you have to go out and search for a job, find employment, and start banking up money so you can get your own apartment.
I did all that. Got a job, saved up and got an apartment and everything. I started buying stuff, like a stereo, TV, furniture and everything. I think I ended up staying clean for nine months and then... I don't know.
I don't know how to explain it: addicts just use sometimes for no reason. Because it's a sunny day. It seems like a good idea to use. I just got the bright idea that I was okay and that I could handle it. I would just do little, you know? Of course, that didn't work. Long story short, all the stuff either ended up sold or in the pawn shop. I got kicked out of the place that I was living, because it was a clean and sober living environment, so then I was homeless again.
I guess to sum that all up, I see it kind of as this progression of events, mainly around addiction. I don't know which came first as far as the mental health stuff, if that existed prior to the drug use, or if all the drug use perpetuated the mental health stuff. I don't know how much it even matters to figure that out or not, because eventually, both of them became prominent.
I still had this level of hope that things would be okay because I kept moving forward, even though I relapsed and was out homeless again. I was using on the streets for three months before I made it back into detox again. That time, after using for those three months, after getting nine months clean for the first time ever in my life, I ended up back in detox, and got transferred straight out this time. It was just a twenty-one day, like, we'd call it a "spin dry program."
I completed the program and got placed in clean and sober housing. I ended up staying clean for five years, and my life got really good. I was playing music, had a nice place to live, had a good job, was making more money than I've made in my entire life. I taught myself how to do back-end web development and database integration stuff, so I was writing code, basically, back when very few people were writing code.
At this point, it was '95, and I think we're back at HTML1. I was kind of on the cutting edge of the whole tech industry thing, but I made some bad decisions. I was hanging out, playing music again, going out to clubs, going on tour, doing that whole thing, and I made the decision that I was okay to drink non-alcoholic beers. I don't know why. I think the real reason was that I was craving beer.
Relapses have a really slow, almost devious progression. Addiction's weird. It's thrown me for some loops, where I look back and I'm like, "Holy cow, man. I can't believe I was in so much denial and believing so much utter bullshit that my head was telling me."
I eventually did okay with the non-alcoholic beers and then I was like, "Well, I think I'm okay to smoke a little bit of pot." I smoked a little bit of pot, and the next thing you know, within probably a week, I was a daily pot user again because I don't have any ability to really control myself once I put a substance in my body. I lose the choice of how much of that substance I'm going to use. Addiction just kind of takes over once I unleash the beast, so to speak. So, I started smoking pot, then I decided that, "Oh, okay. I'm doing okay."
I wasn't experiencing any detrimental effects from smoking pot; I still had my job, I was still showing up on time, I was still paying bills, doing everything I needed to do. I was like, "I'm just going to have a couple beers. A couple regular beers." Next thing you know, I was drinking nonstop, smoking pot nonstop.
I met my first and only ex-wife. We started dating, and she was a big drinker and a big pot smoker, so we just had a blast partying together. Honeymoon period, new relationship. Ended up deciding that we wanted to get married and we were going to elope to Reno and then drive up to Lake Tahoe, which we did, and we ended up getting married.
[We went] back down to Reno, after getting married up in Lake Tahoe, and partied. That slowly progressed over time. Next thing you know, we were going out to parties and there would be people using coke. I found myself giving myself permission to do a couple lines of coke, so it wasn't that long before I was back doing heroin again. But she had no idea.
I hid it from her for a whole year. I would tell her that I was going to go in the bedroom and meditate, and then go in there, close the door, and stick one of my guitar cases up against the doorknob, in case she did try to come in. I did that for a whole year. Multiple times a day, I would go in. I don't know if she didn't want to admit the fact, or if she was just so in denial, because I would literally be at the dinner table and would nod out, and my face would land in my food.
She was like, "Oh, you must've had a hard day. You're so tired."
I was like, "Yeah, it was a hard day," and I was just fully loaded on heroin. I lived a lot of lies under the guise of addiction, but being married and having my, at that time, eleven year old stepson living with us, and just slowly deteriorating... I wasn't really seeing it myself, because when you're an addict like me, when you're using, you've got it going on.
You can have a backpack with just a few items of clothing in it, be homeless on the street, and your head will tell you, "Yeah, you got it going on." Don't have rent to pay, you don't have bills to pay. You got dope. You're doing good. Which is utter bullshit, right? And it had gotten to the point where I was not functioning, really, in the relationship, in the marriage at all. I was barely functioning at the job anymore. Eventually, my boss found out that I was using and let me go, so I lost the job.
We had not made love in a really long time. We're in bed one night and I couldn't perform, and she got really upset. That's when I sat up and said what's been going on, I've been doing this for the past year. She literally hauled off and slugged me.
Once she calmed down, [we] decided that we were going to try to get me into detox and do that whole thing, which we did. When it was kind of like a new thing, I went and did one of those supposed miracle three day buprenorphine detoxes, where they ramp you up on buprenorphine really fast and then taper you off really fast. It was supposed to be a miracle way to get you through withdrawal.
It seemed to have worked. After three days at the hospital, I felt really good, and they sent me home. Within a few hours of being home I went into the worst withdrawal that I'd ever been in. I literally begged my wife to let me call my dealer and use her car to go meet him. I was so sick and felt so bad, so awful. I should not have been driving.
I was getting on one of the on-ramps to our expressway here to I-5, and I was on the on-ramp probably upwards of like 50-55 miles per hour and just kind of fell out for a second. I lost track of where I was and went straight into a concrete median. I just went straight forward into it.
I got messed up really bad, ended up in the hospital. [When I] woke up, there was the morphine drip pump button right on the bed, right by my left hand, and I was just like, "Oh, cool." Needless to say, I worked the whole pain management team to get me as much drugs as they would give me, and send me home with as much drugs once I was able to leave the hospital. I ended up breaking a few of my ribs on the left side, collapsing one of my lungs, got big scars and lacerations from where my arm went into the dashboard on impact. I was pretty messed up. They sent me home with short-acting morphine and long-acting morphine. I had an addict's dream: pharmaceutical painkillers.
That launched me back in. Once I did end up getting taken off the prescription pain medication, of course, I went back to doing heroin again. Then my wife, kind of like misery loves company or something, she found out that I was doing heroin again and, this time, instead of getting mad, she says, "I'm going to do some." I basically created a monster, more or less, because I gave her her first shot of dope and she was off and running.
I would have called her an alcoholic at the point I met her. She was drinking quite a lot, so she had that [predisposition]. She became this terror that I couldn't even handle. My fellow addicts back in Cleveland were saying, "We can't even handle you." That's how I felt about my wife. She was using like a pig. I'd never seen anything like it before. We had built up a lot of material possessions over the time that I was working and writing code, before I got let go from that job. Slowly but surely, all that stuff started ending up on eBay or in the pawn shops.
That's when the mental health started really to degrade. I started experiencing my first bouts with suicide ideation. I had tried to get clean numerous times and stayed clean, and then ended up failing in my eyes, like relapsing. I felt like it was useless, like I was never going to be able to stay clean.
It became a really ugly, dysfunctional marriage. We were using each other for our abilities to hustle and come up with money somehow so we could get dope, so we didn't end up dope sick. That's kind of what it became. It was like this dance. I talked her into becoming a stripper and starting to strip at a club because we needed money to get high. She was fine with me selling off all my music equipment and my record collection and everything, so I justified that it was okay to ask her to go strip, because we had maxed out all my credit cards, too.
I felt like I was just stuck in this marriage. I was in the depths of heroin addiction, and we were facing an eviction. We actually got an eviction notice, but we kept living in the apartment and not paying rent because we were spending all our money on dope. We kept coming up with excuses to the landlady, like, "Oh, neither of us are working. I lost my job and [my wife's] not working." Eventually the landlord was just like, "Screw you guys," and went down and filed the court papers for the eviction. We got the eviction notice, and that's when things started.
I couldn't believe that I had actually gotten clean and built this really nice life. I had a career for the first time in my life, and a wife, and all that stuff was dissolving in front of my eyes, once again because of drug use. That's when I started to get super depressed. That's when I started feeling hopeless.
I think it was just the fighting and arguing over dope and spending hours trying to find a vein that would work. I remember I saw a little vein in my ring finger that had my wedding band on it, and I was like, "Oh. I'm going to try that." I tried it and I missed it. My finger blew up, and I had to take wire-cutters to cut my wedding band off because it was constricting.
That's so intense when I just think about it. I was in a little walk-in closet trying to do my dope, and sitting in a puddle of blood because I poked myself so many times that I was bleeding from all over the place. That's when I kind of said, "Screw it," and I grabbed all my bottles.
I had struggled with depression and I was on antidepressants. I had started to show some psychotic features, so they put me on an antipsychotic as well. I had bottles of antidepressants that I hadn't finished when I picked up new refills for them, so I had all these extraneous bottles. I dumped them all into one big pile and I started just piling them in my mouth and chasing them down with beer. I don't even remember how I ended up with money for beer, but I remember having beer.
I think it was the next morning, if I remember correctly. I wasn't, of course, coherent enough to know it at the time, but my wife had called 911. I come to and I'm on our living room floor. I didn't die, basically. I was a little bit pissed about that, of course. They took me in the ambulance and I think that was the first time I ever got to visit a psych ward.
I was there for a couple weeks, and they stabilized me and messed around with my meds a little bit. I felt a little bit better, and they helped me get into another detox and treatment program. I went to detox and was supposed to go from detox into the treatment program, but I went AWOL from detox and went out and met up with my wife. We did this back and forth for a while. We would go to the detox together and not tell them that we were a couple, and try to get clean together. One of us would leave, because we'd get jonesing for dope.
Then came the second attempt, where I had a bunch of psych meds again. This time I had a strong alcohol, and I tried again. I took handfuls of pills again and downed a bunch of the vodka. The next thing you know, I'm coming to and the paramedics are hanging over me. I'm super pissed again.
Same thing again. Went to the psych ward. They kept me for a couple weeks. I was supposedly stabilized, but when I look back on it, especially thinking about it now, I got to the point where I was ready to go out and start using again. A couple weeks of good food and some sleep, and I was good to go.
They would detox me in the psych ward too, so I would end up feeling okay, and then be like, "Oh, I think I'm ready to go home," then go home and start using right away again, and it just didn't seem like it would ever stop. I couldn't get clean again. I can't even tell you how many times I went to detox just in that few months span of time. It was a lot.
That's when we were still living up here. It was about two days before the sheriffs were supposed to show up to kick [us out of] the apartment. She told me, "Well, I talked to my mom and she's going to let me move into the basement. I can bring some of my stuff, and I might be able to bring a couple things of yours, but there's not a lot of room down there."
I took all my sentimental stuff that I had [from] when I left Cleveland and threw it in a backpack. I had my whole box of cassettes which contained recordings of practices and all my projects—noise projects recorded on cassette recorders that I had done over the years, live recordings of all my bands that I'd been in since I was ten years old, and my photo albums and everything. I had nowhere to put it, so I had to just throw them in the dumpster—a whole footlocker full of hundreds of cassette tapes and photo albums, all my lyrics and poetry over the years since I was a boy, basically.
That was the straw that broke the camel's back, and I was like, "I can't do this. I'm going to be homeless again in a couple days."
I went to a bar to meet a buddy of mine who invited me out for a beer. He's like, "Oh, I got some of these mushrooms that I picked down at the arboretum," because we've got psychedelic mushrooms that grow now in the wild out here in Seattle,"You want some?"
I was like, "Oh, sure, I'll take some."
In a place where you're just completely broken, had already tried a couple suicide attempts and lived, couldn't get clean, and then doing mushrooms? That was like the biggest mistake I could have made. Everything became crystal clear—what my life had turned into, what my marriage had turned into, what I had turned into, and what I felt that I had turned my wife into. Everything. I flipped out. I had a bad trip.
I pulled out a knife out of our kitchen and was jabbing it into my stomach, trying to break the skin and get the nerve to do it. My wife was there, freaking out. She called 911 and the police showed up. I couldn't really get the nerve to do it. I was just in a total psychosis, from what I was told [later], and I kept repeating over and over, "I can't wrap my mind around it." That's all I was saying, "I can't wrap my mind around it." I think that was referring to getting evicted and me and my wife splitting up, her moving in with her folks and me not knowing where I was going to go. I was just going to be homeless again.
They took me once again in the ambulance and admitted me into the psych ward. I stayed there for x amount of time, they detoxed me at the hospital, and they arranged for me to go straight into this treatment program. I think I lasted a week. It was Christian-based, and because of my issues with religious abuse from my mom being such a crazed Christian lunatic, that triggered me the wrong way. I left the treatment center. I was like, "I'd rather be homeless than deal with this stuff and have Jesus crammed down my throat. I already had enough of that when I was a kid."
I couldn't really think from the psych meds, and I was just like, "I don't know where to go. What am I going to do?" I remembered that I always went to this little store on the corner here. For some reason, I felt comfortable going to this store to buy razor blades and the rope. I put them in my jacket and went back to the treatment center.
At that point, I had been considered AWOL. They [wouldn't let me back in]. I was like, "Oh, please. I don't have anywhere to go and you guys have all my clothes and everything."
They're like, "Well, you can come and pick that stuff up in two days, but we can't let you back in or anything."
I hooked up with a pack of street junkies from Capitol Hill here, and one of them had a squat. I was staying at the squat and we were all running the streets and doing what we do, like going down to Nordstrom's and shoplifting stuff and then taking it back. We’d say, "My mom bought me this for a present and I don't want it. I want to return it for money." When we were doing that, they weren't really requiring receipts when you brought stuff back.
Somehow, my wife tracked me down. In this really short period of time, she'd gotten a job and managed to get a low-income apartment. She came and said, "Look, I want you to come stay with me." I went back and, of course, we got back together. Still not well, basically.
We were using again together in this new apartment. I still had the package of rope and the razor blades. Shit got really messed up, really quick, and I couldn't handle her. Everything was exactly the same, like we took up from where we left off, and all the abusive stuff started happening again, as well as the fighting over dope and everything.
She went to work one day and I saw where she had put the three hundred dollars of the rent money. I took the money with the intention to go call my dealer, which I did. Basically, my plan was to put it all in my body at once, and then I knew for sure that would work—seven grams of heroin all at once, which is a lot of heroin.
Sure enough, I did it and I felt really good. It was like, "Oh yeah!" It made all the pain and everything go away, and I just kind of felt myself going, you know? I was fading away, and I was like, "Oh, finally. Peace."
I remember the keys jingling at the door. I was still conscious enough to see my wife walk in. She's like, "What's going on?!" I'm sitting there on the floor with all these empty syringes in front of me. She's like, "Oh my god!"
I didn't remember her calling 911 or anything. I just remember her panicking and freaking out and yelling, and just being pissed off again. I was super pissed off. Of course, paramedics showed up and I ended up getting taken to the hospital and put into the psych ward. This time they kept me for sixty days or something, because it was such a severe attempt.
In fact, I ended up in ICU on a Narcan drip for two days because I had so much dope in my body. Normally, they just give you one shot of Narcan to kind of kick the dope out of your body and throw you straight into withdrawal and save your life. I ended up having to have that stuff dripping in an IV for two days because I had so much heroin in my body.
I remember being in three point restraints because, from what they were telling me, once I woke up and was coming to, I was trying to pull the IVs out because I wanted to leave. I'm sure I was in withdrawal and that's why I wanted to leave. I couldn't leave. I transferred out of the psych ward again into another detox/treatment program. I left right away and went out and started using.
I felt so defeated and so utterly hopeless, and I knew I just didn't want to live anymore. I already didn't want to live. I was already pissed off, cumulatively, like building up more and more pissed off because every attempt I made seemed to not work or got foiled somehow.
I had applied for Social Security Disability and had won my case. I got a twenty-one thousand dollar settlement check for back pay from the time I applied to the time when they approved me. I got that check and decided that it was a good idea to go smoke some crack. In a very short time span, I blasted through [that money] by smoking crack, which kind of made me feel better. It made me feel nothing, basically. I was able to not self-destruct during that time period, but as soon as I ran out of money... I was laying in bed for days, just thinking about it. I’d think, "I'm going to do it. I'm going to go in the bathtub and fill it with warm water. I'm going to take a razor blade and that's a sure thing. Nothing could go wrong with this. She just left for work and won't be back for hours. I'll be fine."
That's what I did, and thought I did a pretty good job. I just was like, "Okay." Once again, I felt a really big sense of relief, like it was over, finally. I guess I lost most of my blood, but she ended up getting sick or something a couple hours into her shift and came home. Once again, I was still awake enough where I could hear the door opening. She had my stepson with her—her son. I remember her screaming, "Get down to the fucking garage."
She was freaking out and once again, I remember the paramedics showing up. They used my pants and my shirt to make slings because I was so slippery. They couldn't get me out of the bathtub. I had ballooned up a lot, weight-wise, from being on the antipsychotics. I remember them doing that and getting me out of the tub and onto the stretcher. I think I was yelling at her, like, "Fuck you! Fuck you for coming home! I hate you!" That time I got admitted involuntarily, and for ninety days. I didn't have a choice, I was stuck there.
For the first time of being inpatient in the psych ward, my attitude changed, for some reason. I actually started trying to work on some of the stuff we did in groups, and CBT—cognitive behavioral therapy. I was dealing with a lot. My sister flew out from Cleveland and showed up at the hospital, and that just broke my heart, but I'm glad that my wife called her, because she had talked to my treatment team at the hospital and they felt that it was best that she came in person.
To crawl into a bathtub with a razor blade, you gotta be pretty depressed and feeling pretty hopeless. It took me a while to snap out of that; I think I probably just laid in bed, catatonic almost, for the first couple weeks. I just shut down, I think.
Then my sister showed up and my dad had passed. They didn't want to tell me. I guess she had called my wife to get a hold of me to tell me that my dad had passed, and my wife told her about, you know, "He tried to make an attempt of his life again. This time it was really bad, and he's in involuntary inpatient."
I guess she called the doctors and they said that it would be not only good for her to come out, to have some family show up at the hospital, but for her to tell me personally instead of over the phone with the state that I was in, mentally.
That added another layer to the piece, because I instantly felt guilty, like I wasn't around. I wasn't available to even show up back in Cleveland for my dad's memorial or anything. That had compiled from not ever being present for family stuff, because I was too busy using drugs and partying and living the lifestyle that I lived. I didn't show up for weddings. I'd show up for holidays, sometimes, stay thirty minutes and then take off, because I had better things to do.
That was a huge thing that I had to work through. It really affected me, losing my dad and not being there. Had I been clean and stable, I would've got a call that my dad's health had gotten really bad and that his cancer had returned, and I could've flown out and seen him before he passed, but I was doing what I do.
I was just dealing with so much shame and guilt about everything: the way I lived my life up to that point, the choices I had made, and the path of devastation and destruction in relationships that I'd left behind me, especially, most recently, the relationship with my ex-wife. I worked through some of that stuff while inpatient. I think when I got out after that ninety days, they had told me that it was not a good idea to go hang out with my wife anymore. I was like, "Yeah, I think you're right on that one. It's probably not a good idea to get out of the hospital and go back to live with her."
Once again, they helped me get into a longer-term treatment program. I stayed with the treatment program. I got sent way up north to this little treatment facility. It was actually involuntary, as well. It was voluntary-involuntary. To get in, you had to say that you were willing to go in involuntary, and that sounded good because of my M.O. with getting to treatment centers and then leaving a couple days in, as soon as the withdrawal got bad enough, if I hadn't gone to detox first. Going to a treatment center with ten foot fences with barbed wire across the top sounded perfect to me. There was no way I could jump the fence and leave. Sure enough, I got there and after a couple days of being there, I didn't want to be there, but I was forced to stay.
I started to be engaged more, for the first time, in the recovery process. I started to read the books, not just have them because my sponsor said I needed to buy one. I actually started to get in and read the big book and the basic texts on Narcotics Anonymous. I started to write and journal and think about my feelings and stuff that had happened in my childhood. I got a sponsor. I got clean again. I got out of treatment, got into low-income recovery housing. Stayed away from my wife. Felt pretty good for the first year.
This would have been the beginning of 2010. My mental health started to deteriorate really bad, and I got super depressed. It lasted for a year.
I was living in this little, tiny clean and sober room. It was affordable, because it was just a room. You shared a bathroom, which was across the hall. It had a little kitchenette with a hot plate. It was depressing as it was to be living in a recovery housing situation again, now, at like forty-five years old or whatever I was. I don't know what it was. I don't know if I just rode what they call a "pink cloud" for like the whole first year that I was clean again, but something happened where I could not get out of bed.
I didn't want to get out of bed. I didn't want to do anything. I knew that my recovery and staying clean was dependent on me getting out of the house and getting to a meeting every day, so that's what I did. I just laid in bed and I thought about ways to kill myself, nonstop. Every waking moment that I wasn't sleeping, I was contemplating, "Alright, I could go jump off the bridge," which I did a couple of times. I actually went to the bridge and then, in the moment, decided to reach out and ask for help and call 911.
During that year period, I was dealing with this major depressive disorder—what they used to call a nervous breakdown. It was really severe. They hooked me up with a case manager and a counselor that would come out to my place to visit me and try to get me out of bed and at least get me to walk around the block. When I wanted to get out of bed, I existed on a six inch Subway sandwich a day for that whole year. That's all I would eat. There was a Subway right across the street from the clean and sober building I lived in.
I'd get up once a day. It would take me forty-five minutes, literally, to get clothes on. I was so depressed I couldn't even move, really. I didn't want to move, I just wanted to lay there. I wanted to die, basically. I didn't see a way out and I knew that a way out definitely wasn't going back to drugs. That definitely was firmly embedded in my head now. It's not going to work.
Obviously, I had pretty much given up. I was contemplating every day. I was like, "Oh, I want to die. How can I die? What can I do? Which way can I do it? I don't really have many options left."
Thank god for my counselor and case manager, for coming out and taking me to the grocery store when I couldn't even think to decide what I wanted to eat. That's how bad, mentally, I was. Getting to the store with her was bad enough, but then getting in the store, looking at all the foods, and being faced with all the choices, I was just like—I could never decide what I wanted. She would help me. She was like, "Do you like roast beef? Do you want some roast beef and a loaf of bread or something?"
During that year period, there were quite a few inpatient stays back in the psych ward, because I got so deep that I got really scared that I was going to do something again. Like I said, I did walk to our highest bridge here in Seattle and stood there contemplating jumping off. Now they've put up mesh fencing because it was such a huge problem with people jumping off that bridge. They've suicide-protected it. This was probably right before they put up all that fencing, so I still could've jumped, but there was something in me that didn't really want to, I don't think.
I had worked hard enough [during] the inpatient stays in the psych ward, and worked hard enough with my sponsor, working the twelve steps, that I had just enough hope to keep me going through that year. [I had] a lot of help from the psychiatrists, case manager and counselors, peer support specialists, and everything. I needed the full gamut of support, and I utilized it.
They helped me develop this really simple schedule, like what I was going to do when I got up in the morning. Plan was to get up, do what everybody does: brush your teeth, take a shower, get out of the house, go do something. We figured out something for me to do, like, “Okay, from this time to this time, you're going to go volunteer at the food bank. From this time to this time, you're going to go to the library. From this time to this time, you're going to have this weekly schedule."
I thought that that was cool to me for some reason. Like, "Well, this is all I need to focus on. This is all I'm going to focus on," and I did. I kind of lived my way out of depression with behavioral activation. Even though I didn't feel like going to the food bank to volunteer, I still showed up. Doing that for a couple months—showing up, adhering to that little one piece of paper over a couple months period of time—I naturally started to feel engaged with life again and start feeling a part of things. I was still going to meetings, and I ended up staying clean for almost five years again.
I suffered some health consequences, especially from ingesting so much crack-cocaine in a short period of time that I basically rendered myself impotent. That was another chunk of something that I was dealing with, and I didn't really feel like I could talk to anybody about that. I was just feeling like, "I'm never going to have a girlfriend again, never going to have a successful relationship."
I'm going through this process of coming out of this nervous breakdown and at the same time I learn that I'm not working right anymore. That's when I met [someone] at a meeting and we started dating.
I came to the table right off the bat and said, "This is my story."
She's like, "Well, this isn't about sex for me. I want to be with you. It doesn't matter to me. We'll figure out ways to get around."
I finally talked to my doctor about it and got prescribed Cialis. They found out that, with Cialis, everything was fine. That was a really huge thing for me, and I think that kind of played into that year-long depression, because I was really focused on that, like, "Oh my god. I broke myself. I'm not going to function right anymore in that department."
[She] helped me work through that, and I think that's why I felt so hurt when we split up. One of the reasons I felt so hurt was because I had bared that part of my soul to her. I had not told anybody other than my doctor that I had done this, that I had made myself impotent from smoking so much crack. I think that's why I lashed out as much as I did when we split up, because I shared that really intimate part of me with her, and she was the first girl that I had done that with since discovering that that was the reality.
The progression of my drug addiction and harm that I did to myself through using substances as often and regularly as I did—I finally snapped out of that and got engaged back in life. I started getting back into activities, and we had a good relationship for a while. It only lasted for nine months, but it was good for a while.
Back in 2013, I had some dental stuff present itself. I didn't have really a choice but to end up taking narcotic pain medication. She was in recovery. I was supposedly in recovery, and I did really good at taking prescribed for a while. Then I decided that I was in enough pain that I could take two instead of one, even though the prescription said one. As soon as I did that, I knew that if you don't take them as prescribed, then you don't have a clean date anymore. You're not sober anymore. You're not clean. You took more than what's prescribed on the bottle.
I know this is true for a lot of drug addicts—as soon you put a chemical into your body, it kind of has this thing—I don't know if you know people who drink like this, like they ingest a drink and all of a sudden, they go from being Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde. As soon as I put any kind of substance in my body, I pretty much went from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, and just drove her right out the door. I know that now. I didn't see it at the time; I couldn't understand why she was leaving.
We had moved in together, so not only was it threatening her recovery with me abusing the pain medication, but I was being severely mentally and verbally abusive at the same time with her. That was a huge moment, when we split up. I cried every day for the first thirty days, bawling like a little baby. I was so in love with her.
Even while I was going through that, I don't remember having any thoughts of wanting to check out or wanting to die or anything. It just hurt and hurt really bad, but I've been through it before. It had been a long time since I'd had my heart broken that bad, but I made it through it. I talked to people in the program, got off the pain medication and got on some non-narcotic pain medications.
[Then I had a bicycle accident], and I didn't end up on narcotic pain medication. That's when they kept me going on the non-narcotic pain medication, which I still take today because my back is still screwed up, and I deal with chronic pain now on a daily basis. [Since then], I've been struggling with more dental stuff coming up, and trying to figure out what happened to my back when I crashed my bicycle, which is still undiagnosed.
I ended up losing the apartment that I had because I had a low-income like a HUD subsidy voucher, which was paying the majority of my rent. When she moved in, I decided to do the right thing and give the voucher up to somebody else because she was paying half the rent, so I didn't need to have the HUD voucher anymore.
She split a couple months after moving in with me, and I was stuck with the full rent amount. I didn't have my voucher anymore and couldn't get it back. Then the building got sold, and there's all this gentrification stuff going on in Seattle so there's no rent control. [The new landlords raised the rent by 70%]. Last minute, I ended up where I'm living now, in a basement unit in West Seattle, but it's affordable. I got back on some waiting lists for some work vouchers for HUD housing subsidies and I just got notice on January 1st from the people I'm living with that they're going to repurpose the rooms down in the basement, they're not going to rent anybody anymore, and they said, "We'll give you ninety days instead of the usual thirty days. We'll give you an extra couple months to find a place."
I was like, "Okay, well. What am I going to do? Where am I going to go? I don't have a housing voucher. I'm on disability."
I started to get kind of bummed out and got depressed, and that's been going on still. It's been a lot to deal with—facing moving, having more dental stuff happen for the third year in a row. The dental stuff found me needing to be on progressively stronger antibiotics. That totally wreaked havoc with the rest of my body. The antibiotics killed off all the good stuff, as well as all the bad stuff. I had to get these really strong probiotics to set things right again. Right as I came out of that, I came out the other end of a really bad cold. It's been back to back stuff.
For 2016, I haven't had very many good days this year so far. Either my back is really bad or I'm dealing with dental pain. On top of this, I'm facing not knowing where I'm going to live. But a couple weeks after telling me that I needed to move out, after waiting on the wait list for five years, I finally got a notice that a unit in one of the buildings I've been waiting for is available. I've done all the legwork and did the application for the HUD voucher and everything. It looks like I got approved, so I'm going to have a new apartment up here on Capitol Hill, which is cool.
To be honest, in the past couple weeks, I've spent a whole lot of time in bed, back feeling in that place where I feel like I'm heading towards a nervous breakdown again. It's just all so much, and I'm trying to stay afloat. I'm trying to stick to the basics like they teach you in the program—do the next indicated thing. Brush your teeth and don't worry about what you have to do. When you get done brushing your teeth, maybe start thinking about what you can do next, but just do the brushing your teeth thing. I've been having to apply that stuff. I've been having to write down what I'm going to do each day to stay busy, because that bed's been calling me. That depression's been calling me. I've had a lot of suicide ideation for the past couple months.
I've had a couple dates, but I haven't had relationships since the break up in 2013. I start to feel like something's wrong with me. I think, “Can women just look at me and tell I'm broken or something? Am I not lovable anymore?" I've never had a problem in the girlfriend department before in my entire life.
Once again, it's just compounded stuff happening, and I don't have the best coping skills. I mean, that's obvious; when things get hard, I turn to suicide, I turn to drugs, or I turn to something. Most recently, after not actively playing in bands for fifteen years, I decided that, "Well, if I'm going to turn to something, why not turn to something that used to make me happy and that I used to love doing?" I've done it sober before and had fun doing it sober as much as I did not doing it sober. I needed something, so I returned to playing in bands again. It's been great. It's been really hard, with being depressed, as I have been recently, but it's just like showing up for a meeting. You feel like you don't want to live anymore or you want to use drugs or something, and you just simply go sit through an hour and a half meeting. You walk out and you feel better.
I don't know how to explain that. You might just sit there in your head the whole time, passing judgment on everybody in the room, like, "Look at that guy. He thinks he's so cool. He's Joe Recovery, and he's got it all down." You could not even pay attention to people sharing, [but] just the act of going there and sitting there, there's some healing that happens. Even though I'm depressed and I don't feel like getting out of bed, I just get out of bed and go to band practice.
Sure enough, it works the same way, kind of. I leave and I feel better. I'm with people, I'm doing something I love. That's been keeping me going, doing that stuff that they taught me—getting out of bed and going to do something, no matter if you don't feel like it. You just go do it anyways. Behavioral activation is what they called it in the hospital. It's like, "Live your way into a new way of feeling," basically. It's been hard. I don't think I'm out of the woods, especially as of recently. My thought process has been focused on not wanting to be around anymore, because sometimes it gets too much.
Des: Is suicide still an option for you?
Bob: Yeah, it's an option, and I don't like it. I was talking to my psychiatrist the other day. I don't like the fact that, whenever I get the slightest little bit depressed, the suicide ideation kicks in now. It's like they're one in the same. I can't just have depression now. It goes to the extreme right away. Especially when you get a bunch of stuff happening in your life at one time, it's just like, "Oh my god! I can't deal with this." I'm conditioned now to think that's an option.
And it is, you know? It definitely is. I'll be straight up, I'm not somebody who's going to deal with a bunch of health issues as I get older. I don't want to be sick and having to have a bunch of surgeries or whatever, to have to go through a bunch of health stuff. I'm already going through it at fifty-two. So, I don't know. I'm still here, right?
Des: It's a good day!
Bob: Yeah, it is a good day. Another thing that's really helped me is gratitude, trying to always find something to be grateful for. I don't have a lot of money to buy all the nice, cool clothes that I would want to wear, but I'm grateful I'm not running around in hospital pajamas. I've got a bed to go lay on when I get done here. I've got some food to eat. I just try to find the little things to be grateful for, to keep me going.
If you're hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out to one of the resources below. Someone will reach back. Please stay. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can't feel it—and you are worth your life.
You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada), or The Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. If you don't like talking on the phone, you can reach Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or check out Lifeline Crisis Chat. If you’d like to talk to a peer, warmline.org contains links to warmlines in every state. If you're not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world.
Bob's story is sponsored by a grant from To Write Love On Her Arms. Thanks also to Andy Dinsmore for providing the transcription to Bob's interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.
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