Michael Aligis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I Survived a Suicide Attempt."
My name is Michael Alig. I’m 48 and I don’t really do anything right now. I used to do things.
At one point, I helped spearhead this youth movement called the Club Kids that gained notoriety in the 80’s and 90’s. Then I committed an awful crime and went to prison, and now I’m home. I’ve only been home for a week, so I don’t have a job yet.
[When I attempted suicide the first time], I was 18 years old and I was in college. I went to Fordham University and I had just gone through a really, really terrible breakup. You couldn’t even consider it a breakup because he didn’t communicate with me at all.
It was my first love. I was in high school and I met him when I was 15. We were just friends. I didn’t meet him with any intention of falling in love with him. We were just best friends, and I think that made the bond even more powerful because we weren’t expecting it, and it just happened with both of us. All of a sudden, we both realized that we were in love with each other. When I first met him and was friends with him, I wasn’t attracted to him sexually or physically, but once I fell in love with him, he became the most beautiful boy in the whole school.
We were just inseparable for a couple years, and every single day, I would go over to his house or he would come over to my house, or we would go out and ride bikes and just look for any way to spend any kind of quality time together. I spent the night at his house once and he spent the night at my house once and those are probably two of the most magical nights I can remember from all of my growing up years. It was just unbelievable to me that somebody who, in my mind, was so smart and so beautiful and so caring and just an all around great person, could love me. It was just unbelievable. I felt so grateful.
We were planning on going to college together. We were gonna go to Fordham. We were gonna go to Purdue. We had both applied and we had both been accepted, but his father was laid off unexpectedly and it caused kind of a turmoil in their household… So, he was home more often than he normally would be.
One day we were in their downstairs family room. I was lying on the couch on my back and he was sort of laying on top of me in his underwear, and we were just kind of fooling around. We never had sex. We always almost had sex, but never had sex, which maybe is one of the reasons why I romanticized the relationship so much. It was never consummated. But he was laying on top of me and kissing my neck and rubbing up against me, and his father walked in. The garage led right into the family room and his father walked in and saw everything.
Jeff jumped up—that was his name, Jeff—and his father said in a very stern voice, “If you boys want to wrestle, go outside.”
He went upstairs and, five minutes later, he came downstairs with a newspaper and sat in the chair right across the couch from where we were and just started reading the newspaper. In the two years I’d been going over to his house, every day his parents always left us alone. They were upstairs. They never even questioned anything and then he was sitting there, right across from us. I had a very bad feeling when I left the house that day.
The next day in school, he acted like he didn’t even know who I was. I would give anything to hear what his father said to him, whether it was a threat or… I just can’t imagine. We had always discussed these kinds of things, like what would ever happen if something were to take us away from each other or split us up or anything, if one of us had to move or anything. We were literally counting down the days until we could go to college when we could spend time together. I was just completely shocked. We were so unbelievably close. We were really the same person, finishing each other’s sentences and everything.
So when I went to school and he wouldn’t even acknowledge me, I was numb. I couldn’t pay attention to whatever was going on in class and I was just waiting for the bell to ring so I could see him out in the hallway and try again. I just kept trying and trying. Then, when I saw him in study hall, we were on opposite sides of the room. I got up and went over and talked to him. He was playing a video game on his watch, which was unusual, because normally we were writing notes to each other or making faces at each other or whatever.
I said, “What is going? Why are you ignoring me?” He continued to ignore me, and I said, “I cannot do this. You’ve got to tell me something. I cannot do this.”
He just looked up at me and he said, “You can do it.”
That was the last thing he ever said to me.
Then he went to college and I obviously couldn’t go. I obviously couldn’t go to Purdue anymore after that because I couldn’t look at him. I had to finish the rest of my senior year. I was one of the top one percent of the school and, even in the country, I was always in the top two percent. We were both up there, and I went from getting straight A’s to all of a sudden, I couldn’t—I didn’t care really about school or anything.
I got a scholarship to Fordham anyway. I guess they were looking at my old grades. I was kind of excited to move to New York just to get away, but not really, because I didn’t actually want to go away. I wanted to stay and see what was going on with Jeff. Maybe when we were out of town or something, away from his father’s view, he would come back.
I hated them all for hating me. It was just a terrible situation.
But I went to college. I moved to New York in August of 1984, and I had a really bad roommate situation. There were four of us living in the dorm and it was me and this awful Archie Bunker type homophobic bigot and a black NOI (Nation of Islam) guy and a foreign exchange student from Puerto Rico who didn’t speak any English. The NOI hated me because I was gay. The bigot hated me because I was gay. The bigot hated the NOI and the Puerto Rican because they were black and Spanish. I hated them all for hating me. It was just a terrible situation.
One day I came back from theology to find my photo album open, and “faggot” was written with a black permanent marker on all the pictures all of my photos of the family and my ex and everybody. I flipped out and went through all their closets and stuff and ripped up all their clothes and broke all their records.
When they came back from class, I was sitting on the floor pretending to be upset and I said, “Oh my gosh, you guys. We’ve been vandalized. Look what they did to my photo album.”
After that, I had to move out. I got an apartment across the street, and when I got this apartment across the street—it was in the Bronx—I got to know a lot of the neighborhood people. I was friends with this other girl in school, the only gay person I knew at Fordham. It’s a Catholic college. Her name was Stacy and she was kind of in the same boat I was. She was very lonely and came from a small town and felt like she would never meet anybody either, that she would be alone forever. That sounds ridiculous but that’s what you think. We started going out to nightclubs and we made a deal.
Oh, and then I made another friend—this girl Delilah, who lived in the Bronx, right down the street. Stacy went to my college, but Delilah lived in the Bronx. Her name was D. Me and Stacy and D would go out every single night, and D felt the same way too. She was 17, living in the Bronx. She was black and her family was very anti-gay. She couldn’t let them know that she was gay.
So we would go out to clubs and I made a deal with them and they made a deal with me. We were all so shy that we couldn’t approach anybody because we were afraid of rejection. So they said if I saw a guy I liked, they would approach them for me, and I’d do vice versa with a girl. It sounds crazy. We were all so codependent, we just felt like we had to be in a relationship.
Before that, we literally went and stood on a corner in front of White Castle on Fordham Road. I pointed out guys that I liked and they pointed out girls that they liked, and we would just walk up to them and ask them, “Do you want to meet my friend? Do you want to meet my friend?”
We actually got some takers. One Puerto Rican boy came home with me. It was fun and everything was a diversion to get me not to think of Jeff, but nobody would ever take his place. We started going to nightclubs. We were at a club called Danceteria, and I saw what I just thought was the most beautiful Dominican boy. He looked very sensitive and cuddly. He was 17 and I was 18. I thought there was no way he could possibly be gay, but D went up to him and she asked him if he was gay and if he wanted to meet me.
He said, “No, why would you think that?”
But then five minutes later, he was motioning for me to go meet him in the bathroom. I did, and he said that he would meet me the next day at my house, because we lived close to each other in the Bronx. I met him, and long story short, we started going out. We felt very good with each other, and he kind of made me forget about [my first love], for the most part, because he just seemed so caring and compassionate. I really needed that affection. I loved giving it to him. I cooked for him.
One day, he snuck me in his house. He wanted me to come over and spend the night. He lived on 242nd Street. I went over and I spent the night.
The next morning his sisters and mother said, “Did you have a gay person sleeping in your room last night?”
They didn’t know about him. He said no, but again, I had a really bad feeling leaving that house. The next day it was the same thing.
He said, “I’m sorry, Michael.”
But at least he was big enough to talk to me about it. He said, “I’m sorry, Michael. I can’t do this to my family.”
He wasn’t ready for his family to know and he just said, “It’s not gonna work.”
He saw that I was visibly very upset and I remember he said, “I never said this was gonna last forever.”
Hearing that coming from him was just so upsetting because in my mind, yes, it was gonna last forever, just like [my first love] was supposed to last forever. So I went home and I just thought that this would happen over and over again and I didn’t think I would be able to do it again after what I had gone through with [my first love]. I just didn’t think I could.
And again, my grades in school started dropping. I couldn’t concentrate on anything in school. I was already taking antidepressants. I was taking Elavil, which the doctor in Indiana prescribed for me because he thought I had depression, but it wasn’t depression. I mean, I was depressed, but I was depressed for a reason.
Then I took yellow Post-It notes and I posted them all over my house, giving away my stuff, like my stereo, and stuff that I thought people would want.
So anyway, I [attempted suicide]. I left a note for George—that was his name, the boy—not blaming him or anything, but explaining the situation, and that it really wasn’t him. It was just the situation. Then I took yellow Post-It notes and I posted them all over my house, giving away my stuff, like my stereo, and stuff that I thought people would want. I don’t remember what happened after that.
I woke up in my friend Stephanie’s room. Stephanie was Stacy’s friend from Fordham. I woke up in her room at college. She lived on campus, and it was an all girls dorm, so I don’t know how they got me in because men weren’t allowed to be in there. They were hiding me, but somehow they maybe convinced them there was something with [me], they had to let [me] in. They must have carried me in too, because I don’t remember going over there and it was quite a distance from my house.
I woke up and it was days later, many days later, and I was very disoriented. I didn’t know what had happened and I didn’t know why I was there. Everybody in the dorm was telling me that was I walking around the dorm, kind of sleepwalking, saying nonsense, with my eyes closed sometimes. It was just very, very, very strange. When I woke up, George was there, which I thought was very nice, so it made me think that at least he cared. Or maybe he just didn’t want to be responsible. I don’t know. But he was there. We’re still friends to this day, which is more than I can say for the coward Jeff. Again, even when I woke up, I wasn’t better. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, well, I got over it. I’m gonna go now.’ It took me a long, long, long, long time. In fact, I still couldn’t focus on my school or anything, so that was one of the reasons why I dropped out. I just could not study art history and theology when I was thinking about this stuff. So I quit college…
There’s a leap here, but fast forward to just four years later, I was on the cover of New York Magazine and riding this wave of celebrity and fame and fortune and success. I had a great boyfriend and everything. Life got better. I didn’t think it would ever get better. I thought I would be feeling that way for the rest of my life. I thought I would be affected by Jeff and George for the rest of my life. And I am affected by them for the rest of my life, but it’s not in that dire way, that desolate, hopeless way. That sense of hopelessness—I don’t have that anymore. And I met somebody else. I met my boyfriend Keoki, and we dated for a very long time. We were very happy. We bought a loft in Chelsea and kind of like lived a dream life. I’m glad that I survived…
Des: Was that your only attempt?
Michael: No. The second one was in 1994, and weirdly enough, Jeff was involved again. It had been ten years since I had spoken to him, and I had broken up with Keoki and become addicted to drugs. After that breakup, I replaced my quest for love with heroin and all the other drugs because they made me feel like I didn’t need love. And I didn’t. When I was on heroin and cocaine, Special K, Rohypnol and ecstasy and whatever else, I wasn’t thinking about being in love. I was just content. But it led to this awful drug addiction—that was the replacement for relationships.
I had been out at a club all night long, as usual, and I ended up a party at the Paramount Hotel. I was making a lot of money. I lived in a beautiful loft and yet I never had any money because I was spending it all on drugs or was wasting it. I had ten dollars to my name at this hotel and the party had dwindled down to just me. I was the last person to be awake. It was three days later, so I took a cab home and I had two dollars left.
I stopped in a deli to get some cat food, and while I was in the deli, I saw the cover of either Cosmopolitan or one of those women’s magazines that said, “Are you still in love with your high school sweetheart?”
I was like, ‘Yes, I am.’
It reminded me of Jeff. I had taken a lot of Rohypnol, which is a very powerful downer—like a Xanax—and I was on Special K and cocaine and everything else, and I was addicted to heroin at that time. I just got it in my mind that I had to go upstairs and find him somehow. I had to go do some research on the phone and find him. I went up and I found his older brother.
I called him and I said, “Hi, it’s Michael, Jeff’s old…” Just to get Jeff, I said, “Jeff’s old boyfriend. Do you know where Jeff lives now?”
He said, “Jeff is married and he is living…”
I [don’t remember which city he was living in], and I don’t remember whether he gave me the number or I called information, but I got the number. I did a huge bump of Special K—a confidence-boosting bump of Special K—before I made the phone call. I remember making the phone call. He answered, and I recognized his voice, and I said it was Michael.
He said, “Michael who?”
I said, “Michael from high school.”
I could tell he was just floored, shocked in a bad way, like I was there to destroy his life or something. I could hear his wife in the background asking who it was, or a woman’s voice in the background asking who it was, and telling him to hurry up, they had to go somewhere. I was feeling myself kind of slipping into a K-hole, and I did some cocaine in order to counteract the K. I think he heard it. It seemed like he heard it.
He was like, “I have to go.”
I was like, “Well, can I call you later another time?”
He said, “I don’t think so,” and he hung up.
When he hung up, I realized that, not only was I depressed—even more depressed now—but I was dope sick. I didn’t have any money for heroin and I didn’t have any money for a cab to get there. It was on 23rd Street and it was sleeting outside. My left foot had gone numb for some reason. I was sitting on it all night long in this hotel, and high on drugs, passed out on whatever, and my foot was numb. I was limping because I couldn’t feel anything down there. I remember having to walk in the sleet with the numb foot to 23rd Street, and I was so zonked out from the Special K and Rohypnol that I couldn’t buy heroin unless I did more cocaine.
I thought to myself, ‘This is just so fucked up. I can’t believe I’m living like this.’
My foot was numb and I was walking in the sleet to go down to 23rd Street to beg the heroin dealer to give me credit and then lend me five dollars for a cab home because my foot was too numb to walk.
I was like, ‘What the hell am I doing here?’
So I came back and I [attempted suicide again].
I was just like, ‘I can’t. I’m a mess.’
I just did it, thinking I would either numb myself to the point where I didn’t care or maybe I would die, so it wasn’t like I definitely want to die. I did twice as much as I normally did, thinking that maybe I would, and if I did, I wouldn’t care. If I didn’t, then I wouldn’t care either. I did wake up again a couple days later. Now I had upped my tolerance of heroin to double the amount, and that kind of spiraled out of control too. My life just fell apart, and then I committed this awful crime. They foreclosed on my apartment, and on my loft. I committed this awful crime and went to jail.
You don’t feel anything and you don’t really react in an emotional way to anything.
Even in jail, I continued using drugs because I couldn’t face what I had done and what I had allowed my life to become, how something that we had started that was so positive and was helping other people and making such a huge positive difference in people’s lives had turned into something that was the antithesis of that—so desolate and dark and hopeless. I continued using drugs. People would do stories about me or whatever, and they would interview me, and it would look like I didn’t care, like I was just sort of blasé about it. They would think that it was because I was a sociopath, but the reality was that I was just on heroin the whole time, so much so that I wasn’t feeling anything. That’s what heroin does. You don’t feel anything and you don’t really react in an emotional way to anything. I would stop heroin and I’d go through the withdrawal.
My therapist would say, “If you stop using drugs, you’ll feel better again. You’ll feel like your old self.”
I would stop, and then in two weeks in, when I didn’t feel myself again, I’d be like, ‘Well, this isn’t working.’
Then I would start up again. So I would stop and start, stop and start for many, many, many years. It wasn’t until 2009 that I finally stopped.
My therapist said, you know, “The reason people in the media are saying you’re a sociopath is because you continue to use drugs even though you know that you committed a crime on them.”
She said, “I understand why you’re doing it.”
The symptoms of being a sociopath mimic the symptoms of drug addiction. It’s selfishness and self-centeredness and manipulativeness and lying and all of those things. I wasn’t that way before I used drugs and I’m not that way now.
She said that, you know, “This is the reason why they’re calling you that. It’s because that’s what it looks like.”
When she said that, I thought, ‘I can’t believe nobody said that to me earlier. I can’t believe that I didn’t see it myself,’ but again, I was just so high on drugs that it didn’t dawn on me.
When people were saying that [about me], I was like, ‘Where are they getting this? I couldn’t care more than I care.’
But it didn’t come back. My brain didn’t get rewired right away. The therapist kept saying that it might be six months or twelve months, and it wasn’t even twelve months. It was more like three years it took for it to really get to the point where I could have a conversation with people again without being on drugs, because I needed drugs to communicate with people. It really took three or four years, but now I’m able to communicate again and I’m not so crazy desperate for a relationship. Now that I’m nearly a senior citizen, I’m no longer this codependent basketcase, this needy basketcase that I used to be, so it has sort of a good ending—not for the victim of my crime or his family, obviously, but things did get better.
Des: Was that your last attempt?
Michael: There were other accidental overdoses, but nothing where it was a conscious [decision], and in a way, a lot of those accidental overdoses were kind of stemming from this death wish to use drugs until [I died so I wouldn’t] have to feel anything.
Des: Were you in therapy the entire time that you were in prison?
Michael: Yes, but I wasn’t really paying attention to it or taking it very seriously until the end because I didn’t believe my therapist. I didn’t believe anybody when they told me that I would ever get to a point where I didn’t think about drugs every minute and I didn’t need heroin to make me feel warm and comfortable and content and loved and all of those things. I felt that I would never get to that point again unless somebody like Jeff would come back in my life. I was still thinking that, maybe when I go home, if I make a lot of money and I buy a house, I’ll set him up and he won’t have to work. Maybe then he’ll leave his wife. [I still had this desperate hope, and I thought it was] the only thing that would make me feel better. And you know what? Right now, if he did that, I wouldn’t be very excited by it at all. Would I want to maybe see him again and have dinner? Yeah, but I’m just not the same person that I was.
Des: How easy or how difficult was it to get health care—therapy—in prison?
Michael: They can kind of tell. What I was really surprised by, and this helped perpetuate my recovery, was if they see that you care about it, most of them in prison would go the extra mile to give you extra care and extra help in getting to where you needed to be. You’re supposed to only get 15 minutes. Each inmate’s supposed to only get 15 minutes of therapy but, by the end, my therapist was giving me an hour, an hour and a half, whatever I needed, because he would give me assignments and I would go home and do them, or go to my room and do them.
I would write the essays and answer the questions very truthfully because maybe I wanted to prove him wrong a little bit, but I also thought, ‘You know, let’s try it. Let’s try what he says.’
The therapy was very enlightening into why I do the things I do or why I feel the way I do.
The therapy was very enlightening into why I do the things I do or why I feel the way I do. When I was arrested, I didn’t have the self-confidence or—I didn’t really know who I was and so, in my mind, I was whatever the media said I was. If the media said I was a genius or a creative artist or whatever, then that’s what I was. If they said that I was a sociopath, then that’s what I was. I discussed that with my therapist and learned that that was because I didn’t know who I was. Now I do know, and I did know who I was, but I didn’t trust my own feelings of who I was. I thought, ‘Well, even though I feel like a good person, if the Village Voice is saying that I’m a sociopath then surely they must know. They’re smarter than I am. I dropped out of college. They must recognize something in me that I don’t know about.’
Now I know more to trust my own instincts and my own feelings, because nobody knows me better than I do. Now I know to trust my own feelings. Whatever other people say about me is more on them and doesn’t really have anything to do with me, other than the fact that it may steer people in the wrong direction or give people the wrong idea, the wrong impression of who I am.
Des: Do you still have suicidal thoughts?
Michael: Yes. I think about it as my escape hatch, like if things ever got too bad, that that’s what I would do. Yeah, I do. But in a way, in a very weird, kind of paradoxical way, knowing that I have that option takes a lot of stress away from me and a lot of anxiety away from me. It makes it easier to handle disappointments and rejection and all of those things that I normally—that I didn’t used to be able to handle.
Now that I know, ‘Well, if things get too bad, I can just do that, I do have a way out,’ I can actually function.
The disappointments and rejection just falls off my back. It rolls off my back.