Rhianna Brandis a suicide attempt survivor.
"I survived a suicide attempt."
I think acknowledgment and authenticity are two of the most important things when it comes to suicide prevention and talking about your story, so I’ll just start from the beginning.
I was molested as a child, from the time I was six until I was ten, by someone very close to my family. My mother was an alcoholic; she would be passed out and it would happen. She would be in the same room. I was forced to watch porn and do unspeakable acts as a child. My innocence was taken. I felt very disgusting, worthless, and unlovable. I would see these other little girls and wonder, “Does the person that is supposed to love them treat them this way?”
I got my own attorney, a Guardian ad Litem, when I was ten years old. I left and moved in with my dad. I love him with all of my heart, but he has very severe anger issues. He fought in the Vietnam War, so he has some PTSD. His dad was abusive and his dad before him was abusive, so it’s kind of a generational sin, so to say.
I would do big things, like I took the car once when I was fifteen. I was scared to death to call him, but he actually handled it okay. But [if I did] something like leave a washcloth in the sink the washing machine ran into, I would get smacked. Or, one time I uploaded Sims to his computer. He was old school and had a 1980’s computer, so it ran super-slow. He got really mad and he choked me. [There was] some mental abuse as far as, “You’re a slob. You’re worthless.” One of the key things I remember him saying was, “For fifty dollars,” which is what my mom paid in child support, “I don’t have to deal with this shit.”
It was really hard growing up and I hid it. I hid everything. I pretended to be the most happy-go-lucky [person]. They called me “Hyper Girl” in sixth grade. I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. I did the Spartan Cheerleaders skits [from Saturday Night Live] for talent shows. That’s how people remember me: this super happy, athletic, working my butt off, getting good grades type of girl.
Inside, I hated myself.
Inside, I hated myself. I remember being about nine or ten years old and drawing [my dad] as the devil and then drawing Jesus on the other page. [I’d think], “If you’re the savior, you’re gonna help me out of this.” It was a year later that I got that lawyer. I remember taking windbreaker pants and trying to kill myself then. Of course that didn’t work. I got mad, flung them around, and got a black eye from the zipper. Crazy how that happens.
When I turned sixteen, I started drinking. With my mom being an alcoholic, that’s what I thought you did when you got older. I wasn’t of drinking age, but everyone was doing it around me. It was not a huge deal to anyone, but when you’re drinking a fifth of vodka by yourself, it’s kind of a big deal. I numbed my pain with everything from there on.
At sixteen, I met my ex-husband. I knew I loved him right away because he was a bad boy. He was so cute and [there were] all these surface things, but I decided, “Okay, it’s going to be my senior year, we’re not gonna talk. I need some freedom.”
I graduated, went over to his house that night, and started dating him.
He went to jail. I stayed with him, but I went to the University of Wyoming then. I didn’t go to class, and I drank all the time.
I remember driving home—well, I don’t remember driving home—from University of Wyoming to Cheyenne, which is forty-five minutes up and over this scary summit pass, in the snow. I remember almost going off the road. That’s the one image I have of driving home.
I get home and my dad starts yelling at me because I want to go see my boyfriend. He starts yelling at me. We get into this big fight, and all of a sudden we’re on the ground. He pins me with his elbow and his wrist across my shoulders. I started screaming, “Get off me—” [I used] the name of the person who molested me. That was the first time my dad ever heard of it, and he freaked out. A year later, for whatever reason, he told my mom. She told the person and they denied it. Then everyone around me started saying they didn’t believe me, and I just felt sick. I felt like it wasn’t real.
I was still drinking at the time. I started smoking a lot of pot, self-medicating. I hadn’t talked to anyone about it, and didn’t think I really needed to.
My boyfriend and I played at the beer pong championships. We won, and something triggered everything. I’d lost a friend when I was sixteen, in a car accident to a drunk driver. I was playing against the guy that was driving the car that killed her.
That, along with everything with my parents… I went home and I was sobbing. “I’m drunk. I’m an out-of-control mess. My life is completely falling apart, and I feel like nothing.” My boyfriend, instead of helping me out, locked himself in his room.
I just felt this pain. I took [a large amount of pills]. I don’t really remember that; I just remember looking down and seeing the empty bottles. I had had a ton of beer at that point too, so I called my dad and said, “Daddy, I don’t want to die.”
That’s the last thing I remember until I was in the emergency room. They shoved something in my nose, made me throw up, and gave me charcoal. From there, I went to the psych ward for three days. They tested me out on prescription pills. One made me even more suicidal, like I wanted to jump out of the window. They would come check on me to make sure I was sleeping, but they didn’t really talk to me.
I met someone in there who was like, “Well, I came in here because I feel like molesting my child.”
I was like, “What is happening?”
I lied my way out. At that point in time, the behavioral health people from Cheyenne’s hospital did not follow up. They gave me a prescription of some sort; I didn’t fill it.
I went home, back to my boyfriend. Then I got pregnant. I kind of had a come to Jesus moment. [I thought], “Okay, this life is not for me. It’s not just for me. There’s another human being.” Then, my boyfriend left me at seven months pregnant.
Instead of getting sympathy from my dad, he yelled at me and said, “You got yourself into this!”
I kind of had to figure it out from there. I had my oldest son, who’s amazing, wonderful, and the sweetest thing ever. I’ve never felt more loved in my life than I have being a mommy.
After that, I got back with my ex because I felt that’s what I had to do. I felt like he was the only one who would love me. My biggest fear growing up was never being loved, because I never felt it.
I felt like he was the only one who would love me.
I moved out of my apartment. We got a house. When we were moving, I found these little cut up straws. I didn’t do those drugs. I smoked a lot of pot and I drank, but I didn’t ever do coke or anything like that. I didn’t want to. I confronted him on it and he said that he would stop.
I got a management position at a restaurant after my son was six months old. I started working a lot, about seventy to eighty hours a week. [My boyfriend] would have to take care of [my son] when he got off of work. Come to find out years later, he would call me to see when I was going to get home so he could see how much coke he could do. My son was there while that was happening.
We were on again, off again. I was always on, he was sometimes off. I would start doing good without him and then I would fall back into, “Well, he’s the only one who will ever love me.” He started getting in some physical abuse because the coke made him into a different person. He started pawning some of my items, like a ruby and diamond necklace I got from my uncle, my guitar that I was trying to learn to play, and some of my son’s really cool toys, like these night vision goggles his grandpa got him. It was the most random things he would go and sell. It sucked because we had nothing.
He started having a sober moment— and I say “moment.”
Des: Just one.
Rhianna: Just one. He got a really good job and was about four months sober. He was like, “Let’s get married. Let’s do this.”
We were together ten years at that point, on and off. I was like, “Yes! Let’s do this!”
“And then let’s have another baby,” he said. “Let’s get life right!”
I got pregnant and we got married. A week after we got married, he started doing coke again. He didn’t come home and I lost my mind. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I kept it all a secret again. My whole life was a secret again.
I was in this pit of despair again. I was pregnant, so I knew I couldn’t do anything. As much as I wanted to drink or numb myself, I just kept going through the motions. My faith had a lot to do with helping me through.
I had my second son. We were trying to buy a trailer and send him to rehab. I spent all of the little bit of money I had left for the rehab, and he got kicked out.
He came home and I said, “As long as you promise to be sober, we can do this.” About three days later, I found a crack pipe in our bed after I went to go lay our son in there. I nearly stabbed him with it, because at that point I was so angry. He left that night.
Then I found out my mom went into the ICU for alcohol. Her body shut down from all the drinking. I called [my husband], told him what was going on, and had him come over. Three days later, we got into a big fight because I found a little baggie of drugs. I said, “This is it.”
He’s like, “I’m done with you, you’re crazy!” He left me.
At that point, I called my little brother, who’s my best friend, and said, “I don’t want to get out of here. I don’t even want to live anymore. I don’t even know what I did to my life. I feel like I have these two kids and I’m ruining theirs.” There was another near-attempt, and I did start smoking pot and drinking a little bit again.
Then I reached that point of desperation after everything fell out from underneath me. I made a promise with God. I said, “I’m determined to be great for you, not for me. For whatever you have planned for my life, for whatever I’m supposed to do with all of this mess, I know you’ve done it for a reason.”
There’s a Bible verse called Genesis 50:20, and it says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
I didn’t understand what that meant. I was like, “This is just crazy!”
I kind of picked everything back up again. [My husband] disappeared for a while. He would randomly break into the house and steal [things]. One time, he drained the bank account even though he wasn’t on my bank account. I couldn’t do anything.
After I had built some [money] up, I started my own cleaning business, helping elderly people. It was great. I had just started doing really well. After he drained my bank account, his step-mom offered me a place to stay in Austin, so I moved there with the boys. I was in college at the time, studying for a marketing and communications degree. I got a really killer job at a radio station down there. I had the time of my life when I was there. I met my current husband right before I moved. Life just seemed to get better.
I still suffer around November and December, around my birthday. I’ll have these thoughts like, “What am I doing here?” Even this last year, I was on my honeymoon in Belize, which we finally got to take. I had a vivid nightmare of him—that face that touched me, that took my innocence, that started this spiral downward. I woke up and thought, “Here it is, twenty years later, and it’s still affecting me this bad! What the hell am I doing here?”
I quit my job at the radio station and jumped into Grace for 2 Brothers, and I know that this is where I’m supposed to be. Sharing my story is how I got connected with you. That’s what we’re here for. These things happen to us and, like Craig Miller said, “These things are happening for a reason.” I’m just going to do whatever I can to stop someone else from feeling the way I was.
Des: That guy is full of feelings, right?
Rhianna: I love him…
Des: Me too.
Rhianna: I see the reason, though, just like he does. I see the reason I’m here. Being a mom is the most joyful thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. I have never been treated better in my life than by my husband right now. I’ve never experienced a true, real love of someone who doesn’t want to hurt me. My dad is amazing, but when he gets in that stage of rage, I wouldn’t put it past him to severely hurt someone.
Things happen, and they suck, but they’re not gonna suck forever. When you have those moments of complete lows, being able to reach out to a support system is amazing.
My favorite word that I use all the time is “brutiful.” Things in life were brutal, but they’re beautiful now because I get to help people.
Things in life were brutal, but they’re beautiful now because I get to help people.
I had some serious spiritual shit happen after [my ex-husband] and my mom. I remember coming in after he left, dropping to my knees right inside my door, and singing, “He loves us, oh how he loves us,” at the top of my lungs. I had a vision that angels were singing in a choir.
On my twenty-seventh birthday, I went to L.A. My best friend lives there. We went out the night before. We had a couple drinks and stayed out way late. [I talked to her friend about how I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my birthday than going to church.]
He picked me up the next morning. All I had was a cup of coffee and a cigarette before we left, but I figured I’d be fine.
We picked up this guy. He was the undertaker. I can’t remember his name. He walked out in this head-to-toe purple suit, silk socks—Steve Harvey-type dude. He put his collard greens in the back of the car.
[My friend had to pick up another friend in Redondo Beach because her car wasn’t working.]
My friend asked, “Are you going to be okay with the undertaker at the church?”
“Sure,” I said. I was in the middle of Compton. He dropped us off, drove away, and the undertaker went up to the door. You could hear them inside. They were worshiping.
The undertaker looks at me and says, “Are you ready for this?”
Me, in my sweater dress and Coach purse. “Yeah, sure,” I said.
“Well, let’s go get some candy around the corner.”
I was like, “What’s that mean? Sure!” We got candy around the corner. I got some Mambas and finally put some food in me.
We go into the church and could have stopped the music, because I definitely was the only white girl in there. Everyone looked… I found a quiet little spot near the back. I was clapping my hands and worshiping when a lady comes to tell me to move closer. I moved to row four. I kept clapping along and worshiping.
It was about hour two when the pastor lady came out and started prophesying over people. The people were falling over and others were putting blankets on them. I thought to myself, “This is nuts! I am way too tired and hungover for this!”
Out of nowhere, she pointed at me. “You! Come here! Yeah, you!”
I went up. She made me raise my hands. She put oil on her hands and started smacking mine. Then she started in on me: “You see dreams and visions, don’t you?”
“Uh, yeah. Doesn’t everyone?”
“You’ll need to start writing that down,” she said.
I’d stopped journaling when I was younger. That’s where I’d write all my hate and stuff down, but when I started hiding everything, I pretended it wasn’t there, so I stopped writing. I thought, “Well, she could have said that to anyone.”
She said, “You’re going to be a source of inspiration and faith to someone. She’s got a dog.”
I thought, “That could be so many people.”
She said, “She treats her dog like a baby.”
My best friend [who I was visiting] in L.A. has a dog named Peanut, and she will feed it chicken and cauliflower. She will give it a bath, sit it on the couch in its towel and say, “Hey, little Peenie Weenie!” Like a little baby.
Then the pastor told me about the dreams and visions. She told me about the one with the angels singing. She said, “He does love you. I saw those angels singing. I see it now.”
Next thing I knew, I was waking up on the floor with the stinking blanket on me! I chalked it up to being exhausted, like I couldn’t handle it or got overwhelmed. I folded up my blanket and sat back down. It was about hour three now. One of the ladies next to me was on crutches.
The preacher lady started preaching and said, “You come in here a-limpin’ with the weight of the world on your shoulders. You lay it at Jesus’s feet and you leave a-leapin’! I need you to tell everyone, “You’re leavin’ here leapin’!””
We were all looking at each other. We were saying, “You’re gonna leave here leapin’! You’re gonna leave here leapin’!”
She was going around touching people. They were falling. We worshiped some more. It was hour four. We were getting down. She was preaching and yelled, “And I tell ya here like you are!”
She looked at all of us and said, “I need someone to leap! She looked around. “I need someone to leap!”
Before I knew it, I was up there leaping around like a little ballerina. I used to take dance, so I was really leaping around like a ballerina. I grabbed people’s hands, jumped up, and leaped with them.
Afterward, little girls asked me if I was a real ballerina. I said, “No, but you can leap like that, too.”
I waited for my friend to get done talking with everyone. It was five hours long and really intense. We had to take the undertaker to play the organ at a different church. After we finally found it, we had to take his other friend back home to Redondo Beach.
When we got there, I said we should take a look at her car really quick. My friend looked at the car and asked her to try to start it. It started right up. They were surprised. “That did not happen this morning!” she said. It was crazy.
I got out of the car and sniffed the air. I said, “It smells like the ocean.”
She said, “Yeah, it’s about a mile down that way.”
I said, “I need to go. My soul needs to go.” This was in November. Everything with my mom and ex-husband had happened five months earlier.
We said goodbye to her and drove to the beach. We walked at sunset. I leaped all across the beach with the ocean waves. I did cartwheels. It was my twenty-seventh birthday, and it was the most spiritual, magical moment of being free.
At one point, the preacher did say, “If you’re holding onto someone limping, that’s going to affect your leap.” I was still holding onto my ex-husband. I was still holding onto all this shit in my life, these things I thought defined me. That was my pivotal moment of, “I choose what defines me. I can turn this around. This is my life. I’m no longer going to let anyone else’s shit affect mine. I am in control, and I am going to do this.”
I did. Boom. I graduated college with four jobs and two boys. I did it. Crazy, right?
Rhianna’s story is sponsored by a grant from the hope & grace fund, a project of New Venture Fund in partnership with global women’s skincare brand, philosophy, inc. Thanks also to Sarah Fleming for providing the transcription to Rhianna’s interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.