Thursday, May 1, 2014

Accidental Overdose Was a Seven Year Suicide

Last week, my mom called the medical examiner to see if she could get any results from Ethan's autopsy.

In a lot of medical terminology, it boiled down to accidental overdose.

It was no surprise, and yet the knowledge that he took a fatal dose of over-the-counter cough medication, something he probably always thought of as safe and something he could quit at any time, something most hardcore drug users probably laugh at, just really hit me.

Some part of me, perhaps, had been hoping there was some internal breakdown caused by long term use that could not have been easily averted. He had put his body through so much in 23 years, not just with the drugs themselves but with the seizures, falls and car accidents brought on by the drug use, that there was a chance that it was something else going on for which he needed medical care. He had complained about being in so much pain and hardly able to move, but had not wanted to see a physician. I don't know why that would have made it better in any way, or any more acceptable to think that it was less at his own hands, but at some level, apparently, it did.

Now it's been officially stated, cloaked in terms of toxicity and chemical names and tagged with the word accidental.

Without meaning to do so, without ever putting a gun to his head or blatantly saying "I don't want one more minute of living," Ethan killed himself.

It was a slow, seven-year march to death that began with taking more cough suppressant that the recommended dose. It progressed from making the local pool feel like jello, to psychosis and hallucinations of an alternate reality that were so real he sent texts to "friends" about what he was doing. It went from recreation to addiction and took over his life, crippling him mentally and physically in so many ways. It went from a for some reason desirable NDE (near death experience) to the real thing.

And I was powerless to save him. It was like watching someone drown in slow motion when you had thrown them a lifeline until your arms were tired, and it was still floating right beside them but they wouldn't grab on. It was like pulling them out and drying them off and breathing a sigh of relief, only to turn around and see them back in the water again, just out of reach and going under, but seemingly unconcerned that they weren't going to be able to breathe.

In some ways, it was like he drowned in six inches of water. If he'd only got up, he'd have been fine.

Accidental overdose. I don't know but what that's almost worse than if he'd done it on purpose. If he'd left us one last "damn you all and what you did to me" message in which he railed against life and everything in it, in which he'd tried once more to make us complicit in his choices, at least I'd have known it was a choice. Some people might find that worse, but to me this accidental label is so damn pathetic. He didn't mean to do it, like he never meant to do anything. Really. Every bad thing that happened in his life was an accident or someone else's fault. He could never own up to anything and this is one more thing he isn't responsible for.

After working four months to find some degree of peace with it, and despite the fact the pronouncement was what we all expected, it's made me hurt and most of all angry all over again.

Yes, I'm glad that he didn't commit suicide. Don't get me wrong. I'm sorry that his life was so painful for him and that he wanted to escape so badly that he just kept taking pills; pills that gave him a life inside his head where he was happier, and he needed just a few more to get wherever it was he thought he was going and that turned out to be "tripping" in the bathroom floor on some endless adventure in his mind that took him out of this world forever.

Perhaps knowing that he apparently died high and what he thought of as happy should be a comfort, but it's not.

The fact is, he was probably on that final high when he called me the last time. His speech, which was typically hard to understand when he was high, was so garbled I could only make out a word here and there. Even at that, I disappointed him yet again because I couldn't do what he wanted. I've wished a thousand times I'd said yes. But that wouldn't have made any difference because he was probably dying even then. His body was probably already in the process of shutting down as he made those final calls to me and my mom talking about a Christmas he wouldn't live to see. Or did my no mean he decided to take a few more pills, get a little further away? Would a yes have meant this pain was avoidable, or just a little further down the road?

Is the guilt that I find so easy to pick up the reason that I have wanted a different outcome on his autopsy? Probably.

But the simple fact is that Ethan's reality was painful and a promised Christmas gift would not have changed that, only postponed it with some new distraction. The reality is that Ethan did not see what was wrong with his choices. He did not see that the visions he was chasing were part of a journey that could only end the way it did. He did not want to change and although he could have been around for years more, without wanting to change, he would never have gotten up and saved himself from drowning. The reality is I'm not sure he would have ever wanted to change.

At the same time, as painful as it was living with his addiction, as selfish as it is to wish he had endured it longer, I wish I were still watching him drown and hoping he'd finally decide to get up and save himself.


  1. I'm so sorry Angela, my heart breaks for you this morning. I watched my wife deteriorate into the madness of pharmaceutical opioid addiction for four years. The powerlessness was so frustrating. I held her frail and broken form in my arms on Christmas Eve while she had a terrible seizure just two weeks before she died, likely the result of the benzodiazepines she was taking along with the opioids.

    We all knew what happened when our son found her in the bathtub that night, but somehow getting the medical examiners results three months later brought it all right back. it was like getting kicked in the gut all over again. Oxycodone toxicity, accidental overdose. Those four hateful little words.

    I know that there is nothing I can say to make you feel any better right now, just like there was nothing anyone could say to me. But I do know how you feel, and my thoughts and prayers are with you Angela.

  2. Thank you Glenn. I know it wasn't really a surprise, but all the same, it was a doubly horrible waste. Thank you for understanding. I'm glad you enjoyed your daughter's wedding recently. Those little things.... Things they will miss for the rest of our lives and we'll look around and seek them even when we know they aren't there. Prayers with you as well.

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