He Said He Would Never Harm Himself
He "caught" a heroin habit
Jake "caught" a heroin habit when he was in Viet Nam. Despite that he earned some service medals; good conduct, riflery. While helping to evacuate another soldier he was wounded and got a purple heart. As soon as he got back to the States, in heavy opioid withdrawal, he checked himself into a VA hospital and worked hard to kick his habit. He never went back to heroin once he was out of treatment that first time. However, he did get into drinking heavily and ended up back in rehab. It was during his third and final rehab stay for alcohol that I met Jake.
Alcohol was next
Jake got married the day after high school graduation and headed for boot camp a month later. He came back to a wife and a son. Two more little ones followed. Jake was a skilled welder and easily found work. People needed him, but they didn’t need his bottle. He lost jobs. He ended up in jail a couple of times for disorderly conduct and public intoxication. His wife threatened divorce. He knew something had to change and stay changed. Everyone was disgusted with Jake including Jake.
So when he checked into a drug and alcohol treatment program the last time, Jake was ready. AA and other 12 step groups tell you you have to “hit rock bottom” in order to stay clean and sober and he was pretty sure that’s where he was. He hadn’t lost his wife and kids, but if he didn't get sober, he was pretty sure he would.
Jake worked hard at getting and staying sober. He saw me weekly and told me about his guilt and self loathing as a result of his drug and alcohol use. He did what we recommend but most addicts don’t do. That is, he made a plan to help him avoid relapse. Part of the plan was to see me as an out patient. He did this without fail. When the time came to leave rehab and return to his family, Jake was optimistic that he had turned his life around.
Teaching students about addiction
When Jake had been sober for 15 months I asked him to let me interview him for a medical school class studying substance abuse. Often times people, including medical students and doctors, only see the addict. They don’t see the person underneath the alcohol or the other drugs. Jake was a genuinely nice guy. He was the perfect person to show the students that nice guys can get big bad habits too.
Jake told the students about heroin in Southeast Asia. He talked about being an eighteen year old child thrown into a man's world. He told them how hard it is to kick a habit. And he told them that getting help and working the program had saved his life.
We made a teaching film. Sometimes he came to the classes himself. The students asked him questions. He answered them and handled himself well. He was a favorite. Everybody liked him. He was sober and working. He loved helping students understand that this was a person who had the disease of alcoholism, he wasn’t just a drunk.
Jake told me that teaching students was a high point. The rest of his life, though was slowly falling apart.
Relationship not the same
Jake was more down the last few times I saw him, but he denied depression. He and his wife weren’t getting along. He’d always thought all their problems were because of him and his using, but that clearly wasn’t the case. They’d been together since high school. Neither one of them had had much experience with other people and his wife had actually never been outside the state. When he went to war she went to live with her parents and bear their first child. She wanted freedom and fun.
Plus, she was letting out all her anger from his using days. She reminded him constantly, or so it seemed, of the things he’d done and said when he was under the influence. I asked about couples’ therapy but she wouldn’t do it, he said.
Jake and I discussed the change in his relationship with his wife. It’s a common theme. When he was drinking and drugging, he was constantly apologizing for his behavior, some of which he couldn’t remember. He bought his wife flowers, gifts, insisted she go out and spoil herself. Now that he wasn’t using he was watching their finances more and realized that she spent everything he made and more so the debts were piling up. He wasn’t apologizing anymore and they fought often.
She threatened divorce.
I asked Jake what he would he do if they did divorce. Could he accept that? His reply was that he would have no choice. He had kids to think of and their future. He would survive.
On the second anniversary of his getting sober, Jake killed himself with a gunshot wound to the head. His wife called me two weeks later to let me know.
Image of poppies by: crbellette
Image of drinker by: Bialasiewicz
Image of classroom by: lisafx
Image of gun by: DenisKa