The news broke yesterday that Dolores O’Riordan, beloved singer of The Cranberries, died from accidental drowning due to alcohol intoxication. She passed away in January, but the cause of death had just been released. Her death hit me hard because she has always been one of my favorite singers and I love what she stood for. “Dreams” by the Cranberries is what got me through my move to another state when I was just 19. Her haunting voice and passionate lyrics inspired me and soothed me and still gives me goosebumps. In my eyes, she was a perfectly beautiful, bold Rockstar. I sang “Zombie” at the top of my lungs just last weekend. She had her demons, though I don’t think the world knew just how powerful and relentless they were.
Dolores was open about her mental health. She didn’t hide her issues and was vocal about her struggles. She suffered abuse in many forms in her short life and publicly stated that the painful memories would often become too much to bear, and she would hit the bottle. She admitted to terrible self-loathing and attempted overdosing. She wanted to get better. I believe that. She wanted to be there for her children. Her children gave her purpose. She once said, “When I got pregnant, I started singing again. I literally mean having this amazing human life, and our relationship in the sense of mother and child, redeemed my soul”. She sought help and healing, but something still went horribly wrong.
For weeks now, I’ve been wanting to write about self-medicating, I just didn’t know how or where to start. It’s another one of those subjects that carries shame with it. I was staring at my computer, contemplating what to write about and I took a break to catch up on the news. As fate would have it, there it was in bold print along with a picture of her and suddenly I was overcome with all kinds of emotions. She died in her bathtub after getting drunk. I was not expecting this. At the same time, a dear friend of mine emailed me and we compared notes on our own drunken bathtub, self-sabotaging nights. This is a real problem and it’s happening more and more all the time.
I self-medicate. In some form, every night, I force myself asleep without allowing worry to make its way in. It’s never just a melatonin and some tea. It’s also a Xanax, some alcohol, at one point it was both. In the past, on the weekends, being drunk wasn’t enough. I had to completely black out to escape whatever was tormenting me. So, I would add a Xanax or two and forget about life for a while, until I would wake up the next day wondering what the hell happened. One morning, I woke up around 10, on my bathroom floor. I had locked the door. The bath tub was full of cold water. My kids were downstairs playing. I have no idea how long I was in that bath tub or how I even got out of the water.
I started therapy and was asked several times if I was suicidal. I would take offense. I have children and I would never want to leave them motherless. That was my go-to response. Yet I couldn’t explain why I would be so dangerous to myself, especially when drinking. I’m not suicidal, but the thought of not wanting to “be” was sometimes overwhelming. How does that even make sense? Was there a part of me, deep down, that really didn’t want to wake up the next day? The thought shakes me to my core. And reading about what really happened with Dolores hit a little too close to home. Because I get it.
I don’t know that Dolores got into the bath tub that night with the purposeful intention of drowning. I don’t know what was going on in her tormented, tortured mind. I don’t even know that she was feeling depressed that night. The nights I used to fade away into nothingness, I was often in a good mood. It’s not like I must be in a deep dark despair when I medicate. But things can change so quickly, and I wouldn’t want to take any chances with letting life just happen. Maybe it’s a form of maintaining control of my emotions (or lack thereof). Or maybe it’s my way of punishing myself for some reason I can’t quite understand yet. Everyone knows mixing pills with alcohol is a recipe for disaster. I don’t know why I would take chances like that.
But I do know that what happened to Dolores could just as easily have happened to me on a few different occasions. Wondering if on some subconscious level I wanted it to happen absolutely terrifies me. When you can’t seem to escape your pain or the dark thoughts, it’s easier to just find a way to block them. Being numb is better than being taunted by the lies that the devil tells you. In my case, I would go a step further than numbing, I would lose consciousness. I know what the next step is. I knew I had to break this pattern. Numbing the pain started a poisonous cycle and I was determined to no longer let it have control over me. I found help.
The news outlets are stating it was accidental. It’s much easier for me to believe that. But I know the reality of depression. I know how easy it is to just pop a pill and feel “better” for a while. I know the temporary bliss of forgetting, tipping the bottle back until my awareness leaves me. And I know that Dolores is now gone forever as so many of us still mourn. There’s no escaping that reality. That’s permanent. There’s no more waking up from that. A perfectly beautiful soul, gone forever. This is a wake-up call. Reading the headline “drowned in bath tub while intoxicated” was like a foreshadowing of what my story could look like. It made me nauseous. That could have been me.
Self-medicating is a much bigger problem than we realize. I believe that too many people with depression, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders or any other mental illness can relate to what I went through and what I imagine Dolores went through. What starts out as “taking the edge off” turns into dependency. One drink too many, even on a perfectly fun night, can lead to the darkest of thoughts. Next, you just want to sleep, so you pop that pill. It reminds me of Russian Roulette. It’s deadly. And although I no longer mix medication and alcohol, I can’t say that I never think about it. I don’t know that the temptation to just vanish for a while will ever completely go away.
I am fortunate enough to have a support system now who knows my struggles and watches out for me. Not everyone has that. I also know that there will be many times when I will be alone with my thoughts and it’s up to me to make better choices. My hope is that we start having more conversations about how dangerous we can be to ourselves and we become less afraid and ashamed to get help. My hope is that we can start being real with ourselves and with each other. My hope is that we find new ways to prevent these all too common “accidents”. Tell your partner, your doctor or your friend about your fears. There is no magic cure to destroy all the lies we believe about ourselves or to instantly heal past wounds, but there are people who can help you.
I am so sad that you left us. You were so very loved. I have read your words and song lyrics so many times, especially since you’ve been gone. I don’t know that you meant to leave us, but I know that you suffered greatly. And I feel like I understand you, because on some deep, secret level, at times I’ve wanted to punish myself. I’ve wanted to disappear. I didn’t want to “be”. I feel like that is how you felt in your heart too. And I’m sorry. I will never forget singing your song at the top of my lungs while driving down Highway 41 as I was on my way to turn my life around. In a way, you saved me back then. May your story continue to save me and others who are suffering. Rest peacefully.
“As you get older, it’s good to open up and acknowledge that everybody has their scary moments, their negative moments. And in order to move on and find comfort and hope, you have to stop running from the darkness and face it. And when you face it, it’s not that scary at all, and sometimes it actually turns around and runs away”. – Dolores O’Riordan