Friday, June 5, 2009

A Life Saved By Inches

A few inches made all the difference for James. The difference between life and death. Between hope and despair. Between a life he's now living to the fullest, and one he wanted to end.

Seven months ago, James was admitted to Wilmington Hospital with a self-inflicted stab wound to the chest. It was his fourth suicide attempt. By inches, he survived. And by inches, he gained the chance to get help, become sober, and make a remarkable transformation in a very short time.

For 49 years, James had been living a life he thought was normal. He drank heavily from an early age, but all his family and friends did. His diabetes and other health issues just kind of happened. When he lost his job, it was natural to feel depressed and not want to leave the house. Even his attempts on his own life made sense. “My suicide attempts, I didn’t think was a big deal,” he recalls. “Sometimes, I just felt I needed to take myself out.” In his eyes, it was all normal.

But that began to change last November. Thanks to a new partnership between a hospital and a drug treatment program, James faced the underlying issues behind his suicidal thoughts. “A gentleman came into the hospital from Brandywine Counseling and gave me some information. I had never done anything as far as addressing my addictions at all in my life, and I did have a serious, serious problem. I realized that I had to do something. I was ready to turn my life around.”

The gentleman was BCI outreach worker Bobbie Dillard, who works full time at Wilmington Hospital. He meets with patients who show signs of substance abuse, and links them to services when they’re ready. BCI and Wilmington Hospital started this partnership last fall after seeing more and more people showing up at the hospital with injuries sustained while intoxicated. It’s here that many, like James, first discover they have a drug problem, and often, mental illness as well. Right from the start, the service proved successful. In four months, Bobbie met with 122 patients and referred 99 to drug treatment. Like James, 35% had never had treatment before.

Shaken, but ready for change, James walked in the door to BCI Alpha. The staff quickly put his fears to rest. “Ms. Evelyn, [the receptionist,] was very nice. I felt comfortable with her. And the young lady who did my intake, [Maria Cruz], she was very nice. I felt I had made a big first step. It was the first day of my new life.” Like 45% of Alpha’s admissions, James had co-occurring drug abuse and mental illness. Because of his severe depression and past suicide attempts, he was assigned to counselor Keith Kaut, a co-occurring disorders specialist. He attended weekly individual sessions and a Co-Occurring Disorders Group. But it was the individual counseling that helped the most.

“My one-on-ones with Keith, they’ve been terrific. We’ve gone deep with a shovel on a lot of things. Things that were haunting me, and I didn’t realize it. We’ve brought them up, brought them to the forefront, and reburied them, and I don’t have to worry about them anymore."

Keith had James write letters to people he was angry with, not to send, but to unfreeze his own anger he was turning inward, causing his depression. James also learned to address his suicidal thoughts, which would return from time to time, and to reach out instead of isolating himself. With Keith’s guidance, his hopelessness began to turn into self-confidence.

“The main subject in how he’s helped me, is me. I’ve never really liked myself. I never really had much confidence in myself. He’s allowed me to take a step back, and look at myself, and be able to have more confidence in myself.”

James began attending AA regularly. He found a primary care doctor and began to deal with long-standing medical issues. He reconnected with his brother after 13 years and began weekly visits. Slowly, he began to feel a change take place. But just how much of a change, was a huge surprise. Keith had him take a self-test, the Beck Depression Inventory, on a regular basis. It’s one of the most widely used measures of depression. His first score, just after admission, was a 52 out of 63, severe depression. A month later, he scored a 30, more moderate, but still severe. Three months later, he scored a 2, which is minimal depression, nearly the lowest possible score. James was stunned at the result.

“It’s kind of amazing. Some of the questions, the lowest you can answer is a zero. I was actually looking for a minus one on some of them, because they just didn’t seem relevant, or they didn’t show the happiness that I would like to answer.”

Keith Kaut was equally shocked. In 23 years as a therapist, he’d never seen this before. “It almost knocked me out of my chair. You just don’t see a 50 to a 2 in five, six months. It just kind of doesn’t happen.”

But both client and counselor knew that behind that score was real-life change. “It shows me all the work that I’ve put in, and what Brandywine Counseling has done for me,” James says. “A lot of people say, ‘You’re gonna hear people say you look like you’ve changed, as you go through recovery, but you’re not really gonna see that in yourself.’ But I actually see it in myself. In my personality, my behavior, my knowledge, how I treat other people, my belief in myself. It’s amazing.”

“My body feels clean. My mind feels clean. My memory’s starting to come back. I’ve had two doctor’s appointments this week, and I’ve walked back from Wilmington Hospital through Brandywine Park, and just the smell of the outdoors. I just appreciate things that I really didn’t appreciate before. I appreciate my husband more than I used to, even though he still has the same faults he did before. I appreciate my newfound family. [My brother and I] hadn’t spoke for 13 years, and we’re now reunited.”

Today, James has seven months clean and will soon graduate from treatment. He sees it as just the start of the next phase. “Getting a paper certificate is really no big deal. I’d like to still participate in the groups, because I’ve learned an awful lot here. I see the people that come in and out of my groups, and I know where I was when I first came here, and what I’ve learned, and things I’ve been able to share with my friends. I want to do that for other people that need it. Seeing what I can do for other people will help me continue to do the great things I’m doing for myself.”

It’s hard to believe James is the same person who tried to take his own life just seven months ago. Appreciative, empathetic, motivated, he has challenges ahead, but he’s ready to take them on. He’s still out of work, but diligently job-hunting. “The market’s not too good, but I’m out there every day passing out my resume like it’s the newspaper, and I’m on the computer every day, so something’s got to come up.” He’s also lost 40 pounds in six months. And, he’s looking forward to some long-needed dental work, knowing it will do wonders for his self-esteem. “That’s going to be wonderful for me, like getting a paint job on the car. The car’s been in the shop for six months, now it’s time to get a paint job.”

Incredibly, none of this would have been possible had he not lived to take a chance at recovery. By inches, he gained that chance. But he was equally lucky that his hospital partnered with a drug treatment center. After his prior suicide attempts, he “fell through the cracks,” discharged with no connection to treatment, not realizing he even had a problem. This time, he got the information that started him on his successful path. What if circumstances had been different?

“I would’ve tried to take my life again, I’m sure. I would’ve been still drinking, doing drugs, living the same lifestyle, thinking it was normal. Looking back on it now, it’s not normal, and I’m going to do everything in my power and with the help of the Lord to not be that way again.”

Real normalcy was within James’ reach. A difference of inches actually made a difference immeasurable. “To have drugs and alcohol out of my life, it’s just been great, and the future’s only gonna get better. Once you clear your mind of all that junk, and you finally get a chance to do baby steps, it just starts rolling, and more things just happen more and more quickly, more great things in your life.”

BCI Alpha is funded by and is part of the system of public services offered by Delaware Health and Social Services, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. For more information, please call 302-472-0381.


Krystal Cooper said...

What a wonderful story. I hope to hear more just like this one.

Kimmi M. said...

great job uncle jimmy! we're so proud of you and very lucky to have you back in our lives. keep up the good work and know we're always here for you. we love you!

Anonymous said...

i have known jimmy for years. he is a wonderful and extremely caring man. he has amazing courage to share his story. congrats on your soon-to-be graduation, jimbo!
ps- i still owe you that liverwurst sandwich