Sometimes we fall

It is dark and raining. I enter my 1-bed apartment and crash on the white leather lounge. I barely have enough energy to take off my Navy uniform and heavy black boots. The room is moving from side to side like I am still rocking at sea in the warship. I haven’t been in this space for weeks on end. I haven’t enjoyed my peaceful views over the harbor. I haven’t had time to be me. 

I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I can’t focus. I can’t play a simple game on my iPhone. I can’t even watch television. My head is circling, tormented by his threats. I need to calm down. I want a cigarette. What’s going on with me? 

This uniform must come off, it reminds me too much of the past months. I need time to adjust, but I only have a weekend. For a brief moment, I enjoy my toes naked against the soft carpet. My feet haven’t seen daylight for ages. I change into black casual wear. I detest the thought of putting on other shoes. I must, I have no choice – the DVDs are due tonight. I dislike the unresolved. However, if I walk down to the shops, I will impulsively buy things that aren’t good for me. How I feel will dictate my purchases, and in this moment right now, I feel demoralized. 

I walk down the street in the outskirts of the city in the rain like I don’t care. I can feel the heaviness behind my eyes. All I wish is that I could sleep. Just fall on my bed, in my personal space and rest unconsciously for a long time. Thank goodness it’s only a 5-minute walk. I drop the DVDs into the slot and walk into the bottle shop without thinking. I buy two bottles of Shiraz, a packet of Windfield Blue and a lighter. I haven’t smoked in 25 years.

I step back into the rain. I light a cigarette. I feel a calming sensation. Drawing in with each drag, I start walking down the middle of the street. I am soaking wet. I cannot feel wet; I can only feel my pain, my dread, my exhaustion.

Lights are coming towards me. I keep walking towards the lights. I am used to the dark. From dusk to dawn in the ship, we live under red lights constantly. I am used to getting soaked. Sometimes I had to go on deck to deliver a message, rescue someone or simply do my duty in the rain or when the sea is pounding around me. To me the darkness and the polluted rain falling on me is not unusual. The white light is the unfamiliar. 

The lights are shining brightly on me. Forming two white cylinders through the air magnifying the rain as I block its way. I keep walking as if there is nothing there. Suddenly, I hear a screech. I feel the cool air drift by as the lights shine intensely on my knees. I don’t even flinch. It is like we are pulled together by a magnetic field, but just at the point of impact, the opposite object loses its magnetism and stops. A taxi-driver gets out of his car and screams something at me. Putting his right fist up in the air and waving it about. I stand as if I wasn’t there, cock my head to the left, trying to find myself. I take another drag on my cigarette and walk around him, not saying a word. 

Before entering my building, I wait to finish every draw. I stomp it out in the bin, then walk across the road. I have no thought going on inside my head, which is extremely rare as I am a constant thinker. I get into the lift and press ‘8’. Entering my apartment, I put down my wallet, keys, new packet of smokes and lighter on the kitchen bench. I place the bottles of wine in the cupboard. I am not interested in drinking. I go over to sit on the lounge where I left my phone. There is a missed call and a new voicemail message. With the little energy I have left, I listen to my friend’s sweet caring voicemail. He instinctively knows I need help. I try calling him back, but there is no answer.

I can’t settle. Now, sitting on the edge of the lounge, I listen to his words again. They mean something. “How on earth did he know?” His assurances start echoing in my spirit. His touch of concern brings me to feel. Feel my wounds. Feel the hurt that is draining me. Feel the accusations, intimidations and threats that keep booming over and over in my mind. I am hunted and haunted by this bully that never stops. I sob. Alone, I hail my own storm, expelling outwards. I just want to die. Maybe then the anguish in my mind will stop.

Instantly, I picture a plan. I see with my mind’s eye, pain medication left over from a recent operation. I open Safari on my phone and type into Google, ‘How many tablets to take to end my life?’ I try calling Mike again. I can’t do this alone. I can’t contain myself. I am being drawn to give death a go. It is so out of character for me. I sit on the end of my lounge frozen. Numb. Unable to move. Too scared to move. I am still soaking wet from the rain outside and in.

I feel like I’ve been sitting in silence for hours. I try to make sense of it all. I am a trained leader and fighting machine, to win at war, to be the best I can be, to save the team. And yet, here I sit in anguish, disassembled by fellow sailors, not the enemy! If Mike calls, what on earth do I say? How can I explain this mess, when I can’t even rationalize it myself? I haven’t seen him for months; he doesn’t know, like everyone else, what I’ve been through. The Creator must have prompted him to call me in my hour of need.

At 2100 my phone rings. I tell Mike about the taxi. It is my way of holding back the truth that lies within. The hurt, the pain, even I don’t want to enter that depressing place. I know deep inside I must reveal the plan for it to be disabled. Without doing so, it could cost me my life; but doing so could cost me my job. I wonder why I always seem to get trapped into situations where both options are detestable.

Mike replied to my taxi encounter, “It sounds like you’re not in a good space. What can I do to help?”

I swallow hard as though the words are caught in my throat. “Mike, it’s so bad. I wouldn’t even know where to begin. But I do need to tell you that I want to end my life. I have a plan to take medication. I know how much to take, but I haven’t checked if I have that many in my box.” 

“I’m coming to get you, Mel. I’ll bring you back here.” As Mike is telling me this, I’m thinking of him, his wife and two young kids and … I just can’t let him do it. I don’t want him to go to any trouble for me. 

“I’ll be ok. I promise I won’t look at how many tablets I have. I’ll go to bed now and try to sleep. I’m so exhausted. I can’t think clearly anyway.”

Mike replies hesitantly, “Well ok then, as long as you promise me and assure me, you’ll be ok? And call me at 8am.”

I put the phone down and walk into the bathroom to use the toilet. I stare at the medication cabinet. I must know how many tablets I have. I will keep my promise to Mike to stay safe tonight; I just need to have all the facts. I mutter to myself, “Probably isn’t enough, knowing my luck”! I walk out of the bathroom with a defiant look, saying out loud, “Fuck! I have enough to kill myself 3 times over!”

I lie down in my bed hoping for a blissful sleep. Any sleep will do. Between sea war exercises at any hour of the day or night, doing my normal duty and carrying alone the life-threatening abuse that lurked around every passageway; sleep seems like a luxury. I close my eyes and try to put aside the battle scars. I imagine a world of peace, of tropical beauty, freely flowing waterfalls, birds chirping – nature thriving at its best. 

I thought my world was held together. I love my life. I have a good future. I have great friends and no financial concerns. I live the purpose God gave me – to lead and empower others to be the best they can be. Where did I go wrong? Now the road seems endless, winding down into a dark ravine of dying debris. I see myself dangling over the edge, playing with the fragility of life. A huge chasm forms in front of me. Will I jump? Will I make it over? If I do, I need to admit to the struggle and rise above this feeling of defeat.


Two years on, I am standing in a lush field, smelling the fresh air, allowing the moment to sink in. It’s nice to have left the city. I raise my arms, as though I am soaring above the picturesque valley. Little do I care what the others think of my unpredictable moment. The six of us have been invited here, recently homeless veterans, having met with a second chance. Our week is to embody and embrace a new alternative therapy by retraining an ex-racehorse thoroughbred, called Bazaconi. We all have something in common, both horses and humans – we are traumatized, and we have lost our sense of selves. We are grieving that loss. We cannot understand it, we cannot talk about it, but we suffer it as one.

As the sun starts to set, the cold snap moves in across the valley. The ice starts to form inside the rusting pipes. Around the warmth of a camp fire, we ease into our new surroundings with caution. The fire keeps us enclosed and safe as we listen to our horse trainer Scott describe the ability of horses and humans to survive trauma. Scott brings us to a new understanding of how horses will begin the process of healing for us. It starts tomorrow.

I wake up early, bringing my mind to a meditative state, so I am ready to meet my relief. When Scott prompts me, I walk into the round yard with Bazaconi by my side. My anxiety falls to the ground. I want to trample on it to ensure that it doesn’t come back, but that will startle the horse. I remain still and visualize it in my mind, which makes me smile. With that, further anxious thoughts fly away into the nearby hills. Yesterday, I was quick to hide in my dark hole, easily could have drowned my sorrows in a bottle, but today the moment is causing me to recognize my strengths and weaknesses, moving beyond my limitations. I haven’t done anything yet, this is merely just standing with the horse, holding his lead rope and giving him lots of cuddles!

Scott stands by us step by step, to give each of the veterans an opportunity to communicate with this majestic animal on our own. We are each drawn into our primitive side, as Scott would say, as our responses from human to horse and horse to human instinctively became one. We survive together. The words from last night are realized in the here and now. 

It is my turn again. I relax my body once more. I breath in deeply, right down to my gut, and out again. I open my mind and calm my being. I drop my shoulders and steady myself firmly on the ground. I subtly see Bazaconi’s responses change when I attune myself to him. He listens intently with his eyes and ears to my movement, emotions, and tones. If I get lost in my wandering thoughts, then Bazaconi will simply not listen. In fact, he would turn away. I must stay present. In that moment, I am not screaming my internal pain or reliving my haunting experiences from the ship; I am recognizing my strengths and drawn to his. I am unravelling my existence to be only in-tune with him and his existence. We touch like I have never felt before. I take control of my actions and my voice; I communicate with the horse directly. I can even just whisper and Bazaconi will react promptly to my commands – because in this moment, amid this stunning green valley, an incredible connection happens: a dual heartbeat joins as one.

I feel this powerful connection of horse healing human and vice versa every time I step into the round yard with Bazaconi. We both have a story to tell. We both have been beaten, torn, and broken by the people that should have protected us. When we are together, we feel this exchange of passion and tenderness from one to the other. The experience moves me in ways that it is hard to describe.

Each step I learn draws me in to see that I can speak a new dialect. I can entice Bazaconi and engage him into my understanding. I apply the slightest pressure to work Bazaconi in the field, to lead him along a journey, and, to lead me along a journey. Together we strive to make a difference to one another and to communicate across barriers and languages. Here I stand confident once again to be me. I am empathetic. I am assertive. I am friendship. I am alive. 

The portal of my past withers away as hope rises to meet me. It comes in community. A community of people that believe in me no matter what I am feeling inside. It comes in trusting a new process and Scott encouraging me to find my confidence again. It comes in believing that healing is possible. It comes in grieving the loss of my life. It comes in believing in myself. I am not a defeated person fighting for victory; I am a victorious person created to fight defeat and rise above it. I am right where I need to be.

I am standing on new and holy ground. Inspired and empowered to return home with a fresh sense of hope. I can make it. The challenge earlier in the week was to let go of the hopelessness; the challenge now is to keep believing in myself and start living again. Sometimes we fall, but it is in falling we shall rise.  

Mel Baker, a true story, 2021