Hitting Bottom (14-17)
The Rain (18-20)
Things Get Worse (21-26)
Renee O'Connor, as herself.
Introduction The story you are about to read never started out as a story at all. It was just a short reply to someone who asked me why I called Renee O'Connor my inspiration. I then began shaping the reply into a story of sorts, and it grew into the therapeutic release you see before you. Six months later, I am finished and ready to share it.
 I wondered whether I should send it to Renee and her mother. I was undecided until I received an e-mail that made me realize that it probably wouldn't be a good idea.
"I don't know about you, but I have often wondered if the worship and adoration of ROC [Renee O'Connor] is quite sane but... Illusion and fantasy can serve a purpose if it [sic] is done with conscious awareness. The danger comes when one's self-worth in life is dependent upon someone not enabled by that someone. Then you loose [sic] touch with reality which leads to the dangerous side of fanaticism, which is a constant threat to so many 'stars' and something that they are always wary of (I'm not suggesting this of you)." It never occurred to me that someone would find me a bit obsessive. I just wanted to express in some way what exactly I meant when I said that Renee is my hero, my idol, and my inspiration in life. I hope that this story paints the picture of admiration clearly enough for you.
Prologue When one writes a story such as this--an autobiographical account of what was a severely despondent time of one's life--one can expect to become overwhelmed with apprehension. The writer is not always certain that the significant waters of his story will flow over deserving, and more importantly, understanding ears.
 While I do not particularly welcome the idea of retrospectively traveling back five years, I acknowledge the notion that many people do not appreciate the destination reached if they do not understand, and to a point sympathize, with the struggle that brought them there. I hope that all who read my story hear with understanding ears, learn of my journey, and appreciate the destination.
 At the age of 14, I had my first 'after- school special' experience. While asleep on the floor of a friend's house in a gray beanbag chair one lemon-scented spring evening, I was startled awake by a hand touching my body. The hand belonged to someone whom I thought I knew very well; someone who at the time was 21 years old, and who stupidly assumed that I was actually asleep. That night, the heaviness that the words uncomfortable and unexpected harbored, brought new meaning to my life. I can remember willing the sun to rise hoping to replenish the room with light, bringing to an end to his fevered exploration over my body. His unguided journey over the nooks and crannies of my torso, thus far, had remained veiled only by the night's blind eyes. The night was his aellie. But the night remained blind and I, I remained mute.
 The following day, he called to apologize, and while trying not to acknowledge the mind-numbing feeling sitting heavily in my gut, I simply said, 'It's okay. Don't worry about it.' For some time I convinced myself that I had merely watched too much dramatic television, and perhaps was delving deeper into the situation than necessary. I decided I would never tell another soul. I never did tell anyone until much later.
Suicide My mother, consumed with problems of her own, left me to deal with my issues alone. At the age of 15, weighted with teenage trauma, and adult rebuff, I tried to take my own life. It was not that I could not handle being in the ring with my internal battles; but rather that I was being utterly devoured by the worst bout of depression that I had ever experienced. Before this, I did not even know what depression was. Now, I had zero self-esteem, and more often than not, felt as if I were worthless. I was utterly convinced the world would not prosper if I continued to exist in the presence of so many extraordinary people. This could only mean one thing... death.
 With my mind firmly made up, I felt a twinge of peace. I waited until the evening, because I knew that I wanted the sunset to coincide with my life's end. I began swallowing pills. I continued to swallow until my throat (against my own wishes) decided it had had enough. I called my best friend to say good-bye. I wanted her voice to be the last voice I heard, the only voice I heard.
 An hour later, I was rushed to the emergency room. Sitting in the alcohol-scented, heat-deprived clinic, my pupils focusing in and out on the black and white linoleum floors, I started to experience a heightened awareness of pain. It was the effects of the pills that were now finding refuge in my system. My stomach had been pumped. After this incident, I spent two weeks in a mental hospital trying to help other people figure out why I had attempted to take my own life.
Diagnosis When I was released from the hospital the day after my 16th birthday, things only got worse. I started to drink and party heavily. At the suggestion of my mother and my counselor, I was pulled out of school for the remainder of my sophomore year. I returned my junior year, only to drift aimlessly an ocean of unwanted information. It was common knowledge that I seldom attended classes, and that when I did, I spent it immersed in my own world, writing.
 I dove headfirst into a world of drugs. It started as a way to soothe the pain and self-loathing that I was feeling. I rapidly slipped from the ranks of the sane. I was going through serious fits of depression and energetic rampages, and couldn't understand why. I felt like an uncontrollable light switch with a circuit loose. It was only later that I was informed that I had an illness called manic depression, otherwise known as bipolar disorder. I never it gave a second thought. It did not even cross my mind to do any research on what was ultimately running my life. Never once did I think to myself, 'maybe if I learn about what I have, I can mitigate the frustration surrounding my roller coaster of emotions, and possibly even dispense of the roller coaster itself.'
 I attempted suicide for the second time not long after. I don't have trouble admitting to my preference for pills; they were easier and less messy than slitting my wrists. Statistics show that those who choose to overdose do so in the knowledge that they are likely to be saved. I don't know if I wanted to be saved subconsciously or not. In any event, I managed to take only enough to make me sick. I stayed in bed for two days and developed quite the relationship with a nearby bucket. I had no intentions of letting anyone know that my 'sickness' was self-induced, so I lied and said it was the flu. Looking back, maybe it was not so much about killing myself as it was about punishing myself for being--what I thought was--worthless.
Hitting Bottom My senior year, with 65 credits amiss, I became the local newspaper headline flunky. I had spent so much time partying and getting drunk in Mexican border towns that I had ceased to participate in my own education. My mother was not very happy with me. She was by this time back together with my mentally and physically abusive alcoholic step-dad. Against everyone's concerned advice and her own better judgment, she continued to walk blindly in his manipulative world. He said jump, she said how high. I, on the other hand, was told that I had to find another place to jump.
 I moved in with my then-best friend. In a single week, we went from being the closest of friends to mortal enemies. She mistook my love for her as some sort of come-on, and she kicked me out of her house and her life. Before the good-byes were final, she told me in a letter that my future was not hard to predict: I was going to marry an alcoholic who beat me and I would deserve it. It was as if someone took the one thing that I allowed myself to believe in, and turned it into something that I feared the most. She not only stepped on my pride; she hurt my very soul.
 I took a liking to self-inflicted depredation, hoping that would console me in some minute way, but all that got me was the loss of 11 pounds in less than a week. I was overweight to begin with, and under different circumstances would have enjoyed the weight loss. I was more unhealthy than I had ever been.
 I had one week before I would leave for Washington State, where I would be moving in with my real dad. I had no place else to go. I packed what was left of my life in boxes, and took them to a friend's house. I spent my final week in California with her and her family. The week ended, but my story was just beginning.
The Rain I had not lived in Washington State for over six years, and was not looking forward to the rain. I moved in with my dad, my stepmom, and my half-brother. I re- enrolled in school and found myself a full-time job, and even got a car.
 External surface perfection was an ideal mask for the hell that I was going through underneath emotionally. The depression continued, and I found much comfort in solitude. I seldom went out of my room, and spent a lot of time writing poetry. I must admit that I spent a lot of time thinking about my best friend. I made it a point to shut myself off completely from feeling any type of emotion, good or bad. Each night, I found myself praying that upon waking, I would discover that I was in heaven, that God had come in my sleep and taken me away. But every morning, I awoke and found myself still lying in my twin bunk bed, an Edwin McCain song playing on my alarm clock radio.
 It did not take long before I tried again to take my life. My parents had left me home alone to watch the house while they left for a week on a Caribbean cruise. To me this left the door to oblivion wide open, and I was determined to step through it. Clinging to anything that would hold me up, I staggered to the bathroom where I passed out, not awakening until nearly 23 hours had passed. I had again been unsuccessful. One would think that after the second failed attempt, I would have caught on.
Things Get Worse An entire year had passed, and after graduation, I eagerly moved home to California. In Washington, I was alone and lonely living in the rain. A person like me can only take so much loneliness. With the new year, my mother and I began trying to regain our friendship and trust. She was now married to her third husband, a gentleman who had a son and daughter older than me. I was going to finally have the big brother and big sister that I, an only child until my half-brother came along when I was 14, had always wanted. This was my chance to be part of a family. I was more than excited to welcome all three of them into my life.
 When I got back to California, I caught up with a friend who was obsessed with the show, Xena: Warrior Princess. She loved the relationship between the two leads. They had a strong friendship that went straight to the soul. It reminded me of a friendship that I once shared. That was the initial draw; what kept me watching was Gabrielle. Maybe it was because she was a bard like me, or maybe it was because she had so much spunk.
 I wanted to know everything I could about Renee O'Connor, the actress who played Gabrielle. I immersed myself in stories, articles, interviews, anything that I could get my hands on. I began to find myself craving more out of life because of who she represented. I read about her determination to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest summit in Africa, and how she and her mother had a very close relationship. I could relate to that because of the relationship that I had had once with my mother, which I now had hopes of regaining.
 The more that I learned of this extraordinary human being, the more I wanted to be just like her. To me, this woman represented the dreamer who followed her dreams. She became a stronghold for me. She made me want to live, not just exist. Unfortunately, this was when I finally hit the peak of my bipolar disorder. I was going through cycles of mania and depression and mixed states very rapidly. I was miserable. I hid out in the confines of my room and wanted nothing more than to feel pain. Little did I know that I would soon get my wish.
 That pain came in September when my stepbrother was hit by a drunk driver, and lay in a coma. I flew into Portland to say good-bye. After I got there, he took an unexpected turn for the better, so I returned home to California. It was all just a matter of waiting it out, the doctors said. A week later, I received a phone call telling me that he had not made it through. My stepbrother had passed away at 25.
 Somewhere near the border of California and Oregon, returning from the memorial service, I managed to touch base with my father. By word of mouth, I discovered that he had been trying to get hold of me. Sitting in the parking lot of an International House of Pancakes, he told me that my grandfather had also passed away. I had never lost anyone before then, and suddenly I had lost two people I loved.
Redemption When I returned home from my grandfather's memorial, I did not smile, laugh, talk, eat, nothing! I just wanted to climb in bed and cry. What energy I had went towards watching Renee play Gabrielle. Watching Xena was the only thing that brought me any comfort. Even with my daily dose of Renee, I felt myself slipping into a serious depression. I was vicious to everyone around me, and did not want to go out in public.
 It was during this time that Renee became a huge part of what got me through every day. I couldn't dream on my own because I did not have the courage to believe in what I wanted for myself, but I could dream through her. She gave me courage. She reminded me that life can only be what you make of it. At this point, I wasn't making much of anything.
 My illness was beginning to seep onto the people who were in my path of destruction. On occasion, I even veered off that path and hit pedestrians on the sidewalk. I had no patience with certain things, and was always agitated at someone or something. Crying had become a staple of my everyday life. I resorted to 'cutting'--making small incisions on a part of the body to bring pain--as a release for the emotional pain.
 Finally, I snapped, and one night I begged and pleaded with my best friend to kill me. She held me until I stopped crying, and exhausted from crying, I fell asleep. She said that she has never been more scared that she was that night.
 In my bedroom two weeks later, pills in hand, I was ready to try again. With goodbye letters written to my best friend and to my families, I was ready to die. This time was going to be it. No more suffering. No more self-inflicted pain. It was all going to end tonight. With the pills scattered on my floor in an array of colors, my hands sweating, I flung the first handful of pills into my mouth without hesitation.
 With tears in my eyes, I raised my head to look at the wall, where there were pictures of Renee. I started thinking about everything she has done in the 28 years on this planet, what she stands for, and what she means to so many people. I started thinking about all the doors she had opened in me, because of the fact that I looked up to her such a great deal. Her climb to the top of Kilimanjaro, her determination to follow her dreams no matter the cost, the love she shared with her mother--all of that had me thanking God that I knew of a person like her.
 The things she ignited in me over the past year affected me in a way that they never had before. Thinking about she had done for me, I flushed the rest of the pills down the toilet. It would be a waste for her to have opened my eyes to what I could be, only for me to end my life before I had the chance to become any of those things. I stopped myself because of her. I thank God every day for bringing her and her inspiration into my life. She saved me, and she saved my dreams.
 Some people ask me if I am obsessed to think that this hero in my head can be enough to save my life. To them, I say that it doesn't matter if it was she who gave me the courage to stop, or if I found courage in myself because I had to. The point is that she made me believe in courage and in strength, and from that, I am still alive. I am still on this planet, striving to better my life and inspire others as she inspired me.
 I wish to thank Renee O'Connor for being her wonderful self, and her mother for raising such an angel...Thank you, Sandra and Renee.
BiographyAlicia Cherie Peterson
I was born January 12th, 1979 in Washington State and I moved to California right after my tenth birthday. My life's ambition is to start up a Non-Profit organization called LOVErelief. It's a literary endeavor that aids in awareness and prevention of Teen Suicide. All profits from the collaboration will go to teen crisis centers around the United States. Since becoming a Renee fan life has gotten a lot easier, and it's become more about being than just living. I hope someday I'll have the opportunity to work with her and given that opportunity I hope to learn even more.
Favorite episode: QUILL IS MIGHTIER, PUNCHLINES, FORGET ME NOT, and FORGIVEN
Favorite line: Maddie: "What the hell was that all about?" DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
First episode seen: ONE AGAINST AN ARMY