Diary of an Artist, Mental health, Music is my Medicine

My suicide story

January 23, 2016

WARNING: Out of respect for Aboriginal culture, please be aware that this story contains photographs of an Aboriginal person who has since passed.

Fatigue makes me raw. Roar. Touching edges I’ve felt before. Dredging up old trauma, my old friend darkness penetrating my lightfield and eliciting tired tears from my well of memories and experience. Because my present moment is good. Really good. I’m fucking grateful. For all of it. Even the shitty bits. They’re beautiful too.

For the last few months I’ve been cranking 7-day work weeks spread out between my passions and my homes between Byron Bay and Brisbane, clocking up km’s and speeding fines, playing festivals, pubs, markets and high-rise buildings, working my new day job, and spending every spare day at the studio in Mullumbimby making my new album, and every spare hour hitting the waves on my surfboard and learning to ride the ocean. Life is pretty damn awesome.

Last weekend I attended a powerful suicide awareness event in Cabarita at stunning Cudgen Lake, and it stirred up a few feelings from my dark and stormy past. This is a story I’ve written and re-written and abandoned so many times, it’s never finished, it’s never complete enough, it’s not mine enough, maybe it never will be. But it wants to be written and shared. So here it is. The brief version. My suicide story.

When I was 25 (12 years ago) my boyfriend died by suicide. He was 33, a red-dreaded fair-skinned Rastafarian Aboriginal man, an incredible artist, painter, reggae musician, sound engineer, songwriter, poet, family historian, gardener, builder, athlete and devoted dad. Ras Hori (as he was known) was the person who initiated me into reggae, the first person to record my voice and my songs, the one who saw and started to develop my gift and give it direction and shape.

He took me into his dreamtime, taught me the ways of the land and the spirits, told me stories of Jamaica and Ethiopia and Emperor Haile Selassie and Bob Marley, and his forebears the Kamilaroi and the Scots. He read the bible morning and night and smoked herb as a sacrament (while respecting my preference for buddhism and yoga). He loved his kids and passed his knowledge onto them.

Man of Spirit

Ras Hori – Man of Spirit

Sunrise spliff and riddims

Sunrise spliff and riddims

Happy days – with bandmate Splash in Newcastle 2001

Father and son - with Keziah aged 7, at Cedar Creek, 2001

Father and son – with Keziah aged 7, at Cedar Creek, 2001

Nature man

Nature man

Ras Hori fronting his band Jah Sounds at Perigian Originals, 2001. Line up from L-R: Ben Aitchison (keys), Me (keys and bv's, my sister Jules (bv's and percussion), Ras Hori, JT (bass), Russ (congas and percussion. Dom Hede was on drums that day. This was the first band I ever played in! And the crew who taught me how to skank.

Ras Hori fronting his band Jah Sounds at Perigian Originals, 2001. Line up from L-R: Ben Aitchison (keys), me (keys and bv’s), my sister Jules Cottone (bv’s and percussion), Dom Hede (drums), Ras Hori (guitar and vocals), JT (bass), Russ (congas and percussion). This was the first band I ever played in and the crew who taught me how to skank.

For all his gifts, Ras had had a hard life. Lost his own father at 1 year old. Stayed in various homes with various family members as a young teenager. Walked the jagged line between black and white like many of his brethren. Made it to University, played football, played in bands, wrote poetry, had children, suffered family break down, and always said: “Jah never gives I more than I can handle.” But all of that is his story, and his children’s story. This is my story.

Significantly, Ras Hori had saved his best-mate-flat-mate-musical-partner from an horrific suicide attempt a few months previous to his own death (full suicide squad ordeal). This was undoubtedly a major trigger for his own misadventure. But no-one was there in his moment of darkness when he needed a saviour. That best mate was in hospital recovering. We’d broken up a week before. He was alone, lonely, beset by many real troubles, probably deeply depressed, and didn’t seek help…

We had spent a year together and his death hit me hard.

My friends did shifts for a week after his death, tag-teamed Claire-watch. After a healing journey to Qirindi with a friend for his funeral, I was left alone to deal. I didn’t get any counselling at the time. No one explained to me how to grieve. I smoked weed and grew my own locks and played reggae in a homage to his spirit.  Ten years on I decided ten years was long enough. I brushed out my dreadlocks and quit smoking. I got some counselling. I got back into yoga. I was fortunate to find the support I needed, in my own roundabout way, to finally heal and move on. I wonder if I had sought proper counselling earlier whether the process would have been less blown out.

Off with my dreads - five years ago just having brushed out my dreadlocks, ready for a new beginning.

Off with my dreads – five years ago just having brushed out my dreadlocks, ready for a new beginning.

Even now it still hits me occasionally. Out of the blue in a work meeting when suicide gets mentioned. On Australia Day at an OKA concert, in a seething mass of people in the rain. Today, on the phone to my bestie, crying, touching that wounded place in me, that never really got properly tended to at the time of wounding. Fear of abandonment. Pain of loss. Old grief. Collective grief. Grief over the ongoing effects of genocide and institutionalised racism on our first people. It’s easier for me than for many, that is for sure. But this is my story.

His kids are teenagers now. His son and I reconnected last year and have a beautiful friendship. His daughters are strong beautiful resilient young women. His blood line goes on. His art still hangs on our walls. His gift of music lives through his recordings, and his proteges (including me), and the Brisbane reggae scene, of which he was a founding father, unbeknownst to many.

Details of two paintings Ras Hori painted for me. The first on the left, "New Beginnings", and "Ocean Dreaming" on the right

Details of two paintings Ras Hori painted for me. The first on the left, “New Beginnings”, and “Ocean Dreaming” on the right

I reunited with Ras Hori's beautiful son Keziah two years ago. I waited til he turned 18 to contact him and we were both stoked to find each other again. Thanks facebook!

I reunited with Ras Hori’s beautiful son Keziah two years ago. I waited til he turned 18 to contact him and we were both ecstatic to find each other again. He’s helping me write this post.

Spirit lines. Me and Keziah on the road, 12 years ago. We always had a very special connection and it still goes on.

Spirit lines. Me and Keziah on the road, 12 years ago. We always had a very special connection and it still goes on. Photo by Ras.

This is only one tiny part of one side of a story that is bigger than I could ever begin to tell in one blog post. A drop in the ocean of the thousands of suicides that happen every year in Australia, with young men and people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent at the highest risk. Suicide remains the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44.

On top of this, for every completed suicide, it is estimated that there are over 30 attempts. Many people who consider or attempt suicide but don’t complete it, move on to live happy lives. This goes to show that suicide can occur in a dark moment. According to Lifeline, people who commit suicide don’t want to die, they just want the pain to stop. There are other ways to stop the pain, and reaching out for help is the first step in finding another way out, and SURVIVING that darkest hour to watch the light slowly filter in.

Remember, the night is always darkest just before dawn.

Dear friends. Please reach out for help when you need it. Keep a close eye on friends who may be masking deep distress and ask them if they are ok. There are tonnes of free counselling services available all around Australia that you can tap into. You don’t have to go through the hard times alone. Also, if like me you have been bereaved by suicide, get appropriate support to deal with it and process the grief that comes with this particular type of loss. We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

Here are some helpful starting points if you are feeling suicidal or are worried that someone you know might be feeling suicidal.

Rest in peace Ras… Jam on in Zion. Thank you for the music and the lessons and the beauty you left behind you. We love you.

Ras Hori, Newcastle 2001

Rasta vibrations

Rasta Fyah

Rasta Fyah

Life is beautiful. Peace out homies. Thanks for hearing my story. It’s been a long time coming.

Lovecat xo

P.s. all photographs by me except the photo of Jah Sounds and photos of me and Keziah. Story and photos published with permission of Ras Hori’s family.

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6 Comments

  • Reply Sotto January 23, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Hori’s story needed to be told. The Phoenix has risen. It’s everyone’s story now.
    R.I.P. Hori.

    • Reply Claire Cottone January 23, 2016 at 10:30 pm

      Thank you Sotto, wise papa you are. It’s true, it is our story to share now. We are all together in this crazy thing called life, and in death as well it seems. Rise up….

  • Reply Dave January 24, 2016 at 7:11 am

    Good work Claire. Hard to write i am sure but important.

    • Reply Claire Cottone January 25, 2016 at 3:45 pm

      Thanks Dave :-). Yep I’m seeing that its healing to share the story, for me and for others who can relate. Love bro!

  • Reply Corinne September 9, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    I love “we may not have it all together, but together we have it all”… thank you for telling your story.. xxx

    • Reply Claire Cottone September 12, 2016 at 5:16 pm

      You’re welcome… thank you for reading xxx

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