We Need to Talk About Suicide

I still think about suicide. Maybe not often but it does come up from time to time–mostly when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I think about what it would take to complete it in one go….then I think about who and what I would miss and who might miss me.

Before my two most recent hospitalizations, I was hospitalized once as a teenager. I honestly don’t remember the circumstances that clearly–I think my mom and I may have had a fight. Let me be clear, our fights were not her asking me to do something and me not wanting to do it, it was more like,”Mom, why won’t you listen to me? Please don’t leave when I’m sad.”

I didn’t realize for a long time that my mom’s behavior was abusive. She used me in a way no child should be and I suffered most of my life, believing the reason for my sadness and struggles was some inherent flaw in me. When I got into an abusive relationship a few years ago, I never thought it would happen to me. I never considered that my life up to that point had probably primed me for that type of relationship. Still, the pain was like nothing I had ever experienced and it was unbearable.

I contemplated suicide throughout my relationship. I attempted suicide too for which I was later punished by my abuser. During my relationship, I became very isolated and my world got smaller and smaller. I attempted to leave multiple times but always returned. So few doors seemed to be open to me–the thought of suicide was my only constant. It was always there if I needed it, not looming like the Grim Reaper or some terrifying bottomless chasm but like an open door, a friend even.

You see, my life had become a terrifying bottomless chasm. I suffered from PTSD because of my partner’s actions and it was followed by more abuse. Suicide beckoned me at times, almost like a rescuer,“C’mon, let’s get the hell out of here!” She held the door open for me, waiting, watching.

Sometimes I would just stand at the door and hold her hand, sobbing and frightened, my tormentor behind me, so angry. My world was shattered and chaotic. I wanted peace….just not the forever kind.

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I bring this up because although I’ve felt utterly alone at times, I know that I am not. I know there are others who’ve stood at the threshold, some who’ve passed over it and returned. And I know it is a lonely place. We are often afraid to talk about suicidal thoughts and attempts–afraid of burdening others, afraid of being misunderstood, afraid we will be committed, afraid of being shamed or abandoned. These fears are very real, many of them based on people’s actual responses to us speaking up.

I want to tell people who feel/have felt suicidal or made attempts,”You have nothing to be ashamed of. You are not crazy or weak. Suicide is not an ‘easy way out,’ it’s anything but easy. There’s nothing wrong with you, there’s most likely something wrong with your life and you sense that. You’re not selfish, you’re probably far from it. Also, we were not meant to go through this life alone and if your burden is too heavy to bear by yourself, it’s healthy and acceptable to reach out and get some help carrying it.”

I’ve got some advice, which I rarely give because I don’t like to think I know what’s best for anybody else but this feels important:

Accept yourself, question everything else.

It may sound simplistic but it’s not. Self-acceptance is a long, hard road for many of us and having the courage to speak about our pain is a MAMMOTH step in the right direction. In the meantime, start to question the beliefs that cause you pain, beliefs like: “You’re responsible for stopping/preventing people from abusing you,” and, “happiness is the most desirable thing and it’s attainable if you just apply yourself,” and,”depression and mental illness are signs of weakness/something wrong with you.” There’s a preponderance of beliefs like this and they tend to relieve people of any responsibility for each other which is just inhuman. We affect each other greatly and have the capacity to help and to harm one another.

Our lives are made up of many interactions with many different people and there’s no reason you need to do the hard parts by yourself. Talk to someone. Please don’t stay silent. You have nothing to be ashamed of. If people make you feel crappy when you speak up, they’re the ones who should be ashamed for being so callous and ignorant.  There are others, people who will listen and people who can help.

You’re not alone.

Figure and Ground: The Importance of Seeing Light and Dark

“I don’t want people to feel bad for treating me like crap.”

I was startled by my own words in my last therapy session. I’d already acknowledged that I harbored a belief I must be “good” so people wouldn’t treat me like crap but this was on another level. Not only did I could affect how people treated me but I also believed I needed to protect people from feeling bad about treating me poorly.

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Boundaries are learned and developed over time–children who are abused learn their boundaries are useless and may as well not even exist. Those whose boundaries are repeatedly violated are essentially sent into the world with faulty immune systems. We are unable to absorb the nutrients and nourishing things people have to offer while we are simultaneously unable to defend against future abuse and mistreatment. (Incidentally, child abuse/trauma survivors are much more likely to suffer from autoimmune disorders as well.)

In addition to our faulty immune systems, we suffer from a type of blindness which prevents us from seeing the world as it truly is. Like many survivors of abuse, I struggle to recognize my own virtues and often fail to see the wickedness inherent in others. This type of blindness is reinforced over time by people who benefit from it thus making it very difficult to recover from.

Not until my most recent relationship was I able to acknowledge the depravity that exists in others. I was raised to see only the good in others and no doubt my partner benefited from that. It was only when I learned that sociopathic behavior was not limited to serial killers and the sensationalized monsters presented by the media that I was able to see my partner for who he truly was.

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Many people are reticent to acknowledge the harm that people are capable of inflicting on others. Oftentimes, it seems we are more comfortable heaping blame and shame on victims than placing it where it belongs. Victims fall into this same mindset and fail to see their own virtues while succumbing to the belief that they can change their abuser’s behavior if they are only good enough, thereby accepting blame for the abuse.

In the course of my abusive relationship I all but forgot the person I truly was: empathic, sensitive, curious and understanding. Even once I acknowledged I still possessed these qualities, I saw them as weaknesses or reasons I was abused. Likewise, I felt the need to protect my abuser from accepting the blame for his callous, degrading and monstrous behavior.

The truth of it is, being sensitive, open, empathic and understanding are wonderful qualities that should be treasured and cherished. Average, feeling individuals who encounter these qualities in others will not exploit them no matter what. Horrific as it is, there are also people walking this earth who are devoid of empathy and unable to truly feel or care for others. Their relationships are based on deception and the insatiable thirst for dominance and control. They fly under the radar with most people and often present as charming and affable, never letting on that they are missing something essentially human.

I have only just begun to separate figure from ground: seeing my wonderful qualities for what they are, realizing they had nothing to do with why I was abused and moving toward placing sole responsibility with my perpetrator. Separating these things out can feel like sifting grains of rice from sand: impossible. But it’s worth it — worth it to see the light that lives inside me. Indeed, sometimes we must acknowledge the dark that exists in others in order to recognize our own light.

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Thank you for listening with an open heart.

The Sleeping Beauty: Waking Up from the Nightmare of Abuse

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I know you,
I walked with you once upon a dream
I know you,
The gleam in your eyes is so familiar a gleam
And I know its true
That visions are seldom all they seem
But if i know you
I know what you’ll do
You’ll love me at once, the way you did once upon a dream.

Once Upon A Dream, Sleeping Beauty

I’ve never understood this song the way I do now. It suddenly popped into my head as I was replaying scenes and soundbites from my relationship. Everything began to coalesce and assemble into a very frightening picture. The realization that the image portrayed to me was not reality sat in my chest like a brick. It still does.

As I learn more about the patterns that manifested, the warning signs I ignored and the way I felt in my relationship, all of it begins to make sense. I begin to see myself as the Sleeping Beauty, waiting for a prince that doesn’t exist. Dreaming of the man she loves, who loves her and always will–even when he hurts her. “You’ll love me at once, the way you did once upon a dream.”

I realize now that in order for that dream to exist, I had to sacrifice myself. I had to believe that I was to blame, deserving of the pain I endured and that if I only behaved in the right way, I would no longer be punished.

I see now that this was never true. There was nothing I did to deserve what happened to me nor was there anything I could do to stop it. In order to accept this, I needed to accept that the man I loved and the love I imagined he had for me never existed. The love I experienced was real but the person I loved was not.

I can imagine him reading this now and harshly accusing me being the one who never loved him, going on and on about how hard he tried and how he never got anywhere because of some innate character flaw of mine. But this is all a part of the dream. When I awoke from my slumber I found no prince waiting for me, only a wall of deadly thorns. I also saw that I was not the only one dreaming, friends, therapists, people who could have helped were dreaming of the prince as well. People who become triangulated will see whatever the manipulator wants them to see.

It was not a kiss that woke me but the courage to tell my story as well as the receiving and accurate reflection of a trusted confidant. As the truth poured out, it was held up for me to see. My words were finally heard, not just by someone else but by me. For the first time I saw that I was not crazy, not defective or damaged but lost, lost in a dream, a nightmare, a maze of lies and deceit.

For the past couple of years, I have been crying, begging to be woken up from this horrible nightmare. Now that I am awake I do not wish to go back to sleep. The truth is painful but dreaming of my prince while being abused and manipulated was far worse.

If you or someone you know has been or is being abused, do not give up hope. Your/their feelings are real and important. The capacity for others to harm us is also very real and if you have to sacrifice your inner peace, love and faith in yourself to be with someone, you are being harmed. But there is a way out! It is not incumbent upon victims to “get themselves out of their own mess”; all people need and deserve love and respect at all times and victims are often looked upon with disgust and deserted by people who could be in a position to help. No matter what, you need and deserve help.

Do not give up.

There is still hope.