A few weeks ago, my very young cousin, Andrew* took his own life. While Andrew was only 23, in some ways, he was much older. Andrews mother was at war with cancer for most of his life. She aggressively fought many battles against cancer, and a few years ago, she lost the war. This loss hit Andrew very hard. I too know the pain of losing someone close to you (though it was not my mother) and I can empathize with Andrew. The death of a loved one can bring you to dire straits and it is very, very hard to move on without them.
Andrew’s suicide brought out more emotions in me than I was prepared to deal with. The news of his suicide hit me square in the heart. It felt like someone had punched me in the gut and I was struggling to stand upright. My heart has been heavy for weeks. You see, I had my own bout with suicide attempts as a teenager and as a young wife. Each time I woke up, I was very angry that I was still alive. How dare someone force me to live a life I never wanted?
I understand now.
Suicide is a selfish, self-centered permanent end to a temporary problem. It leaves behind hundreds of mourning loved ones who have no answers, but carry the heavy load of blame and guilt.
“What if I had just said…”
“He called me once for help and I should’ve…”
“I thought something was off, but I ….”
And more. There is so much more that each of the survivors carry. Guilt they may never speak of, for fear that it may be true. But, it isn’t true. This is a choice that Andrew made for himself, and that is something that we all need to remember. Andrew knew that this is what he wanted, even if he didn’t understand the consequences when he pulled the trigger on that gun.
That may sound harsh to you, but remember, I’ve been on the side that Andrew has been on. I understand the basics of the journey to the point where suicide seems to be the only option, and I remember precisely the amount of selfishness and anger necessary to shut out the rest of the world and develop a “damn the world” attitude. I remember pulling my own trigger of sorts, and I remember feeling relief when I fell asleep, thinking it was all over. I understand how Andrew got to that point, and I even understand to a point, why he felt it was the only way. This isn’t a popular viewpoint amongst my family right now, but it’s still a valid one, especially for my own healing. I was very, very lucky. I’m still here. I failed. I wish Andrew had failed, too. I wish he had never known the kind of pain that drives someone to thoughts of suicide in the first place. I wish he and I had known each other better. Maybe I could’ve spoken Life to him? (There I go…survivor’s guilt.)
I feel a responsibility, as someone who has failed at multiple suicide attempts, to speak the truth – to speak life to anyone who has been on either side of “the ledge” and to offer some wisdom and strength. You can’t make someone listen to you. If they have it in their heads that this is what they’re going to do, nothing you say or do will pull them down. They have to pull themselves down. You can wait patiently for them on the sidelines, remind them of their responsibilities and blessings here on earth, and you can speak Love to them, but you cannot decide for them whether or not they will in fact “jump”. You also have to decide whether or not you’re going to take that chance, knowing that they may jump no matter what you say. They have to decide whether or not to listen. You don’t decide that for them, no matter how loudly you scream, or how much you love them.
For those who are on that ledge, fight. Get angry. Yell at the walls, yell at the wind. Punch a pillow and yell at that. Tell the universe how much it sucks and how much you hurt. Act a little (or a lot) crazy and do what I did. Go in the bathroom, shut and lock the door, and yell at the walls about how much you hurt, how unfair life is, and how nothing works out for you. Tell the walls to go fuck themselves. Say it again, and picture the person you’re really mad at. Start yelling at the image of that person. Yell until you can’t yell anymore. And then just start crying. You’re going to need to cry, a lot. And that’s OK! Remember, you’re alone in that bathroom, the door is closed, and you need this. You have to get this anger out, or it will consume you. You cannot get on that ledge. You cannot take that bottle of pills in your cabinet. You cannot pick up that gun. In fact, flush those pills down the toilet. NOW. It doesn’t matter if they’re not yours. Get rid of them. NOW. Throw them out a window, in the trash, in the hall. Get them out of your sight. If it’s a gun, get rid of it, right now. A knife/razor/whatever you’re using to hurt yourself – get rid of it NOW. And keep yelling. If you have to go in that bathroom every day and yell, do it. Don’t come out until you’re weak from crying and yelling. If you have roommates or children, I’ve found that whisper yelling works just as well, though you’ll need a large glass of water afterwards.
It’s not silly. It’s life. And whatever is hurting you, it has to come out. You may not know the words to use, but I’ve found that by simply yelling every word, every insult imaginable, I’ve found my voice and I’ve discovered over time the words to use. I’ve also discovered that I’m not really alone in that bathroom after all. Jesus has been there with me all along, with His arms around me, loving me in the middle of my “hate sessions”. He’s listened, and He’s healed me. He’s offered me His strength, and His comfort. And when others have thought I was nuts, Jesus knew the truth all along and He brought me through that. I was never alone in the bathroom, and I pray you know that Truth, too. You are never alone.
Everyone needs a safe place to unload their pain. For some, it’s therapy. Honestly, I had so much therapy before I was even ready for it, that I learned too early on how to manipulate it and use therapy to my advantage to gain sympathy for issues I never had, so that I could cover up the serious stuff I was really going through. I used therapy to mask my true pain. This is a truth both sides need to know about. Therapy isn’t for everyone, even Christian therapy. I manipulated that too, even as an adult. It took about a year and a half of those bathroom “hate sessions” for me to even figure out what was going on in my own life. Once I faced the truth and stared it down, I was able to move on. But I had to make that choice for myself. I chose to do it for several reasons, some of which are noble and some of which aren’t. But the point is, I made the choice and I’m now looking forward to a life of more choices, rather than having ended my own life and my ability to choose for myself what I will and will not accept.
I will not accept negativity. I may come off as a hard ass to some, but I’ve fought a hard battle and wanted to die more times than anyone except Jesus knows about. I’ve won this war, and I’m going to continue winning every battle. I’m here to stay. I’m here to offer you some of that strength I had to beg, borrow and bleed for. Take it. And know that you are more than whatever battle you’re fighting today. You are so completely worth the effort your friends, family, teachers, loved ones put into you. You’re worth the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, too. You are so much more than you ever thought. I hope someday you punch the devil in the nose and steal that strength back from him, so you can see it, too.
*Andrew was not his real name, but for privacy of the family, I have changed his name.