I attempted suicide 4 times before turning 21. Some part of me stopped the attempt from being successful 3 times. The fourth time, though, was almost too late. I prayed; my alters prayed too. We all promised that night to get help, to change our path, if we survived the night. And we did – survive and change paths – that is.
But this didn’t stop any of us from contemplating suicide when times got rough. It didn’t stop my anyone from creating elaborate plans for various suicide attempts. It didn’t stop us from putting ourselves into reckless or dangerous situations that could potentially “help us along” – i.e. suicide by car or gang violence or mugging – for many years after that.
BUT I DO NOT CONDONE SUICIDE OR THE TAKING OF LIVES EXCEPT THROUGH ACCIDENTS, LONG-TERM ILLNESS, OR AGE.
I DO SUPPORT AND ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO TAKE BACK CONTROL OF THEIR LIVES BY GIVING THEMSELVES CHOICES
And that’s what the idea of suicide was to me back then. It was a choice. One of the few choices I had control over in my life at the time. I woke up every day and decided to live or die. I went to bed every night instead of dying. I worked instead of being reckless. I went home instead of going out late at night and walking by myself.
Last summer, my therapist forwarded me a free webinar by Bessel Van Der Kolk. Mr. Van Der Kolk was promoting his new book The Body Keeps the Score and used the webinar to highlight interesting research. One of the things I found most interesting was how he denounced current strategies for talking to victims of trauma contemplating suicide. He said that the current approach was wrong because the people were punishing the victim for coping with internal struggles the only way he or she knew how. The punishment caused more shame and reinforced the victim’s belief that suicide was good because the victim was worthless to the world and didn’t deserve to exist.
Instead of trying to talk the victim out of suicide, Mr. Van Der Kolk suggested validating the victims’ choice and method of coping by pointing out the victim made a choice and a decision. One that doesn’t have anything to do with death, but with living. Then suggest other methods of coping as choices to try now; and allow the victim to keep suicide as an option for coping if nothing else works – kind of like a safety net in the background. Eventually, the other strategies replace suicide. And the practice of making choices, being heard, being seen and validated, helps the victim become a survivor who doesn’t need suicide as an option anymore.
I kept thoughts of suicide as one of my last resort strategies up until last year. The process of planning suicide is time-consuming and thought-provoking. There are so many ways and options for each way to commit suicide. Planning and process; creating a to-do list; researching locations, etc. all distract the mind from painful feelings and memories. And that’s what I needed then. A distraction that could take me away for a while and give me some breathing space.
But I never planned to follow through on killing myself. Nor did I plan to go further than thinking about and planning options for suicide attempts. I needed that last resort choice for times when nothing else in my tool box worked. Not the positive strategies I’ve mentioned here. Not more neutral or negative ones. Not sel-harm. Not medicine. My feelings and memories were too intense; and trying anything positive to “cope” or “put away” for a while only increased the pressure inside me. I couldn’t calm down; had to ride the wave of sensation without losing control.
That meant keeping my mind occupied without something else stimulating, rebellious, thought-provoking, and full of strategy while letting my body lie down with eyes closed to minimize physical risks.
So, no I don’t condone suicide.
But I believe that anyone contemplating suicide, especially trauma victims and survivors, need to have their choices validated and be approached in a different way than the norm if counselors and loved ones truly want to help them.
Thanks for reading.