You Don’t Know What You’ve Got

My best friend killed herself, and I told myself my fight for suicide prevention had nothing to do with my grief.

For nearly a year and a half, I researched every related topic, every keyword, every article and news link, every way suicide correlated with her life or mine. I dug into her past. I dug into my past. I encountered the next death and I didn’t even blink.

Suicide number ___, in my mind. Lost hope. Lost battles to cancer. Drug overdoses. Loss number ___.

I searched every hashtag. I followed, bookmarked, and connected with every organization and professional available to me. College work would be due, I’d go to research a topic, no matter what it was, I landed on suicide-related things. I collected articles I didn’t have access to otherwise. I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop.

Neither could death by family member number four or suicide number three. But it didn’t faze me. I’d Google, tweet, research, and write; collect obituaries and pretend to breathe. I told myself it wasn’t grief; it was motivation. It was going to make something of me.

Nicole, Debbie, Nicholas, Danny, Shawn, Robert, Daniel, Kay, I collected names. That hasn’t stopped. Neither have I. And I thought I needed some explanation, some defense to be driven — to be inspired by loss. I searched for validation. I fought for a purpose, a noble cause.

I became a sponge. I absorbed all of the loss around me until I felt like a fraud. Like with the death of Linkin Park’s lead singer, Chester Bennington. It’s not like I knew the guy personally. But it pained my heart as I read The Guardian headline informing the world of the next “suspected suicide” loss on recently deceased Chris Cornell‘s birthday.

The word “suicide” still makes my heart skip a beat. It still makes me sink to my knees. And I find myself lost in my own grief again, asking myself if the fight is worth it, asking myself if I’m just grieving or crazy, not intelligent or driven; asking myself if I’m broken or what.

The answer comes faster each time:

I’m grieving and I’m learning and I’m fighting for life.

Maybe that’s all we stand to gain from our losses. Knowledge and hope. A reminder to live.

And maybe, someday, peace of mind.


#RIPChester

If you are feeling hopeless or suicidal, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HELLO to the Crisis Text Line, 741-741. You can also visit suicide.org for international resources and listings.

 

How Being Abusive Helped Me Forgive My Abusers

I used to carry enough anger for every victim of child abuse and then some until I discovered my anger kept me clinging to violence.

When abuse happens inside the home, it’s difficult to escape your abuser even after you are grown. My sisters and I ran opposite directions. We each had different traumas and different symptoms in reaction to those traumas. We were so young.

My oldest sister left town and changed her name twice; severing all ties with the family, including me. My other sister dove into college. When the trauma of sexual assault found her inside the dorm, she ran into the Air Force. Next, she ran to love. While she’s happily married, she draws so much distance from the family, she might as well be gone. Me? I stayed. I am still holding on.

It took a long time to understand and forgive my sisters. It came with a unique kind of pain. While there are great sacrifices in running from your past and great triumphs to be gained, choosing to stay can be the same.

Choosing to stay can be healing if the abuse has stopped and you’re willing to put that anger away. I hear people say,

Abuse is a choice!

I agree. I hear them say,

You abuse because you were abused?! Bullsh*t!
You abuse because you’re an abuser.

Deep down, there’s a piece of me that feels the same way. I know that anger. I know that pain. Those statements and feelings are valid, but they don’t create healing or change. People are not born abusive. Something makes them that way.

I was barely a teenager the first time I hit my sister. I had been watching a movie on Lifetime. At the beginning, a man abandoned his three kids at a gas station. It showed them standing with their toys and belongings. The youngest was screaming as he drove away when I grabbed the remote to turn it off. I headed to my bedroom, fuming with anger, as my sister headed the other way, and I hit her. I hit her and I didn’t feel a thing! I don’t even know why I did it.

I have no memory of the rest of that day, but I do remember the day I hit my mother after she was done belittling me and calling me names. I blamed myself for the abuse after that. I felt like I must’ve deserved it because I did the exact same thing.

If I believe what the majority say, I am an abuser. But I believe I was a victim. I believe my actions and my anger were controlled by other things. It took years to identify and understand those things. It took years to forgive myself for violence beyond my control and convince myself it’s okay to let go of those mistakes. It took years to release the guilt. I still carry the pain.

Because of those experiences, I can look at my abusers and identify the same kind of causes and distinguish their pain. Does that validate the abuse? Does it negate the consequences of child abuse? Does it mean my abusers didn’t have the choice to change? No.

Am I making excuses for them by recognizing how domestic violence and degenerative illness caused my life to be this way? In my younger days, I did. I don’t allow myself to do that anymore. Still, the elements of abuse haven’t changed.

Being able to identify why the abuse happened helped bring understanding. It helped me offer my parents insight into their abuse and the sickness that caused it. It opened the doors to forgiveness that many victims lock before throwing the keys away. It helped bring healing in the middle of pain.

Some people do abuse because they were abused. If they can’t talk about it, if we’re too busy labeling them as abusers instead of acknowledging they were victims; if we can’t show them the why behind the violence, how can they change?

I escaped the abuse. I stayed to break the cycle.

And I’m stronger for it.


18004ACHILD

I Call Your ’13 Reasons’ and Raise You One

The world can’t stop talking about “13 Reasons Why.” It is taking over Facebook.

Maybe I’ve lost too many loved ones to suicide because I do not understand the hype. Fifteen minutes into the first episode, I turned on something else. I was already nervous and doubtful, but after watching, I was just pissed off.

In high school, I was one of three high school students to make an attempt following the suicide of a classmate. Back then, help like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline didn’t exist. So, when my friend told me I should’ve known better, he was right.

Albeit, because I knew better, I knew when to stop watching. I knew when to turn it off and I was aware of the resources available if I became emotionally overwhelmed or suicidal. He defended the show, pointing out how it brings awareness to a taboo topic which is often silenced, but he chooses not to watch. I’m with him.

While awareness is crucial to suicide prevention and advocacy, how we utilize that awareness is essential in effectively saving lives. When it comes to the impact of suicide and the media, Madelyn Gould from the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Division of Epidemiology at Columbia University confirms,

The existence of suicide contagion no longer needs to be questioned.

We know the risks. Because we know the risks, media outlets like Netflix have a moral and ethical obligation to act with the same awareness this show is alleged to present. Instead, they are risking lives.

The Media Guidelines for Reporting on Suicide specifically urge against detailed descriptions of method and site. They also encourage against headlines that will gain the front page of the New York Times and social media spotlight. In the description of the latest, most talked about television show, Netflix presents,

After a teenage girl’s perplexing suicide, a classmate receives a series of tapes that unravel the mystery of her tragic choice.

Clearly, their producers see media guidelines as friendly suggestions, instead of researched measures imperative to saving young lives.

One of the hardest parts of being a suicide loss survivor is the feeling of guilt. You replay their last days and you search social media posts and text messages, trying to figure out what you missed, and you blame yourself no matter how irrational it is, but there isn’t always a sign.

Here we are, taking suicide viral. Watching our sons and our daughters stare at their laptops and phones, thinking we’ve done enough to protect them; thinking they know better, and there’s no reason why suicide would impact our lives.

Right now, there is there a flashing, neon sign streaming across America, warning us that lives are at risk and we are strapped to the edge of our seats, gawking and applauding. We’re cheering it on.

While college students and teenagers are holed up at home with their eyes glued to Netflix, the clock is ticking. Silent, emotional reactions are transpiring inside of vulnerable people, ambivalent to their own suicidal ideation and naive to the risks. For the next suicidal teenager, death is just a matter of time, and “13 Reasons Why” is making the clock tick faster.

Maybe it is not suicide that is contagious, so much as the value of life. We should up the anti. We should help our children carry the weight and rise! We should be protesting, shouting, and taking a stand against it. Something (anything!) that sends the message that glamorizing suicide attempts and losses through celebrity-tinted camera lenses causes the entire nation to lose focus of what is required of us if we want to save lives.

Shame on Netflix, and shame on us for not taking more forceful action to protect the population in which suicide is the second leading (ages 10–24) and primary (college-aged) cause of death!

I don’t need thirteen reasons to turn off the show or unsubscribe. I only need one.

Life.