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‘I don’t do canned hope’


Before handing off this week’s post to Sabrina Strong, the outspoken founder of the Waking Up Alive crisis respite house in New Mexico, two quick notes.

First, PsychCentral blogger Sandra Kiume kindly posted last week about this site, saying, “If you want to keep up with the cutting edge of suicide prevention, this is truly it.” And for those of you who are interested in pursuing support groups for attempt survivors in your areas, the National Empowerment Center is organizing an online presentation this month by a peer-run group in Massachusetts. Space is limited, but they can fit 500 people. You can sign up here. And now, here’s Sabrina:

I don’t remember the exact date I tried to kill myself, but I know it happened right around this time of year. Spring was on its way, and I was determined not to make it to my 27th birthday. That was eight years ago.

Every anniversary has been different for me, but there’s something very different about this one. Maybe it’s because I’m closing in on a decade. Maybe I just thought my life would be dramatically different than it is now.I spent almost a decade of my young adult life being chronically depressed. I wish those words did any justice in explaining my quality of life, but let’s just say I was the “Debbie Downer” everywhere I went. I wasn’t making new friends. Most of my friends cut and run because they just didn’t know what to do for me. In short, I was slowly descending into crazyland.The night I decided I was done, I took every pill I had and tried to slit my wrists with a dull kitchen knife. I consider myself the poster child for suicide means restriction. If I’d had the full stock of medication or less shitty steak knives, I wouldn’t be here right now.

Instead, I spent the night wandering around my apartment or hallucinating that rats and bats were coming out of my closet as I lay paralyzed on my bed. I puked all over _ floor, walls, pictures. My mother later took it upon herself to clean up all the vomit, because that’s what moms do. They clean up after our messes.

I am passionate about suicide prevention and the role of suicide attempt survivors in the field. One reason is that I think survivors have a unique perspective on what life’s like down in the deep, dark hole. We found our way out, and sometimes that makes us uniquely qualified to help others find their way, too. We’re not afraid to crawl down in the dark hole with someone else. It’s a place we know well, and we can light the way out.

Another reason is that we are willing to speak truthfully, even if others are afraid to. We understand that we do others a disservice by providing generic and whitewashed advice from the school of magical thinking. “Things will get better.” “Everything’s all right.” Or even the dreaded “You can’t kill yourself.” Sometimes things don’t get better, at least not right away. Things are not all right, or you wouldn’t be considering suicide in the first place. And I never recommend daring someone to kill themselves by telling them they “can’t.” Those are fighting words.

So the unvarnished truth is that for some reason, this eight-year anniversary blows. I don’t think I’ve ever been so discouraged, so on the edge of disaster, so terrified that I was going insane, since I tried to kill myself eight years ago. These are dangerous words. This blog will go public. It will be read by my colleagues and other attempt survivors who will worry about me. The thought of this is frightening, but not enough for me to be dishonest by pretending that life is all rainbows and kittens right now.

Why now? When things are going so well? I think it’s precisely because things are going well. I’ve often described the recovery process as finding where all the bodies are buried. Under layers of suicidal thinking, and substance abuse, and questionable relationship decisions, and clutter, and debt, and emotional eating, and [insert your poison here] lies all of the stuff we’d rather not deal with. The trauma. Our raw and broken souls. The hearts that we fear will never get pieced back together the right way.

I’ve been digging through the strata of my damaged life quite successfully for almost a decade now. But right now, for the first time, I’ve taken a look around, and I’m not altogether satisfied by what I see. OK, actually, I hate most of what I see. I’m not sure I have the energy to make the changes that I want.

But at the same time, I know that suicide is an option that’s no longer on the table for me. I tried to kill myself once. It didn’t go well. Then the hospital, and the parents who are traumatized for life. No, thank you. To use a tired saying, “I’ve been down that road; I know exactly where it leads.”

So, by process of elimination, I’ve chosen to fight back. Yes, life is hard. Yes, it can be made so much harder by having a suicide attempt under my belt. Yes, I over-think everything. Yes, I can name so many people who have had it so much worse than I have.

So why do I keep choosing to live? It’s not just a de facto choice. It’s this little tiny adult voice in my head that watches and listens patiently as I cry and freak out. That adult voice hears everything, and when the tears finally dry, it’s that voice that finally asks, “Are you done yet? Tantrum over?”

“Yes.” (Said in the tone of a small child scuffing the ground with her little shoe.)

“Good. Because we have work to do.”

And it’s that voice I both love and loathe. It seems to come from the very center of my being. It’s the part of me that knows absolutely and for certain that things are just about to get good. Really good. The newer, more improved me is about to come out. Same shining personality, but with more horsepower and that new car smell.

So why can’t I just embrace the change, instead of kicking and fighting it every step of the way? That’s a good question, and I’m willing to offer a cash reward to anyone who can provide me with information that leads to the discovery of my maturity.

I take solace in the fact that when applied appropriately, this ram-headed stubbornness gets stuff done. I will continue to advocate for the role of suicide attempt survivors in this field because we have a lot to say. I have a lot to say, though I know it might not all fall into the category of “safe” suicide prevention messaging.

I don’t do canned hope. No, life isn’t great right now, but I’m playing the long game. I could also trot out the familiar “Life is a marathon, not a sprint” or my other favorite saying about Rome and its contracting issues, but my point is that it’s OK for things not to be OK.

Sometimes the hardest thing about recovery is learning to deal with the bad times without imploding. OK, so I’m not exactly rolling in puppies right now, but I’m pretty sure I can see a way through this next leg of my tangled journey, and I know whether I ask for help or not, there will always be others to help light my way.

6 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Thank you for your honesty. I was able to relate very well with your story and it saddens me that so many others are in the same state that I find myself from time to time. My medication keeps me reasonably sociable but flat. Always flat.
    That is a far cry from where I was a decade ago. I think I’m fortunate to still be alive as it was more good luck than good management..
    I hope you turn a corner soon where there is a brighter view.


  2. Thank you Peter! Yes, I think for the most part I am doing well, but the recovery process is complicated, and very individualized. I know everyone struggles with the right mix of meds, and therapy, and (sometimes painful) forward progress. But I think there’s a comfort in knowing that others have experienced a similarly rocky road, and that it’s no reason to panic.


  3. Like you, my first attempt was in April, 21 yrs ago. I still fight the urge every day to end things. One thing I have learned like you have is to just push through. I don’t can the hope but am always thinking maybe tomorrow will be a little bit better. Live for the hour, because today is too overwhelming. Mike


  4. I really appreciate your honesty, Sabrina. I tried nine times, and, thank God, no more. I don’t remember any dates, as all of them were a long time ago, but I do know that I was in one hell of a lot of emotional pain ALL the time back then, and all I wanted was for the agony to stop. I couldn’t think of any other way than to kill myself, so I just kept on trying and trying and trying. I can give you more details if you’d like.

    Unfortunately there are no easy answers–wouldn’t it be nice if there were! For me, the reason it’s so difficult to, as you put it so well, embrace the change, is because if I do, that means I have to feel the pain. And I HATE having to feel the pain! I’ve had my fill of that already. However, I do want to become the shining star that I was created to be, so I push ahead, pain and all.

    Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I like your blog and I love your forthrightness.




    • What a great achievement you have made. Be proud of yourself, Sarah. I know what you mean about pain and not wanting to face it. It’s so easy to keep in the closet and ignore it. Well, easier than facing it. But I love your comment about becoming the shining star that you were created to be! I think we can all use that philosophy.


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