This week’s post is by Craig A. Miller, who contributed a strong post earlier about the difference between not wanting to die and wanting to live. Here, he talks about moving forward. Visit Craig’s website at Thisishowitfeels.com.
“Why?” As a suicide attempt survivor I can’t tell you how many times I have sat with people and tried to give them an answer to that question. When doctors would ask I would become frustrated, because they should be the ones with the answers. When family would ask I would feel guilty, because anything I said was misinterpreted as blame. And when friends would ask I would just become quiet, because no one could ever really understand what I was going through. For all the years I struggled with suicide and all the times I sat with family, friends, and doctors trying to understand why, I was never really able to come up with anything that truly explained it. It wasn’t until I sat alone and tried to find the answer for myself that I was finally able to do so.
The process came after a suicide attempt that left me in the intensive care unit for days. Needles pierced my skin, tubes ran down my nose and throat, and restraints held me to the bed. Doctors prepared my family for the possibility that I may not survive. But I did. And my attempt at suicide became one of the most significant turning points of my life. It wasn’t because I had nearly died. It wasn’t because I was grateful to be alive or that I was overcome with fear or anger or guilt. It wasn’t because of the devastating effect it had on my family and friends. It was because, for the first time in my life, I realized that I had truly reached the bottom. Life was as bad as it could get.
I knew afterwards that I couldn’t keep living the way I had been. I had to do something to fix my life and, more importantly, fix me. But before I could begin to repair anything, I first had to understand what needed to be repaired. For the days and weeks after my attempt I spent most of my time trying to understand what had really happened. I sifted through a tangled and complicated past looking for the answer to why I had been suicidal for so many years. For some reason, “Because I just couldn’t take it anymore” didn’t seem to suffice.
So why did I do it? Why did I try to kill myself? Why did I try to make my life end?
At first, I began answering the question with bad memories and haunting thoughts:
- Because when I closed my eyes I still felt the hands of a child molester crawling over my skin.
- Because the only thing I learned from elementary school was how to hide from pointing fingers and balled up fists.
- Because, to me, the word ‘home’ meant angry voices, slamming doors, and shallow breaths.
- Because all my life feeling safe meant being alone.
For weeks I replayed my life, day by day, scene by scene. I let the answers rise to top of a cauldron of pain, anger, and resentment, never letting the question go and never letting the answers stop. I thought of all the times I had suffered, all the nights I lay broken, sobbing on the floor, begging for my mind to stop thinking and my heart to stop aching.
- Because watching myself bleed meant that it didn’t only hurt on the inside.
- Because I believed in dreams that didn’t believe in me.
- Because it took a handful of pills to sleep through the night and another handful to face the day.
- Because I had more doctors than I had friends.
- Because I was done trying to cope with the hurt, and make sense of the senseless.
- Because I was done giving my life to a life that gave nothing back.
- Because everything, absolutely everything, hurt.
Months passed and each time I came up with another answer I wrote it down. I took them seriously no matter how insignificant they sounded or how weak they appeared. Every reason needed to be acknowledged. If it contributed to my suicidal thoughts then it needed to come out. I did this until I felt that every answer to the question ‘why’ had reached the surface.
For a time, I was satisfied. Hundreds of reasons filled my notebook. I fanned through the pages and felt like I had accomplished something great, like a purging of dark secrets, or a perfectly laid out map of self-discovery. This seemed like it was all I needed to help me understand why I felt the way I felt and did what I did. So I left it alone for a while. I let it sit, not yet sure how I would approach the process of trying to repair each one.
When I picked the notebook up again, I read through the answers out loud, one at a time, looking to understand for myself what needed to be worked on first. But when I reviewed them I didn’t find the perfectly laid out map of self-discovery I thought I had written. What I found wasn’t really even a list of reasons or a list of targeted areas of improvement. What I read was an outline of all the things that I wished had never happened to me- the events that were beyond my control, the events that I lacked the capacity to control, and even the events where having control is what made them so painful.
What I had really created was a wish list of things I wanted to change. And from a broader scope, it was a list of things I felt I was incapable of changing. But the truth was these things had changed. In fact, my entire life had always been one changing event after another. The one thing that had not changed was me, stuck firm at the bottom of emotion, pain, despair, and hopelessness. All the while life moved on,transforming from one scene to another leaving me with a broken heart and a broken mind. And because I had never allowed myself to change with it, I was not only left living in the past, the past was left living in me.
I wanted to end my life because I had spent the greater part of my childhood as a victim of molestation. But I wasn’t being held down by those hands anymore.
I wanted to end my life because elementary school was more about survival than it was about learning. But I wasn’t running home from schoolyard bullies anymore.
I wanted to end my life because I grew up in a house filled with mood swings and violent outbursts. But I wasn’t that little boy hiding under the covers anymore.
In the end I realized that it wasn’t my life that needed to change; it was I that needed to change. And if that is my answer, if that is the truth behind why I attempted suicide then it wasn’t my past that was haunting me, it was how I saw my past that haunted me. It was how I allowed my past to affect me in the present. This is what I needed to work on. If I wanted my future to be different then I needed to be different.
I believe that one of the biggest steps in moving forward is to ask questions of ourselves, to be painfully honest and truly work at discovering the answers that will give us what we need to hear. I spent so much time trying to help other people understand me that I never took the time to understand myself. When doctors, family, and friends asked me questions, especially why I was suicidal, I unconsciously looked for the answers that would justify why I felt that way. It was as if I was trying to convince them that if they had experienced the same thing, or if they felt the same way I did, then they would be suicidal too. It wasn’t until I asked this question of myself, by my own desires, that I was able to discover the true, unfiltered answer.
Asking myself why and working to discover the answer was the first step that I took forward after my suicide attempt. Learning that the real reason behind my attempt was that I wanted to change, but felt that I was incapable of making that change, gave me the direction I needed to take the next step forward.