On suicide

When I was a child, my mother used to allow me to wander the library unattended. She is a genealogist, and for the most part, the library is where there were computers or other machines that connected to archives. I tagged along, happy to be left alone to explore my wonderland. 

I remember the moment I first laid eyes on that spine in the philosophy section. At first, I was drawn to the idea of a German female author (Emile Durkheim) talking about suicide. Little did I know it was a Frenchman postulating on the reason why people turn to suicide. I sat in the aisle, my back to the shelves, searching for answers. Turning the first page, I realized this book, this crisis, this epidemic of existential proportions, was older than me (1897!) I wasn’t the only one searching for answers. I had not come up with this concern myself. 

I was twelve years old. 

A year earlier, I had spent hours in the same library, reading my summer book list from start to finish, at times tagging along with my mother, and other times persuading my friends to come with me. To explore the library, full of possibility and knowledge. I rarely read non fiction, rather traveling through the young adult classics and fantasy sections, save for my time spent reading biographies of the greats: novelists, classical musicians, architects, artists. I was obsessed with the world’s beauty. I longed to be part of a world where beauty and luxury existed. I believed it was possible. 

At twelve, I experienced loss from suicide. She was 14, a girl I more than loved, a familiar. My tribe. My heart.

Sitting there, alone, tearing through Durkheim, I searched for the answers no one could give me. Why? How? What does this mean? Can I catch it? Is all hope lost? What happens to her now? To me? Why does this hurt so much?

The answers in this book puzzled me, frightened me, excited me, angered me. Mostly, they left me pondering more often how suicide happens. I was searching for answers and it just prompted more questions. 

That year, I began to tempt fate myself. It wasn’t like playing Russian roulette. I was alone and in pain. I was searching for answers, for comfort, and I found nothing. I’m convinced that my obsession to solve the puzzle of how pain turns into death, how people die in pain, has kept me alive. 

At 14, I became involved in group therapy where other survivors of suicide came together to communally ask the questions I found in the book. Some weeks I went to every group offered. It was then when I came to the realization that the pain that causes a suicide is transferred from the victim to survivor. It creates a link that perpetuates pain, and the only way to relieve it is to discuss it, in community. 

I started my own group, then found others with whom we started a non-profit. It became the thing I woke up for every day. I developed a peer mentoring program, an adolescent survivors of suicide group, then a train the trainer program that was taught throughout the country to peer mentors in high school and resident advisors in college. I created spaces where people could continue to ask Durkheim’s questions. I was obsessed with finding the answer to this problem through the pain left behind in survivors. 

But when I left these groups, when I came home, I was often in more pain. I was more disconnected. People were still attempting and completing, dying, all around me. Despite the hours logged managing a suicide hotline and teaching others about suicide prevention and self care for grief and loss, I never received the help I needed. 

Lesson 1: Sometimes the helpers need help too. Often, the helpers find little help. No one sees them as having weakness.

When I was 16, after the loss of my sister and grandmother, I created a plan to take my own life. The most serious of my several  attempts landed me a spot first in the emergency room, then strapped to a gurney in the back of an ambulance, and finally placed in an inpatient psychiatric facility for adolescents. “Why did you attempt to take your life?” A weary nurse asked upon intake, removing the laces from my shoes. I responded that I no longer could be in my family of origin. And, because of that, I had no one left alive who was safe. 

In this place, I had conversations with children and adolescents who had the risk factors and warning signs I used to teach teens when discussing suicide prevention. I was the hypocrite, and all I could think about was studying for AP exams. They were my only hope for leaving my family behind. I craved safety I had only read about in the books from the library. In this place, we openly talked about pain, about anger and loss. We all chased Durkheim’s questions. Alive but dying inside, we collectively pondered how we’d gotten to this point so early. 

Sadly, we didn’t come to conclusions. The majority of those I shared space with for 9 days died by suicide or overdose, or became incarcerated for drugs or violence. 

Lesson 2: Pain is rarely just physical. No substance, legal or otherwise, can lessen its grip.

At 18, i completed my first thesis on suicide, mainly highlighting and applying the works of Durkheim and others from that era to collected experiences from suicide support groups I facilitated and suicide hotline calls I managed. I analyzed themes, still desperately searching for answers. My cerebral approach created distance from my own pain. 

I was surprised when my mother asked to read my paper. 

One evening, after one of our long drives down the coastline, my mother taught me about my family history of suicide. My premature birth was a result of her own attempt following my father’s desertion just weeks before. I was horrified. Upon sharing this with my stepfather, he recounted the many times he prayed when my mother and I would take our iconic coastline drives. She used to write suicide notes, stating she was going to remove us from the suffering. She was going to save me from my future pain. 

Lesson 3: Pain can be genetic. It can be contagious. 

They say “you’re only as sick as your secrets.” In a family or environment where safety is rare, where love is conditional, where trust is optional, and loyalty is constantly questioned, children are never taught to seek community. They do not learn how to ask for help or share pain openly. The pain, suffering, anger, and loss is not resolved, and grief continues to take hold. 

Eventually, if not resolved, isolation, desperation, and paranoia sets in. Hope is lost. The existential noose pulls tighter, the box closing in, and options become limited by the weight of the pain. 

Lesson 4: The only way out is through.

What have I learned now, in my many years of continued research, exposure to survivors and victims of suicide attempt and completion, and from my own treatment for trauma? 

  • How someone dies fundamentally changes your memory of them. 
  • A shared distribution of weight lightens the load for everyone.
  • Pain is only lessened by the reduction of stigma and the increase in open discussion about what brings the pain.
  • Pain leads to shame, which leads to isolation. 
  • Some of the best medicine is community.

I have dedicated my life to making better memories. Only when we talk openly about and process the pain is it possible to remember people, places, and things with greater fondness. Only when we feel safe can we process the pain. 

Safety and community can break the cycle. Safety and community are the answer for which I have been searching. Safety and community, not substances, reduce isolation. Safety and community prevents suicide; it creates and maintains the best memories. It creates a beauty in this world that, too, can be passed from generation to generation. 

Lesson 5: It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to ask for help. 

I am forever grateful for the ones who have picked up the phone or answered my cries for help. There have been many along my path, and I remember them all. Thank you for reminding me that life’s beauty is not just something I can read in the fantasy section. 

And for the hundreds of souls who I have lost along the way, especially my heart, you continue to drive me to search for the answers, to create solutions. We can do better; we must be better. I carry your hearts in my heart. 

In the end, only kindness matters.

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Graveside

19 years ago today, I watched dirt pile over my best friend’s casket. I watched as what was left of her was lowered into the ground, inch by inch, the physical space between us mounting. I loved her, I did. 

Since that time, I’ve visited her grave often. I talk to her. I smile at her. I cry with her. I’ve moved away and still I sit with her when I’m home. Sometimes, people ask me if I still have friends or family in my hometown, and I want to say that’s she’s there. I want to raise her from the dead, keep her going. 

Last year, for the first time, I heard her whispering to me. I felt her presence. I experienced the games she still played on me. Now, you may not believe any of these experiences, you may think that dead is dead, but I know it in my core. I know she’s always around, wreaking havoc. Kokopelli girl. 

Today, as I was sitting in the sun at her grave, and I saw 2 blue dragonflies fly around us, finally landing on her headstone. Dragonflies are the sign of my spirit animal, my patronus. They mean I’m on the right track, where I need to be. That I’m doing the right thing. I had my angel sitting on the headstone at the same time, and I felt watched, guarded, protected, loved. I looked at her headstone and said, “i release you.” And she was no longer lingering, but the love and protection were still there. Peaceful girl. 

And always, I carry her heart. I carry it in my heart.

Translucent

You left nearly an hour ago

But I can still smell you 

On these sheets I’ve climbed into

Wishing you hadn’t gone.

You impress me

Always

And before, you’ve held back

But this time was different

You looked at me

This time

Like you wanted to see me.

There was no film or filter.

It was easier than I even wanted

Let alone expected

Easier to be held

By your radiance.

Can we start over?

Can we make this the first night,

Our first date,

The first time we made love,

The first time in discovery?

I long for more of this,

Of you,

Unencumbered, 

Unfiltered,

Unmarried.

You’ve got all of you to give now,

And tonight,

You gave it to me, for the first time.

I’ve never felt so whole.

So seen. So completely seen.

Your gaze into my eyes,

Your hand on the small of my back,

Your knee pressing against mine,

Your tenderness on my lips,

Your hand inside my hand,

Your skin against my tongue,

Against my skin,

Enveloping me in knowing.

Vulnerable yet safe.

Seen and yet 

Longing for your eyes to keep seeing.

Path of Totality

I looked up at the sky today, in the path of totality, and I thought of you. I saw the way the moon fit perfectly inside the sun and I thought of you. I felt the shivering cold on my bare arms, and I thought of you. 

You called me star and we used to call our future children moons, those moons fitting perfectly inside of me. We were a supernova. 

I remember you once told me that if you got a tattoo, it’d be a nebula. I remember loving listening to you talk sci-fi to me. I remember your love for Starcraft and Star Trek and Star Wars. Being another star in your galaxy made me feel at home. Now, we’re interstellar, that nebula between us.

I remember watching the moonrise with you at night as we walked around the neighborhood, when we were connecting over difficult things, when we argued. I remember watching the sunset with you looking out at the valley from your parents’ place. Watching the sunrise when we’d stayed up all night giggling and kissing and talking. 
Standing there, looking up, feeling the goosebumps and the time stop and the wind calm, I thought of you. I lingered on the warmth coming from your skin when your arms hovered around me, enveloping me with your abundance. I squinted, dreaming of the radiance of your smile and eyes when you shined your love down on me. Mesmerized by the brilliance of our union. 

I looked up at the sky today, as the embrace between Star and Moon began to unravel, and I thought of you. I thought of the growth, the beautiful flora and fauna around my feet and thought of your selfless manner. For a moment, you gave me perfect totality. You allowed the world to see the dream of a moon inside a star, to drink in the possibility of a miracle, if only for a moment. 

I long for our paths to cross again. I’d travel anywhere to see it happen. The fit—perfection.

Things we said today

Tonight I went on a date with someone in whom I should be interested. He’s nice, intelligent, moderately good looking, and kind to me. But I don’t feel a thing. In fact, if I’m honest with myself, I haven’t been feeling anything for anyone since September of last year. 

Why does that stick in my mind? Well, that was the last time I touched someone whom I love. In my bones I love him. In my toes, my heart, my soul I love him. He is AMAZING in his own right, but he makes me better. And even thinking of him prompts a course correction. Sometimes, I think about being sneaky or desperate or manipulative. And then, just the thought of him aligns me back to neutral good. 

I recently met a man who felt like he was regularly stuck between settling with a woman and having a family or chasing the compulsion to join a monastery. Many years ago, he said, he met his twin soul. They split, though their hearts are still aligned, and he worked to move on. She had an existential crisis that conflicted with his. He dated others for shorter periods of time and he’s convinced himself that he’s ok they aren’t together. 

“For the last 6 years, I’ve found myself thinking of her quite a lot. At times I even think I should ask her if I should move to Arizona to try again… And we haven’t even spoken.”

Oh, how I know that feeling. The feeling of perhaps not having a family or deep, meaningful connection after the parting of twin flames. There’s nothing else left. 

I find it interesting that others go through this loop: feeling continually pushed by a force who left to journey into themself. The deep love and deep awareness. The connection of two third eyes. It’s both exhilarating and debilitating. 

The thing I have learned most from my celibacy, I told my new monk friend, is that the most important relationship one can have is with one’s inner child. There are many quiet moments where I find myself holding that inner child, stroking her golden curls, wiping her tears, and giving all the love I can muster to her. She has become my biggest priority in life. And, somehow, turning inward toward that small child inside has allowed me to be more comfortable alone. When she cries out, I find that I can calm her. When she feels desperate and anxious, I can love her. 

If that twin soul, that great mirror, had not left my side, my home, my bed, I never would have connected with my inner child. Why would I? He was the perfect parent to her; he taught me what she needed, how to listen, and how to respond. He taught me patience while she acted out, while she stomped around to get her way. He waited outside her cave when she needed time and smiled at her just right when she was terrified. He taught her to breathe deeply and rhythmically. Now, I find myself staring at her in the mirror, putting on smiles until she smiles back. Now, I find myself meditating daily to breathe with her. My twin took my shadow self, pulled it out, and loved the hell out of it. And then taught me to as well. 

Being alone is awful. Being alone with someone else is worse. Every day, I’m more grateful to have the time to hold that little girl and adore her, unabashedly and unconditionally. Every day, I’m glad he taught me to love her no matter the obstacles. Every day, I’m glad he left me so I could learn to do it alone. 

“Someday, when we’re dreamin’, deep in love and not a lot to say, then we will remember, the things we said today…”

Shiver

There used to be days when I was convinced he was out of my mind. That I’d moved on. That, there I was, lying beside someone else, it had to mean I was over it. Even now, even unpacking that sentence, I cannot quite pinpoint to what “it” was referring. Our breakup? Our relationship? Our deep affections toward one another? Why would I ever want that to be over?

There were times when I knew I’d moved on. Perhaps that’s more like the truth. I’d moved on–I had seen what it was like with others, I had tested the waters of affection and flirtation and compromise and sex. Since moving on, I’ve had great conversation but terrible sex, great sex but terrible conversation, something platonic I’ve tried to force, charming guys I’ve both given into and not, horribly judgmental, free spirited, it’s run the gamut. I even thought I’d fallen in love a couple times, only to be reminded that I just wanted love. I’ve tried. I’ve failed some, succeeded less. But I succeeded at moving on. 

You know those times when you forget a sweater and the breeze blows? When you say, “i’m never forgetting a sweater ever again. I’ll always be prepared.” And then you go some time, always donning just the right sweater to keep you toasty, only to be lulled into a false sense of security. And then, on a sunny day without a sweater, the breeze blows yet again. And then you remember what it felt like?

I used to be convinced i had exhausted that thought of us being right for one another. I mean, it’s been 3 years since it all fell apart. No, that’s not accurate. It never fell apart. We’re just no longer lovers. We keep our distance, physically, but nothing has unraveled. 

A part of me wants to find any reason to reach out, but I catch myself because he taught me there was never any need to be manipulative. He taught me not to lie to myself or others. I fall down sometimes when it comes to that, but I can’t with him. He’s like an animal that can smell fear. He knows, every time, when I’m not being authentic. 

So I sit here, knowing the love I found was true, pure, real. Knowing that I can move on. Knowing that I would rather not. Knowing that he raised the bar. 

I can’t just go put on any sweater, now that I know what cashmere feels like. I’d rather shiver, gathering goosebumps from the cold wind’s blow. 

Longing, aching, but no longer settling.