As many of my readers know, I struggle far too often with suicidal ideation. Yesterday, this was the primary topic at my therapy session. She asked me a variety of questions but the one I want to “talk” to you about is this: What stops me? I have all the tools, I know how, I’m certainly alone often enough. So, what keeps me from following through?
My impulse answer was easy: the damage it would do to my family (especially my kids), fear of the process, fear of failing at the process and suffering long-term consequences. As she likes to do, she waited and my mind raced because those are all true but I’d left one out.
I was raised in a traditional, southern,Bible-thumping household. As a child and young teenager, we went to “revivals” (and, yes, what you are picturing is exactly right). I heard many, too many, “hell, fire and brimstone” (or is it hellfire?) sermons. Finally, I looked at my therapist and said:
“What if it’s true? What if all that I was taught (brainwashed) to believe is true? What if there is a God and the one unforgivable sin is suicide? What if I end up in the hellfire and brimstone?”
My therapist is not religious. She’s not anti-religion either. She’s perfect. At this time in my life, I’ve had enough “religion” to scar me (and scare me) rather than soothe me. So, when she asked me this next question, I knew she was not being judgmental or trying to sway me in any way:
“What is hell? What does hell look like, feel like? What’s so scary about hell?”
The first image that came to mind was Dante’s Inferno. The nine circles: limbo, lust, gluttony, greed, anger, heresy, violence, fraud, treachery.
“Where would you be?” she asked.
I turned my gaze to the small stream that floats behind her window. A sunbeam was reflecting off the water. A pair of shoes hung from a tree branch. I kept my eyes away from her as I responded. “Lust – not sexual necessarily, but a desire for something more, always more. Gluttony.” I patted my belly but added, “but what I really mean is a gluttony for stuff. Sometimes greed. Unrelenting anger. Some former friends would call me a heretic.” I turned to her then with a smile. “But no violence, fraud or treachery.”
Then, as if slapped across the face, my mind reminded me that suicide is violence. Violence towards self.
She nodded and asked, “What punishment would you endure for all eternity? What would your hell look like?
The answer left my mouth before my mind censored the words. “I would be falling into these deep pits of despair, climb out only to crawl to the next one.”
She sat back in her chair with a sweet, Cheshire cat grin (can a Cheshire cat grin be sweet?).
“Isn’t that what you live now?”
She was right – so very right – so frighteningly right – I already live in my personal hell. If the Godiverse wanted to design a tailor made hell, it would be what I face every day.
Some of you are rolling your eyes – I live an upper middle-class life with a supportive, amazing husband. I have two great kids who never gave me any “real” trouble, I have a brain, health, enough friends. I don’t work because I’m privileged to do the work that I want. Heck, I can even sit on the couch and binge watch TV and no one would mind.
But, here’s the deal – I live in a constant state of waiting on the ax to fall. Monday of this week was awesome. I accomplished some cool things, enjoyed some new relationships, made good decisions. I went to bed wondering where I had screwed up and when it would bite me. I danced on the edge of the pit fully expecting to be shoved in. My body stays revved for fight or flight every minute of every day. I live in a constant state of fear and exhaustion.
I live with a constant fear that the next pit will be the one I cannot – or refuse – to climb out of. Hell.
She accepted that with her gracious spirit and left us in silence for several beats.
“What do you want?” she asked. Before I could answer, she put her palm up and said, “Think about this for a minute. What do you want? What do we want to work toward?”
My first thought was that I no longer want to drop into pits. But that’s not life, is it? That’s not realistic. We all have pits – the world ensures it. My second thought was that I just want to be done. I want to rest – permanently. But, that’s not true either or I would have seen to it.
At her direction, I took several very deep breaths and emptied my lungs. Then it hit me: I want PEACE. Not peace on earth. Peace with me. I want be satisfied that I am who I am, that I do the very best that I can, and that’s ENOUGH.
I looked at her with tears in my eyes because that seems like an impossible goal. I’m 52 years old and have lived in this constant state of fright for as long as I have memories.
She’s a gorgeous woman and when she smiles you can’t help but to smile with her. She sent me that beaming smile and said, “That we can do.” And she meant – means – it!
I believe her. It won’t be easy – it will be a different version of hell for a while --- but one day soon I’ll be able to take what comes my way and shrug. I’ll be able to grasp that I did what I could, the best that I could, that I controlled/managed what I could and the rest is not up to me. And, I’ll be able to grasp that making a mistake is just that, a mistake.
I so hope she’s right because I’m about to go to a meeting and I’ve done all I know to make it successful. I know my heart and intentions are in the right place. Yet, I have one foot dangling over the pit because someone won’t be satisfied and I’ll become the great disappointment life has always told me that I am. That’s my version of Hell and I’m ready for some peace!
More on this to come ~ I hope you’ll join me as I try to accept life, accept me and find contentment regardless of outcome.
I left my therapist office encouraged and excited. Now, I’m doubting. Ahhh – one step at a time.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....