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‘The one thing that had not changed is me’

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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.

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17 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Brilliant! Thank you for sharing your experience. This gives a voice to the things that are kept inside or ignored. I’m not at the acceptance part yet, but it’s wonderful to know that there is a ‘next step forward’.

    Reply

  2. Hi Craig,

    This is yet another remarkable and insightful post from you! I’ve shared it already with my members on Suicide Shatters on FB as I know your ability to express so beautifully what many struggle with putting into words is going to be beneficial to anyone who has had suicide enter their lives. This type of information is vital for attempt survivors, but it also helps those struggling with suicidal thoughts and loss survivors as well. Education on how complex suicide truly is – is much needed information.

    Your previous post was also very enlightening and this one goes into such depth as to how you were able to finally determine what was driving your suicidal thoughts and actions. It is by sharing concise information like this that others in similar circumstances have been given a way to help them also come to terms with what is behind their struggles as well.

    Thank you for such an amazing and enlightening post. I’ve also posted the link to your FB page so my page members can find your page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/This-is-How-it-Feels-Craig-A-Miller/268711946570908.

    Look forward to many more outstanding posts from you and this wonderful blog!

    Barb Hildebrand
    http://www.facebook.com/SuicideShatters

    Reply

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful response, Barb, and thank you for sharing this. It’s feedback like this that lets me know I’m doing the right thing.

      Reply

  3. Thank you for sharing your process after your suicide attempt. It’s true, few of us ever really take the time to understand ourselves. Sometimes it feels like trying to untangle a gargantuan ball of hopelessly tangled string. Where do we even begin, let alone, finish? We don’t realize how our pasts do live in us, animating us, doing their bidding in our lives. Either we give them that power, or we take our power back and get to the bottom of our “whys.” Feeling trapped in the “I want to change, but I feel incapable of changing” thought circle is extremely uncomfortable, but allowing ourselves to be there in that uncomfortable place is the first step in the process of untangling the ball of string. It’s getting to the place of knowing that we just don’t know what to do, how to change, that opens the door to beginning to know, I think. At least in this place, we are being truthful with ourselves, and that’s a beginning.

    Reply

    • OMGoodness, Katy! Your post really hit home with me. Right now I am trying to be truthful with myself about my feelings regarding my struggles with suicidal ideation, personal changes that need to be made, and learning to love who I am today with…bi-polar disorder, mental illness, negative thoughts, and other stigmatic differences that affect my life. Honestly, the older I get the harder time I have with dealing with the stigma of having my mental illness and exhibiting strange behavior. I have suffered with this illness long enough and find it hard to think about going on…especially lately. The thoughts, isolation, negative social stigma and whathaveyou are taking its toll on me. I found this site today and have found much encouragement and inspiration to truthfully come out of the closet of having suicidal ideation and other negative thoughts that are having an adverse affect on me. I am encouraged to face the shame of it all and reach out. Thank you so much for your insightfulness.

      @Craig: Thank you for your insight on how important it is to look at how important personal change can be when dealing with re-writing one’s internal dialogue when it comes to promoting an in-depth review, reframing insight and reassessment of past childhood experiences to positively affect a person’s present and future outlook on life. I find this post to be very stimulating and thought-provoking.

      Reply

  4. That was hard to read, and left me with a pit in my stomach…my last suicide attempt was 11/10/11. I took 118mg of Ativan and was very nearly successful. 5 days in intensive care, on a respirator at first (I don’t actually remember the “at first” part, so I don’t know for how long). The guilt, and gratitude, I feel when I remember that my last “words” were a text to my 21-year-old son that lived 3 hours away…”I’m sorry, I can’t do this anymore, I love you with all my heart. Good-bye.” He called 911 in his town, they relayed it to mine and EMT’s showed up at my house…he saved my life and most of the time I am just grateful. I also have a big helping of guilt, especially where he’s concerned, because he was present for two of my other five attempts that involved overdosing, and he called 911 at both of those too. Those times I “didn’t have it down right” yet, and didn’t take enough medication to really, nearly succeed. Being a recovering alcoholic, and recently beginning to attend Al-Anon, the title of your post is what caught my eye and what resounds with me right now…the one thing that had not changed is me. I do know that I have changed, in many ways, and for the positive. But there are things I haven’t changed and things I constantly battle the need to change. Thanks for giving me something to think about – thanks for your honesty and vulnerability in posting what you did. I still battle suicidal thoughts…you’ve given me something about which to do some serious thinking! :-)

    Reply

    • Hi Aggie,
      I’m glad to hear you’ve made positive changes. That’s something I would encourage you to stay focused on. It’s also good to hear that you recognize more needs to be done. I think what’s most important about your story is that you were grateful to not have died. This is a feeling you should keep with you always. If you are still battling with suicidal thoughts, as you mentioned, please talk with someone. A good number to call is 1-800-273-TALK(8255). We should never underestimate the power of a good conversation. Some of the best help I’ve ever gotten in my life has come from nothing more than that. Always know there is help available, and you are not alone. I wish you all the best.
      Stay forward,
      Craig

      Reply

  5. Thank you for this post. I never realized how much I needed to work on myself. Soon, I’m supposed to see my Great Aunt, write down all the things I wish had never happened to me and burn the piece of paper. This is supposed to help me. I’m hoping it will. I’m also taking a step forward in my recovery by going to an aboriginal friendship centre called ‘Wabano.’ I think this will help me to deal with my history of abuse.

    Thanks again. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that you wrote this. I hope you continue down the road of positive change. Thank you.

    Reply

    • Hi Laura, I’m glad you found this so helpful, and I’m happy to hear you are taking a step forward. Good luck with everything. It sounds like you are making some good decisions for yourself.

      Reply

  6. Thank you for sharing this. How beautifully you write! Your words are so true for all of us, not just suicide attempt survivors. You have inspired me to dig deeper in my life.

    Reply

  7. What an inspirational letter. You have shown me that things CAN get better. I have tried and failed putting all my ‘triggers’ on paper but I will try again and this time read each one and hopefully find that I can change ‘me’ the way you have.
    Thank you for sharing such an important part of yourself. I was able to relate to all of it except the bullying at school I have no idea why, but I was never targeted. Perhaps because I was such a loner and had just my few close mates.
    Thanks again,
    peter

    Reply

  8. Words cannot describe how much stronger you have made me feel today just by reading your stories. I am going to hear you speak tonight in Taunton, MA and I really hope I will be able to meet you in person as you are truly inspirational to me. I too am a suicide attempt survivor but I am still struggling with the thought that I don’t want to die but I don’t want to live. I have shared this on my FB for them to share this with the world as well. Thank you so much for doing this. Thank you.

    Reply

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