“Your staying alive means so much more than you really know or that anyone is aware of at this moment.” ~ Jennifer Michael Hecht
“Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.” ~ Seneca
I celebrated my 45th birthday this past Saturday. Outside the fact that it didn’t have the kind of ‘zip’ I thought a 45th birthday should have (I mean, I shaved my legs and everything!), it was a fine day filled with horses, sunshine, friends, vodka (the good stuff, even) and cheese nibblin’s.
As my smooth legs & I sat around on Saturday night I pondered the past forty-five years. Notsomuch the past five but the 40 that brought to this current magnificence. This has been a long, wild ride. One from which I’ve wanted to bail in the final sense on more than one occasion!
My first eighteen years were filled with physical & emotional pain and waiting for more physical and emotional pain. I don’t know the exact episode or my age that it occurred that led me to the place of wanting to die. I knew something was wrong. The pain was wrong, the place was wrong, the people were wrong. I knew others knew something was wrong–because some shit you just can’t fucking miss. You may not know what to do about it but you can’t miss it. I felt I was flopping around in a sea of other people but not being connected to any of them and being intentionally disconnected from the one person who I was supposed to be connected to. That’s a strange realization to have as a kid. I remember, in front of our house on Cree Drive, there was this concrete checkerboard of sorts that was used on a hillside median. Standing in a the middle of a concrete square, surrounded by a larger pattern and standing alone, disconnected from the rest.
Knowing what I know now about myself and my mother–the abuser in our household–I know the seed of not being wanted, necessary and in the wrong place was planted long before I popped into this world. Years ago, as my father was offering some explanation for my mother’s behaviors and from whence they came, he described walking down into the basement and finding my many-months pregnant with me mother with a sharp, pointy object embedded in her arm. At this point I can’t remember if it was a knife or pair of scissors but, in the moment, my mother didn’t want to bring me into the world. I won’t ever know if she wanted to take herself out more than eliminate my possibility then, but the energetic signature from her own lifetime (because she came by her shit righteously and her own survival was miraculous) combined with what was rolling through her as she was preggers set the stage for the beginning of my life.
And I wanted out. I wanted out each time I felt her. Each time I knew what was coming long before it came. Each time I ‘checked out’ during a violent episode. Each time I tried to make it better and was ignored. Each time I tried to make it worse so she’d just get it over with a kill me. Each time I couldn’t help my brother. Each time I took it out on my brother. Each time my father ignored what was happening. Each time some fucking bully would compound the misery. Each time my face saw foot or floor.
I remember the last time I tried to kill myself as a kid (there were many occasions). Because my mother was a physician, there was a stash of pills in the house. Some benign, some notso. I took a shit ton of them with me when I left the house for the bus stop. I’m not quite sure what grade I was in but I was in high school and my brother in middle. As I started walking toward that bus stop, I started swallowing pills. By the time I got to school, they were all in my system. And not a damn thing happened. Nothing. No death, no illness leading to death, no nada except another day in stupid high school. And I was pissed. I couldn’t even do that right. I couldn’t kill myself right. Again. And I couldn’t do math right. Crap.
I never needed to ask the question, “Who am I?”. My mantra was, “Why?” “Why are you/You doing this to me?” “Why is she doing this to me?” “Why won’t you make it stop?” “Why won’t you let me go?”
In college I was brought back from the brink by someone who may not have known the depths of my repeated death wishes but loved me in a way I’d never known existed.
As an adult, wave after wave of dark would roll through my world. I’d try to study & work it away (finished my last three years of undergrad in two while working full time), to drink it away, to watch it wither away. And, the desire to die would only sometimes come. When I’d exhausted the last reserves of energy, of hope and love, she’d return. I tasted my gun on more than one occasion. It’s an odd thing to think about taking your life with something that’s meant to save it. I never pulled the trigger when she (a pretty P226 named Bertha) was hot but I did when she was unloaded. Just to see, to hear while I considered if I really could do the ultimate deed.
It’s not been such a long time since I’ve felt that desperate, depleted and deserted. Even since I’ve discovered this gift-thing of mine. The last time, in the depths of pain, sorrow, abandonment, grieflossandhelplessness and “WHY? Whhhhhhhhyyyyyyy do you give me this and make it so hard?”, I walked into friends’ kitchen where I was living (not in their kitchen, but you know what I mean) while sobbing. An invisible hand cupped my left jaw and I leaned in. And sobbed until there was nothing left. Neither tears nor invisible hand. Loneliness, fear gone.
They come back occasionally but never accompanied by the desire to no longer live. The sense of disconnection from others remains but has morphed (mainly) into a recognition that am & feel connected in a vastly different way than most will never realize. That doesn’t mean I don’t get lonely or frustrated, feel helpless or desperate. I still ask why. A lot. I’m human, too, and feel those things on occasion. I still don’t share my dark or doubts with anyone other than the invisible around me (and some wine sometimes) but those companions are rare visitors these days.
And, so, on the evening of my 45th birthday, while I sipped a little and noticed the spot I missed on my almost-smooth legs, I sighed instead of sobbed and was grateful that I never pulled the loaded trigger, wasn’t allowed off the fucking ride and realized I may never know why.
You may be interested in the this “On Being” podcast with Jennifer Michael Hecht. Here, she’s being interviewed by Krista Tippet on Suicide and Hope for our Future Selves.