*WARNING: This post makes mention of suicide, self injury, drug use, and abuse. If you find this type of content triggering, please do not continue reading. If you or someone you love is at risk, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255*
As we the near the halfway point of my 100 Truths, I want to take a moment to thank those of you who have followed along this far. It has been a project in introspection, and an excellent conversation starter.
As many of you know, trauma-work has been at the forefront of my healing over the last few years. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has been one of my more pervasive diagnoses, and so I find myself being continuously humbled by its rearing ugly head. The truth is sometimes I feel impenetrably strong. Other times I feel one more traumatic event away from losing my last marble. It doesn’t scare me as much as it used to because now I have the tools, but even a well equipped person can stumble backward.
While I spend a great deal of time advocating for others on all things mental health, I often feel unprepared and overwhelmed by what it feels like to be me. For all intents and purposes I should be dead and yet, I am still here. The truth is I still face sensations of disheartened dismay. The truth is I tried to take my own life three times. The truth is I have other family members who have tried and failed, still others who have tried and succeeded. The truth is suicide still crosses my mind as a function of mental illness, but these days I wont act on it. Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I couldn’t agree more.
Unfortunately, abuse is often generational. When I hear about the awful happenings in the world, I often imagine what the parents of those perpetrators must have been like. While nothing serves as an excuse for abuse, there are certainly explanations found all throughout human psychology. I have written about this before, however as I continue to process, I will go into greater detail in this post.
My mother is a survivor of abuse herself, and her lack of self-understanding was often reflected in her poor choice of partners. For as long as I can remember my parents were rarely in the same room, but my father was the only man who never hit her. My first step-father certainly doled out the worst of it. He was physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive toward my mother and I. The abuse consisted of name-calling, yelling, hair-pulling, hitting, slapping, pushing, shoving, squeezing and biting. Domestic violence was an almost daily occurrence in our home, not to be deterred by the company of others. This man destroyed a handful of my birthdays, relationships, and self-esteem. Adding insult to injury, he went so far as to cheat on my mother with her best friend, and threatened to take my very life.
My mother would later share with me that this was her breaking point. This was the event that finally gave her the courage to leave. She still harbors a great deal of guilt from this time in our life, and while I can not fathom exposing my son to these things, I understand her hesitation. Domestic violence often escalates when the victim attempts to end or flee the relationship.
Fortunately, my mind has managed to block out a lot of what happened. Eventually though, the memories resurfaced and my mother helped me fill in the blanks. These things did happen. I was questioned by police, and from the ages of 3 to 10 I was subject to child abuse on a pretty consistent basis. There were other odd things that took place as a result of our economic status such as exposure to petty home invasions, a general lack of supervision, and abusive babysitters.
Later, my mother met another man who was equally dysfunctional, but slightly less violent. He promised to carry us out of our hell and give us a fresh start. During my teenage years he mostly targeted my mother and younger sister. My previous abuse had grown in me a spine that would not tolerate anymore assault, and I told him so, directly to his red spitting face.
During these years the affairs of my mother would exacerbate the violence, and expose us to more strange men. As far back as my memory allows, my home was filled with undertones of abuse, and the childhood conclusion that the world is an unreliable and unsafe place. In some form of strange validation, my medical records show the early stages of my mental illness during this time with consistent reports of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.
Abandonment and Sexual Abuse
When I was 12 my father experienced something of an existential crisis paired with a job offer that offered him a leg up, and he could no longer call Minnesota home. After spending the last decade of my life seeing my father every other weekend, which was often the only opportunity I had to escape my abuse and build positive memories, he moved to Texas. This experience caused me to cry more than I ever had before in my young life. It also prompted me to put my feelings on paper for the first time.
When I was 15, I was given the opportunity to drive cross-country with a family friend who would later add to my betrayal. He sexually abused me three times over the course of a month before I finally spoke up. While the abuse stopped, the repercussions of this event has had one of the worst ripple effects that still plagues my family today. You can read the details of what happened in a previous post titled, Trauma Confession Series: Overcoming Avoidance, where I speak about this publicly for the very first time.
Mental Illness and my First Suicide Attempt
The sexual abuse was my tipping point. Not surprisingly, I entered into similarly dysfunctional and abusive relationships and suffered those consequences as well. I began tolerating treatment I shouldn’t because it was what I had been exposed to. On some level, I felt I deserved it – which I would later learn could not be further from the truth. I endured false accusations, control dynamics, manipulation, and abuse for another five years. During this time my trauma aligned with my teenage turmoil and grew into a new kind of monster. Soon, my self preservation completely left me, and I began hurting myself. I started with kitchen knives and safety pins before graduating to razors. The scars were getting harder to hide and wearing hoodies in July was just impractical. So, I began piling on anything I could use to harm myself or alter my mood state including drugs, alcohol, and eating disorders. During this time my grades began to slip as my transcript clearly shows, the violence in my home continued, my mental illness worsened with increased episodes of hallucination and dissociation, and I grew increasingly detached from my surroundings.
One evening, I went across the street to spend the night with a friend. She could see that something was off with me. Looking back now, I can see how gentle and deliberate she was in her intervention and I am grateful, but at the time I was extremely pissed off. She left the room and I began dissociating from my environment once more as I searched for a sharp object. When she re-entered the room she could see me rummaging through her room and I mumbled something about walking into oncoming traffic. “I’ll be right back,” she said. When she returned she fed me some story about her mother driving to the bank and insisted I tag along. I shrugged my shoulders and got in the car. I stared out the window saying very little when I realized we were not at the bank at all. We were in the parking lot of our local emergency room. I snapped into a red hot anger I can still feel 15 years later. How dare she save me?
I sat in that emergency room for a long while refusing to give up my information as my friend pleaded with the nurse to admit me. Eventually I caved and gave my identifying information. During my stay I experienced sucide watch isolation, spiritual phenomena, the probing questions of a much younger child, and I was asked to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) which was ultimately used to improperly diagnose and improperly medicate me. Unfortunately this is fairly common in dealing with teenagers and complex mental illness. You can read more about self injury, what therapy taught me, and how I freed myself from this in a previous post titled, Trauma Confession Series: Self-Injury & Letting Go.
Suicide in the Family
In the years that followed I continued to fall into bad patterns of behavior. Finally at my wits end, I left home at the age of 17 and never looked back. I bounced around the Midwest for a couple of years before I totally lost my footing. Following an unhealthy relationship with a traumatic ending, I relocated to Texas eager to rebuild. Not long after a failed attempt to purchase a vehicle and enroll in college for the first time, I found myself the recipient of more bad news. Within 24 hours I lost a dear family friend and my maternal grandfather to suicide. You can read the full story in a previous post titled, A Suicide Survivor Story – Part I and Part II.
Self Injury and Self Medicating
Not surprisingly, experiencing loss to suicide shook me to my core and sent me spiraling into an untreated dangerous mind set. At the age of 19 I had slim to no coping skills, and fell deeper into substance abuse and disordered eating to cope with the nightmares alone. Through it all I fought like hell to be better. I was writing feverishly, grasping at mindfulness exercises, and finally confessing to myself that I was attracted to women. The fight within was violent. Eventually the scales tipped against me and the surge of pain I experienced proved to be too great. At the height of it, I found myself waking up hungover in pools of blood and tepid bath water, still fully clothed from the night before. I knew if I didn’t change my circumstances I would die.
My closeness with my father, God help me I love him, was not enough to sustain me much longer. Perhaps he recognized this, and in his fine intuition urged me to make a suicide pact with him. In our shared desperation we promised each other that come hell or high water, and we had had plenty of both at that point, suicide was just simply not an option. So, I set out to make big changes in my life, once more chasing the breath the world seemed determined to squeeze out of me.
The Turning Point
I took a job away from home, traveled excessively, and learned to fall in love again. With the help of my incredible friends and mentors, I began to reconnect with others, with life, and with myself. At the age of 21 I learned I was pregnant, and my life was no longer about me. My body was no longer mine, and my mind no longer failed to blossom. I became an overnight sensation, instantly sober, and determined to practice motherhood with clarity and poise. I returned to Minnesota and the first couple of years were mostly delightful, albeit bouts of post-partum depression, and the sneaking suspicion that something just wasn’t right with me.
Medical Trauma and Chronic Pain
When my son was approaching his first birthday we decided to move to Colorado. It had been our teenage dream to inherit God’s good mountains and a nature mindset for our son. In true fashion, however, just two weeks in our light was once again snuffed out by something I still find myself unwilling and unable to write about. I fear the task is so great I will never be fully able to grasp or express the magnitude of our experience. (Perhaps the best thing to do would be to one day sit down with my journals from that time and tackle the re-telling from the heart.) In short, our 23 year old brother suffered end stage kidney failure and it traumatized us all.
Two years later I moved back to Texas as it always seemed to offer me a soft landing. Shortly after, I was involved in a car accident that left my body never quite the same. I now live with a spinal injury, S.I. joint dysfunction, nerve damage, and migraines on a daily basis.
It wasn’t until I left my decade of trauma behind that I realized just how severely PTSD had impacted my quality of life. I found myself in a strategic but unhappy marriage with the promise of familiarity and family ties. I was young, but I understood my son’s memory was beginning to form, and I had no choice but to take my mental health seriously. It was time to grow up and get honest because white-knuckling it wasn’t working anymore. So, I went back to school for Child Development and Psychology, entered the field of Behavioral Health, and sought mental health treatment. You can read more in depth about what drove me to find a psychiatrist in a previous post titled, Ugly Truth 34: Psychosis Sucks.
After a proper diagnosis, anti-psychotic medication, and a 7 day in-patient hospitalization that offered me crash course therapy as a professional courtesy, I found myself more stable. I knew there was only one thing left to do.
Identity Crisis and Recovery
Two more years passed until finally I was strong enough to come off my medication, end my marriage, and come out as a lesbian. After one more misstep and two more traumatic relationships, I finally embraced trauma work and self development once and for all. I started to confront the abuse, the abandonment, the trauma, and face my personal truth. I began to manage my symptoms differently and write more, which led to the publication of this blog. I got real with myself and my family about my sexuality. I found it flatly irresponsible to date in my current condition, so I began developing concrete coping skills, growing into my skin, and advocating for others to keep myself in perspective. It sounds strange, but in many ways I had to get to know myself again. Once you strip away all the damage and co-dependency, you’re left with nothing short of a raw sense of self. The truth is you have to process and mourn the loss of whatever pain you carry, let it go (really let it go), and replace it with gratitude for the present moment – which you, and only you, are solely responsible for. It sounds simple enough, however, most people are too busy practicing avoidance or denial to notice. I was one of them. Letting go of my pride and my pain taught me just how useful the vulnerable truth can be. It is a natural gateway to becoming a more loving and compassionate human being, which in turn lends itself well to building meaningful relationships.
Today I am blessed to have more peace in my life than ever before. I try to never lose sight of the fact that the life I live now is something I once could only dream of. There were times so unmatched with darkness I was convinced I would never get out alive. At some point though, you have to set boundaries and take responsibility for your own well being. If you consistently victimize yourself, you will remain in a state of helplessness which, interestingly enough, is a learned behavior. Lucky for us, behavior and thought processes alike are malleable in that they can be changed and modified. As I like to say, adapt or die. Put more gently, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. No amount of traumatic endurance ensures us that bad things won’t happen. Perhaps the most important thing then, is being prepared for when they do.
Today I have the love of an incredibly beautiful woman who spreads warmth and light everywhere she goes. I feel so lucky to have her, but I also know I deserve her. You can read more about her and how hard I fell in a previous post titled, Ugly Truth 37: Loving a Woman Changed my Worldview.
I have a decent outlook on life (with a healthy dose of cynicism), and most of my sanity intact because that is what I set out to build for myself. The truth is I still struggle from time to time with the chemical imbalances of Bipolar Disorder, the triggers of PTSD, and the irrational uncertainty of Panic Disorder. Some of this just never goes away, but you can certainly achieve some semblance of functioning, happiness even. If nothing else, may this post serve as a reminder that surviving and thriving are not mutually exclusive. Living through trauma is almost never linear. You are not alone, and I’m still here to tell about it.
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!**
For more excellent insight and entertainment through a collaborative approach to all things mental health, including a guest post from yours truly, visit the Blunt Therapy Blog by Randy Withers, LPC! For additional perspectives on suicide prevention from master level mental health providers visit, 20 Professional Therapists Share Their Thoughts on Suicide!
In collaboration with Luis Posso, an Outreach Specialist from DrugRehab.com, Deskraven is now offering guides on depression and suicide prevention to its readers. For more information on understanding the perils of addiction visit, Substance Abuse and Suicide: A Guide to Understanding the Connection and Reducing Risk! In addition, for a comprehensive depression resource guide from their sister project at Columbus Recovery Center visit, Dealing with Depression!