Updated: Jun 1, 2020
I’m Glad I Stayed
Emotions are flooding me. Rocking...back and forth. Full blown body aches. Scared. I’m all alone. So many “What ifs” and toxic thoughts. Trauma is an understatement. Feeling as though I am being waterboarded – drowning – so much so it would make the emotionless cry.
The longest occurring war in my lifetime is my own life! I let this happen. I refuse to be a burden to anyone. I miss Mom. He scares me. I don’t want him to kill me. I’d rather die by my own hand. Turning around - making sure he isn’t here. I can’t continue to live in fear. Adrenaline….blood pumping. Pause. Think one more time. My body is shaking no more.
This has been my secret, kept in a vault for 21 years. I am now sharing it with you.
I was 28 years old, sitting on the floor in a puddle of my tears, as the flashbacks started to take over my body, mind, and soul. I felt encapsulated in darkness. Each memory was like a curtain that would darken the room more and more and made me fully believe I was trapped. This was the day I believed I had no way out, no one I trusted to talk to, no family close by. My friends weren’t talking to me since the divorce, as I had kept our marriage problems a secret. Secrets…..they are what led me here. Secrets of my past traumas led me to the point of wanting to end my own life.
Flashing back again to my youth, I could smell the smoke-filled room and the country music droning on in the background. My gut knew something bad was going to happen. My body went into protection mode. I was just a little girl trembling as I prayed they would stop fighting. Please stop saying those horrible things to one another! You can't really mean that! That is your fifth beer plus whatever else you drank earlier this morning! How can anyone consume that much alcohol day after day and not die! You’ve made each other bleed again! Please…..stop!
As I entered into my early teen years, my mother found herself divorced again. Thankfully, my mother and previous stepfather (like a Dad to me) had found a healthier way to have a relationship. Now it was just me and mom living alone in a small apartment. This left me with a very challenging burden of having to live with an alcoholic mother....alone. No details needed.
I didn't want to leave her, but I knew I had to. Mom always warned me that if I left her, she would die. I had to learn about my birth father somehow since I barely knew him except through phone calls, so this was my chance. I ran away.
It did not go as I had hoped, so I was only gone a school year. When I returned back home to visit my mother, she was with one of the worst men I had ever laid my eyes on. I felt dread in every part of my body. She would never escape him. He used her. Our small town was not equipped with services to help her, so I knew it was just a matter of time.
These childhood memories flooded me as I grabbed handfuls of tissue and paced the house. I always swore I would never allow someone to hurt or try to control me like that ever again, but I failed! Yes, I had finally gotten the divorce, but he was still haunting my life. Phone calls, emails, flashbacks of his threats. I was a failure because someone didn’t just hurt me -- I allowed him to hurt me. I ignored the signs and I knew better! My dreams of thinking I could change him were a joke and now I’m divorced just like my parents. Who in the world would want me due to the baggage of my past and being a 28-year-old divorced woman? Maybe this was what I deserved…or I was just cursed. Cursed. A familiar word that many people in my high school would say about my family.
But was it true?
Losing important people in my life seemed to be the norm for me. The death of my grandmother who was like a mother to me, the death of my stepfather who raised me as his own, my one and only cat (best friend) was run over accidentally, the sudden death of a close friend, losing a cousin to suicide, losing other family members, and rarely seeing my birth father was a type of death for me.
While contemplating my death, the hardest loss I had experienced engulfed me. It occurred when I started college – a place I never expected to go. Certain role models and mentors believed in me and helped get me accepted…on a wing and a prayer! I had strict criteria to meet, but the university gave me a chance to prove myself. Just a few months in, I was making strides and starting to feel somewhat comfortable. My world was once again turned upside down. My mother was murdered. The mother I needed was now not just emotionally and mentally gone, but physically. My hopes of her getting better were shattered. She told me repeatedly, “I will die if you leave me!”. This was all my fault. How could I ever make her see me now or be proud of me now that she was dead? She had suffered so much, so I felt selfish for craving her attention. I just began screaming, “WHY!? WHY!? WHY!?”
By this point, the horror movie of my life started free-falling into a fusion of flashbacks. The car accident, my surgery with major complications, rape, autoimmune disease, two break-in attempts, my cousin’s suicide, surviving an F4 tornado, being the ‘accident’ child, my parents (mother & stepfather) never coming to a single sporting event in my entire life, and more. The critical moment was now upon me and my willpower was gone. The tears were still flowing, but my trembling had ceased. The room was silent. Would I ever really be free of these haunting memories? I didn’t have the strength to find out. Honestly, I didn’t want to die, but I believed I had no other choice. The emotional and physical pain was my own living hell after all these years and I was just so chronically tired. I was seconds away from death, when suddenly….I heard an inner voice say, “STOP! Don’t do this!” It was a loud, male voice I had never heard before. I recall looking around for a moment in disbelief and then went back to what I was doing. Then I heard it again! I was so aggravated by this distraction yet was intrigued at the same time. Before I could lose myself again in my attempt, the voice continued to guide me saying, “I promise you there is a reason for all of your pain and suffering. You are not alone”. I recall being encouraged to get any photos of myself from childhood.
Somehow, this distraction took over and I followed the instructions….for the next few HOURS! I surrounded myself with photos from as many ages and stages that I could find. I had never seen baby photos of myself, so I just wrote Baby Girl on a piece of paper. I could feel the emotions and see the faces of the fragmented parts of me staring me down and asking, “Do you see me?!” I could feel their desperation of wanting to be heard and understood, so I picked up each photo and spent the next several hours talking to each of these precious girls. I let each of them know how much I loved them, how special they were, how proud of was of each and every piece of me that has had to do and see things no child should endure. I could feel myself energetically hugging each one, one by one, and validating their existence. This was the most healing and cathartic moment of my life. This consumed me the next two days and my body released so many emotional and physical toxins. Repeated tears, vomit, and diarrhea until my physical body felt reconnected to the fragmented parts of me. I had never felt so exhausted yet fully in my own body until now. How could I possibly go from wanting to die to feeling a sense of wholeness? Who had guided me through this? Did my body just know what it needed, and my subconscious mind took over, or was it God? It absolutely felt like something outside of myself intervened and truly cared about me. When all was said and done, I had clarity of where my life was supposed to go next. Little did I know, this would become the Inner Child therapeutic tool I would use as a counselor for years to come.
When you allow your body to process through the pain and accept a healing after trauma, it creates an opportunity to see the bigger picture of life and why we are all here. Once you are aware of why you feel and act the way you do, you can then accept the things that have happened to you which then leads to taking action in whatever way you choose. I first chose to love ALL parts of me and then began to recall all of the teachers, coaches, friends, and certain family members who had accepted me and loved me even though they didn’t talk much about my home life. They pushed me to be my best self and cheered me on when I needed it the most. Certain families in the community took me into their home and took care of me like their own. I had no idea people could be this caring and selfless! This made me realize that I did matter, I was loved, and I could now focus on moving forward rather than focusing on getting revenge on those who had hurt me.
When you are in the dark night of the soul and lost in your trauma, it distorts and hides your memories of love, so revenge is so tempting. When the light returns, you suddenly see all the love again! It becomes magnified, and you cannot wait to use that love to help yourself and others. Suicide is as low as you can go, so ANY step you take in the opposite direction is growth!
This transformation is what I later learned to be known as the Wounded Healer. This became the name of my first private practice after nine years as a mental health counselor. I firmly believe everyone is wounded in some way, but each of us have the ability to mend in many ways and can extend that love to help others. Healing looks different for everyone.
Now as a mental health counselor for over 15 years, I had yet to share about my attempt except with certain clients with whom it felt safe to do so. Even now, as I write this, I am anxious because there has always been a stigma around suicide attempts...especially with those working in mental health! Many professionals believe mental health counselors should not have histories that contain trauma, abuse, and especially a suicide attempt! Even though my attempt was way before I was a licensed counselor, I felt incredible shame and guilt for years and believed I would be judged harshly. I had considered sharing about my attempt for the first time with my classmates and professors during my graduate program. I quickly reconsidered after I was shamed in class for opening up about my mother’s murder. We had a vulnerable moment after being asked to share any major challenges we had been through in our lives with our class. Only three out of fifteen were brave enough to share. Most people said their lives had been quite good up to this point, which I wasn’t too sure about, but I shared anyway thinking I was among caring, nonjudgmental people. This could not have been further from the truth! One young female commented something like, “I’m not sure it’s a good thing to have counselors out there with this kind of history. Surely they haven’t healed all the way and could potentially hurt a client”. I was so devastated and embarrassed! I immediately felt dehumanized. I wanted to drop out of the program and very nearly walked out at that moment. Thankfully, the Dean of our program was teaching this particular class and he came up to me afterwards and said the most profound words that have stayed with me to this day. “Being willing to share a part of your past like that is exactly the reason you will succeed, and those classmates will fail. They haven’t learned to face their unfinished business yet and it will come back to haunt them.”. Moments like these are precious and I knew it was a test of which statements I was going to believe. I still cried a lot from the whispers and looks I got from classmates, but I held strong to those comforting words of my mentor.
I now know I must stick to what I learned the night of my attempt….no more secrets! Secrets can kill you! My attempt was also a secret because it was never reported, and I didn’t go to the hospital. I didn’t see a counselor about it and I never told anyone for years. I can only imagine how many secret suicide attempt survivors there are out there. It’s time to bring them out of their ‘closets’ and create opportunities for anyone with lived experience who are in a better emotional place - - to be seen and heard. Our culture is starting to realize that those with lived experience have PRICELESS “gems” of knowledge to offer to those struggling in this life.
Creating a culture of lived experience acceptance will connect us and change the landscape of suicide prevention!
I have many physical and emotional scars, but I now view them as warrior wounds that blend and make me stronger. I do my best to accept this life as it comes and focus on why we are here. Trauma can create new gifts and talents as well as magnify them when you are able to make peace with your past pain. One thing is for certain, my life has never been boring. I have been blessed with the family and career I always dreamt of. I am the owner of a growing healing center for suicidal youth and their impacted families using holistic, traditional, and trauma responsive approaches. I have learned so much in my 50 years. A few of these personal epiphanies consist of:
· Your darkest moment can be your enlightenment
· Secrets can kill you
· Learning the story of others creates understanding
· Assumptions destroy relationships
· Miracles do happen
· Trauma effects your body/mind/spirit so honor all three in your healing process
· Believe in something outside of yourself
· Connection heals
· Lived experiences can be examples of hope and contribute to improved mental healthcare
· NEVER tolerate dehumanization
My mission is to continue loving myself, be the best mother and wife I can be, do my part in helping to create the ‘village’ within my community, stay spiritually connected, support trauma and suicide attempt survivors, and continue sharing my lived experience. We all matter.
22 years later….I’m glad I stayed!
Learn more about me here.