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Teresa, Part Three – The Critical Leap: Recognizing the Need for Support

I realized two important things: that I keep picking people who aren’t the least bit interested in anyone else, just themselves; and that I always thought I had to do something drastic to be noticed. I started thinking, “Maybe around different people I wouldn’t have to do that!”

The ability to recognize potential sources of support constitutes a major breakthrough. When suicidal trances last many years, they virtually prohibit interpersonal exchange. When one views life as a long, desperate, and solitary struggle, confidence withers that anyone else cares, or that anyone would even want to. Recognizing and utilizing support becomes not only a skill to be developed, but also a critical act of faith.

During the next ten years Teresa proceeded to work full-time, have two children, and consecutively marry two abusive and addicted husbands. There were many fights and she continued to consider suicide. Teresa was now an intelligent, highly capable woman who was still driven by the unrequited need to have someone notice her pain. She was locked in a desperate loop of violent marriages, and she reasoned that her only recourse for herself and her children was to leave.

One night, I drank an entire gallon of wine and I was having seizures on the floor. I didn’t really want to die; I just wanted my husband to know the pain I was in. I wanted him to know I was alive. I thought, well, if I did die, then maybe it would be significant and then my kids would never go through what I had. Well, when I woke up, I decided, “That’s enough.” I took the kids and left.

In deciding where to go, Teresa took the first step toward recognizing the need for support. Just as when she boarded the bus for Prescott many years before, Teresa had little idea of what lay ahead of her.

It was very scary. One evening, I went to the Women’s Shelter. Nobody would know where I was, and I needed rest from the abuse and the fighting. It was just as scary as leaving my mom. I was calm outwardly, but underneath I was petrified. That’s when the biggest portion of my recovery came.

Teresa was genuinely starting over. Her decisions would be short-term ones for a while. She would take one step, assess the results, and then take another.

The people there were very supportive and caring. It took about three weeks, and then one morning, I found myself thinking, “My God, I really like myself.” I realized that it was okay with just me noticing me. That was enough.

I realized two important things: that I keep picking people who aren’t the least bit interested in anyone else, just themselves; and that I always thought I had to do something drastic to be noticed. I started thinking, “Maybe around different people I wouldn’t have to do that!”

At the women’s shelter, Teresa enjoyed both formal and informal contact with the staff. She was assigned a therapist, but there were many others who would stop and talk during the day just to see how she was faring. With time, Teresa began to feel the effects of the respect and positive regard she was receiving.

My first initial feeling was, ‘I’m not weird. If I was weird, they wouldn’t be talking to me and acting like they cared. I must be okay!’ I began to feel important. I don’t think I had had that feeling since kindergarten.

I remember feeling affirmed.  I remember talking to the social worker there, Lois. I said some horrible things to her about my abuse, and I expected her to do what everybody did—close down, get a chalk-white face, and just get me out of there as soon as possible. But she cried!  As time went on, I’d hear them say to me, over and over, until it began to sink in, “ You’re perfectly fine, and a wonderful person, and your thinking is clear about such and such. We have a lot of confidence in you.” It felt real, and over time, I would call on it whenever I was feeling hopeless or like giving up.

 

Look for:  Teresa, Last Part - Giving Back, Loving Wisely

Waking Up, Alive is now Available on Kindle

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Chris - The First Steps (Part Two)

"In the profile of every recovery from attempted suicide, there is a moment on which one’s entire fate balances." R. A. Heckler, PhD

*        *        *

-I know your little girl. She’s the most beautiful creature I’ve ever met.  You know your husband.  Do you really want him to raise her?-

 

(Continued from March 26th Blog)

‘I don’t even want you to tell me [how you feel] right now, [said the attending physician]. Then he said, ‘and I’m gonna tell you a secret. You see, in this state, it’s illegal to attempt suicide, and they send you to the state hospital for a month if you try, plus you have to pay a fine. You have to handle all the legal ramifications and it’s nasty. So I admitted you under a diagnosis of food poisoning, and you should know that my career’s on the line and you are holding it in your hands’—and he squeezed my hand. [He said] ‘I’m gonna have to trust you that you’re gonna act differently than I expect you want to right now.’

In minutes, the years of isolation that surrounded Chris were gently pierced.

As he’s talking, I realize that my actions are going to affect him. He says, ‘I don’t expect you to want to live for a while. I know how you are feeling, but I also know your husband and your little girl. She’s the most beautiful creature I’ve ever met. He lets that sink in a little, and then he says, “You know your husband. Do you really want him to raise her?” The question had never entered my mind! I knew this was the voice of reason.

Patient and gentle, her admitting physician seemed to be the very archetype of the Good Doctor. Skillfully, undemonstratively, he empathized with her dilemma while challenging her to poke through her suffering and grasp a wider perspective.

The doctor was right. I still felt I wanted to die. I knew I still wanted to die, but I was also angry. I realized there was no way in hell that I wanted my husband to raise my daughter. I didn’t want her to feel as powerless and abandoned as I felt. It felt like he was giving me a task I could accomplish even though I felt so bad.

I knew nothing about psychological innards at that point, but two things had happened all of a sudden that were new. First of all, he didn’t put me down for wanting to leave my husband. Most everyone else seemed to think I was a bad person for wanting to leave him. And then, even though I still felt real dead inside, there was this other thing out here, separate from myself, which was a task worth trying to accomplish.

In the profile of every recovery from attempted suicide, there is a moment on which one’s entire fate balances. It is the first step, a hesitant and humble, but palpable beginning. First steps are critically important, because they reflect the birth of a nascent feeling that life can somehow unfold in a new and different way.

I still felt like ‘I don’t want to live’” but at the same time, I thought, ‘if I’m gonna raise my daughter, I’m gonna have to live. That means I’m gonna have to get through these feelings.’ It was so early, though, and I didn’t trust my thoughts, and I didn’t trust myself being alone. So I did the hardest thing of all.

In such a small town, there was only one place where she felt she might get through the day. Chris was nervous how she’d be received, but there was no alternative. Years later, she could still feel how fearful she had been.

There was this hardware store in the center of town where everybody came. It had a potbelly stove and tables, you know, and you could go in and have tea. That’s where I’d hang out a lot of the time, and so did everybody else. Everyone would come in, have lunch together, and talk. I knew everybody in that town and I knew that everyone heard what I had done the night before. But in spite of that, I knew that I had to have people around me if I was going to make it through that day, and so I took my daughter with me. God, I can feel the fear as I talk about it.

I went into the store and I talked to the woman who owned it. I told her I needed to hang out all day. 'Could I do that? Will that be okay?'

She said, ‘Yes.’ And then she said, ‘And if anybody says anything, I’ll kick them out!’

 

Waking Up, Alive is now Available on Kindle

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Chris - The First Steps

"We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

                                                                            Mother Teresa.

 

"The doctor was right. I still felt I wanted to die. I knew I still wanted to die, but I was also angry. I realized there was no way in hell that I wanted my husband to raise my daughter. I didn’t want her to feel as powerless and abandoned as I felt. It felt like he was giving me a task I could accomplish even though I felt so bad."

Chris, now a therapist herself, met me in her office. It was summer in Santa Rosa, California, dry and hot. The indoors provided a welcomed relief from the sun. We sat down, registering our initial impressions, and I was immediately intrigued. Chris is a large woman, big-boned and a little heavy. Her arms were muscular, her hands veined and rough-hewn. Her story took place some years before, in a small town in rural southern Oregon. Chris is a woman who has worked the land, canned her own food, found a way to make things work in difficult times. She is not afraid to be physical. She isn’t averse to hard work. She has a ready smile and a hearty laugh.  When she speaks about her life, and her first days in the hospital after her suicide attempt, she is straightforward and candid.  
 
I just felt really hopeless, like just not wanting to live. I had no idea what was happening to me. I was very angry. I was simmering underneath. The doctor came in. He was clearly very tired from being on all night.
 
Chris had been braced for condescension and reproach, and stiffened when the attending physician walked in.  She was surprised what happened next.
 
He sat down and took my hand in his: he just picked up my hand and held it! He seemed very loving. I was dumbfounded! He held my hand and brushed the hair from my face and said, “I’m not even gonna ask you how you feel. I know you feel miserable.

In times of crisis, simple acts of caring are often pushed aside in favor of intricate technical interventions, both medical and psychological. For those who spoke about early moments in the hospital after their attempt, however, it was the simple acts of kindness and the desire to understand that were most treasured. Sometimes they proved powerful enough to ignite the first spark of life, the first steps, after years of courting death. The night before, Chris had to endure the disdain of her new hospital roommates.
 
I was in a room with two other women. I could overhear them: it wasn’t hard; they were talking pretty loud. They were very angry that I was put in “their” room.
 
Chris suffered not only a profound loss of privacy, but also reproach for what she had done. This time, it didn’t come from the hospital staff, but from the patients, as if there was a hierarchy of illnesses, an unspoken caste, with suicide at the bottom. Somehow, her story quickly became public knowledge and she was exposed to derisive and malicious commentary. Hours after the attempt, Chris lay awake in her hospital bed, separated from her fellow patients by only a curtain. Both hyped from the drugs and exhausted by her ordeal, she could see their silhouettes as they spoke.
 
They seemed to know why I was there, and thought I was horrible for wanting to kill myself. I remember them saying, ‘She should be ashamed of herself, when she has everything to live for,’ and ‘Why did the doctor put her in here?’
 
Understandably, the following morning, Chris expected the worst when the attending physician walked in, haggard from a long shift.  What happened next was unexpected and startling.

(End of Part One. Read Part Two, tomorrow.)

 

Waking Up, Alive is now Available on Kindle

http://amzn.to/1guhz1t

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