TW: This entry refers back to my suicide attempt last year as well as my past abuse.
Autumn is only weeks away now, and thank God. After spring, autumn is my favorite season (with winter following very close after autumn, and summer in dead last due to the heat). The moment September started, I started to think of all the autumn things I wanted to do, autumn foods I wanted to eat. My fridge now has apples, mushrooms, and spiced things. I’m planning to not let depression or life get in my way of celebrating Tsukimi (the Harvest Moon festival, kind of like Japanese Thanksgiving), or making soul cakes for Halloween. The cooling air, the return of knee-high socks and sweaters, the changing of the leaves…these are all very, very welcome.
Then, in my depressed moments, I see something else on the calendar this autumn that’s intruding on my seasonal spirit, and my life in general.
I never really took note of anniversaries to traumatic events, to be honest. A lot of abuse happened over just about every (American) holiday; I’d usually deal with that by taking up other holidays (eg. Tsukimi), or celebrating them in a very different way than what I grew up with (eg. soul cakes). The abuse would also be just scattered all over the year, across many years; whenever I approached an anniversary, I would usually be feeling that trauma coming well in advance. It would usually just be a large blot staining the weeks around the day, rather than on the day itself.
I will tell you, I made many a police officer/detective frustrated with me for not giving very precise days, times, and years to the crimes I was reporting. However, thanks to my journalling about it, there’s one traumatic event I know the precise date and time of, as well as the emotions that were going through me that day.
As I talk about this, I think we have to acknowledge that while we experience trauma, and then are re-traumatized by outside influences (events reminiscent of the original trauma, and relationships with people whose behavior reenforced those traumatic/abusive lessons)…there are the things we do to ourselves that also re-traumatizes us. It’s usually something that, in some way, is self-destructive. It could be subtle, like an unhealthy addiction/dependency on something, or more overt, like outright self-harm and suicidal thinking/attempts.
Lately, since the first cooling breath of autumn brushed through, I’ve been remembering both my first sexual abuse in kindergarten, as well as my suicide attempt over 20 years later. For the former, it probably has to do with school starting again, and maybe from pieces from the latter memory, knowing what unhealthy/self-destructive habits I learned from that woman and what she would do to me. The latter is the one that’s the most vivid, though; I’d be flooded with all the thoughts and emotions I felt when I went to church that day, writing my suicide note, looking at a tree that’s currently still green, but was rustling with withered leaves. The worst is coming home in the early evening, remembering that slow walk to my apartment, to my closet…
This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced these kind of traumatic feelings (from something I’ve done to myself). It is, however, maybe the strongest I’ve ever felt out of all those things.
My counselor reminded me how I ultimately chose to stop trying to kill myself after trying, how I called him, my priest friend, and a lady who was a mentor to me at the time. In doing so, he was trying to not cancel out the trauma and the hurt, but draw my attention to something hopeful that came from it. He also reminded me that I didn’t really want to die; I just wanted my suffering to end. It makes me think of this saying about noticing the flowers on thorn bushes: “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorns have roses.”
I don’t think we tend to realize how traumatic our actions against ourselves can be. How many of us take into account, when we’re about to do that unhealthy/self-destructive thing, the consequences of our actions? When I survived that attempt, I didn’t think I’d be feeling this way now, almost a year later. I didn’t think I’d feel like that scarf is back on my neck, just like how I’d feel those abuses and traumas done to me by other people. Knowing I was the one who traumatized me this time adds a certain layer of…I think it’s “betrayal”. If I’m not even on my team, then who is?
I have to forgive myself, as I’d taken to doing lately. “I forgive that I did something so horrible, so self-destructive that it traumatized me. I forgive that I betrayed myself, and wanted myself dead. I forgive that I caused people I love and admire to be frightened for my life. I forgive that I chose the church to write my suicide letter, and that, instead of taking better care of myself, I went straight to work the next day like nothing happened.”
I also have to forgive those outside things that led up to that point; “I forgive all that bad stuff that made me hurt so badly that death seemed like my only ticket out. I forgive all the things I suffered that taught me that my life was worthless and is better off being cut short. I forgive those words my spiritual director said that made me so ashamed for feeling suicidal that I didn’t reach out for help until after my attempt. I forgive the abuse I suffered from my father that caused me to associate good words like ‘forgiveness’ and ‘mercy’ with suicidal urges. I forgive that hearing the story my father told me about his own suicide attempt by hanging made me want to follow his bad example.”
The forgiveness is slowly becoming more personal, closer to the true forgiveness where I forgive the person, and even become open to having a goodwill for them that goes beyond just hoping they’d feel so bad about what they did to me that they would choose a different path. I was told to hold on to the good things those others, those outside things have given me to comfort me when all the hurt comes back; I argued that it made it just hurt more, that betrayal being there. Still something to work on.
My counselor insisted that I still have hope, even as I feel completely without hope. I told him how I don’t have any desire to kill myself now, and instead have resigned myself to living in an unsafe world mostly populated by unsafe, selfish people. He called that “having hope”. Out of the two, the former seemed like the better option. What hope can I find in just resigning myself to this life?
I guess it’s just the fact that I’m still alive. I’m still breathing. That scarf didn’t stop my heartbeat. It’s still pumping in my chest (and at a healthy pace!). The sun will come up tomorrow, offering me another day, another chance. If I’m dead, I don’t have anymore chances. It’s only in life that I still have hope.
Thinking about this makes me consider my body. The fact that almost none of my abuse left any visible mark used to make me feel so utterly betrayed, like even my own body was calling me a liar. The police only care about hard evidence (for abuse) after all. Chemically and neurologically it took an enormous toll, but no one can easily see that. The fact that I’m this way, and am not in some outwardly sorry state is yet another betrayal; no one knows how I suffer because outwardly I look fine.
Now, looking at these things, I can feel a little bit grateful, and a bit amazed. It’s amazing that I’m as well as I am (physically) in spite of all the punishment my body has been through, by my hands as well as theirs.
This might be a good thing to bear in mind, when we next reach for whatever unhealthy/self-destructive behavior we reach for. Is it worth traumatizing ourselves again? We’re trying to escape our trauma, our abuse, or whatever hurt we’re nursing with this thing we reach for. If someone we loved was hurting like we do, what would we tell them? We wouldn’t say, “Do what you want,” would we? Or make them feel ashamed of their feelings? Wouldn’t we comfort them instead? Wouldn’t we love them?
It’s so hard to think in those moments, I know. I was in this deadened fog when I decided to kill myself. It’s so hard to remember anything, think of anything, even feel anything. There’s instead just this hope, this empty promise of a hope, that this will make it finally go away for good. All these other habits I have has that same fake promise. Those things let me forget for a few minutes all these things, instead of getting to the heart of the problem, asking myself, “What do you really need right now? What do you really want, what you’re really feeling right now?”
I don’t know what to say. I’ve not gotten to the point where I can say what to do when everything just disappears, and we’re doing whatever it is we do when we feel/remember something.
At least…there’s a much happier anniversary coming up, one I’ll talk more on soon.