September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Initially, you may appreciate the statistics and the acknowledgment. When the month ends, though, you may feel complete invalidation. No amount of awareness can ever yield justice for who you were robbed of. Nothing can keep the endless, ignorant suicide comments at bay. You pick your battles, knowing that it’s not weak or cowardly – it’s this complete and total darkness that consumed them. You likely feel alienated from the rest of society. You may notice others’ uncomfortability when having to answer that one big question of “how did they die?” – that you and your loss are somehow impure and therefore rejected.
While people can understand that losing a loved one is arguably the toughest thing we have to live through, outsiders may not understand how your grief never dissipates. Time heals nothing, and may actually increase your pain. The longer without that person, the more you realize how much they’re missing. Of course, every person who has lost someone can share in some of these ties. All death is tragic, and I want to avoid trivializing anyone else’s pain, but your loss, dear suicide survivor, is nothing short of extreme trauma. It’s hard to be “at peace” with something you feel like you could’ve prevented. No matter how many times you hear “it wasn’t your fault” or “there was nothing you could’ve done”, you never truly feel it. You carry self-blame. You carry “what-ifs”, guilt, responsibility, and you never put them down. In this month of awareness, I’d like to highlight what we don’t talk about enough – you – the survivor of someone who died by suicide.
Trauma is tricky. You figure out how to tell your story in a linear way to easily explain the loss that happened to you. You can’t, however, find the words to articulate what happened and is still happening within you. People expect you to go through some clean, pretty check-list of grief, and return to “normal life”. The strangest feeling is watching the sun come up every morning while your only desire is to hit “pause” to figure out what “normal” means harboring the new gaping hole that found a forever home within you.
Sometimes you want to let go of the trauma. You want to set down all of your emotional baggage, running from it as fast as you can. You’re afraid that if you can’t break free from your trauma’s sticky grip, that it may define you – that you have been defeated and damaged beyond repair; that maybe that internal voice is right – you aren’t worthy of a happy life. You may sometimes feel angry toward the person who completed suicide for starting a war within you. Then, you may feel overwhelming sadness as you imagine their utter hopelessness as they took that last lethal step in their plan. On the other hand, you sometimes want to hold onto the pain for dear life. Without it, you may question your purpose, searching for a meaning within your loss, constantly digging for the “what can I do with this?” or the “why did this happen?”. You may feel that letting go of the pain does an injustice to your lost loved one, to your younger self, or to others affected. You’re stuck in an endless loop, frozen in a place you desperately wish to escape. You may be emotionally numb, feeling like you’re living life behind a glass wall – like you never will be fully alive again. What you’re definitely NOT is alone, no matter how much it feels like it.
I encourage you to take all those unsaid words, unanswered questions, and fragmented thoughts that you can’t quite make sense of, and put them all in a letter to your lost loved one. You can bury it, send it off in a glass bottle, tuck it away safely, anything – just let it all out. Feel it all. Reconnect with your feelings. Never stop honoring your lost loved one. They did not commit suicide like some crime. They died by suicide – died by depression, died by addiction – whatever the root, dying by suicide should not be stigmatized or be treated as less than any other death.
You don’t have to let go or hold on tightly. There is a third option. Adopt your trauma into your overall sense of self, allowing it to live within you freely. Only then will you be able to bridge the gap between your traumatic “stuck point” and your current life.
If you would like to schedule an appointment, you can call Amy Wine Counseling Center. Together, we can #endthestigma
By Mikayla Williams, MA, LPC-Intern, NCC
Supervised by M. Garzaglass, MS, LPC-S