I can't think of a time in my life when I did not imagine killing myself. As a small child, growing up in a Catholic environment, this was the darkest sin. My small misery was such that I still imagined it, even as I felt deep guilt about it. My teenaged angst was variations on the theme of death and self destruction, even as I lived exactly as was expected- explicitly.
I read mysteries obsessively, both fiction and True Crime and came to the realization that a botched suicide was far worse than any circumstances that were the impetus for escape by that route. I also believe I extrapolated that murder was a more reasonable alternative. Why kill myself when I could kill my tormentor? I began to plot my father's murder. But, as anyone who reads mysteries knows, murderers always get caught. I could never come up with a plan that would not leave me in far more chaotic trouble than before. I also thought it through, to foster care or prison, or to adulthood and escape. Just as I could not figure out a sure way to kill myself, the failed attempt being more damnation than the completion. Outliving current troubles seemed the surest path, so I endured.
In my darkest hours, this is what really saved me, imagining who would have to find me. A child? Stumbling upon my bloodied body, perhaps after a day or so? No. I did not hate anyone enough to leave them to deal with my mess. I delayed the act until I could see it through, leaving as little collateral damage as possible.
I began to fantasize escape, a fantasy that lasted until my late 20s. I would drive off and begin a new life with a new name, lost to those who claimed to care. It became acute when I was training for the National Guard, and full time Army was a real option, and my "marriage" was disintegrating completely. It was also the closest I actually came to a realizable plan.
I was in Kansas, OJT for the Army, alone, fights over the phone becoming exceptionally toxic, and I wanted it all to end. My CO, seeing me at the breaking point, sent me to an Army shrink. I knew that confidentiality in the military isn't even a fiction, and "suicidal ideation" was grounds for commitment. I talked about stress to the doc, and silently formed a plan- which effectively calmed me down considerably. I was going to catch a cab, go to a town pawn shop and buy a gun "for self defense", and late at night on the weekend, go to mid-stairwell in the hospital and shoot myself in the heart. Rationalizing that medical people could most easily deal with a dead body, and it would even be near the morgue. I see some potential flaws now, but it wasn't too bad a plan, all in all.
It was payday, I was on my way to call the cab, I had cash in hand. The hall of the barracks was lined with the full time Army folks, celebrating with lots of beer, and extra beer. I tried to politely get by, but they were having none of it, I was cajoled into a beer and a chat. It was the first time in a while I felt included, felt like laughing. I could always go tomorrow, right? I wound up very drunk, and kissing a very nice guy in the wee hours, and generally enjoying myself. Hell, I figured, might as well wait it out a while longer. So, I did.
It would be a hellish year when I got back, but I would survive it. And escape, and find myself again at the behest of the US Army, in barracks. With yet another nice guy. Who would turn out to be wonderful. My only regret being that my time when I could have stopped trying to live anymore, was over, because he would be so hurt, and have to clean up after me. No. Damn.
The fantasies continued, never ever admitted to in any therapy that I would occasionally turn to when I was in a bad knot. Every night, every morning of nursing school, I imagined myself killing myself, a knife through the throat, IV K+ (painful, but fast and certain), not really wanting to end my life, but to not have to get up the next morning and struggle on and keep going. To sleep. And not to dream.
Suicide was the option in extremis, like putting down an animal. Not so constant a mindset by now, but solace if I were to outlive D for too long. I could sell off or give away everything, and finally lay my burden down.
Then I had this brush with mortality for real. In the following week, I had the chance to talk with a therapist through my new employer's EAP. He asked me at the end, somewhat apologetically, "I have to ask if you have any thoughts of harming yourself."
I laughed, genuine relieved heartfelt laughter, "No, not at all," and I was telling the whole truth. I could not harm myself, even in my dreams, anymore. I had not realized what a trap my "escape hatch" was (had become?) I know, for real, down to the basement, that I love life. No conditions, no matter what, I had finally committed to living.
I'm still having flashbacks. My work in surgery means I am there to assist with intubations and extubations, and that bothers me viscerally as it never did before. When an anesthetized patient gags on the tube, I gag and blink back tears. I am even more emotional than my usual easy-to-cry self.
I am also calmer, more forgiving, happy.
I've stopped killing myself. My death will come in it's own time, not to be feared. But, now is the time for life. While my candle holds out to burn, this humble sinner will live with a whole heart, grateful, troubled, whole.
Labels: abuse, death, pain