First, I want to let you know all your tears are important and your laughter too. We all have separate paths of heartache and joy. What works for some may not work for you. Try not to measure your pain or journey to someone else’s. How you feel is how you feel, and that makes it valid. As I continue to fall more in love with myself and life I know that to me words have been essential. All said at separate times and by different people.
These are the sentences that saved my life.
I was once a Southern California, summa cum laude, driven, beautiful graduate. Two years later I started having flashbacks to the abuse I suffered as a child and was wrapped in so much pain and denial that I ended up hospitalized for suicidal thoughts. It has been three years of work and I am now married, with a turtle and a puppy living in Northern California.
Life takes you places inwardly and outwardly that you never expect to be.
1. “Never say never.”
So, the first phrase I share with you is one that some see as a cliché or an annoyance as it can be used as a rebuttal to someone’s important stance. For me, it has been lifesaving.
When I was hospitalized the first time, I met a man named Darrell. He was a tall fifty-year-old African American man. For days, he healed by my side. A psychiatric hospital is a scary place and he kept me safe and protected. He had admitted himself for two months to heal from deep depression. He needed everything locked away so he could take the time for himself. He was kind to the other patients, watched football and became my voluntary guardian the minute I walked in the doors. For two weeks, I struggled and told him I never thought I would not want to live. I never thought I could hurt so much inside and physically. I was afraid I could never get better. He reminded me to never say never.
As I began wrestling with that, I could drop some of the standards I held myself to. I was able to see just a smidgen into what I had lived through and realize how horrific it was. It was a small light into accepting what had happened to me as a child. It also removed some of the despair that I may never heal. It was very small but it started an opening in me to make allowances for our humanity. Sometimes life is unpredictable and, therefore, so are we. I still catch myself saying, “I will never do that,” and then I laugh because I can’t know unless I am in that situation. It has made me more comfortable with the unknown.
Although there is a lot of pain there is also a lot of beauty. This is why I pledge to love myself no matter what because I am always learning new facets to who I am. Never say never, because you can then keep many doors open to become anything and everything you didn’t know was possible. You find much deeper compassion for why hurt people, hurt people. Self-judgment is a bitch. Let yourself off the pedestal.
2. “Wanting to die is part of the process.”
The next sentences I share with you delicately. This is certainly a topic that needs to be discussed. Three years ago, I was hospitalized four times in two months for suicidal thoughts. I was re-traumatized by my hospitalizations and was scared to attempt anything and fail and then be admitted again to a psychiatric hospital. For a while, the fear of failing and being hospitalized was what kept me alive.
Finally, I called a friend from college who had been down this path and who could relate. I will never forget staring out the window at a glum winter night when she breathed in a little more life with her words. She said, “Raech, wanting to die is part of the process.”
I had heard it before, but she said it as someone who had survived herself. She then said the words that you can only truly say when you have been there and it means something. “Why don’t you commit to try six months to a year more of healing and re-evaluate where you are, because suicide is always an option.”
Most people are shocked that those are words that saved my life, but being reminded I didn’t have to make it all end now was a relief.
It was also a relief that I could always have a way out. So, one shaky day after another I woke up. My horrible ugly desire to die was suddenly no longer selfish or a sin or weak. This pain was a normalized part of healing. I started reading books about the healing process and talking about it with everyone. Most everyone has wanted to die at some point. The reason some slip through the cracks is because the immense shame they feel. Platitudes about how things happen for a reason or that God never gives you more than you can handle, are literally killing us.
Because my friend was brave and honest with me. It has been two and half years, I am healthy and alive. I was blessed to be given compassion. That was a phone call I can remember almost every word to. She gave me permission to feel all those ugly, scary things and vowed to love me and not judge me no matter my choice. She gave me strength to keep saving myself.
3. “I am still okay, even when I don’t feel okay.”
In college, a guest speaker in my counseling theories class told me, “It’s okay to not be okay.”
That ripped my world apart in great ways and caused me to start allowing feelings. But now years later I have been able to transform it to, “I am still okay, even when I don’t feel okay.”
Life spirals out of control more than we would like. I have gotten to know a lot about how fragile and resilient the human mind is over the years. I know that I am the only one with myself 24/7 and I have lived through hell. Even when I was in the hospitals I shared laughter and art with other patients and the workers. We can forget our bright spots when the darkness is heavy. So, if everything is stripped away and I sit alone in a box with nothing to my name but my name, I still know I am okay. I am here.
4. “I can experience the same depths of joy in which I have felt pain, sometimes more.”
I have been saying this for a while. I have known deep pain, pain I never expected to feel and know. Along the way, I have also known joy. For the times I have crawled across the floor crying, clinging my journal because the flashbacks and nightmares won’t stop, I have also stood barefoot on a stage sharing my poetry and under a waterfall that I climbed up cliffs to see. I have felt the despair of betrayal and I have felt the ground supporting me while beautiful, horrible words come from my pen and my mouth healing me as I tell my story. I have truly felt the cold water of the waterfall running over my body, electrifying that I am alive and it isn’t just sentences that saved me, but also myself.
Above all and no matter what, return to yourself over, and over, again. Support and hold yourself through every step of life. Be real, radical, and raw.