By Brad Hearst
Throughout life, we are faced with many trials and tribulations. Those “trials” are instantly magnified when you lose a loved one to suicide. Nearly everything you do after a recent loss seems to somehow always be related to or remind you of the person you lost. At the very least, you seem to find a way to relate that person into each conversation. It isn’t something we try to do as a new survivor it just happens naturally. Our journey through grief is full of twists, turns and often roadblocks which is why we are going to take a deeper look into the journey known as suicide recovery.
In it’s simplest form suicide recovery starts with the word suicide. After a loss merely saying the word out loud is difficult. When you add in the stigma it has in our communities it compounds that battle. Some households won’t allow the word to be articulated after someone passes away. The pain the word causes is too great to bare. For some families saying the word brings shame. It is an embarrassment to them that they lost someone to suicide. Thus, the struggle begins instantly with suicide recovery because of societies discomfort with suicide. Survivors feel as though they started a journey alone without a map or a guide to lead them.
Regularly, when I think of “suicide recovery” I think of the grief process we all went through. For some it is a long road that has the potential to last an entire lifetime. Then for others, it is as if nothing happened, yet they talk about it as little as possible. It is a simple coping mechanism lots of survivor’s encounter. Psychologists will challenge each survivor and try to set deadlines, achievement points or base recovery off others but it isn’t that easy. If it was we wouldn’t still be battling the stigma. No one person grieves the right or wrong way. Grief is an individualized process that is only measured by one’s own ability to come to terms with the loss by suicide. To reach this point we battle anger, depression, regret, and constant questioning.
That questioning is often filled with the “Ws”. Why did they take their life? What if I had said something? Would they still be here if things had happened different? Unfortunately, the only person who could provide the answer to those questions is no longer with us. Finding small pieces to answer the Ws was a big piece of my own recovery. I was able to do this by reflecting on the life my brother led. I identified small clues missed due to the amount of time that had passed, my own maturity and lack of training around mental health. These small clues allowed me to find peace in the realization that it wasn’t my fault.
The relief of that blame and guilt allowed me to return a portion of who I was. An older brother who had an amazing younger brother. I was thus able to enjoy the memories instead of analyzing them. We shared some incredible times and I desperately wanted to smile when reflecting on them. The level of comfort that came when I accepted it wasn’t my fault was irreplaceable. Unfortunately for some this day never comes. The relationship with that person often will define how long it takes to let go of the blame. For example, parents that lose a child will more than likely experience a much longer timeframe than that of someone who loses a friend. This doesn’t mean the loss is an easier but your role in their life defines the level of responsibility you feel for that person. The more responsible we are for an individual the more guilt we feel when there are feelings of failure. As an older brother I felt a certain level of responsibility for my brother. It is my role as the older sibling to take care and watch over him. When he passed away I felt a large level of failure. This pain created an internal struggle that lasted years.
During the journey to recovery we search for those things that help us recover. For some, taking a walk alone allows us to clear our minds. Others may grasp to the lyrics of a certain genre of music. Lots of people turn to exercise to relieve that stress. Whatever your choice is, just like your grief, it will be unique to you. There is no perfect tool to take away the stress that comes along with grief. My own recovery caused me to drift away from working out. I gained weight and began to eat my emotions. It continues to be a problem at times nearly four years later. My relief comes from just simply being home with my family and watching my wife and children. There is no better feeling than watching my boys play together. If I can put aside the distractions it can be extremely soothing. Again, this is just what works for me. You will need to take time to find your “escape”. When meeting with individuals or families I encourage them to be open to anything. You might surprise yourself. There are more escapes surrounding you than you think if you allow yourself to try new things.
Last but certainly not least, a huge part of suicide recovery is meeting other survivors. The first survivor encounter after a loss is monumental for some. Up to that point many survivors feel alone and abandoned. Society has a hard time relating to survivors and finding that person to converse with provides a sense of relief. Some of my best friends to this day are the first survivors I met. The bond we established through our common loss is irreplaceable. They became my “guide” on the journey through suicide recovery.
Unfortunately, the journey through suicide recovery is so extensive that trying to cover every point is nearly impossible due to the individuality of our grief process. In future posts we will continue to discuss further concepts, struggles and successes. These were just a few of the areas I experienced as I walked down my own path. It is important to remember that while society may view suicide negatively you should never feel embarrassed, guilty or alone. At the end of the day suicide is just like any other disease. To some it may be foreign because they have never experienced it. It is all perspective. Only you can decide the perspective you are going to take. It will take time to focus but once you have the dust will clear and your journey can truly begin.