September is Suicide Awareness Month. This isn't something many people like to talk about, but we know that it's important. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please seek help. You don't have to feel alone. If you have lost a loved one to suicide, I hope and pray that you find this article helpful.
Guest post by Nancy Marshall, M.A., L.P.C.
A person will never be the same person he was before a suicide loss. However, there is no need to be sidelined from life’s joys forever.
There are effective therapeutic approaches that can heal the wounds of severe trauma. Remember, it (the loss) was added onto your life, and therefore it can be largely taken back off, with time and good treatment. Even if finances are a problem, there are ways you can begin your healing journey.
The Universal Thought after a suicide is “Why?”
The Universal Fear is “Is it my fault in some way? Was there more I could have done?”
As a Survivor of Suicide, it is normal to be very angry with both the lost person, and with ourselves for not having been able to prevent the death.
As a Survivor of Suicide, you will struggle with forgiveness week after week, but with consistent work, gradually it will begin to wash over you. You will know when you are starting to heal. You will slowly begin to recall the person who died by suicide and feel the ability to wish him or her well, or even genuinely pray for him or her and other loved ones.
The forgiveness may start in a very passive way. We start to lack the energy to really be angry. When forgiveness finally starts to slowly come to us we may not even notice it slipping in at first. The change will be gradual. It will help to reduce expectations of forgiveness. Life would still not be perfect if you had your lost person back. It wasn’t perfect before when you had him or her.
The brain has a good capacity to drive ever forward. Our own brain can actually become tired of our “story,” however justified it seems to us. This is a good thing: the capacity of nature to never be standing still. It is a help to us in healing work.
A good step to healing after a suicide is to recognize we may never get the answers to our questions. It’s very likely that we will not. Still, it is hard to not try, exhausting ourselves in the process.
A second step is to claim the right to not feel guilty. Even if there were difficult interactions with a lost person, we are never responsible for the actions of another. We were bystanders to a loved one’s actions.
In any relationship, we have no doubt helped, we have no doubt hurt. We are not mind-readers. We are merely human. We did not commit the act. We also have a right to begin again. Enough bad things have occurred already. A person has the right to begin again, to feel hope again in spite of the pain of the loss.
Finding Our Purpose
Mindfulness is currently enjoying great popularity as a treatment in mental health communities. Work hard to find purpose in the present moment. Deep suffering can help give us compassion, but it can be immobilizing. Even if all that can be done at first is to keep one’s flower garden tended or do the laundry, start with small “purposes” until a larger one comes to mind. Tend the garden carefully (mindfully) and do the laundry with attention to the detail and notice the enjoyment of clean,freshly folded clothes. Walk among your flowers. Keep basic things going and a higher purpose will resurface.
We have learned something from this death, and have something to offer others, even if we may not know yet what that something is.
Self Care for the Body
Another positive step is to boost our care of the physical body. Eat a healthy diet of protein and vegetables. Avoid sugar and its attendant mood swings. Alcohol is fermented sugar, of course. A source of Omega 3s in the diet is helpful for calming, among other things. You can find helpful information all over the internet on these health issues.
Regular aerobic exercise is very helpful; we often want to curl up in our “safe place,” but moving the big muscles of the body will help the immune system clear out “fight or flight” chemicals. All trauma survivors are dealing with an overabundance of flight or fight hormones. Caring for the body is a wonderful step, as our bodies will respond to change more readily than our traumatized minds. We may not be able to afford expensive quality psychological treatment, but this work on our own physical health will “jump start” recovery.
Look closely at the people with whom you spend time. Ask yourself “Do I feel better from having been in their company?” Or are they negative and critical? We do become like the people in whom we invest our time.
Anyone who drains our energy is too expensive a companion at this fragile time. Find those people who encourage you. A few good friendships are much more valuable than a number of shallow acquaintances. Fewer people often mean there is more depth and quality in the relationship. Anyone who has suffered a severe loss needs quality emotional intimacy. When I am feeling vulnerable I always try to avoid interacting with challenging people. Why do that to myself?
Count Your Blessings
It is tried and true that it helps to examine the positive. Counting your blessings really does help. It can feel like a “reach” when you are sad, but by thinking of and remembering the positives, you are actually beginning to rewire you brain’s thinking habits when you focus, even briefly, on what is good in your life.
In every life there are things that are good. We don’t have our lost person, but we still do have those good aspects in our lives. Perhaps make a mental “appointment” to review positives each day and “force it” until it begins to feel a bit natural.
Consistent effort with these principles will begin to help us move forward. It will take work and consistency. The biggest enemy to healing is discouragement. It will take determination, but your brain will be willing to “move forward” because all of nature is always moving forward. And you are part of nature.
Nancy Marshall M.A., L.P.C is a Clinician with 35 years of experience, including 8 years of facilitating a support group for family and friends of people who have been lost to suicide. She is the author of the new book (affiliate link) GETTING THROUGH IT: A WORKBOOK FOR SUICIDE SURVIVORS, available on Amazon.com.