The Second Year

I survived the first year after the suicide of my spouse. The statistics tell you that there is the highest likelihood of a “copycat” suicide within the first six months to a year after a suicide death, so you hit that one year mark still breathing and you think you’ve beaten the odds. Sadly, the reality is that the likelihood just drops. There is no parade, no pat on the back, no prize, no finish line and no miracle lifting of the pain you’ve just endured. Your race still goes on, your loneliness and grief are still there, you have to try to keep pushing through trying to hold onto the belief that at some point it just gets easier. 

I’m in my second year without him. I still feel incomplete. I still struggle with being lonely but wanting to be left alone. The sleepless nights still come, the thoughts that he’s somehow still alive somewhere else in the world still invade the harsh reality and my brain still cannot accept his absence. 

I want the handbook. I want to flip through to the section that tells me how to reclaim me, how to reclaim a life when the two things that gave this life any meaning have been ripped from me. 

I lost my job and my livelihood to PTSD; in that I also lost the person I knew I was and struggled to find her purpose in this life. In the end I settled for being a wife/housekeeper, despite the hit my self-esteem took, I was determined to be the best damned domestic on the face of this earth. I was just starting to accept this new role when I lost my husband…but I didn’t just lose him, I lost him to suicide.

Trauma. Again. Not the same type but a trauma nonetheless. My entire deck of cards was once again tossed up in the air and scattered to the wind. I’m trying to pick up pieces but more are gone than I had to work with after the first hit. 

The second year is not miraculously easier. This should be the disclaimer on any spousal suicide loss pamphlet. You just have to keep surviving. 

An average day for me revolves around the dog – let him out, feed him, walk him, wonder why he’s still whining, get lost in the PTSD induced hell that is a mind wondering what I did wrong or what I missed and can I keep him alive. After all, I let my husband die…

I know the reality is that it was not my fault, I can say it and hear it from people repeatedly but such is survivors guilt – you and everyone else are to blame except the person who actually performed the suicide. There is no blame. There is no answer to be found. These are hollow words to a heart that thrives upon reason. To a brain that needs resolution. 

Nope, the game I’m playing now is a survival game. The reason I’m doggedly taking myself out on marathon hikes? It’s easier to have something real to survive than it is to face and survive what is in your own head. 

I need to stop moving. I need to stop running. I need to sit still in silence and get comfortable with my internal self again. I’ve lost touch with my internal state because it was too much for me to face.

 The grief, the depth of loss after suicide it is so great that we often run from it, deny it and try to bury it. We think that if we smile, laugh and forge on pretending everything is fine, if we tell only good stories or avoid using their name, that somehow it will just skip over us. It doesn’t. It worms it’s way in deeper and infects our bodies, poisons our minds and keeps us stuck. 

Last week I received an envelope in the mail for my husband from his workplace. It was addressed to him as though he were still alive. It’s not like they’re some big multinational company, he died 13 months ago, perhaps a little more compassion or empathy could have been employed, but regardless,  it shook me to my core. Retraumatized. The intensity of the depression I’ve been struggling with since is frankly quite frightening. I tried to bury it before I realized what I was doing. 

It must be faced. It has to be allowed to exist. It cannot be put off for another day. 

I’m having a “nothing”day today. This means there will be nothing going on other than basic self care, no walks, no outings, no chores, no distraction. If the pain sees fit to pour from me today, I won’t stop it. Today is about dealing directly with my inner state and confronting the pain of my loss.

 I will allow myself enough time as it takes, a day, a week, a month, a year or years. As in previous trauma, recovery is accomplished in the most minute of steps, at the pace of snails and only in gazing back at the years will we see the progress made. 

So sets the stage for Year Two. 

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Looking Back.

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It is really unfair to look back on anything, at least this is sort of the message I get from buddhist philosophy, because the knowledge we have now, we did not have then. There was a catalyst that gave us a desire to learn more, search for clarity and we enhanced our knowledge of what is. Even if we were to be transported back in time to the exact point of “what if” with the same knowledge base we had then, nothing would change, the course of events would play out repeatedly in the same fashion. It is an impossibility to take our current knowledge and back date it to change our past.

Wanting to change the past is common in the afterloss of suicide. Looking back, we search for signs that something was amiss, we taint our happy memories to make them fit the new schema, we interpret past events and we move forward punishing ourselves constantly for things we feel we should have known then. Read the last line of the first paragraph again but aloud this time. What you did not know at the time, you did not know. What you did not see at the time, you did not see. These are FACTS. Facts are irrefutable (unless you’re Trump). The answers you seek cannot be found by tainting your past memories, by interpreting past situations, by imagining yourself in that situation again and inserting a different action or phrase. You cannot change what has already happened.

Your job in the afterloss of a suicide is to take the knowledge you now have and move forward, eyes open. Sadly, this is not to say that you WILL see it happening in another person again and be able to stop it. We are not designed to be walking around specifically looking for people who are near death and stopping them – if you’re doing this, you are not living the life you were given to live. Your goal after trauma is to move forward and forge a new life, altered as it may be, but livable. If the person was close to you or connected in some intimate fashion, you will feel that brush of death painting menacingly close to you.

My husband took his own life 393 days ago. In my mind, it feels more like only 60 days have passed. The meaning of time itself seems to change, it skips along forward while our minds remain fixed looking backward, searching and interpreting, tainting memories and souring the happiness with a darkened veil. In retrospect, we insert what our mind feels SHOULD be there to fit the current knowledge of what is, in light of what has happened. But one of the greatest cognitive distortions we can fall prey too are SHOULD STATEMENTS.

Cognitive distortions are things that our minds convince us are true but are not actually based in fact. We generate these thoughts to reinforce our negative thinking patterns and negative emotional states. Essentially, these are the same thinking patterns that led our loved ones down the path to suicide and it is our job to consciously take control of our thinking patterns if we are to move forward in a healthy manner.

SHOULD STATEMENTS generate guilt. Guilt is the greatest fight we suffer after a loss of someone to suicide. Guilt is a negative emotional state designed to self punish and because we have lost something, we will struggle with negative emotions such as anger, frustration, blame and guilt. Self blame after a suicide loss is common because of distortions like, “I SHOULD have known..” or “I SHOULD have seen..” or “I SHOULD have said something..” What you are doing is inserting knowledge you have now into the past where that knowledge did not exist. You are trying to open the eyes of an imaginary figure. That person, those people in that memory, they do not exist right now and you cannot change the things they did or said or how they lived. You can only work on you, now.

For those of us closest to the person lost, those of us in that inner circle of intimacy, the ones who felt we were trusted and loved wholly, we feel betrayed. Just as that person trusted us implicitly, so we too trusted them and we convinced ourselves that we knew that person inside and out. But no one can truly know you inside. Inside is where the YOU lives and lives alone. By virtue of the fact that we are self determining beings, we are essentially the CEO’s of a home based corporation called “Me”. Within “Me”, I am responsible for every aspect of maintaining the function of the being; I feel, I act, I think, no one else can control that for me. No one else can tell me what or how to think or behave, I have to want to do those things on my own. We are essentially a world of “Me’s” bumping into one another, living beside one another, working with one another but never fully controlling one another.

Suicide loss goes against the personal beliefs of our “corporation” and our “corporations”¬†beliefs of that other person. We take the blame for not being able to see in that one half smile, in that quickly released hug that one time, in a single bout of anger, that this person was fighting with bankruptcy because of a rash of cognitive distortion cases and considering folding their corporation. No, this is information that the other person chose not to disclose to us, and that person held that right.

You can not see what was not shown to you at the time. You can not hear what was not said to you at the time. No matter how hard you look back, there will be no telltale signs, no hints that the person was dropping, rather only assumptions that you will place on memories. I think your memories deserve better treatment than that. I think your memories of the person you lost deserve to be reminders of the love you shared, the laughter, the happiness, the strength and the triumphs you had. Your job in the afterloss is to reconnect to those things, reconnect to life in a different way, recognize the Cognitive Distortions that try to come in and take over your thoughts and place them all in the trash pile where they belong.

You deserve that much.

(reference : 15 Common Cognitive Distortions)

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