Surviving Suicide: Blame, Shame & Resilience

Updated: Dec 16, 2019

Last Saturday was International Survivor of Suicide Day. Such a long title that encompasses so much pain and grief for those of us left standing there, like waiting for the bus on a frigid day, which never comes. After this final act is completed, there are so many questions, could I have done more, how did I not see that it had come to that point in their mind? So many unanswered mantras that play respectively in the mind of the survivor.

For me, my Mom’s suicide was the culmination of years of enduring painful emotional abuse and narcissism. She lived her life like a steamroller, flattening anyone in her path that got in her way, including her children. The trauma of her suicide was two-fold, the actual event of the shooting and the subsequent love-hate grief which tied me up in knots.

I wanted to say so many things. Scream them, from my voiceless soul. Why wouldn’t you get help, topped the list. The guilt I felt in the realization that my life was easier with her gone. The shame that I hadn’t acted in a stronger way, forcing her to get evaluated. Was it my fault? I was the only child living in the same state as her, my brother screamed at me, I should have done more. He judged my non-action, as another narcissist and my other main abuser and condemned me.

For my father and my brother, in the end it all boiled down to money. How much she had, who it would go to, how to clean her house out fast and sell everything. I remember walking through the rooms with a box, taking keepsakes and pictures, my brother looking in it and saying, “hey wait we could sell that figurine.”

As sick and dysfunctional as it was, I realized in a frozen moment of time that I had no one. I began to sleep less, drink more and work harder to not feel my feelings. The tremendous weight of the loss was a dark covering that shifted my lens of perspective from I’m working to be the better version of me to nothing matters anymore, my hope stripped away and I was invisible. Funny thing was, I had spent years finding my voice and working in therapy, EMDR, reading books on emotional and physical abuse, but none of that work seemed evident anymore. I was at ground zero, everything I had learned didn’t apply because at the end of the day, I told myself: I let my Mom die. My heart was always so heavy in my chest fragments of shame, loss and blackness and I truly felt I was to blame. Her suicide had made the already long struggle of dealing with my abuse, into a vast and empty wasteland where nothing ever felt right. I missed her, I didn’t, I hated her for how she had treated me, but I loved her and wanted her love. It was a spiraling quagmire of despair and questioning of my worth that seemed to have no end.

Today as I reflect back, I can’t pinpoint the exact time when I laughed again, or didn’t end the day in tears. I just know that one day I did laugh again. It was unexpected, like I wanted to turn around and say who did that? Who made that beautiful sound? The healing came in different forms through other people who were caring and supportive, held space with me, really saw me, all my flaws and my beautiful cracked heart, too. The shift into healing after the loss came so slowly, I had someone say to me once, you just have to let it go. It happened, how long are you going to hold onto it? I didn’t have an answer; I just knew that if anything was going to change it would not be on a timeline I could dictate. I was tired of feeling like I had the wrong emotions. I knew too that the chaos and grief I felt was because of so many unresolved pinpricks of pain from my childhood as well as her final act.

I began the long trudging road of mending a shattered heart and learning to love myself. It was in fits and starts; my inner critic was loud, demanding and boisterous. I would stop when my head was spinning and look at what the thoughts were and say out loud, ‘that is a lie and not who I am.’ Little things were happening inside of me when I would have a success even if no one else termed it as that. I would smile inwardly and feel my heart expand. The turning point in healing for me was when I decided to enforce no contact with my brother. I felt empowered and I’ve never regretted that decision. My strength was starting to grow up through the cracks in the ice. The blackness in my heart was beginning to recede.

The truth of the matter was that I wasn’t to blame for her choices. There was no shame in not being the perfect daughter of a narcissist. That thought is laughable because I could never have lived up to her ever-changing expectations of perfection. I wasn’t alone, even though I felt alone. I mattered, even when I thought I didn’t. Today, I think of my Mom and I feel pain for her but I don’t live in shame or blame of self anymore. And that is truly one of the finest gifts I’ve ever given me.

If you are struggling with suicide loss, I encourage reaching out, leaning on and letting others love and support you. My heart is heavy for anyone in that place of utter desolate despair, it's tough stuff. And if some days are harder than others, please know that others have been there. We are all traveling this journey together and you matter.

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