Five years ago this month, I was scheduled to jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge. I wrote it on my calendar for March 7, 2008: “Philly.” I was planning to drive from DC to see the Irish band Hothouse Flowers, get drunk, and then jump.
That February, my fiancé had broken up with me – with no notice, with little explanation, and without ever speaking to me again.
I was devastated. This was the one. This was the relationship that erased all of my past failures and illustrated all of my current accomplishments. This relationship proved that I was beyond a painful history with men, and moving forward with a healed soul. This relationship gave me everything I dreamed of: a wonderful man, two amazing step sons, an awesome dog and cat, and a happy household. I hadn’t recognized that, beneath this perfect picture, my partner was harboring his own past relationship resentments, a dark and debilitating depression…and a deep longing to escape.
My heart was smashed with his phone call. The pain of the loss was unbearable. So I decided to kill myself.
* * *
By March 2008, I’d survived multiple suicide attempts throughout my troubled life. In fact, I’d spent most of the first 37 years of my life wishing or trying to die.
It seemed meant to be. I was unplanned – conceived after my mother had a tubal ligation! I once heard my parents fighting about money problems – saying that if I hadn’t have been born, they would be better off. I developed a deep feeling of being an unwanted problem.
(When I write truthfully about my family, I always have to add: I love and respect my parents, and I love and respect my family. I understand that we all suffered – even way before I was born. The ancestry of pain leaves a tough road to travel. We do our best.)
As a kid, my first suicide attempt was trying to smother myself with a pillow when my beloved Aunt Jeannie died from Cirrhosis of the liver. Much of my family suffered from alcoholism and its related violence and neglect. Despite this, Aunt Jeannie consistently showered me with attention, affection and adoration. She would swoop in for visits, in all of her New York City glamour and flair, bringing gifts and hugs and kisses. She was a star to me. When she died, I wanted to die. I didn’t know that it’s impossible to smother ones self. I passed out from crying and took a long nap.
From there forward, I thrived on recklessness. When I was 17, deep depression felt like a mid-life crisis; and I believed I would be dead by 34. As I got older, I essentially divorced from my family. I raised myself, nurtured self-destructive tendencies and geared straight toward danger. I experienced sexual molestation from community members, rape by a friend’s brother, beatings by strangers and boyfriends, and more. Other dangers included driving maniacally. I once landed in a life-risking crash – after which I felt very angry to still be alive.
My next deliberate suicide attempts were as an adult, when I hit an emotional, physical and spiritual bottom while living in New Orleans. In those days, I was convinced that everyone around me was achieving their dreams, while I was at a dead end. My “romantic” relationships were abusive and empty, my professional life was non-linear and grasping, my connection to god was willfully severed. After quitting a retail job, I spent my mornings, days and nights drinking and hooking up with strangers and street musicians. I used my parents’ gas station credit card to buy booze and food. And my worried and enabling dad paid my rent (bless his un-knowing heart). My reality was shameful and sad, and it sickened me. I saw no other way through, than to get out. Within one week, I tried to kill myself twice, using different mixtures of alcohol and substances. I woke up dazed both times. And again, I was very angry to be alive.
After that week, it appeared that I was not meant to die. (Yet.) So I ruefully resigned to keep living. Over the next decade, despite desperate, in-vain attempts to figure out how to decrease life’s pain…despite becoming a vegetarian, seeing therapists, moving all over the country, observing religious ritual, and even trying yoga, I would drink myself to oblivion countless times.
In fact, all along my life timeline, the most pervasive and slow suicide effort was my succumbing to addiction. I drank alcoholically from age 11. For the next 25 years, I would deaden myself to emotions, to growth, to the world.
However, despite what looked like a road to ruin, my journey took a transformational turn after I turned 37, in 2002.
* * *
Also by March 2008, I had finally enjoyed a sweet, 5-year phase of contentment and joy. I had been working a strong program of addiction recovery and was 5+ years sober. I’d been seeing a very effective therapist for those years, and was healing from my traumatic childhood and destructive adulthood. Plus, although I started while still drinking alcoholically, I’d been practicing yoga for 15 years, and was feeling it gradually shape my emotions, my growth and my world.
So, when the February breakup happened, I was blindsided and felt betrayed – not just by my fiancé, but by life itself. After so much transformational work, this crap would still happen? Well, yes. It would. And I could not accept that. So the March 7th Philly trip was planned.
Yet clearly, I did not jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge. What happened? Yoga, recovery and therapy – my power trio – gratefully intervened.
The addiction recovery program taught me to be rigorously honest. Right after the breakup, I showed up at meetings, blurted out my pain and cried myself into a puddle on the floor. I spoke about not being able to eat. Recovery friends came to my house with irresistible Thai lemongrass soup. I spoke about feeling betrayed by god and feeling that I would die from the pain of loss. Recovery friends listened intently and sensed that I was at risk.
Knowing that I was planning to go see Hothouse Flowers in Philly – and that my ex and I had taken our 1st road trip together to see that band in that city – a recovery friend invited me to go to a Brazilian Dance class at a yoga studio with her on March 7th. OK, she didn’t just “invite” me – she pretty much forced me. Up to that night, I had primarily been practicing yoga on my own at home for a few years. Being back in a mindful, intentional space felt healing to me. I bought a class pass and started showing up for (and crying my eyes out during) yoga classes regularly. I couldn’t believe I’d abandoned practicing yoga with others, in community. Even the minor embarrassment of crying in public was far outweighed by that public’s absolute embrace and understanding.
Having skipped my March 7th suicide plan in favor of Brazilian Dance at a yoga studio, my therapist was relieved. Still, because my depression persisted, she wanted me to be evaluated for psychiatric medication. I visited her recommended psychiatrist, and had an eye-opening experience.
I described my lifelong desire to die. I described the conditions of my childhood and my history of self-destruction. I described my self-reliance, separation and isolation. I described the breakup, the devastation and my March 7th suicide plan. I also described my rigorous efforts in yoga, recovery and therapy. I described my friends, communities and connections.
At the end of our appointment, he said: “In my evaluation, I do not see a need for medication. You seem to be doing all the right things. For you, reaching out for help and sharing with others is 100% more powerful than any medication.” I was shocked. “Even though I recently planned my suicide?” I asked. He countered, “That was supposed to happen on March 7th, right? Today is March 31st.” I had to laugh. The psychiatrist explained that, in my case, suicidal ideation is a coping mechanism. When I imagine or even instigate my own death, I feel relief from my pain, and start going toward the solution.
I’ve been trudging toward the solution ever since. Life since 2008 has become more challenging, to be honest. I have been through additional relationship betrayals; I have lost jobs; I have been mugged; and I have experienced other hardships. My friends and family have experienced very, very tough trials. But even with these troubles, life is not like that destructive past. I am not engulfed in atmospheres of addiction, crisis and danger. In late 2008, I became a yoga teacher, and my life now revolves around this beautiful community. In 2012, I celebrated 10 years of sobriety, and I currently continue to attend meetings. I practice the 12 Steps of recovery and the 8 Limbs of yoga to my best ability. I strive to show gratitude for my own healing and to share transformational practices by being of service however possible. And I have continued periodic therapy with the non-medication prescribing doctor.
* * *
Yesterday, I was driving from Philly to New Jersey while spending the weekend reuniting with some yoga teacher training friends. Suddenly, I gasped at the irony – without planning this, I was driving over the Ben Franklin Bridge, five years after planning to jump off of it. The previous evening, I had been to a Kirtan concert, where much water was consumed. K.D. Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (made “famous” by suicide victim Jeff Buckley) was playing on my car stereo. And I was feeling quite distant from devastation, depression and death.
How could I not cry tears of gratitude and joy? I knew at once that I had to tell this story. I know people who, right now, are suffering from the pain of great losses. Who are considering death and actively trying to kill themselves in one way or another. I love these people. I LOVE YOU.
I share my story to say: pain sucks! And pain ends. This too shall pass. My healing power trio is yoga, recovery and therapy. You might need or prefer a different combo. No matter what, I urge you to seek what works for you. To start – say “yes” when people offer soup, dance classes, meetings and conversation. Jump off of that bridge in a different way – allow yourself to fall into the arms of others. Surrender.
I LOVE YOU. OM Shanti.