The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

The Suicide Blog (Or, How To Keep Living When You Feel Like Dying) Pt. 2 September 18, 2020

“We learn the rope of life by untying its knots.” ~ Jean Toomer

There was an unforgettable turning point in my childhood, where my father – a frequently frustrated, angry, untreated Al Anon candidate – was trying to untangle a mess of rope. We were in the backyard next to the shed, and it seemed like he’d been working on the knots For-Ever. Finally, he gave up, threw the rope to the ground, exclaimed something like, “Fuck this shit” (or the appropriate profanity of the early 70s), and went inside.
I picked up the rope, patiently untangled it, and took it in to him.
Two things occurred at that moment, I believe: 1st, my father’s and my codependent relationship was reinforced (our enabling patterns would continue for decades); 2nd, my place in this world as an “untie-er of knots” was solidified (to this day, I continue to untie – and learn.).

People found it surprising that I started reading Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search For Meaning” during the COVID19 Pandemic. It made perfect sense to me. If Frankl could find purpose while enslaved in a Nazi concentration camp, I could certainly navigate a pandemic with my spirit intact. His insistence on identifying meaning, ideals, and values during the worst of times has been uplifting for me. (It was the murder of George Floyd and subsequent unrest – on the streets and in my mind – that would take me down, as you’ll read in later paragraphs.)
Plus, I’ve been mining along my ancestors’ roads over recent years, more so since a 2018 suicide attempt. The psych ward doctors’ diagnosis of PTSD with Memorized Trauma Experiences (aka flashbacks) blew my mind, explaining much of my painful experiences and destructive patterns since childhood. As I emerged from the post-attempt fog, I recalled that this revelatory connection to past trauma had started brewing in 2007, during a daylong workshop with Buddhist teacher Ruth King. “Healing Rage” was a huge gathering of women uprooting our “rage inheritance” and learning strategies for reaching inner peace. Ruth introduced concepts I’d never heard during my many years of spiritual, new age, yoga, health, and wellness explorations. For example: if our families evolved from a history that included slavery, frequent moving, genocide, poverty, drug/alcohol abuse, and other hardships, then we were probably living with the untreated trauma of our ancestors. As the descendant of Russian Jews and Irish farmers, I was pegged. And overwhelmed. Talk about a diagnosis. I think I spent most of that workshop grieving, not really hearing the part about “inner peace.” I was broken open and raw with despair. So much was explained – but not remedied. (Not yet.) To close the workshop, we stood in two long lines, facing each other, and were invited to whisper a positive statement into the ear of our partner.
“You are the one we’ve been waiting for,” she said.
I’d been waiting my entire life to believe those words. And at that point, I’d heard them only once.

“I always felt you were an angel sent from heaven,” my crying, drunk mother told me. It was 1996, just before my parents left the DC area to retire in Nashville. Mom was dying (albeit she lived 6 years longer than the doctors predicted) and wanted to be close to her family of origin. Dad, she, and I were at the house where I grew up, and I was madly searching my brain for a happy memory that outweighed the sadness of our 30-year existence there. I confessed: All I could recall was a lifetime of feeling like an unwanted problem, because as a young child I overheard my parents arguing about money and learned that I was unplanned. That’s when Mom dropped the “angel sent from heaven” bomb that left all three of us crying, and me striving to believe her.
Today, I do.
Well, most of the time.
There can be a lot to unravel in the process of healing mental illness.

This morning, an old, old friend called to catch up. He and I spent the late 80s and early 90s running around some pretty exciting and destructive circles. Those were the days when my addiction brain made all the decisions – moving all over the country to run away from myself, attempting suicide, sleeping with strangers, dating junkies. I recalled holding two hands tightly around my boyfriend’s upper arm while he shot up. Begging him to let me try heroin. Sidestepping that fate.
“I’m lucky to be alive,” I said to my friend on the phone.
Those words don’t come out of my mouth very often. And I needed to hear myself say them today.

I’m presently recovering from another suicide attempt this past July, just before my 55th birthday. As I mentioned above, COVID19 conditions did not affect my spirit – at first. The isolation of March and April allowed me to grow an online yoga instruction business, save money, immerse in nature, and pop into Zoomed addiction recovery meetings around the world. I took all the precautions, only left the house for safely-distanced nature walks and grocery shopping, and thoroughly enjoyed the solitude.
And then George Floyd was murdered.
My friends protested, spoke out, and asked to be heard. I felt alienated by rhetoric like, “White people need to…” and “This is not about your feelings…” Name-calling like “Karen” and “ACAB” rattled me. The term “white fragility” was a threatened label to avoid. As a yoga teacher for the DC Police Department, as a white person, and as a human being with feelings, I feared that my friends would consider me the “bad guy.” I silenced myself. I hid my thoughts, experiences, and beliefs.
My sick brain recreated my childhood environment. Name calling, alienation, rage, threats, physical violence. Doubting the value of my existence. Fearing doing something that would result in losing the love of my sisters or parents. My feet stood in 2020, with my mind in the 1970s. Although I shut up on social media and avoided interactions with activist friends, my mind was incessantly riddled with defensive arguments. I felt more and more alone, and scared of talking with anyone.
This was exactly where my mental illness wanted me.
As silly as it might sound, an episode of The TED Radio Hour pushed me over the edge on July 5th. The theme was “Loneliness” and the facts shared told me that I didn’t have a chance of surviving this lethal combo of COVID isolation and acute mental illness. At that moment – during a typical Sunday of NPR binging – the flashback effect of my PTSD kicked in, emptying me of any sense of reality, positivity, or hope. It was as if I had blinders on and could only see the solution of death ahead.
Luckily, my attempt failed. Again.
Leaving me with no other option but to shift my perspective.

I used to say there was nothing you could do or say to halt my decision to die. That once my brain switches into trauma flashback mode, I have no ability to untwist its tightened knots of resolve. From my 2018 attempt, plus, a 4-year period of extreme triggers leading up to it, I deduced that a flashback would always, inevitably, and regretfully lead to damaging behavior. However, since this summer’s attempt, I’ve come to understand that only a small part of my brain is sick enough to crave death. The majority of my mind can become skilled and strong enough to stop the impulse.
Developing these new capabilities requires vigilance and hard work.
Since 2018’s PTSD/flashbacks diagnosis, I’ve been engaged in a new course of mental health treatment that is training me to develop and listen to the greater, empowered, healthy part of my brain. DBT Group Therapy (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) keeps me accountable to exercises that emphasize skills to answer every aspect of my illness. Weekly meetings of that group, with a talk therapist, and with my psychiatrist keep me grounded in reality, positivity, and hope. Regular attendance at addiction recovery meetings provides a foundation of physical and emotional sobriety. Daily mindfulness practices cultivate presence and contentment. And carefully prescribed medications and natural supplements support chemical balance.
Although my gradually healing mind was recently overthrown by a flashback, its twists continue to unwind. The follow-up to the last attempt included writing a Chain Analysis of the event with the support of my therapists. First, we identified the links between contributing environments and events. Next, we will list the skills that can respond to those triggers, so I will be able to halt destructive impulses if/when they arrive. Through the Chain Analysis and ongoing therapy, I am training myself to interrupt a flashback – more so, to not reach that point.
Sometimes I feel like nothing will change. That I’m not only sentenced to a life with mental illness, but I’m also sentenced to a life of constantly fighting against it. And folks, it’s been a long-ass, 55-year war. Along the way, I’ve “tried everything” – only to see each new remedy stop working over time. The work of healing and change can feel exhausting.
But then I remind myself of my journey with addiction recovery. The first two years felt like an endless road of heavy realizations and burdensome solutions. Although I did not relapse, I lacked emotional maturity, which led to destructive behavior, which was answered with analysis, support, and efforts to change. I became so tired of “the work” in those early days! Well, guess what – I’m still “working” the program and will observe 18 years of recovery next month! It doesn’t feel like work anymore. It has simply evolved into everyday practices and skills for living a physically and psychologically sober life.
I see my journey with mental illness following a similar evolution. (But hopefully with a shorter timeline, hahaha.)
Plus, in some ways, the Chain Analysis exercise parallels the “Healing Rage” workshop’s approach of looking back at ancestry and the patterns I’ve inherited from it. Only now, where there is grief, there is also a strategy for inner peace. Where there is rawness, there is a remedy. Where there is brokenness, therein lies hope.

I’ve shared my efforts toward Suicide Prevention.
The question remains – is there anything you can do or say to halt someone’s desire to die? That, my dears, must happen wayyyyy before the decision phase. I know there are tons of resources suggesting how to spot red flags and such. But each suicidal idea is unique to each suicidal person. So I can only speak for myself.
For me, the best thing you can do to interrupt the impulse to commit suicide? Ask yourself if you care about and love me enough to stick around through the ups and downs of mental illness. If the answer is “yes,” then please make an effort to understand my illness as well as I do, so we’re both prepared to navigate those ups and downs. And just as imperative, please commit to untangling your own twisted, tangled knots from the past.
If your answer is “no,” you don’t want to share the journey of a mentally ill human being, then there’s nothing you can do to prevent my death.

I started writing this blog on World Suicide Prevention Day and September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Pictured is the altar I created to honor the idea of Prevention. Shades of young-PTSD me, from left with Mom to right with Dad. Saraswati – goddess of artists and students – watching over all the little Holly’s, imploring me to KEEP GOING. A golden heart, as I am told mine is. Rose Quartz gifted by my 1st therapist in sobriety, who for 8 years, embraced me. Set atop a childhood ring with a turquoise lightning bolt inset. Violet Flame Amethyst from a healer friend. Amethyst and gold pin from my Aunt Jeannie, who adored me and died too young from alcoholism. Te Adoro plaque from the strongest friend I’ve ever had. Mom’s Black Jet necklace, which I use as a mala for protection. There is a candle, there is sage, there is Palo Santo, too.
Some might say that I could not have been born with PTSD. However, unaddressed pre-birth trauma is a condition for PTSD. To be conceived by two emotionally, financially, holistically stressed parents after they’d decided to stop having children (and mom had her tubes tied), and then, born into a world of chaos, violence, and addiction is fertile ground for mental illness. Photographed moments of adoration, love, and care were beautiful, but do not make up for a household of harm.
Nor do they erase a family history of lack, neglect, hardship. I’d argue that many of us with “resilient ancestors” were born with PTSD. Resilience is not simply getting through something – it is being changed for the better by it, therefore changing the course of one’s life and future generations. But if the patterns that led to and traumatic outcomes of hardship are not addressed and healed, then there is no future without trauma.
Sound grim? It doesn’t have to be. If we, now, decide that the beautiful essence beneath our unhealthy patterns is worth the grueling work of healing, growth, and change, then the symptoms of PTSD can be decreased. That’s where I am today. Still plagued by triggers, still pushing people away to feel safe, still comforted by ideation. Yet, still, invested in getting better (and better and better). Dedicated to not dying. Yearning to stay alive.
Because despite a small part of my brain telling me to die, a gigantic part of my brain and the whole of my heart and soul are in love with the beauty of this world.
If you struggle with trauma-related mental illness, I beg of you: do not delay. Look as far back as you possibly can. Where there is not detailed information, look at general conditions, environments, and travails of ancestry and culture. Then work forward from there. Like I said, it can be a lot of rope to unravel. And at times, the seeming lack of progress may make you want to use that rope for ill. Despite it all, KEEP GOING. Accept the reality of living with an illness, use the skills to address it, stay focused on successes, surrender to wise help.
Surround yourself with folks who not only care about and love you – but who want to keep caring about and loving you through your ugliest days and darkest hours. Who’ve seen and believe in your light. Who reinforce your belief in life’s beauty. Who proactively make the effort to understand your illness. Who want to heal, grow, and change alongside you – as well as enjoy the pleasures of life with you!
Find the folks – even if just a few – who will root for your patience, determination, and success as you untie the tangled mess of life’s knots.
May all beings be well. May all beings be free of suffering. Love to all. Holly


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