Should I Stay or Should I Go?

June 27, 2010

Well being that this is a blog about suicide mostly, I think it’s important that I explain my views on the matter. Ever since I was five years old, I have wondered about death, and have always lived my life with an awareness of death juxtaposed to life. When I was 7 and my younger sister was 5, she made a suicide attempt and no one in my family told me for several years. I could feel something dark and heavy was going on in our house, and I grew up in the shadow of the fear of impending death. Throughout my childhood I struggled with my own depression, feeling unseen, and not living up to an enormous potential I knew was inside me, but I couldn’t touch. Maybe this a neurotic New Yorker thing, but many people I knew growing up also suffered from depression. The woman who wrote Prozac Nation lived four blocks from me and went to my elementary school, if that’s any indication of the world in which I grew up.

I made my own suicide attempt when I was 25. And a year and a half ago, the love of my life John-  was struck by a train and died from suicide. I am no stranger to death. I have contemplated it, lived it, beckoned it, and survived it in so many different ways. I understand it intimately.

After John’s death, I could not deny the fact that working with suicide is my calling. Suicide prevention and transformation through grief is my life’s work.

So in a nutshell, here’s what I have come to understand:

I believe it is a choice to come here, to incarnate into this time and space reality on this planet, to choose our parents, and choose the life experiences and obstacles we need in order to expand and grow and learn lessons that are uniquely particular to us. But once we are born, we forget all of those reasons and intentions, and it’s like starting from scratch, and it’s a lot of trial and error figuring things out and finding our callings in life.

If we have the choice to be here, we have the choice to leave. We come from some original source, a place we feel and recognize, a place we know inside our being as home. This is where we return when we die. Some may call it heaven, some may believe it’s another planetary intergalactic dimension, some may see it as soul-clusters, some may see it as returning to a nondual unified consciousness. What most people know is that this existence is infinitely easier than human- Earth-life experience. It is sweeter, loving, blissful, infinitely creative, and spiritually connected. A way of being we sometimes remember and sometimes catch glimpses of; an existence truly worthy of our longing.

As part of this blog, I will continue expanding on my  lived experience of longing to return home. Yet, you must know that checking out early and dying before my time is not something I could ever do and is not something I support. Surviving John’s suicide was the most painful, devastating, and excruciating thing I have ever known. Even more painful than the numbness and despair that brought me to the brink of my own suicide, enduring the death of a loved one’s suicide is like dying a thousand times over, like being burned alive with no end to the sizzling flesh. I could NEVER and would NEVER knowingly inflict this kind of pain on anyone, not even my worst enemy (if  I had a worst enemy). It is the most brutal pain you couldn’t possibly even imagine. And it is that reason alone, that has kept me from following John and killing myself to be with him once he had passed.

But beyond that knowing, I belive we all have a purpose for coming here and for being here. I also believe that we die perfectly on time, once we have completed and fulfilled our purpose here. Not a moment too soon and not a moment too late. And since obviously my heart is still beating and I haven’t dropped dead, I know my purpose has not been completed. Until it is and I’ve done whatever it is that I am supposed to do here, I will not get the privilege to die and to see John again. Morbid as it is, I am driven to live my life as fully and as deeply and as ambitiously as possible– to not waste time so I fulfil my destiny as quickly, as efficiently, and as joyfully as possible– so that I can be with John again, and soon! I know this may sound scary and strange to some of you, but it’s the truth. I can’t help it. (But that doesn’t mean I will never love again….)

So on a professional level, I am aware that we all have the choice and the right to take our own lives. Yet if people are depressed and longing for death, home, heaven, or the afterlife- and haven’t been able to get out of their depression or find joy in their human experience, and are still alive and here– that tells me they have not found their purpose in life, their calling. If they had, they would be on their path and not looking for an early way out. And if they had completed your purpose, they wouldn’t be here. So I see it as my job as a clinical and transpersonal psychologist to help others find ways of discovering who they are, what their purpose in life is, and find their will to live so that they don’t take their lives too soon, shortchange their life experience, miss out on the lessons they need to learn, have to start all over again from scratch in some different incarnation, and inflict immeasurable and unimaginable pain on the people who love them. We are all in this thing together.

I think I’ve said a lot for now….I’ll save some more for another time.

Sending Strength …..


4 Responses to “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

  1. tara mackey said

    hi, my husband of 7 and a half years, father to my 3 children, love of my life for 12 yrs committed suicide on march 18th of this year, he hung himself and I am devastated, I really dont know how I will go on, I too in the past have been suicidal but have in the end always reached out for help, but I just can not grasp the concept that he is dead and that he chose to leave us, I look foward to reading about your prespective and hopefully find some insight into this devasting choice he made.

    • gritandcharm said

      Dear Tara,
      I am so so sorry for your loss. I know it is truly devastating and painful and confusing. There are really no words for it. i know how it feels to not know how you will go on and i honor you for waking up every day and taking care of your children and doing the best you can. All i can say from my own experience is that if you have survived suicidal thoughts and longings before, you can survive this. you have the strength. Finding some meaning through all of this, even though nothing seems to make sense, is your life-line. I wouldn’t dream of presuming I know the reasons why this is happening to you and is your life path, but i will continue to share my experiences and what i have learned, but i hope i can offer you some hope here. I will write my next post with you in mind. It such a dark time, please take care of yourself.
      With love and strength, sarah
      (please be in touch through this site if there is anything i can do to help)

  2. John Carnessali said

    Hi Sarah, I decided to start from the beginning. 🙂 I was going in reverse (reading your blogs) and it made sense that I should start from the beginning so that I could see how the your process has evolved.

    I especially was touched by the idea that coming, living and leaving earth is a choice. This is something I have felt for many years, but when I tell people this (which is few and far between) they tend to automatically reject the notion (at least the leaving part). A lot of religious and spiritual practice’s equate suicide to a failure of some kind. For me, the idea of suicide equaling failure is based on fear and perhaps even selfishness. We do not want to be without the people we love.

    Like the war on drugs, I sometimes wonder if the stigma attached to suicide was removed, if we might actually see a drop in suicide rates. I feel the the guilt and the ideas inadequacy surrounding depression and suicide, may actually deepen the pain and hopelessness inside the individual.

    When I was younger, before my ideas of suicide grew into what they are now, I had tremendous guilt and shame around my depression and sadness. I had the idea that something was ‘wrong’ with me for feeling sad and contemplating suicide made me even more pathetic. But when I realized that living here is a choice (a choice I made before I came to earth) and could look at my experience without judgment, some of my negative feelings and ideas about myself and the world lifted. Instead of rejecting and judging myself for wanting to die (which people who are depressed and/or suicidal are excellent at doing) I was subtly embracing myself. This actually uplifted me – I had a choice and my decision wouldn’t make me more or less worthy as a person or spirit.

    I knew a man who had attempted to quit smoking on several occasions. Finally he succeeded. I was fascinated when I found out that he has kept a pack of cigarettes in his desk drawer for over 10 years (he actually carried them in his pocket for the first few months). When I asked him why and how he could do this, he told me that having the choice to smoke empowered him somehow. He didn’t quite understand it and neither did I. However, with some thought and some similar personal experience, I have some ideas of why.

    Yes, it may have been tempting to know that in a moment of weakness or on impulse, he could simply reach down and grab a cigarette. But each time he realized it was a choice and each time he chose not to, it strengthened his reasons for not doing so. Instead of banishing the cigarettes as if they were evil, not to be acknowledged, but instead to be ignored – He was able to have an open dialog with himself. IMO it may have been this open dialog and acceptance of himself which allowed him to sort through his conflicting feelings. Whereas before, he was bad if he smoked and good if he didn’t.

    Personally, when I have contemplated suicide, I have felt weak – with the idea that I just can’t do it any more. Having negative ideas of myself and guilt because of this, only made me more weak. Ironically, things began to change when I took the necessary steps to ensure my suicide would be successful (it was also important for me that it be a peaceful and gentle exit. Thus I was – for the first time – truly facing a choice. It was no longer a fantasy that somehow seemed out of reach or which needed to be compromised with a “violent” method. The reality of choice was eminent. The peaceful escape I yearned for was literally sitting in my hands. It no longer was “can I continue to live” but “do I want to continue to live”. I contemplated suicide many times after that. Each time I did, I was able to open to my own reasons for choosing life or choosing death. This open dialog with myself, helped me to see where my pain was coming from. It helped me to see that I had conflicting ideas of life. It helped me to work with these conflicting ideas. It helped me to stop rejecting and judging parts of myself and begin to find a way to bring these apparent dichotomies together.

    I think that many people who contemplate and attempt suicide are really reaching out for help. They do not want to die, they are just not sure how to live with the pain they feel. They see their pain and their thoughts as something to be ashamed of and they reject them. I think this creates an even greater rift in their being. By rejecting parts of themselves, the deep connection they yearn for is compromised to an even greater extent.

    You are helping by sharing your journey. Your honesty and candor around your own process and pain, along with your encouragement speak directly to many people. You are like an ambassador for Life. You can speak both languages and that is a beautiful thing. You show us that our pain and our joy are intrinsically linked and need not be exclusive. And that perhaps, it is through this struggle that we find our salvation and our purpose.

    Thank you.

    • John,
      Thank you so much for your candor and honesty. Like you say, there is so much stigma around suicide, and being honest about our own despair and our own suicide attempts or even suicidal thoughts takes a lot of guts. Most people are terrified to hear, talk, or read about it, eventhough in reality, practically everyone has thuoghts about death or ending their own life at some point.
      I am glad and relieved to hear that you found the inner strength and resolve to take your life into your own hands – so to speak- and reconciled your inner dichotomies. As I believe I have written in some other posts- our longing for death really is our longing for life: for the life we are not living yet, for the love and abundance we envy in others, and for our fullest expression of ourselves to be thriving in joy. Most people who make suicide attempts have much ambivalence about dying- like you say they are conflicted. They want to be saved, the want to live- just in a different way. I know many people take much comfort just knowing they have the option to end their life if they need to. They may not ever actually do it, but knowing there’s a way out offers some relief to ceaseless pain.

      Your story about your friend with the pack of cigarettes reminds me how much freedom and strength is gained by practicing a discipline; by making conscious choices and setting a clear intention toward a definite purpose. This is how I now see life (since the worst of my grief has passed), and in some ways it makes it easier- more freeing. If that makes sense. Holding on has proven so much more rewarding than giving up ever would. My choice was made for me. After John passed away I knew I could never intentionally inflict that kind of pain and loss on my family and friends. It was too excruciating. So whereas- before John died, suicide may have felt like an option, now it is not. I will continue to make the most of my time here until god, the universe, or this body decides that time is up.

      I am really happy to hear that you “get” what I write about- and that you share (in your own ways and with your own experiences of course) a similar understanding of life, death, and all the grey in between! This blog is for you and others of you out there who think, feel, and philosophize along similar lines. I’ve always though about death since I was 5 years old, and walking on the dark side of things, living in the shadows and not being corrupted (too badly) is something I am used to. John (my John) ironically enough, showed me the light side and I’m forever unpacking the beauty he has bequeathed me. Thanks for being such a great reader and commenter! You are contributing greatly to the dialogue.

      You are welcome, my friend. The pleasure is all mine.

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