We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started. ~Henry Ward Beecher
The fourth of July holds a special significance other than it being the Birthday of American Independence. It is a day that marks my freedom from inner oppression and celebrates my life. It’s the day I almost died.
I woke up on July 4th, eighteen years ago, excited about the day ahead. My mom was throwing an afternoon BBQ celebration and all my siblings and close friends were coming. After the cookout, we would all go to the town park and watch the fireworks. It was a perfect plan for a fun family day. But I never made it to the cookout. Instead, by mid-afternoon, I was in ICU fighting for my life.
I was only 25 years old at the time and suffering from severe depression and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). My romantic relationship was a violent one that had already put me in the hospital earlier that year – the beating to my face so severe that it caused hearing loss and minor brain damage. I left him for a while and sought medical help — antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and weekly therapy sessions became the norm. Seven weeks into the therapy and medication, working toward recovery and planning to leave the relationship when I could afford to move, I was feeling happy and hopeful. The therapy and medications were equally helpful. The fear, anxiety and depression were easing. The harsh inner commentary and criticism became quieter, and the dark self-hatred and suicidal thoughts started dissipating. I wasn’t afraid of hurting myself anymore.
Ironically, just six hours after waking in that happy mood, I would hate myself enough to actively attempt suicide. The argument started over the cookout at Mom’s. He didn’t want to go and I did. I decided to go without him, expecting him to feel relieved, but he became livid instead. He ranted about my idiocy, how I didn’t love him, and how selfish I was. I listened to several hours of this as he continued to drink and scream at me. He became angrier and louder as the minutes ticked toward time for me to leave.
The time came to take my medications. By then I was in deep depression, crying, and distraught. I made a flippant comment that I should just take the whole bottle – he agreed, grabbing me and slamming me to the couch. He forced half the bottle of pills down my throat, pouring wine behind it until I swallowed. I would take the remaining two bottles on my own an hour later – I had given up, believing life would never get better than this. I wanted peace and I wanted the pain of my life to stop. The only way I believed I could find peace was through death. It was my final phantasy of control, the only thing I could personally still do to stop the pain I was unable to bear. I remember making that choice consciously and taking the pills.
The memories after that are splotchy – distorted pieces and moments filled with erratic voices. Half-lucid minutes in the ambulance – asking if I would live, telling them I had children, begging them to help me. The paramedic, telling me she was trying, would do all she could to keep me alive. A silent blackness, deeper and heavier than any I’ve ever known, closed in about me.
In the Dark Silence
I’m not a big believer in “near death experiences,” and I don’t categorize my experience in the dark silence as one. It’s more like a window of internal – spiritual sight appeared and then opened into an epiphany.
My life was separate and apart from my emotions or perceptions. There was no confusion and no pain. In that dark silence appeared two metaphysical windows opening on two different lives – the life I was living and a life more true to my soul. The greatest part of the epiphany was a sudden flash of understanding that it was my choice. I felt empowered. I suddenly understood with perfect clarity that either path was open to me. All that seemed not to exist showed itself to me in such a way that I would never doubt it’s existence again.
The suicide arrives at the conclusion that what he is seeking does not exist; the seeker concludes that he has not yet looked in the right place.
I spent several weeks in ICU and then moved in with my sister for several months following my release. I started building a new life, with a focus, almost immediately. I turned to writing, something I had always been good at in school – even to the point of being published and winning competitions. I envisioned a path, the small steps as well as the big steps, and I started walking that path with pen and paper in hand.
Anyone desperate enough for suicide…should be desperate enough to go to creative extremes to solve problems: elope at midnight, stow away on the boat to New Zealand and start over, do what they always wanted to do but were afraid to try. ~Richard Bach
In the Bright Light
I took responsibility for my life in a way that was totally new to me. I focused on my children and my art, traveled across the country, and explored things that I’d always feared. The years rolled past and I become the woman in my vision, the woman on a happier and truer path. The ups and downs, the successes and failures, remain as a part of life. There are always the good days and the bad, but I’ve learned how to put victimization of myself (whether by me or others) behind me.
I have a healthy and happy life, a productive career in the automotive industry, a wonderful husband, two lovely children, and four adorable grandchildren. I’m blessed and lucky to be here this July 4th celebrating another year of Life and Freedom. From me to you – a joyous wish for a beautiful and Happy 4th of July!
The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments. ~Gustave Flaubert