"I want to be a leader and in recovery too someday..."
I read those words, accolades, and cheers for a job well done while hiding from my family and myself under comforters in my bed. Scrolling through social media and the news, my glasses fogging up and sweat starting to collect at the base of my neck. Some days, this is what recovery looks like for me.
I didn't always believe that I was capable of living with hope. Especially on the days that I hid under a blanket. Ever since I can remember, suicide has felt like an option. My first of many attempts was when I was just five years old. I just remember feeling so sad, and like I never truly belonged anywhere.
Fast forward seven years and I was institutionalized for the first time.
Fast forward three more years and I was dealing drugs for the first time.
Anything to quiet the voice in my head that seemed to be growing louder and angrier as I aged—the voice that told me I would never change, that hope was meant for other people but not for me. The voice said I was lost, damaged, too far gone, and too sick to ever recover. It said hope belonged to those that have a chance, and I didn't.
I live with a disease that sometimes tells me I'm not worthy or capable of having a future. A disease that creates a cycle that keeps me from feeling hope and happiness.
Recovery for me means that I'm living with a brain that I'm sometimes at war with. A brain that sometimes tells me I’m not enough, and that happiness belongs to others and will never be within reach for me. I've spent years of my life talking about, living, presenting training on, and promoting recovery; yet some days, I still feel like an imposter. Being in recovery doesn’t mean that I no longer have those thoughts, it means that I have spent years of my life building community, gathering resources, and planning for those moments so that when my brain tells me suicide is the only option, I can not so politely tell it where to go as I reach into my tool box for hope and support.
Part of my recovery is actively (and sometimes even vocally) reminding myself that my brain pulls tricks, and that the negative reel in my head will pass, and is not my forever. These moments force me to slow down and look inward: to build on and reach out to my community for support. To not sit alone in my pain, but to grow through vulnerability. A moment that grants me the opportunity to confront the internalized stigma I sometimes judge myself by, and the chance to say I need help or I need time off—a pause. A moment that forces me to look at why I am here. How did I make it this far?
So many times I was ready to go and faced the opportunity to take my life; I'm still here. Now, as I sit outside with the sun on my cheek and the loudest crow I've ever heard cawing in the background, I'm reflecting on why I decided not to go: my reasons why not. All the small, seemingly insignificant things, people, and moments that kept me from taking my life. The moments that have led me to recovery and peace. Even on the days that I feel like an imposter, these moments have taught me how to have hope.
These are just a few of my reasons why not.
- Mrs. Stone. It was 1st grade. I was at the end of the recess line, dragging my sweater. Life felt pointless and I was starting to cry. You, Mrs. Stone, bent down and showed me how to fold my sweater. Handing it back, you smiled and told me that a leader as smart as I am should never drag their sweater. I never did again. You are why not.
- Books. I found a world in you when I didn't feel safe in mine. You taught me to be curious and to dream beyond what I understood to be possible. You are why not.
- Jane Goodall. I did a report on you in 3rd grade and felt drawn to your commitment. You (and Captain Planet) showed me that I can make a difference in this world and that I should use my voice to be an agent of change. You planted a seed of love for the environment and social justice. You are why not.
- Margaret (aka Ms. Margaret). When I felt completely lost, you were my stability and my constant. You gave me another home, a love for cuttlefish and absurdities, and the desire to serve others. You are why not.
- Crystal. You were my friend, my bodyguard, my coach, and my co-conspirator. You stood up for me when I felt too broken to stand up for myself. You defended me when others laughed, and started at least one fight defending my honor. You are why not.
- Charley (aka Dr. Huffine). You saw me—not as a patient, but as a person who was lost. Not sick, just a little lost. By the time I walked into your office, I had lost hope for any future . You helped me find my passion and purpose. You believed in me when I couldn't believe in myself, and held my hope until I could do it on my own. You are why not.
- Ben. I hated living in a new state. People made fun of my accent, the weather was always 20 degrees too cold, and I knew I would never fit in. You were my only real friend in Washington and I knew I needed to say goodbye. You met me at the bus stop and gave me a gift. Your mom taught you how to sew and you made me a beautiful blanket (because I was always cold) of my home state’s flag. This blanket would keep me warm and wipe away many tears over time. I never told you how much your gift meant to me and that it kept me alive that day. You are why not.
- Youth 'n Action (YNA). You brought me a world of advocacy and leadership. You also brought me Stephanie Lane, the person that showed me that my diagnosis can be my strength, not just a challenge to overcome. YNA and Stephanie taught me how to have a voice and to use it to advocate for change. YNA opened my eyes to possibility and gave me a path. You are why not.
- A good cup of tea. You are DEFINITELY one of my reasons why not.
- Jennifer. I had already walked out of the meeting, and I was about to walk home. I didn’t care that it was raining. That somehow made it all the more fitting. I was building my plan as I hastily grabbed my belongings for the last time. You poked your head out of your cubicle and asked where I was headed. I told you I was sick and needed to leave immediately. I even made up a lie about having a stomach bug. You paused and lowered your voice, “Are you suicidal right now?” you asked. How did you know? How did I not know? Your questions forced me to stop and think. I had developed a plan and was ready for action before I had even registered that I was feeling suicidal. Your question brought me back to reality. You had walked a similar path with depression and you saw me and my plan when I couldn’t fully see it myself. You saved my life for the first time that day. We’ll leave the second time for another number... You are one of my reasons why not.
- Water. Water has always comforted me. Whether it's the salty smell of the ocean, the sound of the river flowing, soaking in a hot bath, or just taking a long shower, water soothes me. You are one of my reasons why not.
- Leilani. I gave birth to my son just months after my husband died. You, cuz, were a single mom too. We sat on your couch and lamented not having a 2-parent household and decided to move in together, to be each other's support and give our boys a better home. That decision was one of the best I have ever made. You taught my heart how to be open to possibility again.You gave me a second son, and despite my protests, you got me to love Pink. You are why not.
- Mija. My companion, my friend, and my dog. You comforted me when no human could. Your unconditional love and snuggles kept my heart warm. You are why not.
The smell of a campfire, the sound baby rhinos make when they’re happy (look it up right now, I guarantee it’ll be on your list too), eating pop rocks, finally finding a rest stop during a road trip, my daughter’s toothless smile and my son’s elf-like ears… I could go on for days. The reasons to discover what else life has in store are infinite. The reasons to say no to those suicidal feelings are infinite; the pain is not. There is hope, and I promise you, it’s worth sticking around for. My good friend and number 10 on my list said it best:
“I will NEVER give up! And neither should you. Recovery isn’t stagnant, it continues to improve—and you’ll be surprised how much better your life can get.” –Jennifer Bliss, Make Bright the Arrows
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out and ask for help. Help is available and things can get better.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Crisis Text Line: crisistextline.org
Immediate Medical Assistance: 911
Online Recovery Meetings and Support