‘Cos you feel life’s unreal, and you’re living a lie
Such a shame, who’s to blame, and you’re wondering why
Then you ask from your cask, is there life after birth
What you saw can mean hell on this earth
Hell on this earth
Now you live inside a bottle
The reaper’s travelling at full throttle
It’s catching you, but you don’t see
The reaper’s you, and the reaper is me
“Suicide Solution,” Ozzy Osborne
He handed me the microphone with shaky hands. It felt hot and slick like a monkey bar in the mid-summer sun. I had the sense that he had nearly squeezed it to death when he talked. Then I handed the mic. to the facilitator of the retreat I was attending. The guy sitting next to me had waited patiently for his turn to speak; after listening to others talk about the agonizing decisions related to leaving their spouses, helping their adult children “get it,” and sibling rivalry. He was an attractive, well-groomed young man, and he started with, “I am done.”
At first, I thought he would speak about topics like the others had, some situation he was done with. But it soon became apparent that he was DONE done. He just didn’t want to live anymore, and all he could hear was his dad’s voice in his head telling him to be a man and deal with it. And as he continued telling his story, my heart was breaking, and I responded with a self-compassionate hand on my heart.
I don’t (or maybe I don’t let myself) feel this level of pain very often and I was implementing the tools that I teach in the Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) Workshops. These techniques were being reinforced by the two leaders of the retreat I was attending called “Falling in Love with Yourself Where You Are: A 5-day Journey of Self- Acceptance.” Both Matt Licata and Jeff Foster had done an excellent job of guiding participants into their present moment experiences by focusing on just holding whatever was there – no fixing or trying to will the experience away. Their responses to questions had a similar theme, but I wondered how they would respond to this. You see, I had a extra interest in this topic. I live in what could be called the suicide capital of the world: Mesa County, Colorado.
Many smart people and local organizations have been trying to understand why the suicide rate is so high in one of the most beautiful places in the world and how to address this problem. Unfortunately, the rate continues to increase every year. There are many theories about economic stress (no jobs or economic recovery), isolation, and even the old west approach to dealing with lame horses. So I had been thinking how MSC could provide valuable perspectives and practices as part of the problem-solving effort. But it is difficult for me to fully grasp the mindset that leads one to consider suicide. There was a time when I was very angry for a while, and wondered what the point of living was. But this was a temporary fleeting thought. I think I heard the same comments from my dad and put the whole idea away. Now there was a guy sitting next to me trying to explain how this felt to the gathering of over 100 people at the retreat. What ensued was the most authentic and realistic discussion I had ever heard on this subject.
He had no problem explaining the physical sensations in his body, those that were associated with his heart-felt pain. He clearly described the tightness in his throat, the pain in his heart and the fist-sized lump of coal in his gut. He had used the approach recommend by MSC and at the retreat. And he was able to hold these physical sensations in a non-judgmental manner. But he said none of this helped diminish his desire to die.
Jeff Foster responded by acknowledging that he totally understood these feelings because he had encountered them himself until about age 25. He explained that it was almost like there were two different people; one who intellectually understood these “feel and hold” practices and that they should work, and one who was sick and tired of the philosophical BS that didn’t actually help at all. Jeff’s journey to well being included contact with spiritual advisors who admitted that they avoid the topic of suicide all together, which just made him angrier at the time.
Jeff clarified that having the desire to die didn’t mean the guy was a bad person, it just meant that he wanted to end the BS and find authenticity. It wasn’t about ending this physical experience in the body. All of this came from a deep ancient need – the need for love. And then Jeff cautioned that his next idea might be considered crazy because the mind just can’t grasp it. He asked the guy if he could consider beginning to love, “the need to die” that was burning inside him. This was not a recommendation to take actual action on the desire. It was radically authentic to love all the parts of us, especially the ones that are begging for some attention. Jeff did not ask him to love the concept. He asked if he could start by considering this approach.
The interaction between those two ended. I sat with this guy and his (our) struggle for a while. Then I left to wipe the tears from my cheek and intentionally reinforce the difference between his experience and my experience. This was the most honest and authentic discussion of this challenging topic that I had ever heard, and it touched me deeply.
I am not an expert in this topic, but have had some exposure to it. It seems that these individuals don’t want to die, they just want the pain to stop, and it doesn’t seem like there are any other effective options. Perhaps it is helpful to give someone permission to feel what they are feeling and that it’s okay to feel like you want to die. We all experience suffering as part of the common human condition, and most of us have these type of thoughts.
Isn’t it time to make this understood within the context of reflective conversations with our loved ones before it is too late? According to Daniel Siegel, MD, we all have a part to play in creating the quality of interpersonal relationships. Healthy relationships with others can be cultivated by being present, attuned, resonant, and creating trust. In reflective conversations each person can share what they are feeling, thinking, remembering, hoping, dreaming, believing, or perceiving. This type of conversations connect us to one another so that we can feel felt and seen – so that we can feel authentic and real. Reflective conversations make life meaningful and enable us to fell a part of something larger than our isolated sense of self. With kindness, we honor and support one another’s vulnerabilities, creating a safe space where we can open up in an authentic way.