Rising from the Ashes

There are many taboos in our ostensibly progressive western culture, some new, some old, some borrowed, some blue. Gay marriage is a fairly recent taboo with which our government demonstrated absolute cowardice. In typical Australian fashion, the public leads and our ‘leaders’ follow. A much older taboo is death, and specifically, when death is chosen.

I’m not one to shy away from taboo, having been born a walking example. I have a history with the Grim Reaper, too, in various guises, but with no personal direct experience. I did not eat the salmon mousse. Bottom line: I’ve been curious about death, life, and the in-between since I was a teenager. It’s part of what lead me to study psychology at uni.

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying was instrumental in my building an understanding of the final scene of life. The directive I learned from her book was, ‘Respect that person’s wishes to the letter.’ Her honest and authentic reporting of people’s approach to death forms my own attitudes to how our lives end. Where we treat the other with respect in the final moments reveals the essence of our humanity.

A much more frightening taboo is suicide. There is scant referral to this approach to death although some research has been done on this sensitive and personal topic. I’ve been there to help a friend recover from an attempt, to console friends when someone they loved completed the act, and was confronted with an attempt in my bed by an ex. I’ve listened to family members threaten this since I was a child. All a bit uncomfortable.

Over the years, I developed a coping mechanism in response to my family dynamic role which was to deny my needs and stay silent. I learned early that doing and helping ensured fewer whips and less drama. Emotional nourishment was sporadically available outside the family home.

Eventually, this grew into my using suicidal ideation as a safe-hold and, without the conscious decision to do so, this coping mechanism strengthened.

Imagine that! What a way to feel safe, ay?

Last weekend, with the help of a friend, my father, and a counsellor, I finally got a conscious handle on this maladaptive coping mechanism and thusly it is my great pleasure to relate my personal insights to you!

I realised I had been using this safe hold in three different ways. The first way I knew since I was in my late 20s: control. A chaotic childhood and early adulthood naturally resulted in the personality needing a way to stabilise. Moving from place to place, city to city, couch to flat, the only constant was me.

The second way, which I only realised last Sunday, was a knee-jerk reaction. Over the past 3 weeks, I’ve been studying Transactional Analysis as a method for addressing complex trauma: this was the groundwork which allowed for my realisation to occur.

Talking with Madam J 🥰 about suicidal ideation indicates just how real a real friend is. Same with you, dad ❤️

This knee-jerk reaction developed over years, unconsciously, and evolved significantly since I returned to Australia. It extends from childhood trauma: I helped and prevented problems from arising or else violence and bullying would happen. Horribly, whilst I’m no longer being threatened for not helping, my instincts, perceptions and self-worth are all tied into this survival strategy.

So many people I have irritated and made uncomfortable because I perceived a problem I could help with. I was never asked for help or told to help in childhood so asking if someone wants help is an alien concept to me. In Japan as a teacher then coach, same there: I organised each interaction based on what the client wanted and how they wanted it, and I provided assistance. Easy!

But here in Australia, I’m being bullied and threatened but no help presented. I have been so confused. Until last weekend, that is. I got it! Understanding and knowing how my self-worth has been predicated on helping, I no longer default to suicide when I’m not being helpful. It’s been 3 days now. I’m feeling quite safe with myself. New feeling. I like it.

And, finally, the third way I uncovered with my counsellor on Monday. Being able to give voice to feelings boiling away below the surface allowed me to lance a boil. Giving voice to my feelings, I was able to recognise that I was secretly holding suicide as revenge: ‘They won’t have any help if I’m dead’. Sad but true. This third one was the most difficult for me to accept, but thank-you deeply, counsellor M 🌈

I’m shocked that I’ve held myself hostage all these years. Horrified. But so, so glad that I’ve finally gotten a handle on this maladaptive coping mechanism. The image that came up whilst talking to dad was that I was quite comfortable as it was me holding the knife, but horrified that it was a knife.

So out of the ashes of this burned mechanism I’m building a new me, one that isn’t panicking for not helping everyone in view. I’m not under constant threat to perform. I no longer need to monitor every action to ensure it does not commit some infraction as defined 40 years ago.

I really have been under a lot of stress for a very long time.

Transactional Analysis is providing me with the instruction manual for how to build a healthy psychology. Tough, tough work and it requires the help of excellent people. I’m truly grateful for the three people who’ve helped me, and Richard Grannon’s videos on complex trauma.

Emotional support and acceptance.
Drive to improve.

Rising from the ashes.