Over the last week, a community that I belong to, one that is filled with survivor’s of mass shootings, has been rocked by a series of suicides. Two of these suicides were completed by teenagers who had survived the Parkland School Shooting, the other was the father of a victim of the Sandy Hook Shooting. I know that suicides following mass tragedies are not uncommon, that survivor’s guilt and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can lead to irrational thinking and severe depressive symptoms and hopelessness, however, there is something about this last set of three that feels harder than others.
Being the survivor of a traumatic event, especially one in which some people did not make it out alive, is one of the most heart breaking, life shattering, identity crushing events that you can experience. Any form of trauma leaves you devastated, confused, hurting, and lost. Surviving something that you do not think you should have survived, or dismissing your own suffering because you are comparing you trauma to that of the person next to you, does not just resolve itself over time. Time is a necessary component to healing, but so is work, effort, making a choice to never give up, and refusing to allow the enemy who tried to destroy you to win.
There are many well meaning people who spout off cliches and words that they seem are going to be helpful, but unless you have survived and healed from these traumas, those things just make it worse. There are things that survivors need, and there are things that you should not say to them and are only doing so because you’re uncomfortable and want to make yourself feel better. Stop. Stop saying what you think they want to hear because you are uncomfortable watching someone suffer. Stop using cliches and religious statements that really have nothing to do with healing and are more often than not taken out of context and offer no help. Just stop. And think.
20 years removed from the Columbine Massacre which I survived, treatment and resources that are available for survivor’s is immensely more effective and much more readily available. We can seek help and find true hope and healing in our lives, but it requires us to do the work. Not just once, but every single day. As someone 20 years removed from my most significant trauma, I still struggle. The anniversary is and always will be hard. Watching the news or not being careful with social media will always be somewhat of a trigger. I have healed, more or less, from that trauma, however, healing doesn’t mean that the struggle doesn’t still exist. It doesn’t mean that something out of the blue won’t pop up and send me into a tailspin.
Healing and life requires attention and intention. You cannot allow yourself to become complacent in your pursuit of emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical health. Healing also requires that you let people know how you are struggling and allow them to help you. You see surviving trauma isolates us. We belong to a growing and exclusive group that no one wants to be a part of, but we still believe the lie that we can’t make it, that we are suffering in a way no one would understand, and that we really should be over it by now so we’re not going to tell anyone that we still struggle. We continually have to take control of our thoughts, and choose to decide that even if the thought of death or suicide comes into our minds, we will completely reject it, no matter what.
I’ve worked with and seen many people who have not chosen to eliminate suicide as a potential out for their suffering. Inevitably, these are the people who suffer immensely more than they ever need to because if you don’t reject death, the enemy of our souls will use every opportunity to convince you that death is not only a valid option, but the only option. There have been many times in my own healing where I wished that I could just sleep for a long time, or that I wouldn’t wake up until everything was over, but that is vastly different than entertaining the thoughts of it would be better if I was gone and that the suffering is to much and I’m not strong enough to cope. Death is never the option, you can never allow that to be an option for you.
Suicides are tragic in so many ways, but mostly because the pain that the individual was suffering from is often hidden, and then is magnified and heaped upon those who survive your death. Every single issue that we face in this world, the pain, the hurt, the darkness, the seemingly endless pursuit for our minds/bodies/souls, is temporary. Temporary in this world. We do not have to wait for death in order to be free from whatever we’re struggling with.
We were created for so much more than a temporary existence full of suffering and pain. Yet so many of us, especially survivor’s, choose not to believe that and choose to give up. The suicide rate in this world is astronomical. There are literally hundreds of people giving up, letting their enemies win, and cutting their life short because the fight for freedom is hard. When you lean on yourself and only yourself, when you white knuckle your life, you will fail. Everytime.
You cannot survive and thrive in this life without God, without friends, and without family whom you actually allow into your darkness. It. Is. Impossible. You may exist, but you will be miserable and so will everyone else around you. Survivor’s of trauma, us, we have to choose to pursue life, to pursue healing, and to allow the things we’ve survived to shape us, not destroy us. That is the only way to find yourself and find life again.
My heart is broken for the families of the three who took their own lives, who cut short their opportunity for a real life free of pain and suffering, because now their families have become the new trauma survivors. Their loved ones now have to add that devastation, the survivor’s guilt, the pain and suffering that the person was dealing with to their own immense experience of the same. Suicide does not fix the problem, it removes every single possibility to be free. Suicide allows the people who hurt you to completely eradicate you and remove the powerful purpose that you would have achieved had you kept going. They win. You and everyone else around you loses. Everytime.
I don’t know about you, but I absolutely refuse to allow those psychopaths who tried to kill me and who stole a decade of my life to ever win again, to ever have any say over my life ever again.
Healing from trauma is horrible, it’s painful, it’s messy, it’s complicated, and it is a battle you never should have had to fight. However, you are in that battle for a reason. Find the reason and choose not to ever allow death to be the “out if it gets to hard.” Because it will get to hard. It will always be to hard for you to handle alone. Without God, without Him holding you and carrying you through the pain of your trauma and the nightmare of your healing, it will always be beyond what you can handle.
You did not choose this battle, but you do get to choose who wins the war. Will you allow those evil, hateful people who took everything from you continue to destroy you until you die? Or will you get mad and say, ENOUGH! You do not get any more of my life? One decision will lead you to healing and a life you could never imagine. One decision will lead you to death, either by suicide, addiction, or slowly ceasing to exist.
That decision is yours alone to make. You choose life or death, every single time you wake up and choose to fight or to give up. What choice will you make today?