September is National Suicide Awareness month. This year, I am even more aware of the pain of suicide as I lost a friend this year to this evil. In addition, this year has seen a sharp increase in the number of completed suicides as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions imposed on people. With the reality that there has been an increase in suicide deaths since 1999, it begs the question, what is driving the extreme hopelessness that results in the thousands of lives lost every year? There are many contributing factors such as mental health history, trauma, lack of support, resources and isolation. But what moves an individual past the point of no return to where this is the only option they can consider?
Those of us who have gone through the loss of someone due to suicide know first hand the pain the loss causes. We have guilt, shame, and forever unanswered questions. As part of the guilt process, we will find every single moment when we “should have” done something. Those who have survived being suicidal knows the damage and pain that struggle causes in your own life. But the truth is that you can do everything possible and use every resource available, but if someone is committed to dying, they will find a way. Since this month is dedicated to awareness and response to the epidemic of suicide, I would like to address this from a spiritual and mental health perspective.
We are not just our minds, bodies, or souls. We are all three, all the time. Each component of who we are is intimately connected to the other. There is never a time when one part of us is injured where the other parts don’t also suffer. Suicide is much more than just unresolved mental health issues. That is a part of it, yes, but not the whole story. Being suicidal is a symptom of extreme dysregulation and suffering. This kind of hopelessness only occurs with deep wounds to all three parts of who we are. We must look at all of these together in order to defeat this powerful enemy.
Hopelessness comes when everything we’ve done seems to go wrong, or we feel unable to escape a situation we are in. When we feel as if our voice has been taken from us, when we are devalued, hated, dismissed, and treated as less than, we begin to feel as if we will always be stuck in the pain of those rejections. These thoughts are false, we are never stuck. There is always a way out, but often that way requires work and effort beyond what we feel we can handle. And this is usually the truth. On our own, we absolutely cannot dig ourselves out of the grave of hopelessness without God and consistent professional help. Because if we could do it on our own, we would. Our will is not strong enough on its own, to overcome this deception of the enemy.
Hopelessness requires our surrender. Our conscious decision to surrender to God and to whatever our current situation is. Outside of abuse and where you are in immediate danger, often it’s our perception of where we are and what we can do that keeps us trying to control rather than surrender. This is a hard place to get to.
It’s saying, I will be ok even if…. Even if I never heal. Even if I never feel better. Even if I am alone. Even if I am lonely. Even if I am rejected by those who are supposed to accept and love me. Even if this is all there is.
This idea of OK even if creates such a conflict within me that I find myself pushing back hard against it. Because it’s where we are that is causing the pain and suffering. It seems counterintuitive to surrender and accept where you are, no matter if you ever get out of it. What this is not saying is that you are going to ignore opportunities to change your circumstances, to heal, and to break free from your past. It is not saying that you are going to accept abuse and being at risk because you have to “just be content” with it. What this kind of surrender means is that you are letting go of trying to fix everything yourself and letting God take over. It’s an extreme trust that you will eventually get out of where you’re at, but you will no longer let that place destroy who you are. You will no longer allow your pain to control your thoughts and leave you hopeless, broken, and longing for death.
Our thoughts have life or death
You see, the hopelessness that leads to death, to suicide, begins long before you ever begin to think about death as the only option to relieve your suffering. It begins with the seemingly innocent thoughts of “this is never going to end,” “I will never or always…” and similar intrusive destructive thoughts. The thoughts that we allow to take root in our minds are the ones that eventually lead us to life or death. There is a reason we are told in scripture to take all thoughts captive and bring them into submission to Christ. This is what allows us to defeat everything that tries to draw us away from who God has created us to be.
This is where we begin to win the war against suicide. Instead of only trying desperately to medicate away the intrusive symptoms and talk about it, we need to begin in the mind and the body and the soul. These thoughts, the way our bodies react to these destructive thoughts, and the damage in our souls as a result of accepting these lies as truth, create more pain than what we are already struggling with because of our past.
Medications and bringing others into your struggle can be important components of getting your life back. But they are not the only thing needed, yet often where most treatment stops. We have to look at how the pain and trauma from our past has fragmented or destroyed our identity in Christ and our relationship with God. When life is incredibly hard, when the trauma never stops, and the suffering seems to come in inescapable waves, you can keep your head above water and survive if you hold onto your identity and relationship with God. When you accept separation and fractures in how you see God and how you see yourself in relation to Him, that’s when the deadly hopelessness becomes inescapable. If you have hope in something beyond this life, you can face anything. But when you lose that or choose to hold onto your anger with God over what you’re struggling with, you can begin to truly believe you will never be free again.
Trauma not only destroys our minds and bodies. It also fragments our souls and our connection to God. Acknowledging the spiritual pain and working through that as well as the physical and mental consequences of trauma, will give you the hope you need to make it through the healing journey you’re on.
Suicide is never the solution to the pain. Suffering always has an end in this life. Even if it’s not what we want or how we want it to end, it does. Whether that’s because we remove ourselves from the circumstances, or we are able to change our perspectives and address our trauma, the pain will end in this life. Suicide does nothing more than remove your ability to experience healing and leave behind your pain for others to deal with. Those who have survived a suicide attempt almost always say the same thing: that as soon as they pulled the trigger, jumped, whatever, they regretted their decision. They all had a moment of clarity after they acted on their suicidal thoughts. This means that those who do not survive have the same moment of clarity and regret, but were not able to change their minds anymore.
Having suicidal thoughts is NOT part of normal every day life. It is a huge red flag that something is really wrong and you need to get help immediately. It’s not something that you need to be ashamed of, it’s a consequence of surviving hell and not having a safe place to heal. But it’s up to you, and only you, to decide that you want to live no matter what. No one will be able to rescue you from this hopelessness but God and you. Choose life, even when life is hard. You will always come out the other side free and grateful that you chose life. Our thoughts and feelings are not facts. They are illusions, usually unhealthy reactions to our pain that brings us more suffering not freedom.
The beauty is that we are more than capable of stopping our hopeless thoughts from taking hold and destroying our lives. But it requires a choice to fight and stay alive, to not entertain any thoughts of death, and to surrender to where you are so that you can get to where you’re meant to be.
IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING SUICIDAL THOUGHTS REACH OUT HERE or call 911 and get help. Don’t choose a permanent solution to a temporary pain. Choose to live no matter what and you will find hope again.