Some thoughts on peace

In honor of International Peace Day, September 21, 2017….

Ideally, peace is our natural state. More often, peace is hard-won. It takes lots of practice to find peace and lots of hard work to create, much less maintain, a state of peacefulness. When peace does come, it can be a blessing or a miracle. We can take a full breath. We are no longer conflicted or distressed. We have learned to let go, allow, and, most importantly, accept, even the unacceptable.

With peace, we reclaim the vital energy needed to support our life and future happiness. Peace is the root of all healing. Without peace, there is no healing, and we hemorrhage our own life force.

In our chaotic and fractious world today, we need peace more than ever. In our personal lives where there is deep grief and heartache, peace is the ache of our heart.

May this blessing lift your spirits and soothe your heart.

Deep Peace, Deep Peace
Deep peace, deep peace of the running wave to you;
Deep peace of the flowing air to you;
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you;
Deep peace of the shining stars to you;
Deep peace of the gentle night to you;
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace to you.
Deep peace to you.

—Traditional Gaelic Blessing

Suicide Prevention Month and 13 Everyday Ways

September is Suicide Prevention Month or, conversely, pending where in the world you are, Suicide Awareness Month. This is the month where we focus our attention and energies on the rampant global epidemic of suicide and consider ways to end this pernicious, deep sorrow.

To that end, over the coming days on this blog, I will be sharing articles and posts and guest contributions that look at suicide from a variety of perspectives.

From my research, I would say everyone has been impacted by suicide. Be it their own abstract thoughts, a school rocked with grief at a student’s suicide, the loss of a loved one, the sudden death of a coworker or hearing about the friend of a friend. Alas, suicide is everywhere and touches every aspect of society.

It feels fitting that today I share with you once again 13 Everyday Ways to Help Prevent Suicide. Please never estimate the power of one to make a difference.

What can we do to help?

Here are 13 small steps that we can all take to help tip the balance in favor of life. We never know the impact we make on one another:

  1. Be neighborly.

Reach out to decrease loneliness and isolation. I love the story of the woman who would occasionally leave freshly baked pies for her very lonely, dismissive and cantankerous neighbor. After almost 16 months, the wall finally came down and a connection was made.

 

  1. Become the anti-bully.

Become tolerant of others. Don’t punish differences. Be it hair color, body size, sexual preferences, clothing choices, religion, culture, race, socioeconomic status, level of education, kind of work, appearance or any other something that is different from you, learn to accept.

Making someone feel small, belittled and terrified does not serve any of us. And that kind of terror begets terror. Let’s stop the cycle and increase the cognitive dissonance around bullying.

 

  1. Seek help.

Check out your local resources and find help for your depression, addiction, run-away anxiety, PTSD and other mental health concerns. You don’t have to do it alone. There’s no shame in getting help. Ever. We all need a helping hand from time to time.

 

  1. Be kind.

Give others the benefit of the doubt. Lend a helping hand. Proffer a smile. Or simple be present and acknowledge. Kindness is never wasted. It positively shifts energies and impacts the neuroplasticity of our brains. Not only does kindness makes us feel good, it’s good prophylactic medicine.

 

  1. Be proactive.

Write a check, volunteer or take steps to help those of in need of a job, a bed, a meal or how to read a book. Advocate for mental health resources. Support our veterans. Every little bit does count.

 

  1. Work on your emotional intelligence (EQ).

Fluency in expressing our feelings in a direct, non-threatening way we can make a huge difference in our personal interactions. It helps us feel connected and understood. After all, we are social beings.

 

  1. Make peace with yourself.

No more cursing at your inner demons. No more emotionally leaking or ranting and raving due to your unhealed childhood wounds. If needed, get help. And learn to accept – and, even, love – your very humanness.

 

  1. No more bad-mouthing.

Put an end to the snarky comments, gossiping and mean-spirited character attacks. Put judgment and criticism in the deep freeze. We never know someone’s situation, particular context or backstory. As the saying goes, everyone is struggling and fighting their own battles, a running, pejorative commentary of another only causes more pain.

 

  1. Develop your cultural IQ (CQ).

We all share one blue-green marble. Let’s respect our wealth of cultures and learn to understand one another. The more we learn, the greater are our experiences as we expand our respective comfort zones. Crickets may not be my go-to food, but I am happy you are enjoying your crunchy meal. There is room and space for each of us.

 

  1. Practice compassion.

Who needs judgment? Practice compassion. Compassion asks us to walk in one another’s shoes. Compassion asks us to treat others the way we would wish to be treated. Compassion asks us to lead from the heart.

 

  1. Practice Latitude.

Everyone has a bad day, a bad season or, even, a bad couple of years. Sometimes, we just need to let it go, let it slide and give the other person (or ourselves) a break. Sometimes, what we don’t say can be the greatest gift of all. Latitude allows us to take a breath and re-center.

 

In the behavioral sciences, we know that accentuating the positive goes much farther than harping on the negative. With discernment, you will know where to practice latitude.

 

  1. Talk and disempower the stigma of suicide.

Suicide is universal and global. It has been around since the earliest of times. Suicide has been tainted by taboo, shame and guilt. Don’t be afraid to talk about suicide. Bring it out in the open. Don’t be afraid to ask. The “S” word is far too prevalent for us to ignore its presence or to be in denial. Let’s have heart-to-heart conversations and put suicide in the light of day. No more secrets. No more hiding. Let’s talk. Let’s connect and change the paradigm.

 

  1. Be a power of example.

Our actions often speak louder than our words. Walk in your integrity, coherence and with an open heart.  Share some of your light. It can help ease the darkness.

Thank you for your open, caring heart.

 

And please share if you find this of value.  Many thanks.

 

 

 

Suicide Notes — Voices from the Past

The sadness will last forever.

—Vincent Van Gogh

I am now about to make the great adventure.
I cannot endure this agonizing pain any longer.
It is all over my body. Neither can I face the impending blindness.
I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.

—Clara Blandick, age 82,
Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time.
I begin to hear voices.

—Virginia Woolf

I must end it. There’s no hope left. I’ll be at peace.
No one had anything to do with this. My decision totally.

—Freddie Prinze, actor

To my friends: my work is completed. Why wait?

—George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak

My pain is not caused because I am gay.
My pain was caused by how I was treated
because I am gay.

—Eric James Borges, part of the suicide note
from a gay, teen filmmaker

Sally’s Story


Sally and Pete had found each other. It was the second time for both of them. This time, they both felt like they had hit the jackpot. They simply loved being together and enjoyed their small adventures, like traveling to the shore for lunch or even playing toss in the grocery store. It was always fun, always a good time. Pete lived in the here and now. He was playful and spontaneous. He was Sally’s best friend.

In 2001, Pete was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent a radical prostatectomy. Pete never wanted to know the details of his medical condition; he focused on getting better and had Sally act as his point person. Sally researched his illness and did everything she could to keep Pete healthy and alive. The doctors finally convinced Sally to accept and believe that Pete could live a long life, given that his type of prostate cancer was slow growing.

In the fall of 2005, Pete discovered a sore in his mouth. The dentist sent him to an oral surgeon, who, in turn, scheduled Pete for a biopsy. The oral surgeon was vacationing when the pathology report came in. The pathologist called Sally and said, “What are you guys doing? You can’t wait. Your husband has stage 4 oral cancer.”

Sally was furious. Totally enraged. Pete had been smoking cigarettes on the side. She didn’t know. She was madder than hell at what he was doing to her and the kids. He was destroying his life as well as hers.

They were referred to a specialist for surgery. The surgery was botched. Pete left the hospital with an infection. There was chemo and radiation and a referral to an amazing doctor in New York City. There were more surgeries. They cut open Pete’s jaw and neck to take out the infection; they stripped muscles from his chest and wrapped and packed them into his neck for his body to absorb and fill the spaces where there had been infection. His neck was like raw meat. Over and over, there were surgeries—and there were infections. Through all of this, Sally had the utmost confidence in Pete’s doctors and knew they were doing everything in their power to save his life and restore him to health.

Sally learned how to dress and change his wounds with special gauze pads and sterile gloves twice a day. She dealt with doctors, as Pete never wanted to know the nitty-gritty. He was focused on beating the cancer.

Sally had returned to work when Pete got sick. She never missed a day of work. She couldn’t. She used her vacation days for surgeries.

There was unbelievable stress. “I wanted him to live. I wanted my life back. I did everything I could. My emotions were all over the place—I loved him with all my heart and soul, but at the same time I felt betrayed and was so full of anger because Pete continued to smoke after he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2001. I totally believed he had quit. I had been working so hard to help him beat the prostate cancer that when the oral cancer diagnosis was delivered, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I had been fighting for his life and he was destroying his life with smoking behind my back.” It took a tremendous toll on them both.

In the summer of 2007, Pete realized he couldn’t beat it. He had no quality of life. He had already undergone several major surgeries, and more were on the horizon. He wasn’t going to live this way and be a burden to his family. Pete started talking suicide. Sally would hear nothing of it. This was too painful. Sally had lost her dad to suicide.

Pete took his case to the Ethics Committee of the hospital, and they ruled he could stop the feeding tube and refuse any artificial feeding methods.

Sally was beside herself, stressed, and furious with Pete. “It was hard enough watching him die.” Pete was unable to eat or drink anything from March 2006 until he died in September 2007. During the last few months of his life, it became increasingly difficult for him to talk; in fact, Sally’s nerves were so raw that it became difficult for her to understand what Pete was saying.

“We resorted to having Pete write out his part of the conversation and I would answer him. My nerves were shot. I had a hard time focusing and was fighting for my own survival. I was not in a good state of mind. At times, I was a total witch with him. I couldn’t eat. I was taking care of Pete, doing the best I could while working full time. I didn’t know which way to turn. I just wanted off the merry-go-round and a return to normalcy. I wanted my husband and our lives back!”

Another surgery was scheduled for early October, 2007. It was Labor Day weekend, Pete was home that Saturday, and Sally was working. Normally, Sally’s daughter would stop by unannounced to check on Pete. However, that weekend the kids were away. When Sally got home from work that day, there were notes on the doors.

Pete had left identical notes on both the front door and garage door: STOP. DO NOT COME IN. CALL THE POLICE. Sally knew immediately and ran to her neighbor’s, banging on the door, telling them to call 911 and saying, “Pete killed himself. I know he killed himself.”

The police arrived. They took Sally’s door keys, opened the front door, and her dog came flying out of the house. The police cut Pete down and put him on a stretcher. (Pete had used the most vulnerable part of his body—his neck with the tracheostomy opening and skin grafts—and hanged himself. He had been hanging there awhile.)

Sally was told that Pete was conscious and still alive, but the scene was too gruesome and they would not let her see her husband at that moment. They medevac’d Pete to the hospital. He flat-lined in the helicopter, and they brought him back to life. When Sally arrived at the hospital, she fully expected that Pete would be awake. It turned out he was on life support. The hospital kept Pete alive for another day so that the kids could make it home to say their good-byes.

When Pete died, Sally had so many emotions she thought she was going to die. Her weight had plummeted to 102 lbs. Sally was furious with Pete for taking his life. How could he? Sally was at a full boil, full of fury and deep despair following Pete’s death. She spent the next year living her life on autopilot, going to work, eating meals over the sink, walking the dog when necessary, and retreating to her bedroom. There was precious little relief.

For a solid year, every day, Sally looked for a note from her husband. “I thought he died hating me because of everything we had gone through. I was a witch, fighting for my sanity. My pregnant daughter needed a biopsy in July, and that was two weeks of torture. There was so much going on. ”
One year to the day after Pete’s death, Sally was in the garage, getting ready to do yard work. She noticed a police car driving around the circle of her street. She knew they were there for her. Sally went to the front of her house and there was the police car.

Chris, the police officer, told Sally that something told him to get the note and come today. “If you don’t want it, I won’t give it to you.”

Sally said, “I’ve looked for a year for a note. I thought Pete died hating me for everything I said and my inability to maintain my sanity throughout our ordeal.” Of course, she wanted the note.
Chris handed Sally the original note that Sally never knew existed.

Sally couldn’t read the note by herself. She read it with her daughter. Pete had written paragraphs to everyone—Sally, the kids, neighbors, favorite aunts, uncles, and cousins. He said it was his time to go. He told the kids how proud he was of them and reminded them that “Mom will need you now.” He thanked the neighbors for their help and support; he told anecdotes of happy memories with his relatives. And to Sally, Pete told her he loved her, he was sorry for all the hurt and pain. He apologized for his stupidity in smoking. And, if there is another side, he said he will be there waiting for her.

Given her initial rage, Sally later said that if she had found that letter when Pete had first died, she would have torn it into a million little pieces. Now, his note is very precious to her, and she is so thankful for it.

“My husband gave me the ultimate sacrifice: he killed himself so I could live. I owe it to him to live. It took me a long time. I was not sure I wanted to live. Now, I look forward to life…never thought I’d say that. There is happiness beyond it all. You have to want it and you have to work for it.”

Frank Ostaseski’s Story

Frank Ostaseski tells this story:

“When my son Gabe was about to be born, I wanted to understand how to bring his soul into the world. So I signed up for a workshop with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the renowned psychiatrist from Switzerland who was best known for her groundbreaking work on death and dying. She had helped many leave this life; I figured she might teach me how to invite my son into his.

Elisabeth was fascinated with the idea and took me under her wing. She invited me to attend more programs over the years, although she didn’t give me much instruction. I’d sit quietly in the back of the room and learn by watching the way she worked with people who were facing death or grieving tragic losses. This fundamentally shaped the way I later accompanied people in hospice care.

Elisabeth was skillful, intuitive, and often opinionated, but above all, she demonstrated how to love those she served, without reservation or attachment. Sometimes the anguish in the room was so overwhelming that I would meditate in order to calm myself or do compassion practices, Imagining that I could transform the pain I was witnessing.

One rainy night after a particularly difficult day, I was so shaken as I walked back to my room that I collapsed to my knees in a mud puddle and started to weep. My attempts at taking away the participants’ heartache were just a self-defense strategy, a way of trying to protect myself from suffering.

Just then, Elizabeth came along and picked me up. She brought me back to her room for a coffee and a cigarette. ‘You have to open yourself up and let the pain move through you,’ Elizabeth said. ‘It’s not yours to hold.’ Without this lesson, I don’t think I could have stayed present, in a healthy way, with the suffering I would witness in the decades to come.”

From the Introduction: The Transformative Power of Death
Page 6 – 7
The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully
by Frank Ostaseski

Suicide and brain damage

The brain is doubly impacted by trauma and addiction. We also know that organic brain disease may increase suicidality, and there are worrisome side effects that come with certain psych meds. Soldiers, football players, boxers, other high-impact sports athletes, car accident victims, and others who have had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or its milder form, post-concussion syndrome (PCS), are at risk.

Traumatic Brain Injury has two causes:

1. Penetration of the head by a foreign object, such as a gunshot or sharp object.
2. Strong jostling within the cranium from a fall, a blow to the head, a car or motorcycle accident, etc.

The hallmarks of TBI, depending upon the severity of the blow to the head, can be:

• Cognitive impairment, evidenced in poor memory and lack of focus
• Emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety, personality change, aggression, and impulse control
• Impaired motor function, poor balance and coordination, and weakness in the extremities
• Problems with vision, hearing, and touch as well as impaired perception

NFL player Dave Duerson, former star of the Chicago Bears, shot himself in the chest at age 50. Before taking his life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, he texted his family, asking that his brain be given to Boston University School of Medicine to be used for research—which is why he shot himself in the chest rather than in the head.

Researchers in neurology discovered that Duerson suffered from a neurodegenerative disease called CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is linked to repeated head trauma and promotes the growth of a protein that is prevalent in degenerating brains like those with Alzheimer’s disease. The symptoms of CTE include suicidality, depression, aggression, and impaired judgment.

In 2006, another NFL player, Andre Waters of the Philadelphia Eagles, ended his life at the age of 44. The forensic pathologist who studied Waters’s brain said that it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old man in the first stages of Alzheimer’s.

The current research indicates that CTE is also found among military veterans and young school athletes, including those who play hockey and football, who take repeated blows to head. The soft-tissue damage to the brain is cumulative and dangerous.

Most significantly, the brain damage caused by CTE and TBI can lead to suicide.

A word about substance abuse, addiction and suicide

Research tells us the following:
• Drugs and alcohol increase the risk of death by suicide more than six times.
• The largest risk factors for suicidal thoughts are depression and other mental disorders, and substance abuse.
• More than one in three people who die from suicide are intoxicated, most commonly with alcohol or opiates (i.e., heroin, oxycodone).

Addiction is a brain disorder, not merely a matter of willpower. The brain is held hostage by drugs and alcohol. It is a real disease that is both cunning and baffling. And, it is treatable.

The abuse of substances, drugs and/or alcohol, leads to ignoring your responsibilities, taking risks, relationship problems, and potential legal issues. You are using substances without concern for their impact. It’s a bit like you have begun an unhealthy love affair. You are not quite yourself; you don’t care what others say, and you become more and more entranced with your new “love.” Slowly, and most certainly, you hand your power over to the substances of your choice.

Full-blown addiction harms the body, makes changes in the brain, results in poor life choices, and batters relationships. Addiction also increases feelings of self-hate, shame, isolation, and scheming behaviors. It erodes the spirit. Your life totally revolves around making connections, getting the substance of your choice, using that substance, and recovering from its use. Yet, you continue to use the drugs and/or alcohol even though you know it is bad for you. You are powerless, and the substances now own you.

Why do suicide, substance abuse, and addiction frequently go hand-in-hand?

We know that substance abuse changes us physically, emotionally, and mentally in these ways:

• Decreases inhibitions and lowers defenses
• Increases aggressiveness and violent behavior
• Impairs judgment
• Increases impulsivity. (Adolescents and young adults, especially, feel “bullet-proof,” and that nothing bad could ever happen to them.)
• Amplifies emotional responses such as hopelessness, despair, shame, and abandonment
• Increases and exacerbates emotional fragility already present within certain populations, i.e., those who are dual diagnosed (mental illness + substance abuse) and those suffering with PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI)

We know that substance abuse changes the brain. It impacts thoughts, feelings, and actions. Frequently, substance abuse is an anesthetic, a maladaptive habit-pattern, a coping response for stress, pain, and unhappiness. For the emotionally vulnerable person, substance abuse is akin to a match near a can of gasoline. There is a much greater potential for disaster.

Suicide and the Power of Shame

Shame is a feeling state. It is a deep-down, red-faced humiliation and mortification with oneself.

Through the lens of shame, we look at ourselves with complete disgust, revulsion, and contemptibility. We judge ourselves harshly, and show no mercy. We see ourselves as the epitome of gross imperfection, enormous stupidity, complete failure, and abject incompetence. Shame is a powerful force, and it can be a driving factor in suicidal thinking.

Shame is associated with intense feelings of disgrace, dishonor, and condemnation. It is also a major component of ostracism, shunning (think Hester Prynne and her Scarlet “A”), and punishment.

Shame is not the same thing as embarrassment. When we are embarrassed we feel, in varying degrees, uncomfortable with ourselves for something we have done or experienced. We are discomfited by our behavior. For example, we look in a mirror and realize that we had a piece of spinach stuck to our front tooth during our dinner date as we laughed and acted charming.

Nor is shame the same as guilt. We feel guilty when we have violated our personal standard. For example, we forgot to send our favorite Aunt Minnie a birthday card or we didn’t check up on a sick friend.

The etymology of the word “shame” is rooted in the words “to cover up, hide.” And, that’s exactly what we do when we feel ashamed; we want to hide and cover up. We avert our eyes, lower our head, and our shoulders slump. We want to disappear. And when there is intense shame, there is vasodilation (blushing) along with increased body heat and warmth.

Like fear, shame is a learned response. No one is born with shame. Shame is passed along by super-critical parents, relatives, employers, teachers, and the like. They regularly make denigrating comments that make you feel horrible about yourself. You might hear that you are stupid, worthless, unlovable, ugly, fat, a failure, incompetent, and any number of put-downs that attack your very essence. These critical folks (from their own wounded and unhealed hearts) tell you these terrible things about yourself, and you believe them. You unconsciously absorb their personal poison and drink it in as truth. You forever feel not good enough, not lovable enough, not enough enough.

You can feel ashamed when you are stopped for a DUI (i.e., driving while intoxicated); are verbally abused in front of your co-workers; or tell your friends your father died of a heart attack when he actually died by suicide. You can feel shame when you learn you are infertile or you need to file for bankruptcy. You can be filled with shame and the attendant self-loathing after you rage at your children or realize you have sent a scathing email to the wrong person.

Perfectionists, understandably, carry a tremendous load of shame. Members of dysfunctional families where there is addiction, violence, anger, and control issues also live with shame every day of their lives. Shame is all too common in cases of child abuse and child neglect. And, we all carry the secret shame of being ashamed. Shame says, I am a bad person, a horrible person, a no-good person.

Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, is a researcher and storyteller who studies vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. (Check out her fab TED talks on shame and vulnerability.) Brown has discerned what she calls her 1-2-3’s of shame:

1. “Shame is universal. It is one of the most primitive of human emotions. The only people who don’t have shame are those who have no empathy and lack the capacity for human connection. Here’s your choice: Fess up to experiencing shame or admit that you’re a sociopath.”
2. “We are all afraid to talk about shame.”
3. “The less we talk about shame, the more control shame has over our lives.”

Further, Brown has identified 12 categories of shame:

• Addiction
• Aging
• Appearance and body image
• Being stereotyped or labeled
• Family
• Mental and physical health
• Money and work
• Motherhood/fatherhood
• Parenting
• Religion
• Sex
• Surviving trauma

Within each of these shame categories, we can see a link to suicidal thinking and behavior. Brown reminds us, “Shame is such a powerful emotion that it can literally overcome us.” It can. It does, and, alas, too frequently results in suicide.

Let us watch for and notice the pernicious and dangerous hold of shame. We can circumvent the slippery slope of shame with compassion, discussion and reality-testing. Shame is a powerful, soul-eroding emotion that distorts good minds and twists hearts.

MyNDTALK with Dr. Pamela Brewer

Making Peace with SuicideThis was a great interview with Dr. Pamela Brewer in which we discussed my book, Making Peace with Suicide: A Book of Hope, Understanding and Comfort. I told Dr. Brewer it felt like we were sitting in comfy chairs and sharing a cup of tea. This ranks as one of my favorite interviews.

Her show is called MyNDTALK with Dr Pamela Brewer. To listen to this broadcast, click on the link below. The show runs for about an hour. Enjoy!