“For every death by suicide 25 people will make an attempt”
The power of this statistic pierced my very soul as I began searching for answers all those years ago. My name is Taryn Aiken. I am a loss survivor and an attempt survivor. I lost my precious father, Terry Gray Aiken to suicide on October 5, 2002. Losing my dad brought back all the old feelings of secrecy. Here we go again I thought. Now we have to hide what happened because no one wants to talk about the truth. Well, I wanted to know the truth.
I grew up in Utah and as a young girl experienced sexual trauma that led me down a path of darkness and destruction. Consumed with self-hatred and fear of being exposed, I found myself lost in a world of drugs and alcohol and attempting to take my own life multiple times. Each time I would come home from the hospital no one talked about what happened. No one asked why. NO ONE said a word. I just entered back into life and kept trying to find a way to numb the awfulness I felt inside. Thankfully on my last attempt I was able to finally share what had happened to me as a kid. The relief I felt to share that secret and learn that others had the same secret I did and carried the same shame I did freed me. For the first time in my life I felt hope.
The next few years however I would watch my own father fall even deeper into his own darkness. He had three failed marriages, lost his job, his home, his cars, his self-respect and his relationships. He suffered from severe depression and anxiety as well as multiple chronic health issues. Having over 22 surgeries in his lifetime, he was left with an addiction to pain medications that would ultimately destroy any shred of sanity he had left. When I found him that morning of what would be his third and final attempt, my heart broke into a million pieces. Why? Why did the man who loved so deeply and fought so hard for so many years have to be taken by the insidious darkness that untreated mental disorders can bring?
As I struggled for weeks and months to answer the “why?” question so many of us are plagued with, I stumbled across AFSP. I began reading about the many causes, and structural brain differences found in those who take their lives. This information empowered me to tell his story to the fools who would say things like, “How selfish,” or “what a coward.” No. This was not the truth. His brain was sick. He needed help and support that he did not receive because of the stigma surrounding the very issues that would ultimately take his life. I became involved in AFSP and brought the first Out of the Darkness Community Walk to our state. No more were those of us in Utah going to live in the darkness. We were going to tell our loved one’s stories. We were going to tell OUR stories and we were going to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.
I walked in my first Overnight walk with my younger sister Mandy in San Francisco in 2012. That first Overnight was a pivotal moment in my own life and one that prompted my journey into recovery. I am an alcoholic and a drug addict. The night before we walked I was so drunk I created chaos in the lives of those I loved most yet again. I walked next to my little sister who, like she has all my life, walked by my side even though I was a mess. Shaking with withdrawals and wondering if I could even make it the 18 miles. Well I did. And the following year we walked again in Washington D.C. Two weeks after arriving home from that walk I hit the bottom I had needed to hit for the last 25 years. June 23, 2013 I found my way Out of the Darkness that had consumed me since I was a little girl.
I spoke in Seattle at the 2014 Overnight and shared a bit of my story with over a thousand Walkers who joined me that night. Here I was part of a community that was willing to #BeTheVoice and #StopSuicide. Here I was at home. Here I could be me and be accepted and I will walk in every Overnight I can moving forward because the journey affirms to me each time that I can do hard things.
For those who this is your first experience, WELCOME. You are home. You will start your night surrounded by many who share your story. As you walk and the night goes on you will find yourself separated and even alone at some points wondering if you can even finish. Then just as that thought enters, a fellow Walker will come upon you, a cheering station with people supporting you whom you have never met appears and you are reminded, I can do this.
This year’s walk I will celebrate my 40th birthday and two weeks after my three years of sobriety. I have been given my life back through being an advocate for those who have lost their voice. I have been given the tools to do life differently and recover. Because recovery IS possible and we need each other to get through this little thing we call life. I am honored to join you as we take our mission to the streets of New York. We will create a world without suicide one step at a time. We will bring light to those in darkness. But just in case you can’t look on the brightside? I will sit in the dark with you.
Taryn has also shared her story as an attempt survivor for our Voices of Hope video series.