My Healing Journey and Bringing Hope to Others: AFSP’s Survivor Outreach Program

|

“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” Carl Jung

At the age of 26, I thought I had my life all figured out:
• happily married to my best friend (check),
• job I loved (check),
• homeowner (check)
• overall healthy and happy with life and my future (check)

Little did I know, this would all change in the span of one minute. That’s how long it took for my entire world to crumble.

On February 20, 2009, my husband, Scott, called me and said he was leaving work early. He had been scheduled to work until 9pm. Although this was strange, I knew that he had been struggling with his bipolar disorder more intensely recently, so his decision to leave early didn’t set off any alarms. What I didn’t know was that before he left work, he had made the decision to go home and complete suicide.

By 7pm that night, the paramedics and detectives confirmed what I had feared when I called 911 after finding him: my husband was dead. I called a friend and told her, “I’ve lost my everything.” That was how I felt.

Scott was my world; my person. He was the life of the party and could always crack a joke to make me smile.

No one person or experience ever prepared me to be a widow that early in life. The one person I wanted to lean on was the one for whom I was grieving. I felt angry at him, and I felt guilt for feeling helpless and as though I had somehow not been enough.

At first, I didn’t know what to tell people, or if I even wanted anyone to know Scott had taken his own life. For me, it was uncharted territory. When I told people he had died, I asked them ahead of time not to ask me any questions, because I wasn’t ready to be honest with them. (Or even, fully, with myself.)

“He killed himself.” Can anyone ever be prepared to say those words about someone they love more than anything?

Within a few weeks, I found myself battling nightmares and depression. After days of not sleeping, missing work, and losing an unhealthy amount of weight, I entered counseling. My counselor directed me to a Survivor of Loved Ones (SOLO) meeting, which is where I first heard about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

After that meeting, I joined the online AFSP community and quickly met Heather, a peer whom I consider my soul sister. Heather knew how my loss felt in a way no one else around me did, because she had gone through the same thing.

I no longer felt alone in my grief, or alone with my questions. I found others who lacked closure in the death of their family and friends.

A few months later, I attended my first Out of the Darkness Walk and then my first Survivor Day. The experience was emotional, of course, but I felt at home in this community of my peers, who understood me and our particular kind of grief.

Two years later, I decided to not be silent or ashamed anymore. I wanted to be more open about how my husband had died. I also made the decision to become more active within the AFSP community by becoming a part of AFSP’s Survivor Outreach Program.

Finding a peer in the community had been so helpful for me. It gave me hope of a “normal” life, one in which I could love again, and plan a future for myself. Hope was what I needed when I felt my life should have been over.

Although I still have a void in my heart, and think about Scott every day, I am at peace knowing he is at peace, and no longer battling his mental illness. The questions of “why” and “what if” will always plague me, but I no longer dwell on them daily. I remember our happy times and cherish the routine we once had. I’m thankful to have had him in my life.

I have family and friends who continue to support me through it all. The journey is not easy, and I do hit lows along the way that I never knew existed; but I have become a strong, passionate woman in the process.

By being open about Scott’s suicide, I hope to help others along the way: give them hope of a day of joy again, and give them a reason to not feel ashamed of the past. For myself, I find that connecting and consulting with other suicide loss survivors through the Survivor Outreach Program helps to give Scott’s death meaning, and my own life a renewed sense of purpose. His death and my struggle aren’t for naught. The Survivor outreach Program gives me solace that others may continue living because I have been open and honest and didn’t hide; that they felt some comfort in their grief, knowing by my example that they aren’t alone and that they could have a full life to live again after their loss.

Following Scott’s death, I’ve learned how to flourish. I went back to school for my master’s degree in Health Psychology, and have found my love after loss. I count myself lucky to have found someone who loves me and supports me on this journey to help others heal.

Suicide will always be a chapter in my life, but it doesn’t define me any longer. I no longer hear the whispers of being “the girl whose husband took his own life.” I am now the woman who woke up and took charge to build a life she is proud of.