Inspired to clear some clutter from my life and driven indoors by a thunderstorm, I recently tackled the behemoth task of organizing my desk.
My mom has always referred to me as a sentimental packrat (she’s right) and my desk has accumulated twenty years worth of sentiments.
Armed with a cup of coffee, I sorted through scraps of miscellaneous papers, old bills, rocks and seaglass, dried Play-doh, coins, race bibs, and journals, determining whether or not they were worthy of continued desk residence. In this pile of disarray, a neatly folded piece of white lined, college ruled paper caught my eye.
Now, what could you possibly be? I mutter to myself as I unfold it.
As I read, my heart fell into my stomach, eyes brimmed with tears, and one of those strange gasp/moan/cries escaped my very confused vocal chords.
It was a suicide note that I had written five years ago.
Written to no one in particular, it begins more like a journal entry, starting off “I know it’s finals week, and I should be studying for my Biology Exam tomorrow. But I need to get this off my chest.” And then, the soul-baring begins. The distance between six years shrinks and I’m back in that chair, grappling with demons I have no name for. I sob, brought back to the second floor of the Bates College Library, pen shaking in my hand. The heart of the note says:
“You see, I’ve never really loved myself, but have found consolation in the fact that other people do…Sometimes, I ask myself when my life no longer belonged to me. Then I realize, it never did.” “My heart is actually broken. I know, I can feel the aching there. I can no longer look myself in the mirror anymore, I despise myself that much. I’m standing on the edge of something dark, and I’m not sure what to do. Is it worth it anymore? I’ll miss a lot of things here. The sun, for instance. The ocean, of course. My brother (no matter what, I know he still loves me). My chance to be loved, to love someone in return. Again, I ask myself, is it worth it? I know, my life isn’t as bad as a lot of peoples. There are so many others suffering in the face of extremely adverse conditions. All of my adversity, or a good portion of it at least, comes from myself. I’ve created this nightmare that I’m living in.”
After that Biology Exam, I stopped communicating with my family (a cycle that would repeat for the years to come) and began drinking until blacking out, multiple times a week. As time went on, I developed an eating disorder, sliced my arms, swallowed pills, and drank and drank and drank. Eventually exhausted, I ended up in an abusive relationship as a way to outsource my own self-loathing. It’s as though I had been standing in line at a Customer Service desk, trying to return my life (“This product is not at all what I hoped for, it’s defective, take it back”), but my claims kept getting denied.
Six years later, a radical transformation took place.
One September night in 2013, fueled by a bottle of wine and a bit of whiskey, I stood before a mirror in my apartment (where I lived alone), with one arm cut open, the blade ready for the next arm. The plan was to open the other vein, take another shot of whiskey, brush my teeth, and close my eyes for good. Instead, I forced myself to look at my reflection, and experienced what I call The Turning Point: end it now (life) or end it now (all the self-harm) and start living.
Eleanor Roosevelt was quoted as saying “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in with you really stop to look fear in the face…Do the thing you think you cannot do.” That’s the essence of The Turning Point. I stopped, looked at myself, and did the thing I thought I couldn’t. Sometimes, “the thing” is continuing on with life, moving forward. Sometimes, it’s speaking your truth, before it’s too late.
I kept my mouth shut over the years, burying my shame, sorrow, guilt and self-loathing within myself, believing it was my burden to bear. Now, I know that minimizing my own feelings is, in many ways, minimizing my “Self.”
After years of practice, I’d minimized myself down to the least significant being on the face of the Earth, ready to die.
If you find yourself at this point of exasperation, despair, loss—keep going. There are blessings here, gifts yet to experience, beyond what you can conceive right now. Your soul is in a valley and the hill is blocking the view, but if you keep moving forward, bit by bit you crest the hill and gain that clarity.
You’re going to wade through a lot of sh*t to get there. I won’t sugarcoat the process—my journey involved confronting alcoholism, immense self-loathing, reluctance to speak my truth in a healthy way, learning to surrender and live in the present, and practicing acceptance.
But that’s all part of life’s journey. I can’t make any promises about what your tomorrow will bring—all I can do is show you my yesterday and my today, and encourage you to take a tremendous leap of faith.
Just hold on.
The attempt to clean my desk was put on pause for a day. Returning a few days later, I read something on a crumpled piece of notebook paper, dated about six months into sobriety.
It’s a note of a different nature, a reminder that it’s never too late to change your story:
It’s going to hurt awhile, it’s going to burn.
And when least expected, it will knock you down
on your back, looking up at the sky.
Bits will crumble and fall around you,
you may notice, you may not.
The world keeps turning, slow and sure,
babies grow (but some don’t),
fall and rise and fall and rise,
a dance we all move to
learning the steps as we go.
You’ll find that feeling again, the lost one
abandoned in dark days, buried deep in the armor,
an injured soldier forced onward
when the army had to keep marching.
A penny at the bottom of a fountain,
surrounded by slime and distorted by filmy water, and yet
still carrying the beauty of a heart’s wish.
Author: Kassie Strout
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: erinkohlenbergphoto at Flickr