Unthinkable loss and insurmountable grief were felt across the country when the news broke of the death of Daisy Coleman.
She was an outspoken high school sexual assault survivor who went on to create SafeBae, an organization dedicated to educating other high school students on consent and sexual assault. She starred in the Netflix documentary about her story and the impact of social media on survivors in “Audrie & Daisy.”
She was a warrior. A Fighter. A survivor who so many other survivors looked up to, and she was human. Another beautiful soul lost.
She was struggling with her own trauma and sought therapeutic intervention and, tragically, she took her own life. We will never know exactly what Daisy was thinking or what led to that final act.
For far too many of us understand the pain, the reasoning, and the desire. Suicidal thoughts are common for sexual assault survivors. The grief, pain, guilt, shame, and confusion can feel all-consuming at times. There are days that weigh so heavy it feels like you are sinking.
I know those dark moments. I have lived inside that space. I tried to kill myself many times in the wake of my own rape at age 12. My best friend killed herself when we were 15 as a result of her own trauma from sexual assault. Suicidal thoughts were a part of my reality for the better part of my life. The passage below is my story about suicide. Though difficult to read, my story is like many others, and the first step to healing from trauma is sharing our story.
I don’t think I was really trying to kill myself when I took those pills, or when I cut myself. But there were times when the pain was so severe that I felt like nothing could end it. These were the times when suicide felt like the only option.
About a year after the rape, I took my brother’s shotgun and locked myself in the bathroom. I have a vivid memory of the cold metal of the barrel pressed sharply against my soft palate and the salty, mascara-soaked tears running down my face onto my lips. Visions flew across my mind like I was fast-forwarding a movie, but it was actually the horror film of the past 12 months of my life.
It’s me, age 12, running naked and scared through the darkness trying to escape him. Running and lost. I’ve been lost since that night; that night that took my once understood and safe life and shattered it into shards—shards that my family and I are trying in vain to carefully piece back together. Occasionally, I catch a glimpse of my old self, my smile, and the shimmer in my eyes, but it is gone in an instant.
It’s like one time when I played the card game “Memory” with my friend. The box was full of mismatched pieces, and neither of us could figure out why we couldn’t find any matches. Later I discovered my brother sitting in his room, laughing and holding half of the cards. In this case, I cannot run into his room and snatch the pieces back. I cannot yell to my parents and get him in trouble and walk away with my pieces and take comfort in the certainty that everything can still be put back together again. Not this time. My pieces have been stolen, and I will not and cannot approach the man who took them. Yes, I told what happened, and he got in trouble, but I have to keep living without those pieces. This is nothing like a game. This is rape.
I recall sitting on the edge of the porcelain toilet seat with the barrel of my brother’s shotgun in my mouth, debating whether to pull the trigger. It wasn’t that I really wanted to die; I just didn’t have the first clue how to live with these feelings inside me. How do I walk among that kind of ruin and function like a normal person? How do I avoid getting cut deeply every turn I make when my life has become all sharp edges?
I’m 13, and my biggest concern should be whether or not I have the right label on my jeans to avoid being shunned at the lunch table—not the fact that my so-called best friend passed a note around that same table telling everyone that I was a slut and no longer a virgin because she got some “pass it down the aisle” version of what happened to me. And I hate her. I hate myself. I hate what I have become.
Loud knocking at the door pulls me out of the nightmare for a moment. I hear my brother Jimi pleading outside the door, “Please, Jen, open the door. Don’t do this.” He knows I have his gun; he had seen my contorted face as I ran into the house from the school bus. He knows I am a mess; he had seen the cuts on my arms—the ones I haphazardly attempt to cover. Because while I don’t want people to know what I do at night to quiet the pain, I desperately need someone, anyone to pay attention to me, to understand on some level the darkness that has taken up residency in my soul.
“Please Jen, I love you; it will be okay,” he cries from the other side of the door.
My bulging, blood-shot eyes bolt to the door and then shift back to the slope of my nose, which sits atop the long, black shaft of the shotgun. My vision blurs through tears as I contemplate it all. I don’t want to die. I don’t. I don’t want to hear the anguish in my brother’s voice as it just feels like something else that is my fault. I don’t know how to make it stop. I want to go back to playing in the creek by our house, overturning rocks, and exploring the world in the safe way I used to before I knew of evil—before I knew that every safe and known thing to me could be stolen away by one man. By one act of rape.
I turn the word over and over in my mind. It feels hollow compared to how I feel. I feel scooped out, carved into pieces, and discarded. Bang, Bang, Bang. “Jen, I swear to god I will break this door down!” Panic sets in. Sh*t! I am going to be in so much trouble for this. My finger flutters just above the trigger. I could just lower it and be done, end it all, but there is something in his voice, something that feels like he actually cares. “Jen, please stop. Just let me in. I love you!” Jimi continues from the other side of the door.
The barrel scrapes the top of my mouth when I lower it down and the metallic taste of blood hits the back of my throat. I open the door and collapse into my brother’s arms.
The demons didn’t win that day.
I share my story because I want—I need—other survivors and helpers to know and understand what it is like each day as survivors cope with the aftermath of rape and sexual assault. It is hard and some days are downright insurmountable.
Conversely, I want more than anything in the world for those who know that pain to also know that there is hope. There is healing. There is life, light, joy, and freedom beyond that darkness. No one ever needs to go through the journey alone. Ever. Please know there is help. People care. People will talk to you, hold you, walk through the darkness with you, hold the flashlight for you until you can find the light on your own. Please know there are solutions.
You deserve that light. You are worthy of life, love, freedom, and hope. You can do it. You can make it. The feelings left in the wake of rape and assault crash over us often, and depending upon our coping mechanism, our support system, those waves can make us feel like we are drowning.
But just like any ocean, as the tide rises and crashes onto the sand, it also retreats and goes back to sea. This is what I want every single person struggling with to know. These feelings will pass. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary feeling.
The best and easiest advice is this: Reach out for support. Call a hotline. Call a friend. The reality is a little more complicated than that for survivors in the moment. These are the times when a survivor is caught in the undertow of that wave, and picking up the phone can feel like the hardest thing in the world to do.
Here is what I would ask you to do or if you are helping a survivor, ask them to do:
Pick up a pen or open your tablet or phone and begin writing. Take an inventory of the last 24 hours. Write down the following:
>> Have I eaten today?
>> What did I eat?
>> Have I slept enough?
>> Did I engage in drinking or drug use or other negative coping mechanisms?
Drink a large glass of water. Try to take 10 long deep breathes in and out. Tell yourself you are worthy. Even if your brain is screaming the opposite to you, I want you to tell yourself 10 times that you are worthy. You deserve life, love, and happiness.
If possible, try to identify what you are feeling right now. Write it all down. Empty the contents of your head. Lay your thoughts, fears, and anxieties out. Then, I want you to really evaluate what you see.
Are these thoughts you are having real? Is there any evidence that lends truth to the things your brain is saying to you? What has helped you in the past to get through a moment like this? Make a list of what has helped you cope with overwhelming feelings in the past. Can you take a walk, a run? Do you need a hug? Do you need to scream? Cry? Do those things. Go through the list and do all those things.
I want you to know you are okay, even when you feel nowhere near okay. You are. You are experiencing normal responses to really abnormal things that you have had to endure. Your feelings will pass. They will rise and they will fall just like our chest when we breathe. What comes in must go out.
In recovery from trauma, it’s about learning what works for us on a minute by minute basis to allow us the knowledge that within the darkest of our thoughts, the depths of our pain, we can access the light. The light is always there—I promise you this. It is always there for you. Seek it, find it, and bask in it. Because you deserve it and you are worth it.
There are people who will love you when you cannot love yourself. When you are ready, they are waiting for you.
To talk with the National Sexual Assault Hotline, call 800.656.HOPE or visit their website.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to their website.