Monday, June 11, 2018

An Update on "Suicide, Addiction, Shame and Grace"

An Update on an Old Post, A New Grief

In 2014, I wrote a blog post about the suicide of Robin Williams. He suffered from the horrid challenge of deciding what to do in the face of a nightmare diagnosis. Lewy's Body Syndrome is a form of dementia that is swift, traumatic and painful for all involved. From the patient to their family and friends, the "long goodbye" of dementia is rendered brutally short and is immensely painful for all. For Robin Williams, according to reports, his choice was to end his life.

My post about that event is here: "Suicide, Addiction, Shame and Grace"

Four years later, the news is full this week of the report of two more celebrity suicides. Kate Spade, designer in fashion and lifestyle, and Anthony Bourdain, a chef and travel writer/television host, both made the choice to end their lives. The impact has been a powerful one, highlighting a growing increase in the rate of suicides in Western culture and the truth that the decision people make to end their lives is not restricted to advantage, class or celebrity. 

The news is full today of people making sure not only to report on the deaths and the impact of the deaths of these celebrities, but also to ensure that those people absorbing this news are given resources to deal with their deaths and the possible impact of those deaths on their own choices. Exposure to the trauma of suicide, sadly, tends to cause others who struggle with suicidal ideation, or who have perhaps attempted suicide in the past to consider the choice to actually complete suicide in the near future.

Yes, that is often what it is called..."completing" suicide. I struggle with that phraseology, not because it is wrong; but because it is correct. Suicide is first imagined, considered...perhaps even planned. Then, it is completed. It recognizes that most suicides are not impulsive acts. It also allows that the breakdowns that happen in peoples' lives and relationships, and in their ability and capability to deal with the challenges of them, are much more complicated and in the case of those struggling are overwhelming earlier on than we are ready to admit or accept.

For Kate Spade, people around her are offering up that she had struggled with mental illness for years and that she had been self-medicating with alcohol recently. A separation from her husband, and pressure from those close to her to go into rehabilitation and treatment did not help. She worried about the impact of those reports on her brand and on those who depended on her for their livelihood. She tried to shoulder it all on her own. I am sorry if that sounds like a tasteless image for a designer of shoulder bags...but from the accounts of her work shared by others and by the joy/happiness her shoulder bags created for women I know; that similitude is apt. Her mental illness and struggles with depression and addiction were compounded by the pressure she felt to preserve the integrity of her work and public face.

For Anthony Bourdain, he openly and honestly wrote and spoke to his struggles with addiction and depression. Life on the edge was his pursuit, particularly when it came to food and the relationships that arose from cooking and sharing food with others. I remember reading his first book, Kitchen Confidential, when I was preparing for priesthood after having spent the time between college and seminary cooking for a living. He was able to offer up a candid, sympathetic and powerful account of how the stress and intensity of cooking for others could be both a creative outlet and a deeply isolating experience.

Suicide offers a chimeric release to the burdens people carry when it comes to addiction, depression and lack of hope. Perhaps that is why people who feel like they live at the end of their respective ropes find it an attractive, or at least viable, resolution.

The greater scourge of suicide in our culture is that it is communicable. When one human being chooses to end their life, that outlet is seen and observed by others who are struggling and (particularly in today's information age) becomes normalized. What was once unconsidered becomes an accepted consideration. What was once a hidden fantasy becomes an image that dances before our eyes, inhabits our thoughts and populates our dreams.

Suicide is an attempt to end the self. One who chooses suicide says to the world that they would prefer to NOT BE, rather than to be at all. I struggle with that choice, because while I have suffered from depression (albeit to a lighter degree than most) that required medication, I have not found myself arriving at the point where not being was better than the alternative of turning back to life and hope, even when I felt both to be most distant.

Suicide is not an escape, because the pain and struggle is not ended. It is only passed on, like a debt accrued that cannot be ignored as the interest piles up. My heart breaks for the reality of a life that has accumulated so much pain that "out" is better than "in."

It's hard to choose "in" when the tides of our emotional, mental and spiritual lives overwhelm.

"In," though, is the one place where we all might find healing. If we can support each other "in" relationship; then we might overcome silent suffering. If we can love each other when we are "in" pain; then perhaps we can also be midwife to each other as we birth healing. If we can persist with each other "in" faith; then perhaps we can engender hope. "In" the end, though, none of these things can be fostered if we remain "out" of touch, "out" of connection...."out" of hope.

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