What does it mean when we STAY;
And what happens to our loved ones when we don’t?
For the majority of my life, I have struggled with addiction and mental illness. From the time I was twelve years old, I remember having unexplained thoughts of hurting myself and wanting to die. Sometimes I still do. But the events that have unfolded from twelve to *almost* twenty-six have spoken new meaning into my life. So much has happened to prove that I was meant to stay, and to show others that they should, too.
When I was twenty-two (the year of 2016) I wanted to take my own life after losing who I thought was my soulmate two weeks prior, and had pretty much stayed drunk since the day of the breakup. But then again, drunk was my normal, and had been since I was nineteen. I lost my job the weekend she left me because I was too depressed to get out of bed, and too drunk to function – After all, you can’t call into work sad. But no matter how long I spent trying to drink away the pain, it was still there. No matter what I did to try and forget what happened, I couldn’t. It was a reality I couldn’t bring myself to face. I was losing everything, and the only way out I could rationalize was killing myself.
I don’t remember much about the night I almost did it, but I do remember being face to face with a railroad bridge right down the street from one of my favorite watering holes. Then, the next thing I know, I was walking into the local hospital with my two best friends on either side of me. They were afraid they were going to lose me, and told the nurse that I needed help because I tried to kill myself. I was immediately admitted to the hospital’s psych ward, held overnight, and transferred to a behavioral hospital the next day.
The only way to explain this experience is God’s grace, because I was going to do it. I was going to remove myself from this planet that night. When you struggle with the same thoughts every day for years, eventually, they might get the best of you. At that point, I had been suffering for a decade with an eating disorder, suicidal thoughts, and self harm. If you don’t have the tools or the support to help you keep fighting your mental illnesses, one day, you may just get too tired. Suicide is the final stage of depression, and it’s happening way too often.
Life didn’t really get “better” after my suicide attempt, but I kept holding on after seeing the ways the scare effected my loved ones. I had five visitors at the behavioral hospital over the course of a week, and it was a two hour drive from our hometown. I had others spending hours trying to get through to me over the phone during designated calling hours, reminding me that they loved me and they weren’t sure what they would have done if I had gone through with it. I came home to my cell phone with forty-five text messages in my inbox, five voicemails, and over a hundred social media notifications. During that week, I missed out on a hiking adventure with my friends, and on VIP tickets to the Carolina Country Music Fest. I ate shitty hospital food and could do nothing to entertain myself but watch Wheel of Fortune with the older patients and read a book. I didn’t learn much about how to handle my depression during this experience, but I still took so much away from it. I began to see who, and what, I had been taking for granted, and it changed the way I saw my life completely. I started appreciating the good moments and the good people more. It didn’t take away my depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts, but it helped me to see that I was loved, and that life really wasn’t so bad… Even if the negative voices in my head were so loud.
After this experience, the darkness slowly crept back in over time. I started believing that I would always be the sad girl who drank too much, and was forced to live in a world that she couldn’t escape. I felt trapped, and because I felt trapped, I continued to starve myself and drink myself silly. The eating disorder fluctuated, but the drinking progressively worsened as I aged, and I even started smoking cigarettes because I wanted it to shorten my life (pathetic, I know). After another breakup in the fall of 2017, I found myself reaching for my roommate’s gun on top of our bookshelf to put a bullet in my brain – Only to discover that he’d moved it. I collapsed onto the floor of my living room in the middle of the day in frustration and anger, cursing God for keeping me alive yet again. I must have sent a risky text to someone, because shortly afterwards, a cop showed up at my house asking if I wanted to hurt myself. I lied to her face and told her no, and that someone must have been playing a joke. I had always been so good at pretending that everything was okay.
Fast forward to age twenty-four. On January 3rd, 2018, I went hiking in the mountains of South Carolina, and had a spiritual experience on a mountaintop. I went back home a few days later, and decided that I wanted to get sober. I had tried on my own numerous times before, and in numerous different ways, but it never stuck. This time, I went to an AA meeting with a friend, and then I kept going back. My life got better more quickly than I expected, and before too long, I was learning how to TRULY deal with life, and all of the trauma and damage from my past. I began to realize that untreated alcoholism was the root of most of my problems, and was the reason I was constantly so depressed. The longer I stayed sober and worked the program, the better my life seemed to get. But, much to my dismay, depression and suicide would still be prevalent in my coming days. Just not in the ways I expected.
I was three months sober when Nicole took her own life (pictured in the pink sweatshirt). Her birthday was coming up, and she had just graduated from college four months earlier. She had the world in front of her, and she could have been anything she wanted to be. She was loud, hilarious, intelligent, and kind. It was completely unexpected. Her mother said she had told her she was going to the store, and that she would be right back. But Nicole never returned. They found her in her car at the public library up the street later that night, and from what I’ve been told and what I later saw, it was very apparent to be a suicide (I will spare the details). Weeks after her death, we found journals she’d kept over the course of a decade, and it turned out that she’d been dealing with suicidal thoughts from a young age. No one had any idea, because that’s what depression is; a silent killer whose symptoms often never surface.
Nicole was someone that I pushed away in active addiction that I used to be very close to. We told each other things that nobody else knew, spent endless amounts of time together, and did silly tourist activities that none of our other friends liked to do. We had a falling out when she told me that I was self-centered and egotistical, and I didn’t want to hear it. She wasn’t the only person in my life to tell me that, but at the time, I didn’t want to believe it. I don’t remember much else about the conversation, or about the fight we had, but I do know that after a while, we were able to be civil again. She didn’t care to have me in her life as a friend after that. I can’t say that I blame her.
When Nicole killed herself, I was instantly plummeted into a seething cauldron of self-hatred and guilt. She was on my list of people to apologize to for my actions during addiction; and ideally, I hoped she’d be forgiving, and that we could rekindle our friendship. I even remember seeing her at the restaurant I worked at a long time after our falling out, and all I did was smile and wave. She looked like she wanted to speak to me, but I was too ashamed to go over to her. I should have, because now I’ll never get that chance. I regret that I let my pride keep me away. She probably died thinking ill of me, and I would give anything to change that. Twice now in sobriety, Nicole has come to me in dreams to tell me that she forgives me. In one, I’ve even felt her embracing me. I’d like to think of it as some sort of beautiful encounter beyond this world where we finally made amends; but regardless, the hole she left in my heart will never truly be filled, and part of me will always feel guilty for not being a better friend.
Nicole was very loved, but in choosing to date a man who isolated her and mentally abused her, she probably left this earth feeling like it wouldn’t matter if she lived or died. I can’t speak for her because I wasn’t in her head, and I have no idea what she was feeling before she made that choice to take her own life, but I can only assume that it was very similar to what I was feeling before I almost took mine – Twice. “This world would be better off without me.” “Nobody will miss me.” “I’m too lonely to continue like this.” “I hope they know how much I love them, even if they don’t love me as much.” “I’m so sorry, but I have to go. Please don’t hate me.” “The world will still spin and life will go on.” “It won’t matter.” “I don’t matter.”
But it does matter. It always matters.
Yes, the world will keep spinning without you. That’s a given. People die every day, but the sun still comes up, and the wind still blows. But NONE of the people who love you will EVER be the same without you. People don’t continue their lives and forget about you at the same time. You will stay at the forefront of their minds until the day they die. They will remember what you taught them, and they will wish you were still around to teach them more. They will remember how you made them laugh, and they will think about how you’d react when they see something new and hilarious. They will remember the fun times, and their hearts will ache for another great time to share with you that they’ll never get. They will remember how you constantly filled up the darkest corners of their minds with your light, even if you had no idea you were helping them. They will miss you like crazy, and wonder what they could have done differently to make you stay. They will think about you every day, and miss you twice as much. Suicide doesn’t remove pain for anybody; it only causes more. So many of us were moved by Nicole’s presence, but forever changed by her absence. It will never get easier; we just learn how to adapt.
Tell your friends and family that you love them. Tell them how much they matter, and how dull life would be without them. Say sorry when you’re wrong, and forgive people when they ask for it. Forgive people even when they don’t ask for it. None of us are perfect – Not even you. Don’t be so busy that you can’t call someone on their birthday, or go out to lunch with them. If someone randomly crosses your mind, tell them, and ask them how they’re REALLY doing. Maybe they crossed your mind for a reason that wasn’t so random. Don’t get so caught up making a living that you forget to make a life, because it could be taken from you in an instant.
People’s kindness has saved my life on more than one occasion. That’s why we do what we do. That’s why we are advocates. That’s why we speak up and stand up for people who can’t do it on their own. If you want to hurt yourself, don’t. It won’t take away the situation at hand. If you want to get sober, you can. Your identity is not your addiction; your addiction is covering your identity. If you want to die, tell someone, and reach out your hand. There is at LEAST one person who will grab it. Things won’t be dark forever. You will not be sad forever. You will not be overwhelmed forever. It WILL get better, and then it will be beautiful.
Today is September 5th, 2019. I have been sober for twenty months and four days. In this span of time, I have made it through deaths, letdowns, breakups, financial hardships, and life on life’s terms without taking a drink or a drug. I have my first salary job, and I’m no longer struggling for money. I am respected in my workplace, and recognized for my hard work. I moved out of my small hometown of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and into a beautiful apartment in Nashville, Tennessee, where we have a room for guests and a safe place that my loved ones know they can come to. I am driving my dream car. I have built real friendships with more depth than I’ve ever experienced, and repaired some old ones that I never thought I would. I have an amazing girlfriend who gets the best version of me that I’ve ever been, and patiently teaches me the ways I still need to grow. I’ve seen my sister get sober and find her way to God. I’ve seen prayers answered that I’d long given up on. I’ve lived to tell my stories, over and over, and I’m still writing new ones. I am living the life I never thought I’d have. I’m seeing things happen that I never thought I would. And it’s better than I ever thought it could be. If I would have ended my life, I wouldn’t be enjoying today, and I wouldn’t be looking forward to the future. The sad girl who drank all the time is gone. Sometimes I don’t even know her.
I got a tattoo of a semicolon on the back of my neck in August of 2016, right after I got out of the hospital. The symbolism is something we are all familiar with; we choose to continue our lives when we want to die, just as an author chooses to continue a sentence that they could have ended with a period. One girl’s senior project turned into a worldwide movement. No matter what happens in this life, I will always choose to STAY; and to use my pain to help others get through theirs. There’s no other way to ease the burden, and there’s no better way to ease another’s. We are not lost causes. We are not hopeless.
Grow from the dirt you’ve been left in, and then bloom. You can be whatever you want to be. But remember…
We are only human.
Rest In Peace, Nicole
Story submitted by Kyler.