Here at Recovery.Wrx, we know how difficult recovery can be.
Trust us. We do.
It can be great in so many ways and is often the start of a whole new you.
But what happens when the feelings you once had just won’t go away?
Our very own Sarah opens up about her struggles with suicidal ideation and the ups and downs of battling against yourself during her recovery journey.
Thanks for sharing Sarah – you rock!
When You’re Stable In Recovery And Struggling With Suicidal Ideation
By Sarah J. Braun. December 2018
Why is that when one door closes another door opens?
Usually this cliche phrase is intended to shed a positive light on something that otherwise would be viewed as upsetting or negative. In turn, the new door opening would lead to wonderful new opportunities. However, what if that closing door is very much a good thing, and the other door opening leads into a dark, scary room with what appears to have only one way out?
For me, this is what recovery has been like.
Before any assumptions are made, I am incredibly grateful for my recovery and proud of my successes, big and small.
Remaining mainly symptom/behaviour free from my eating disorder as well as continued sobriety is a huge accomplishment, and I am not ashamed to boast about it. With that being said, my addiction and eating disorder held a purpose in my life. They are what I leaned on, they were my crutch for over fifteen years. Counting calories, binging, purging, and body-checking all distracted me from my own mind and disconnected me from reality.
I didn’t have to acknowledge my emotions or thoughts because all my time and energy was put into being symptomatic.
Drinking and drugging ironically, drowned out, and at the same time, amplified, the self-destructive voices and numbed the pain and loneliness I had felt for so long. I was carefree, confident and seemingly happier when I was intoxicated.
It would make sense then, that by exterminating these behaviours, my thoughts, emotions and self-destructive nature would no longer have an outlet in recovery. Of course I’ve learned skills and new ways to cope with all of these negative forces, however that doesn’t lessen their presence or the impact they have on me.
In a sense, the door has closed on my eating disorder and addictive behaviours, yet opened another one that I’ve tried for so long to keep locked through those previous coping strategies.
This new door leads me into a part of myself that I have been endlessly ashamed of from a very young age. Perhaps the fact that recovery is more or less going well for me overall, that in turn increases the shame and brings into focus what is behind this next door.
I have struggled with suicidal ideation for as long as I can remember.
It was there before my eating disorder became an active part of my life and before I found the comfort that drugs and alcohol brought. I wish I could say that on a subconscious level they were my version of a slow suicide. However, it wasn’t on a subconscious level. I knew what I was doing, and why I was doing it – I wanted to die so badly, but I didn’t have the courage to take my own life.
Every day in my disorder I fantasised about having a heart attack as I hunched over the toilet, or my pulse beating so slowly in the night that I wouldn’t wake up the next day – and I did. I secretly hoped that I would overdose on whatever drug I could get my hands on – and I didn’t.
Over the course of my illness and addictions, there has been multiple attempts to take my own life. One landing me in a critical cardiac care unit, but the majority of them went unnoticed, and I have kept quiet about, until now.
Death didn’t scare me, and in-fact, I welcomed it.
So why then, now that I’m stable in my recovery, do I still struggle with suicidal ideation?
Isn’t recovery supposed to be about building a life worth living? Aren’t I supposed to be getting happier and healthier? Why am I still consumed with intrusive self-harm and suicidal thoughts?
When I originally acknowledged what was going on inside, I was extremely angry. I felt as though all my hard work and progress was for nothing. I had set an expectation for myself that recovery was supposed to make me feel hopeful about the future. Hell, in my eyes it was supposed to make me finally want, and see a future for myself.
Therefore, when I was flooded with these thoughts and ideations about suicide again I was left feeling confused and defeated.
My therapists have helped me put the pieces together to make sense of it, and most of all, validate the way I’ve been thinking and feeling.
For over half of my life I have been destroying my body and engaging in behaviours as a sort of safety net protecting me from my own thoughts. Now that I am succeeding in recovery, I am petrified to relapse as I have done time and time again.
Quite frankly, I’m exhausted.
I don’t know what life is like in long-term recovery, and a part of me is waiting for the other shoe to drop until relapse rears it’s ugly head again. I’ve made it non-negotiable with myself that relapse is not an option this time.
This time, suicidal ideation aside, is ironically, where I get my life back.
Clearly, I could have another relapse in me, but I assure you I do not have another recovery in me.
Which is why I’ve come to figure my struggle with suicidal ideation is so much stronger in this recovery than previous efforts. I don’t want to go through the isolation, agony and heartache of another relapse, nor do I wish to put my loved ones through that pain again. So as twisted as it may seem, my fear of relapse and fear of the future is what has brought back this original safety blanket of suicidal ideation. I wont have to go through another relapse again, or explore the terrifying unknown of the future if I end it all.
Now don’t get me wrong, I do believe in myself and my recovery, the future is just a hard concept to fathom right now, and knowing that there is a way out if I so choose it, comforts me. I don’t want to die, I just don’t know how to live in a world without my eating disorder and addiction. Thinking about dying, planning how I would, and envisioning it proves to be a great distraction when I don’t allow myself to listen to the eating disorder voices in my head or give in to cravings.
As much as I wish recovery came with endless happiness, I’m aware that’s not the case and in fact very far from the truth.
A considerable difference I’ve come to realise throughout my journey is that I have the power to acknowledge these thoughts for what they are. I can label them and be honest about them with myself, my team and my loved ones.
Over the past year, I have experienced both incredible highs and devastating lows. In that time I have proven to myself that I am able to keep myself safe during the darkest of times, and that thoughts and moods do shift.
One thing that has really helped keep me here during these scary times was to continuously tell myself “Wait until tomorrow to end your life” and then when tomorrow comes, telling myself that again, and kept repeating that phrase everyday until the thoughts and urges pass – and they will.
Even during the good times, thoughts of suicide still (and likely always will) quietly linger in the back of my mind, however I have learned through years of DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy) that two things can be true at once – I can be stable in my recovery and still struggle with suicidal ideation.
About our subject, Sarah:
Sarah describes herself as a perfectionistic, animal loving, sports fanatic. She is a coffee fiend with an enthusiasm for recovery and a wicked sense of humour. Sarah is fiercely honest, resilient and driven, embracing life one day at a time.