I Want to Live, but I Couldn’t Always Say That
by Sarah Sharp
Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this story:
Sometimes people take it for granted when they want to live another day. They don’t have to push themselves through an act that’s supposed to say to the world, “I’m alive, and I’m comfortable with that.” They don’t know how exhausting it is to force a smile meant to camouflage the fact that they don’t care if they survive the night or not.
I Don’t Want to Live Without You
The first time I seriously tried to kill myself, I was sixteen, and I overdosed. My family got split up and, when I thought I’d found a new one in a little group of friends, that one got split up, too. What I did seemed to make everything worse. I felt worse: guilty, confused, and alone. My friends withdrew from me, and my real family was in shreds.
At nineteen, I tried to kill myself again when a special friendship in my life ended. The next thing I knew, I was wandering the neighborhood behind the freshmen dorms and swallowing handful after handful of pills. Then I started to feel sick and scared, so I told a friend what I’d done. He made me purge and then sat by my side the rest of the evening while I slept.
Friends like that almost never materialize, I know, but thankfully, this one did.
Years later, I made another serious suicide attempt when I was staying with my dad one winter. We’d been fighting for weeks, and then one weekend, he went out-of-state. The loneliness and isolation and Indiana cold were too much. That night, I overdosed on over-the-counter medication again and spent the rest of the night slipping in and out of consciousness.
Even when I wasn’t trying to die, walking around all day wanting to die felt desperate and hopeless. I’d pull onto the interstate and wish the 18-wheeler beside me would swerve into my lane and clobber me, or I’d hope for some random object to plummet from the sky and crack my skull.
For half my life, I was so petrified of losing people that I was certain I couldn’t survive the grief, disappointment, loss, and abandonment I’d felt for so long. I’d lost so many loved ones, and it cut so deep, that it felt like the pain would never stop. I was too tired and too worn out to get through life. I needed it to stop now.
Even after I had my son at twenty-nine, the feeling that I couldn’t do life anymore loomed over me. I tried to self-medicate, but that only worked for as long as self-medicating can work. I tried to pretend I didn’t want to die, that the way I felt would just go away, but that’s not how emotions work.
I never acted on it again, but the feeling I didn’t want to be alive stalked me for another two years, until something happened one night that started to turn everything around.
It was a wet, ink-black night. A couple of dogs played in the rain outside my apartment, where my three-year-old son slept inside. I wanted to enjoy those dogs, get some kind of comfort from them, but I couldn’t. I just wanted to die.
I felt like I was losing everyone. They were all so busy, so unavailable in so many ways, and no one seemed to understand how much life hurt for me. I’d recently left my son’s father, my ex-fiancé, and was living alone with my toddler, a single mother who’d felt myself spiraling for a while.
I called a few friends that night and asked them to come over and drink coffee with me, but no one came. After I cried and prayed and screamed and smoked too many cigarettes on my balcony, I called my ex, who would later become my husband.
“I just want to kill myself!” I cried as soon as I got him on the phone.
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“Woah,” he said, because he didn’t know what else to say. He never knew I felt that way.
By the end of our conversation, I was calmer than I’d felt in weeks. I started thinking about my first suicide attempt. Out of curiosity, some Googling and reading made me realize that I’d had a 50/50 chance of not surviving that summer day sixteen years ago.
The next morning, I felt high with gratitude that I didn’t die when I was just a teenager. I was happy to be alive. I’d been living on borrowed time for half my life and never even knew it.
I knew now, though, and I wanted to make it count.
Healing Is a Process
For me, learning how to want to live again took some work. I had to learn how to accept my feelings and let them move through me instead of getting stuck in them. I’d always judged my emotions or tortured myself with them, telling myself I’d never feel happy again and probably didn’t deserve happiness in the first place. I had to learn how to talk to myself with compassion.
For too long, I felt like other people had this magic inside them that I didn’t possess and that if they left they would take that magic with them and leave me with nothing. I was wrong, though. I’m just as whole and human and magical as anyone else. With the help of a therapist and a twelve-step program, I found my strength and ability and beauty: my magic. Finally, I could be alone and know that I was enough.
My therapist helped me learn new ways of talking to myself after pointing out I degraded myself all the time. I didn’t even know it, but I was constantly calling myself a bad mother, a bad wife, a bad employee, a bad friend. She taught me that I could check my negative self-talk and turn it into something positive and uplifting.
She showed me how to believe in myself. She pointed out my strengths, my accomplishments, and the obstacles I’d overcome. She said things to me like, “You can get through anything because you’re you,” something I’ve repeated to myself more than once.
My twelve-step program was an important part of my recovery, as well. Through working the Twelve Steps, I figured out that a lot of my negative self-talk came from adults in my life when I was growing up. I was taught a spider-web of lies about who I was and what I was capable of, but I don’t have to repeat those lies to myself anymore.
The Steps taught me I had to get out of myself, too. Now, I have a family again, something I desired for twenty years, and I want to enjoy them the way they deserve to be enjoyed and be here when they need me, because, eventually, they will need me.
The Steps helped me find a little bit of faith—in myself, in life, in the universe. I’ve learned that, no matter what happens or what anyone else does, I’ll be okay. I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. I won’t hurt forever, and life is always worth a fair shot.
At one point, medication was a part of my story but isn’t, anymore. After talking to my doctor, I decided I didn’t want to have to depend on any substance to feel at peace. Instead of taking a pill, I’ve made dietary changes that help my neurotransmitters stay balanced. For example, I eat a lot of kale, tomatoes, avocado, walnuts, and onions, and if you mix all that together, you have the recipe for my very own “serotonin salad.”
The work has been worth it. I can get through obstacles, big and small, without wanting to die. I don’t have to carry that burden anymore. Whatever comes my way, I can’t imagine not being here to experience the life I’ve had and the blessings I never saw coming.
Today, I can’t imagine not being alive, and for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.