Alternatives to Suicide Update!

by Michelle, group facilitator

When I took the training to facilitate an Alternatives to Suicide group back in November, with the Western Mass RLC, I had no idea how many people would be interested. I also had no idea how much of a resource it would become for me on a personal level.

Brattleboro Alternatives to Suicide has been meeting every Wednesday evening since December. In our group, everyone has a voice. As the facilitator, my job is really to just unlock the door and introduce the group. I am there to get support and be supportive just like everyone else in the room.

Some of the core values in our charter are:
– No ‘red tape’ or ‘hoops’ for anyone attending
– Each person is honored as the expert of their own experiences
– Freedom to challenge social norms is present and openly explored
– No assumption is made that suicidal thoughts are connected to ‘mental illness’

People speak up when they want to see a change in the group and we talk about it as a community. We recently decided to make this group a half hour longer. It started out being just an hour long because I definitely was not expecting attendance to be so high. (9 or 10 people at several of our recent groups!)

In this group, we often start talking and keep going on going and going. If everyone in that room could have a half hour to speak, maybe then there would be enough time. When you are living in a society that tells you to be quiet, stifle your feelings, and put on a smile day after day… well, when you find a room of people who want to hear your truth, of course there will be so much to say. It is a relief to be able to speak about something real. To not have to pretend to be okay. To be able to say “THIS IS HARD AND I WANT TO DIE” is empowering.

There is so much fear in this world. How do you talk about things that are going to trigger fear in the people you care about? Sometimes all we need is a nonjudgmental person to listen to them. When people call crisis and 911, they are building a wall between them and the person they are trying to help. They are often making their struggles so much worse by bringing in a system that is oppressive and silencing. I want community, friends, just someone to take a moment to listen, to understand. That is my medicine, that is my cure, this is my reason for staying alive.

I feel so understood by this group. For every struggle or piece of human suffering I speak about, there are people willing to open up and say “Yes, I have had a similar experience. You are not alone.” I have learned so many things about who I am, while listening to the stories of other people. To hear what they have done to care for themselves and to explore what I can do to keep on living this life, has been so beneficial to my survival.

Being alive is hard. The human experience involves so much pain and pain can be isolating. There’s that saying, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone” (Ella Wheeler Wilcox). That is not true here. You don’t have to cry alone in this group. There is laughter and there are tears. All feelings are okay to talk about. I can talk about my anger and confusion and people are going to be there and try to understand. And in their curiosity about my experience, maybe I learn something new. And maybe with this new understanding, I want to keep on living. It is more simple than I could have ever imagined.

For example, this is a vague conversation that I had a few weeks ago:

Me: “I was on the floor screaming, wanting to die a couple hours ago.”
Other Human: “Oh yes. The floor. I’ve been there. What a place to be! How’d you get there?”

And so we talked about it. I told them about how my week had been going, all of the events that had led up to me being on the floor and, as if by some miracle, in this exploration, a door opened and the light shined into the dark spaces and it felt okay. I never talk about my breakdowns because they scare people and I’m worried others will think I’m not capable of taking care of myself. But after sharing this experience with the group, all of a sudden, wanting to die was just a thing that happens sometimes and nothing was wrong with me, I was not hopeless, I was not destined for failure, I was just a human and I could go on living.

Thank you everyone who has been supporting this.
Thanks for being lights in the darkness.

PS: Two other resources that reliably do not call crisis teams on distressed people are the Trans LifeLine, a hotline by and for transgender people; and the UK-based volunteer group Samaritans.