How to move from Shame, Blame, and Victimhood to Enlightenment
This is the introduction to a book I’m writing now, Re-Write to Reignite Your Life (working title).
When I published my first book, Re-Write Your Life: A Transformational Guide to Writing and Healing the Stories of Our Lives, in 2009, I didn’t dare talk about the one thing that I was too ashamed to talk about. I’m going to talk about it now, even though there’s a part of me that still cringes to share this, as I’ve moved so far away from those times.
Still, I’m not going to skirt the issue. I will not write around it in order for it to sound pretty and poetic, because it was not. And the reason I am writing this at all is to help you go forward in your life if you have ever considered taking your life, have ever gone so far as to attempt it, have lost a family member or friend because of suicide, and/or you have been diagnosed with a mental illness.
If that is you, and you are carrying feelings of guilt, shame, blame, or feeling like a victim of circumstance, this book is intended to catapult you forward to a place where you can choose your own label — such as healthy, empowered, happy, forward-thinker, resilient, resourceful, and an inspiration to others. That’s right — no matter how bad it may feel right now, this book can be an elixir for your freedom. Freedom to come home to yourself.
Let’s get started, because that’s the plan. The plan is to motivate you to become the best you that you can be. And I know how to do it. Not just because I am a counsellor, but because I have lived on both sides of the couch. A younger version of me could often be found moving through a series of revolving doors, in and out of mental institutions — until one day, that version of me ended. A new door opened and I walked through it to become a secure, happy, well adjusted, mature woman, who absolutely cherishes life.
Here’s my story [content warning: suicide attempt]
I began writing my very first book, Re-Write Your Life, in a psychiatric ward after an attempted suicide. It was my 5th attempt. This one was the most severe. I was in a coma for five days, which I was not expected to awaken from. But when I did, I awoke into a state of grace, the likes of which I had never known before, only read about. There was no logical explanation for it. It was as though someone else had entered my body and psyche. There was no resemblance to the person I had been before, swallowing over 100 pills — approximately half of which were prescription sleeping pills, Zopiclone. It was another miracle, in a lifetime of miracles. I am obviously meant to be here. And you will never find anyone more grateful for that privilege than me.
At the time, I hadn’t taken any meds for about a year, as I was trying a natural product that helped others with bi-polar illness. My psychiatrist said she would not treat me if I went off my meds, so I continued to have my prescriptions filled in case she found out. I was so afraid of losing her, even though she only spent about 15 minutes with me every month or two. Still, I needed someone in the medical field who knew me. So, I continued to take the supplements and kept the vials of medicine tucked away in a drawer with no intention of ever taking them. Certainly not in fistfuls.
For many months after I began taking the supplements, I was feeling better than I had felt for as long as I could recall. I even slept without sleeping medication, which I had been taking for years.
Then one day, all that came crashing down. I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. Anxiety was setting in with lightning speed, followed by crippling depression. The torture chamber of my mind was in full gear again and I couldn’t turn it off. I thought about ending my life every day.
The day I decided to finally do it, many months after trying to hang on with no escape from the torment, I played a game with myself.
Could writing save my life?
A creative writing course that I had registered for a month prior was happening that night. I thought that since writing was something I always loved to do, maybe if I sat in someone else’s class, I could get inspired, and that maybe writing would save my life. It used to, but I hadn’t written in many months. Nothing was coming out. Every time I tried, I was riddled with anxiety and would quit after half a sentence. The course was starting at 7 pm. I knew that if I left the house even by ten minutes to seven, I’d be on time, as it was being held at a community centre just around the corner.
As the day went on, my anxiety levels were hitting the roof. By 6:30, my heart was pumping so hard in my chest I thought I’d have a heart attack. I could hardly breathe. Still, I kept telling myself that I should go to the writing class. It was Last Chance Saloon, and I knew it.
“Do it, Junie, just get out the door. You must! You must or you’ll die! Please, just go!”
The part of me that wanted to live so badly was desperate and pleading with the part of me who had given up. I watched the clock move from 6:30 to 6:40 to 6:50 to 7:00, and I knew then that all hope was gone. That was the last chance, and I had let it go by.
In that state of mind, nothing is logical, nothing is rational, and the brain is not functional. I had run out of tools. And I knew from years of experience, that when it hits that level of clinical depression, the brain has a mind of its own, and nothing I can do will stop it. I had no desire to call anyone. Nor had I in any of my prior suicide attempts.
From 7:00 pm until midnight, I paced the floor. I cried. I screamed. I wrote a suicide note begging God’s forgiveness, as well as forgiveness from my one remaining sister, Lorraine, my niece Rachel, and the many friends that loved me. I asked for someone to please look after Joey and Jakie, my beloved budgies, and begged them not to separate them or they would surely die.
Next, I meticulously gathered the cheques that I had received from students who had paid me in advance for upcoming workshops that I knew I wouldn’t be delivering. I sat them next to my suicide note, asking that someone please get in touch with about thirty people and tell them the workshops had been cancelled. Then I methodically opened the lids to all the plastic vials containing an assortment of over one hundred prescription drugs. Next I poured water into five tall glasses, lined them up on the counter, and began to swallow them by the handful.
In a prior suicide attempt using approximately the same method, I had felt a physical tug of energy pulling me back from the kitchen counter. That tug had me racing to the bathroom to empty every vial down the toilet. Not this time. The force for good was there all right, and it was strong. It actually knocked me back on my heels. I could hardly believe how strong it was. But I fought it and I succeeded. That’s the last thing I remember.
Later, an acquaintance who lived in the same building told me that she was worried about me because she knew I had been depressed. She hadn’t seen me around in a while and decided to visit. When there was no answer at my door, she went to get her key (she used to feed my budgies when I went away), and found me on the kitchen floor. When the ambulance arrived, they had to revive me, but I slipped in to a coma and was not expected to live. Gratefully, I did not die as the doctors expected I would. Not only were they stunned that I didn’t die, they were equally astonished that I had no brain damage or organ damage. Instead, what I did have was the deepest humility I had ever known. The deepest gratitude I had ever felt. And I was the most alive and awake I had ever been.
It was in this state of mind I began to write my book, Re-Write Your Life, that was published nine months later. When I awoke, they pulled out the tubes and apparatus that had kept me alive during my coma and transferred me to the psychiatric ward (which, from the state I was now in, felt like an ashram), and two days later I started to write my book.
I remained in this heightened state of awareness, and all I could feel was love for everyone and everything. I did not think I was Jesus, going from person to person, blessing everyone. From my seat in the large common room, I observed the other patients around me, all beautiful souls, suffering, lost and in turmoil — just like I had been, before I “woke up” after five days in a coma. As I looked around, I had nothing but compassion for the patients and the staff. I could see their frustration and their own suffering, and how they were trying so hard to do their best. During this time of observation, I felt grounded, centred, and at peace in a way I never knew existed.
This book is not about trying to take my life away. It is about the indelible human spirit. It is about the ability of our species to fall down and get up again. It’s about how I’ve fallen so many times, and so many times I have gotten up or have been helped up in ways that are unexplainable.
This book is about miracles and hope, and it’s about writing and honouring the stories I have lived and telling them as truthfully as I remember them. I will write from the woman I am today, conveying the gifts and lessons that these stories have offered me. How they protected me or enlightened me. How, through trial and error again and again, I was eventually propped up high enough to see another vista, one filled with light and love, hope and confidence instead of fear, uncertainty, and sacrifice.
Yes, in these pages I dare to tell the truth I have been too ashamed to tell before.
Shame and healing
One of the symptoms of surviving a suicide attempt is shame — deep enduring shame. The kind that torments the soul. The kind that keeps you awake all night long. Not only did you not escape a tortured mind that caused you to take the steps to a final exit, you also endure the shame of facing your loved ones who were devastated by your actions.
The “symptoms” that are missing, however, are compassion, love, tenderness, kindness, towards the you who was so tormented that you felt you had no other choice.
And yes, if you survived, there is a gift even here. Not a gift wrapped in a pretty bow. My gift came in the survival — the ability to tell this story, because now I can offer that compassion to myself and I know that in telling it, it will serve every single person who has ever tried to commit suicide and to those who have gone to those places where they just wanted to die. Perhaps it’s even you. Then this book is absolutely for you.
It will also shed light on a topic that is too frightening to discuss in most circles, and hopefully give some understanding to those who have been affected by a loved one’s suicide or an attempt to end their life.
Re-Write to Reignite Your Life is not all about topics as desperate as this. But let’s face it – doesn’t everyone go through a dark night of the soul where we feel lost and frightened, adrift at sea, and don’t know how we will ever find a safe shore?
We have. All of us have. If you are reading this, acknowledge that. Let in the truth that somehow you found the strength to overcome tremendous upheavals, and here you are, at a crossroads, ready to put more pain-driven stories to rest in a healthy way.
We don’t heal the stories of our lives all at once. Even me. I lived in a state of grace for almost a year, where I simply felt love and gave love unconditionally. Where life was virtually guiding my every step. Synchronicities were the norm. I thought of something or someone and he, she, or it would appear in physical form.
I wish I could claim that that state has lasted until this day, but it hasn’t. As I re-emerged into the world, challenges surfaced, and I didn’t have the ease and grace that I had become accustomed to. However, I did have tools, and was fiercely determined to use them, no matter what. No matter what, I was committed to finding my way back to the gate, the open gate that has always welcomed me in, as I welcome you in now, dear reader. Welcome to my story, which is a universal story. The details will be different from yours, as I am not living your life, and you are not living mine. But with certainty, we can say we’ve all “suffered” on this planet.
When people die, when illness hits, when you lose your job, or you find out your partner is cheating (the list goes on and on), there is suffering. But you know what? There doesn’t have to be. Not at all. We can face the most gut-wrenching circumstances and still make room to bask in the glory of a magnificent early morning sunrise. And that is the spirit in which this book is written.
As you read through each story, you can say, “Wow! She survived that!” And if you do, I will be the first to say, not only have I survived horrific events, I am a victorious thriver of circumstances and you can be too! And it doesn’t need to take you as long as it took me.
For over 50 years of my life, I didn’t have the courage to talk about my diagnosis of mental illness or what was defined by the authorities as my mental illness. I was convinced that every single pathological diagnosis they gave me was true. After all, they were doctors, and they had the DSMI, II, III, IV, and V manuals to show me the evidence that there was something inherently wrong with me, and that it would likely always be that way. In fact, the doctors said, there are articles in medical journals that will state that it only gets worse with age, and there’s not much you can do about it.
Well, I dare to differ. And I’m hardly alone on this. At 72 years young, I’ve never felt more well-adjusted, balanced, happier, or inspired about my life as I do now.
I will also tell you; it doesn’t come with age. It comes with knowing what works, what doesn’t, and choosing every day to use the tools that will keep you in charge of your mental health. Tools, that with practice and time, bring about confidence, stability and resiliency.
I can’t believe the same person who was put in straight jackets, screaming, begging, and pleading for them not to drug me, or the same person who suffered numerous bouts of non-stop unbearable anxiety and depression that caused me to try to end my life is the same person who inhabits my body today. How is that possible? There is nothing in my life today that even remotely resembles the person I described at the top of this paragraph.
How Re-Write to Reignite Your Life can help you and your loved ones
As you read this book [once it’s published], you’ll learn how I moved from a life of chaos, to becoming a whole, happy human being on a spiritual path toward enlightenment. I am a spiritual being currently having a human incarnation that is sometimes fraught with challenges, yet have found great strength, resilience, and peace along my healing journey.
I am here to inspire the joy of a sunrise in you, the delight in a baby’s first steps, the warmth of your hands wrapped around a steeping cup of tea, and the ability to belt out the next song on the radio that frees you from your chair as you dance around the kitchen with passion.
Beyond that, I’ll offer you tools that will bring you from a perceived state of brokenness to the wholeness of who are – who you always were and always will be. It is here, beyond all else, that I extend my hand to you, along with my 72 years on the planet, to give you everything I have personally come to know will inspire the desire to take one more step. And then the next, and the next, that will indeed lead you to live the most meaningful, beautiful love-filled life.
Even if you don’t believe me now, please suspend judgment and just keep reading. If I can do it, you can too. Now, take my hand and let us walk this messy, and yet, oh so beautiful path together. You will see, you are not alone. There is a huge tribe of us walking the planet today that are ready to come out of the darkness of their diagnosis and prognosis and into the light of what is possible.
We are all at different places in our evolution. Some are still so scared to speak out, or even believe that something else awaits them. Others have followed this path that I’ve been teaching in both my psychotherapy practice and my book-writing mentorship courses for decades, have found their voice and their power, and are light years ahead of where they started. You are somewhere on that continuum. May my stories inspire and empower you, and may you rest in God’s Love now and always.
Your next step
Re-Write Your Life: A Transformational Guide to Writing and Healing the Stories of Our Lives, is based on my 8-week program that has changed thousands of lives for the better. You can heal and transform the stories of your life with my guidance, through meditation and writing. Learn more about the Re-Write Your Life program here.
Note: In April 2021 I was a featured speaker on the Suicide Prevention Summit with Jackie Simmons. Jackie has given me permission to share this interview far and wide because of the good it can do to prevent suicide. You can access my interview here.
If you feel that what I’m sharing with you today would help someone you know, please pass this on to them.
Jackie Simmons, my host for the above interview, has a great TEDx talk titled, “Have ‘The Talk’ to Stop Teen Suicide.” Please watch Jackie’s talk, comment on it if you’re moved to, and share it. In her talk, Jackie shares the shocking story of her daughter’s many suicide attempts. Today she and her daughter offer training seminars worldwide with their Teen Suicide Prevention Society. Together we’ll save lives.