Because a bunch of you have unregistered comments turned off, you might not see that the original letter writer has responded @85:
"Hey Everyone, this is the original letter writer,
Your responses are all lovely and thought-provoking. It meant a lot for me to read some of your comments and similar experiences. My heart goes out to others who have endured similar experiences.
I didn't write to Dan Savage to get a therapist's response, I wrote to Dan Savage to get a Dan Savage response. Perhaps I unconsciously wanted a kick in the butt. Yeah, the last sentence seems a little brusque, but I am not offended because I think the content in the rest of the reply is right on. He also doesn't know the whole story. For sure, the family is going to feel the long-time loss with every passing Christmas and holiday, etc and that thought alone has compounded my guilt about causing not only suffering for my ex, but now his whole family for the rest of their lives. However, I know that everyone is ultimately responsible for their own life. Letting go of guilt about not having been able to prevent it is no easy task. And this includes not just me, but for everyone else that was around him during this time who are, no doubt, still agonizing about what they could have done. What makes this a little different (and perhaps more complex, but not necessarily harder) is that our breakup catalyzed his mental decline. He pleaded with me, begged me to take him back. I remained solid so that I could maintain my decision to leave. He had a way of being very persuasive and I had to be almost cold to disengage. In retrospect, I wish I had seen the signs. But, Dan, you are right.... I am not omniscient and I couldn't have stayed in a hostage situation even if I had known that's what he would've done. His other friends and family may have regrets they didn't see it coming, but at least they don't carry the weight of feeling (initially) directly responsible for it. He hung himself in the foyer of the house from the second floor railing a few centimeters from the front door. He'd locked all of the doors to the house, probably knowing that I would discover him because I'm the only other person who had a key to get in. It felt directed towards me....at least that's how I initially experienced it. Over time, I've realized that there may not have been contempt directed towards me in his actions. I will never really know as he didn't leave a note. Just a bunch of questions.
I will say, however, that trauma lives in the body - even when you rationally, intellectually know a feeling doesn't make sense, if your body still believes it does, problems arise. This is perhaps why I get an automatic body response (heart palpitations, etc) whenever I think about having to break up with someone. Overtime I know this will subside - it just points to the fact that I have a little more work to do.
I experienced his death as both an act of aggression (towards himself and me) and an act of desperation. I think the single most important thing to know is that, in the wake of a suicide, there are many mixed emotions and confounding facts. I believe he was all of these things: (selfish, angry, impulsive, confused, pained, hurt, aggressive)..... and as a result I feel: (tenderness, hatred, sadness, euphoria, guilt, defensiveness, anger, compassion, regret, and occasionally forgiveness etc). To be human requires our ability to be able to integrate all of these conflicting things and hold it in complexity, rather than trying to label something as one thing or another for the sake of simplicity.
I believe suicide is ultimately selfish - it's a statement that my pain now is more important than the pain I will inflict on all of my friends, family, etc for the rest of their lives if I carry this out. However, this doesn't mean I can't simultaneously hold compassion for someone who loses perspective and finds their pain so unbearable in the moment, that it seems to be the only way out.
I think we should begin conceptualizing suicide within the framework of a communitarian perspective, rather than an individualistic one. Yes, ultimately we all have a right to do what we want with our own body - but this is based on the idea that we are not all connected. When someone commits suicide, it creates a ripple effect. Studies have shown that every time someone dies by suicide, there is a rise in suicide within that person's own family and also within their direct & indirect community. Anyone who is touched by it, integrates that experience into their unconscious. Suicide should not be considered a viable way out. We owe it to our family, friends and loved ones to keep trying.
This could easily lead into a rant about the state of our mental health care... but instead I will leave you with a link to this interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht that Krista Tippet did on her podcast "On Being": Here is what it is about:
" Suicide, and Hope for Our Future Selves
"Your staying alive means so much more than you really know or that anyone is aware of at this moment."
Philosopher, historian, and poet Jennifer Michael Hecht has traced how Western civilization has at times demonized those who commit suicide, at times celebrated it as a moral freedom. She proposes a reframed cultural conversation, based not on morality or rights but on our essential need for each other."
Thanks everyone for the dialogue and thanks, Dan, for your response.
I honestly thought that my letter would go into the ether.