Depression and Suicidal Thoughts in Recovery

As a reminder to all, if you are ever struggling with suicidal thoughts, get help immediately. Not from an online support site like Recovery Nation, but from a real, face- to-face source — a doctor, counselor, pastor, etc. Call your local crisis hotline. Call someone who you know will place your best interests (ie. safety) at heart. If you are aware enough to share your pain with an anonymous site, you are aware enough to share your pain with those who can directly help you. This is your responsibility — please take it seriously.

Suicidal thoughts in early recovery

Suicide is an oft-considered option in early recovery for the same reason that addiction itself exists: suicide offers immediate relief to what is perceived as an overwhelming amount of stress (or potential stress, in the case of someone whose behaviors have just become uncovered, or are about to). Rather than to face the emotional pain that comes with the guilt, shame, failures, and other destructive consequences of their behavior, sexually or romantically compulsive people frequently turn to thoughts that only death will keep them from suffering such overwhelming emotional pain.

During recovery, when the addictive behaviors (an addictís only remaining stress management technique) are taken away, and the ability to use other potential behaviors to replace that addiction is eliminated, a significant void is created in the person's emotional life. This void is quickly filled by an increasing amount of stress that comes from facing the reality of what life has become. This usually means having to face a reality that is filled with guilt, shame, regret, remorse, hopelessness, etc.

For the addict, these feelings, coupled with the "all-or-nothing" principle that most compulsive people live by, create a classic prescription for thoughts of suicide. An addict's dream: the ability to permanently balance everything in their life with one act.

When someone in addiction recovery begins to contemplate suicide as a means of stress management, he/she has created a self-perception that nothing can rescue them from the hole they have fallen into. No amount of sincerity, no amount of effort, no amount of "recovery" will ever be enough to fill the emptiness and pain that they feel inside. This is almost inevitable, as addiction interferes with so many different aspects of oneís life that taking an honest inventory of the damages can be overwhelming. In the past, this feeling could be managed with fantasy and acting out, but in recovery, that option is removed. The realization of how much time and resources have been lost to the addiction can, in and of itself, lead to feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Whatís worse, a person in such an emotional state does not have the necessary skills to effectively deal with such a burden. The foundation of values has not yet been built and so suicide, the permanent ending of oneís own life, offers this person the control that he/she so desperately needs. Even the simple thought of being dead, without actually acting on it, often triggers feelings of relief in such a personís mind. Progressively, the suicidal thoughts and gestures begin to assume roles in the addiction, offering the recovering addict a method for artificially relieving his stress.

The permanency of suicide, although intellectually comprehended, is not applicable to the struggling person's reality, as the addict is incapable of visualizing a viable future separate from the addiction and its inevitable consequences. In other words, an addict perceives suicide as an acceptable option because they are incapable of perceiving other options as realistic. Intellectually, they may understand the different paths to recovery, but emotionally, they lack the ability to commit to such an unknown future. Suicide, at the very least, comforts them by offering an immediate illusion of control.

Why Suicide Should Never Be An Option

It is important to correct this misperception of control and it can be done with the simplest of logic.

Death, eventually, will strike us all. When it does, it will take with it everything that we have associated with our life. That includes not only the negative associations (the pain, the shame, the embarrassment, the sorrow), but the positive ones as well (the accomplishments, the friendships, the pride in how we lived our lives.) There is nothing that you have lost as a result of your addiction that you would not have eventually lost anyways. There are no legal consequences that are too great; no legacy and no morality judgments by others that will affect you more than death. No matter where your religious beliefs may lie with regard to the afterlife — be it heaven and hell, reincarnation and karma, or even in the belief that there is no afterlife — suicide is an illusionary option of control which undermines each of these beliefs.

At best, suicide accelerates the inevitable, denying you the chance to challenge yourself, both in recovery and in life. At best, suicide denies those around you, both known and those who you have yet to cross paths with, the opportunity of experiencing the person that you know you are inside. At best, suicide allows others to always remember you for who you are now —a "pervert" or a "cheater" — and that will forever be your legacy. But at worst, suicide reinforces the option for others who might have gained strength in your recovery. Your success may very well trigger the confidence in others to recover as well and shatter the misperception that such recovery is impossible. At worst, you will continue the painful and destructive cycles that are usually passed down from generation to generation. Rather than becoming a part of a loved one's value system from this moment forward, you become part of their stress. Also, at worst, you will be dead — not just until the pain goes away, but forever. There will be no honour, no proof of sorrow, or remorse. There will only be death.

If you have thought about, or are currently thinking about suicide as an option, make a commitment to remove that option from your life. Know that you will get past these current struggles, and will continue moving forward until you have. Why eliminate suicide as an option? Because when you allow such an option, you also allow yourself to fail in recovery. You allow yourself to continue falling deeper and deeper into your hole because you know that, deep down, if things get too bad, there is always suicide. With such an option available, there is little motivation to see the immediate need for your recovery. In such a situation, survival becomes a value that you must develop to maintain balance in your life. If it helps, imagine that you went through with it. Consider your past as "dead", and that you are now reborn to live the life that you desire. After all, that is what recovery is all about — ending your destructive self and beginning anew. When you base your life on a foundation of values — self-respect, spirituality, meaning — there is nothing that anyone can take from you, not even your freedom.

Eliminate suicide as an option and you will have eliminated your doubts about recovery. You decide: are you more likely to recover with the attitude that if things get too rough, there is always the option of killing yourself — or with the option that things can never get too tough, that even in the worst possible scenario, you can see the opportunity to challenge yourself and to continue growing. What a difference it is to believe that death is all that can stop you from recovering, rather than death being the ultimate recovery tool.

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