Content Warning: Suicide
I have always been around people with tattoos. In fact, it’s been quite common given my background. But I’d sworn to never ink my body permanently. And now, at age 56, I find myself getting my first tattoo. I feel that I’ve reached something of a milestone and I want to honor, and remember, where it is that I’ve come from where I am hope to be heading.
Looking back, I can say that 2018 was the worst year of my life. As I made an effort to be a good parent and partner, a good employee, and a good spiritual teacher, it all came crashing down in June and was followed by a suicide plan in January 2019. The pressure had become too much for me. I was feeling dark and desperate with no way out of my life beyond ending it.
For those who know me, I have alluded to this experience in 2019 but this is my first time being fully explicit in my writing. It’s a bit scary, but I’m also in a very different place today so I feel that I can share in hopes it may help others.
Following a particularly difficult week with a little trauma each day, by Friday I was traveling home from the Burbank Airport on I-5 and wanted to intentionally drive into the barrier as I sobbed alone in the car. I know others may feel this way sometimes, but in this moment it felt very serious. So I got off the freeway and went into a store with the intention of buying a bottle of liquor and ending my life.
This was despite almost 30-years of recovery from alcohol, being in the same loving relationship for 25-years, friends and colleagues who cared about me, and an excellent career. As I reached for the bottle in the store, I heard a voice speak to me saying that I should call someone before doing something stupid. And I did. Whatever god may be, this moment was a “god moment” for sure. While I waited to be picked up by my partner, I cried to a dear friend for an hour on the phone.
Very soon I checked myself into the Menninger Clinic and spent 7-weeks under their care. At the direction of my psychiatrist, I didn’t work for almost that entire year and have only returned partially since. Not working was very tough for me since I have worked continuously since age twelve. I’ve been proud of my independence and ability to take care of my physical needs and work has been one of those lifelines that gave me a focus. Until it stopped working.
Over the past 5-years, I have spent most of my time looking deeply into my feelings and my way of thinking with a hope for transformation and freedom. That said, even two years ago I didn’t think very much of the future and continued to have a difficult time considering a future in which I’d be happy and free. Depression is real and difficult; especially major and persistent depression. One can’t just turn it off or take a pill. It requires significant, ongoing internal work.
As COVID became commonplace, I moved to Deer Park Monastery and left my long-term relationship. Living in a monastery with 25 monastics these past three years have opened my practice up to letting go and living in the moment. One can’t be too attached to things when you live in community, as everyone has a different way of being and doing. For a perfectionist like myself, this has been particularly challenging.
The monastery has also provided lots of spaciousness to bring awareness to all of my feelings. Good and bad. And to realize that feelings really aren’t good or bad – it’s just what is present in me. Depression is a feeling we can learn to simply acknowledge it exists and do our best to take care of it. We can return to our breathing with awareness and know that we are feeling depression. Or whatever feeling may exist.
It’s been over a year since my last suicidal thought (amazing!?!). And almost as long since I felt any significant depression. I’ve felt so good that I’m even entertaining the idea of returning to my career. I see a future and a possibility of one in which I can be happy and free. I am happy and free! Feeling better has also created space for me to take a month for traveling. And this has brought me to Iceland where I am spending two weeks.
And so, the tattoo…
Walking by Reykjavík Ink each day awakened the idea of celebrating where I am today with a tattoo . To create something that is both a reminder and a celebration. I also saw a performer this week at Iceland Airwaves with a line bracelet tattoo around their wrist and I thought it looked cool. For celebrating and remembering, I wanted to stay connected to my heart and to life. So I decided on the line bracelet just above my wrist bone with a small heart on the inside of my arm. Seeing this reminds me of where I’ve come from 5-years ago and that I need to continue my heart connection to stay alive.
Choosing the left wrist came from the yin-yang philosophy. So many aspects of the yin side align with where’d I’d like to focus (plus, it’s the black part of the symbol; my favorite color). Yin is associated with femininity, darkness, and inwardness. The heart is considered a yin organ. Yin is the left side of the body. It influences not only the physical attributes but also the emotional and mental aspects of our well-being.
Yin characteristics are gentleness, wisdom, introversion, persistence, relaxation, and peace. All characteristics I want to cultivate in myself.
The tattoo is simple looking (but, as the tattoo artist said, not simple to create). Likewise, these elements of yin are not simple to cultivate and embody. But that seems to be what life is looking like for me into the future. To continue to grow and to learn about myself.
Here’s to the future.