“Just cause you got the monkey off your back doesn’t mean the circus has left town.” –George Carlin
Merriam-Webster defines the word “addiction” as “persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.” Of course, that’s an incomplete definition. Modern psychology allows for the concept of addiction to actions, like sex and gambling, in addition to substances.
Why do people get addicted to substances or behaviors? Well, usually, because they feel good. They override negative feelings like depression and anxiety, at least at first. Usually, they release endorphins. (So does “cutting,” which is why it can be such a tough habit to break.)
Author Susan Rose Blauner (“How I Stayed Alive when my Brain was Trying to Kill Me”) adds something else to the ever-growing list of addictions: suicidal thinking. For 18 years, Blauner says, she was addicted to the concept of suicide. She was obsessed with the idea of her own death. She attempted to kill herself on numerous occasions and was repeatedly confined in psychiatric wards. She finally beat the addiction with a combination of meds and therapy, but she admits she still thinks of suicide from time to time.
Does labeling suicidal thinking “an addiction” seem far-fetched to you? It doesn’t to me. Actually, it makes a lot of sense. It’s been long documented that often, just before a suicide attempt, a depressed person suddenly cheers up – because they believe their pain will soon be over. If you’re faced with more problems than you think you can handle, thinking of “Plan B” can actually be comforting. Why wouldn’t this flood the brain with those endorphins? And if it does, why wouldn’t suicidal thinking be, literally, addictive?
A writer on the Suicide Project says, “I get this relief/joy/etc by thinking/phantasizing[sic]/dreaming/planning about suicide. When contemplating suicide I have control to some degree, I feel I can control the time and way of my death, and I can stop pain and fear.” For this individual, suicide is a way to exert control in a life of chaos, and the idea of death is actually soothing.
But the anonymous writer goes on: “Like with any addiction you need a stronger and stronger dose, and where phantasies [sic] once were sufficient, I now am at the stage where nothing is good enough but the real thing. This past weekend I very nearly killed myself, and I know I am capable of because I years ago I did a (very serious) suicide attempt.”
Some people aren’t just addicted to suicidal THOUGHTS; they’re addicted to suicidal ACTIONS. They OD or slit their wrists again and again and again. Family and friends may eventually develop compassion fatigue, and it’s common to say these people are “just seeking attention.” But I think it’s more than that. I think they have become addicted to suicidal actions; they’ve gotten accustomed to calming themselves and feeling in control this way. Their actions do more than simply antagonize the people around them: any suicidal gesture can be fatal, whether it’s “for attention,” an addiction, or whatever.
How do we heal from addictions? A good model is the 12-Step group. I wondered whether there is a Suicide Anonymous, so I Googled it, and sure enough, there is. Just like AA, SA follows the 12 Steps:
1. We admitted we were powerless over suicidal preoccupation that our lives had
2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our
6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would
injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory of ourselves and when we were wrong
promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God,
as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to
carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this
message to those who still suffer and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
I think it might be a good idea to join. What about you?