Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Addiction. Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010.

“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
become unmanageable.

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
understood Him.

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
them all.

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?


  1. I think this is a great idea! The steps saved my life.They help us find a power greater than ourselves to solve all our problems, then we carry the message to other sick and suffering human beings. It's a miracle program...

  2. 12 steps are for some people, & not for others. If you've done EA/AA before, you know what to expect. If not, try it out. You'll usually either love it or hate it.

    I am personally a passionate enemy of Bill W.

    I understand exactly what you're talking about though. I'm the same way. It's neat to see that other people are like this too.

    The first time I attempted suicide, I was 6 or 7. I was in church. I had heard that if you cut your wrists, you died. Being a little kid with no concept of internal anatomy, I thought that this meant any cut. I started trying to scratch my wrist with my fingernail.

    That was the first of many failed attempts, from early childhood through my mid 20s. I'm alive today because when I was in my early 20's, I did not know that:

    1. Benzos will get you really, really, really high.
    2. There's this thing called drunk dialing where you get wasted and start calling everyone you know.

    I don't think there's any need to detail the kind of childhood that would lead a first grader to try to kill herself. It didn't improve, and I developed coping skills to deal with it. One of those coping skills was living in fantasy. I read. I drew. I daydreamed. Most of all I thought about dying. I talked about dying. I got beaten for talking about dying. I thought about dying some more.

    Contemplating & planning my own death was a childhood hobby and obsession. It brought the sense that all the bad things were temporary. While I was thinking of dying, I could feel some relief. I could feel like there was a way out.

    I kept this obsession into adulthood. Life didn't get better after high school, and the same habit of staring at the escape hatch that had gotten me through childhood served me well in adulthood. Contemplating suicide can be a powerful survival mechanism.

    Then, in my late mid-20s, someone else got involved in one of my attempts. We were speaking on the phone. He suspected something, & asked me about it. The can of worms opened, and with him on the phone I walked a familiar path from contemplating to planning to preparing the attempt. I didn't censor myself. I dragged him along the path with me.

    But this was different. He wasn't yelling at me or calling me names. He wasn't enraged at the annoyance I was causing him or trying to use it was a way to play victim & get attention for himself. The person on the other end of the phone was absolutely terrified.

    It took me a long time after that to wrap my head around it. I had hurt this person deeply. I didn't get it - what did my dying have to do with him? What the hell should he care? There are other people who can fix computers and build websites, and they do it a lot better than I do. My demise should have been at most a bit of an inconvenience.

    Years later, I understand that some people are connected to others. And when one of those people has connected to you, what happens to you affects them. Most people probably form these connections to some degree or other, varying in number and depth depending on personal characteristics & environment.

    I've thought about suicide since then. I think of it every day. It's compulsive. I do it automatically, and without any serious contemplation or intent, regardless of what mood I'm in. It's just a reflex. It's a part of my OCD. It's a part of my post-traumatic self. I fantasize about death from time to time, and I accept that I'm going to - but I draw the boundary at planning. I can never attempt it again. I can never plan it again. I can never talk about it again. So long as those boundaries stay in place, I stay alive and productive, and others stay untraumatized. Life has gotten better in the years since the last attempt. Putting death completely off the table creates a lot of incentives to try to improve one's life.

    I also drink like a damn fish, but I keep that secret too.

  3. When I was in my early 20's, if I had to go in a mall(ackk)I would visualize shooting up as I walked around. I haven't thought of that in years and I've never shot up. Somehow it was a comforting thought.
    In an unrelated story, I was in a mall in Houston when I was 20 when a guy walked up to me and opened a matchbox. 'Say man, you wanna but some acid?' Friggin' longhairs.