Devil was my angel

14 01 2013

Is it an aha moment if it drags you down and hollows you out?

Kurt Anderson at Studio 360 has been running an occasional series on “Aha Moments”—those encounters with books or movies or music which have changed one’s life.

Most of the stories are enlightening or funny or just sideways; I wonder if he’d want to hear about dark epiphanies?

I may have discussed this before, but what the hell: I was around 15 when I had mine. Two years earlier I had first started trying to kill myself, and after one brief ER visit and overnight psych ward stay at 14, I was trying to come to terms with my inability to end myself.

It was also around this time that I read The Thorn Birds, by Colleen McCullough. There’s a scene late in the book when the priest Dane, Maggie’s son (by the priest Richard Chamberlain Ralph) goes for a swim, saves two women from drowning, then feels his heart bunch up. He begins to struggle to get back to shore, then says, in effect, Isn’t this what I want? To be with God? He stops struggling, spreads his arms, and drowns.

(That’s how I and Ms. Wikipedia remember it, at any rate.)

Well. That made quite an impression: Is this what I really want? To die? I could only answer, Yes. Am I ready to open my arms and let go? Not yet. Ah. This means I should wait until I’m ready, and only then kill myself.

Now, you might think this is pretty fucked up because. . . it’s pretty fucked up. Why did I have to answer Yes to the want-to-die question? I had no other answer. I had so humiliated myself by my failure that it seemed to me the only way to overcome that humiliation was to succeed.

Oddly, then, the Dane-epiphany kept me alive. I couldn’t stand another failure, and I couldn’t stand to live: thinking that I could stay alive long enough to prepare myself for death gave me some breathing space (albeit of rather toxic quality). I’d think about it periodically, check if I were ready, say nope, then keep living.

Of course, the pressure built. I tried and failed again in college, then again my first year of grad school. At this point I just said Fuck it, and stopped dealing with anything having to do with depression and suicide. I avoided books and movies on the theme, and did my damnedest to shut it all down.

And that worked, for years, that worked. And then the cracks, the frays, the quake, the buckling—whatever metaphor you prefer—and there I was, much older, and still not dead.

Which was a problem.

I was at least able to figure out that if I still hadn’t killed myself, well, y’know, there was something I could do about it. Back into therapy, back into the fight should-I-stay-or-should-I-go, blah blah. I did the work, I excavated myself, exposed the structures of my fucked-up living-to-die being, and by the end,  could neither stay nor go.

And then I had another moment. This wasn’t an Aha Moment the way the Dane thing was, but was a recognition, nonetheless. I had been listening to a lot of Beth Orton, and there was one song, Devil Song, which stayed with me, stretched out and empty and barely there.

But looking back in retrospect
Did you ever really get what you’d expect?
Trying to rectify
Got lost a little further
You’ve been trying to justify
Find out how and where it came

Devil was your angel, but it’s not no more
The devil was your angel, when you weren’t sure

Yep, pretty much.  And then there’s this:

Gonna take you back down
I won’t feel no shame
Till my dreams
Are my own again
Gonna take you right down, and I’ll take the blame
Till my dreams are my own again

Here I am again

Those lyrics didn’t save me. In some ways, I didn’t even save me: as I’ve mentioned previously, there was no decision, just a leaf turning this way rather than that.

But I think there was something in this song that said, in effect, you can go with this. Just because you were that before doesn’t mean you have to stay that way.  It’s okay not to die. It’s okay to be alive.

It’s coming up on 12 years since that night, and I’ve remained here. And that’s all right.

Here I am again.

Not yet, but getting there, getting there.




4 responses

15 01 2013

yes, sadly still no place in the DSM for the daemonic, James Hillman’s book on the subject gave me some solace at such a time:

15 01 2013
15 01 2013

I’ll have to read both of these.

It’s just so odd, how my views have changed about suicide, from before, during, and now, after—not least because my understanding of life has changed, as well. But I’d guess that’d be another post. . . .

16 01 2013

I often think that suicide is the ultimate mind-body separation, because no matter how much mentally we might think that we want to off ourselves, our bodies are pretty much wired to fight to survive.

As for whatever changed, or is in the process of changing, it needs to happen at its own pace. We aren’t computers, we can’t change our programming by adding a couple of lines of code and flipping a switch. Who we were, are, and are moving towards is a continuous morphing process…

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