Sunday, September 22, 2019

Most of Us Are Survivors - DAY 22

Yesterday, September 21, 2019, I had the honor of speaking to over 1,000 participants of the San Francisco AFSP Out of the Darkness Walk. Today, I am happy to share my remarks.

Good morning!

I am so honored to be here today. I know that everyone here has had their life touched by suicide. Most of us are survivors. Survivors of suicide attempts or survivors of suicide loss, Sometimes, like me, we are both.

There’s no question, I’m looking at a group of incredibly courageous people. So, when I say that I’m honored to speak to you today, it’s true. 

Let me tell you the reasons I am here.
Seventeen years ago, I lost my mother, El Collie Kress, to suicide. Two and a half years ago I lost my boyfriend, John Macaluso, to suicide. Since then, I have lost other close friends too. I understand, on a personal level, the profound heartbreak that suicide leaves in its wake.

I’m also here because I’m a survivor of suicide attempts. My first attempt was at age 17, and my second attempt was six years ago. I was 44 years old. The reasons for my attempts were varied. My personal risk factors include childhood trauma that led to PTSD, struggling with an eating disorder, and being an alcoholic and addict. I have been in recovery for many years now, but the shame associated with all of these things has at times been overwhelming.

My journey of healing after these attempts has involved many different things including hospitalizations, group therapy, and individual counseling. Getting clean and sober has been critical to my ongoing recovery.

The most important thing I can say to those of you who struggle with thoughts of suicide, is this: I have had those thoughts too, but know that today, I am glad to be alive.

This is so important. I have been at the bottom, I have wondered how it would be possible to live another day, and yet today - I am glad to be alive.

Suicide prevention is such an important cause. I truly believe that we all have a life worth living.

For those of you who are here for your first walk, welcome. The first Out of the Darkness walk took place in 2002, the same year that my mother died. Still, for over a decade I wasn’t willing to participate in a walk. I was ashamed of the ways that suicide had touched my life. I wanted my story to be different. I didn’t even want to say the word suicide out loud.

Two years ago though, when my boyfriend died, I knew, I could no longer ignore what was happening. Ignoring suicide was no longer an option for me, and I wanted to do something to make a difference.

I started a blog where I post about suicide and suicide prevention regularly, I learned more about mental illness and other risk factors, and I got involved with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Through AFSP I am an active advocate for this cause. I’ve written letters to senators, I’ve joined AFSP at the California State Capital on advocacy day. I’ve attended survivor day events, and because of these AFSP efforts, I have learned that I am never alone.

I know that when suicide has touched our life, there is often a profound sense of helplessness. 

Why couldn't we have fixed whatever was wrong? 
Why couldn’t we have saved someone’s life? 
Or, why didn’t we see it coming? 

One of the most empowering things about AFSP is that they remind us that we are not helpless. They provide education about what we can do in the fight against suicide, and they provide us with the tools we need in order to get the job done. By volunteering with AFSP, I’ve been made to feel as if my efforts truly make a difference. 

I will end with this. People often ask me how I’ve made it through so many losses. Some who are new to their loss have asked me: How can you cope with such intense grief?

My answer is this: I fight stigma whenever I can, I educate myself about suicide and mental illness, and I work with organizations like AFSP to make lasting strides in the fight for prevention.

Most importantly, no matter your connection to suicide, let yourself love and be loved. Today, think about the people here who are standing beside you, Think about our combined strength, our combined commitment, and our combined courage.

Thank you so much for letting me speak to you today. As we walk today, know how grateful I am to all of you. There is no other group of people I’d rather have by my side.
It is not too late to make a donation to this year's walk. Click on the logo below in order to learn more. Thank you for supporting this important cause.