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Cheryl Sharp

is a suicide attempt survivor.
this is her story

Cheryl Sharp

is a suicide attempt survivor.

"I survived a suicide attempt."

Cheryl Sharp is the Senior Advisor for Trauma-Informed Services for The National Council for Behavioral Health. She was 57 when I interviewed her at the annual National Council for Behavioral Health conference in Orlando, FL, on April 20, 2015.

It’s hard for me to tell my story without telling it in the context of a trauma dialogue.

I was born into a very middle-class, white, Southern family. All of the boxes you’re put into as a little Southern girl back in the 1950’s, though I didn’t fit that box very well. They wanted me to do tea parties and I wanted to be Annie Oakley. I rode horses. I was out in nature all the time.

Very early on, I had medical trauma. I was in and out of hospitals a lot. I had lots of surgeries away from my parents, because back in those days they didn’t allow you to see your parents when you were in the hospital. You could see them fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen minutes at night. There wasn’t anybody there to hold you. I was three years old and just left in a big steel crib. One of the last surgeries I had was when I was six, and I had to be withdrawn from morphine before I could go home. I learned that if I could get the shot, everything would go away. The pain would go away, the loneliness would go away, the fear would go away. That was the first time I was addicted to a drug.

When you’re really sick as a kid, you find other ways to entertain yourself. I couldn’t go outside and play—I had a lot of restricted and limited activity. I learned to read really early. By the time I was in third grade, I was reading big books with big stories and big ideas. I was a thinker. I was very outgoing, but I was quite a thinker and a writer. I wrote prolifically for years. That was a place where I could get the pain out. It reached a point in time where I could not manage the pain.

By the time I was eleven, I knew that I was very different from other kids.

By the time I was eleven, I knew that I was very different from other kids. I did things that other kids did, and I had friends like other kids had, but I thought about things. I’ve always asked big questions. I can hear my dad right now saying, “Life’s not fair.” There was so much injustice.

I was so concerned about the Vietnam War. I got that the war was a really bad thing and it was killing our young men. I published my first piece of writing when I was twelve or thirteen. I look back at it now and it was pretty juvenile, but it was a poem [called], “Eighteen Years He Carried a Gun.” It was all about sending an eighteen-year-old child off to do battle. I became… not obsessed with it, but it just felt like I had to do something. I needed to do something. This was wrong.

When you’re twelve years old, you can’t do anything. You have no power. Somehow that turned into, “I can’t change the world. I’m powerless to change the world.”

I was powerless to do anything about the medical trauma.

The other piece of my story is that I had a mother who suffered horribly from depression. She was in and out of psych hospitals and ECT treatments. The whole family had a real serious history. I wanted my mother to love me, but she was so depressed. I know she loved me. That’s never been a question, but I was not an easy kid for her to have. She was smart in some things, but not very worldly at all, and I was asking big world questions.

We grew up Protestant. I was in my little confirmation class to become a member of our church, and I was the kid asking the preacher, “Well, if God is such a loving God, why does he do this, this, this, and this?” I was not well-liked in that class. I was asking big questions and always trying to look at myself in the context of the world.

Around the age of thirteen, it overwhelmed me. I experienced tremendous sadness. There was lots of stuff going on at home with my mom and I just knew I wanted to die. The world was such a painful place. I think about it sometimes [in comparison with] who I am now… I was like a raw nerve walking around. Everything impacted me.

At thirteen, I found out that I could drink Thunderbird and Boone’s Farm and smoke a joint and, while it wasn’t quite as good as the morphine, it took the pain away. Then I started getting in trouble. I got in lots of trouble. Skipping school, getting caught doing drugs, sneaking out with boys. I was supposed to be a good Southern girl, and I just wasn’t. I was a very typical troubled teen.

Back in those days, people didn’t go to therapy. People didn’t go to treatment. I think I was in seventh grade when I got taken to a mental health center. Of course it was all about, “What’s wrong with this unruly teenager?” Nothing stuck.

I was thirteen at the first suicide attempt. One of the things that’s always pretty interesting to me when people talk about us is, “Well, if you were really serious, you wouldn’t be here.”

It’s like, “Gee, thanks.”

I didn’t know what I could take or not take, or what would take my life, so I ate a bottle of [pills] and I called somebody.

When you do that, people will then say, “Well, you were just looking for attention.”

My response to that is, “Hell yeah, I was looking for attention. I was screaming as loud as I could.”

I called a teacher and nothing was done. It was kind of over, and moving through my system. There was never a conversation about it with anybody else. He’s still somebody who, when I look into my past, [I see him as] as someone who I know loved me, worked hard to help me, and paid a lot of attention to me. He was my seventh grade teacher and eighth grade counselor. Ninth grade, we were in a different school, so I skipped that grade. Tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade, he was the high school guidance counselor and always made time for me. I was kind of a little hippie student, too. He played guitar. I played guitar. We would go to the guidance counselor’s office and there were two or three of us that would play guitar and sing in the guidance counselor’s office. He was a safe place and he would listen.

I know there were nine attempts. I’m trying to remember every single one. I don’t know that I can. I know I started actively pursuing my death after I graduated from high school, and I was much more heavily involved in drugs. I was blacking out all over the place. What would happen is, I would come out of an attempt and do pretty well. I could get my act back together, and then it would happen again. It was like that thinking was always there, always on the back burner of my mind.

I just got through talking to a man here NatCon who heard me talking in another workshop about suicide and suicidal ideation. He came up to me and said, “I so want to be able to live like you live now—without that. I want to be able to wake up in the morning and not have to make a conscious decision that, today, I’m going to live.”

That was the way my life was until I was in my early forties.

I think about how much the system has changed and how much changing it’s got to do. I made an attempt in college and ended up going to see a therapist. It was the first time I’d ever met a therapist I liked. He was very cool. He was a Jewish white guy with a massive afro and looked like he just stepped right off of a Rolling Stone magazine. I felt he was the coolest guy. He talked to me and treated me like I was a human being.

I went into an appointment one day and they said, “Oh, Dr. So-and-so is no longer here.”

I said, “Well, where did he go?”

They said, “He blew his brains out last week over his income taxes.”

That’s the way I was told. Nobody called and told me not to come to my appointment. There was no gentleness in the conversation. It was just this blatant burst out. When that happened, I walked away from therapy for the next fifteen years. If the people who are going to try to help me are that messed up, there is no help. I hate to be that graphic, but that event stood out. The lack of sensitivity that people [have when they] talk about people who have died by suicide infuriates me. That’s why I love what we do so much.

Another attempt: I was going to college and working in a hospital doing IT stuff, back when the computers were as big as this entire suite. I had the attempt and they took me to the hospital emergency room. When that happened, the doctor came in and said, “You don’t deserve to be here. You’re going to the state psychiatric hospital.”

At that time, Dorothea Dix was a state psychiatric hospital, one of the first in the country. I remember pulling up there in the ambulance, looking at this place, and going, “Oh my god. This is my life.” The building itself looked like the Munster’s house.

When I talked to the doctor at the hospital, he said, “You won’t be going home anytime soon. You’re here as long as I say you’re going to be here.”

That was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life.

I wasn’t there for that long. This is one of the things that can go right for people. There was a nurse whose mother worked with me, and he would have never known that unless he engaged me in some kind of a conversation.

Back then, nurses didn’t talk to patients. They gave out pills. There was no treatment. Nothing. You were housed in a unit. When you went to take a shower, you had to strip down outside of the shower. You went in and showered with thirty other women, with everybody standing in line.

Anyway, he started talking to me. He asked me where I was from and that kind of stuff. He goes, “You know, my mother works [where you do]. Do you know her?” His mother was my boss. He said, “You don’t belong in here.” He talked to the doctor and my dad came and got me.

There was attempt after attempt after attempt. One of the very last ones was in the height of a really difficult time with addiction. It was not a cry for help. It was a done deal. My roommates were supposed to be gone, but they came home and found me. I went into the hospital again and stayed for awhile. When I got out, I was sent to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist just looked at me and said, “I’m not going to treat you until you get off drugs. I can’t do anything for you.”

I said, “Well, thank you very much and I’ll see you later.”

There was another attempt after that. I was beyond help.

I went into an addiction program and got kicked out because I couldn’t follow the rules. They gave me a, “Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out,” and “You’ll never make it,” speech, and it pissed me off. They royally ticked me off.

I basically said, “I’ll show ya. I’ll do it.”

I shifted that part of my life. I stopped spending so much time out on the street, and I stopped the drug-seeking behavior. That changed my life dramatically. I got married, I had a child, and I bought a home. I still live with suicidal thinking every single day of my life. When I got clean, I made the decision that I would not do the behavior anymore. There were many, many times where it was all I could do to hang on by my fingernails. I continued to go into the hospital because I had such a desperate desire to be out of here.

One of the things that really changed [that desire] was an opportunity [I had through work]. I was working in marketing and public relations with an addiction treatment program. They wanted all of their leadership to go participate in this other program that looked at your whole life, rather than just the snippets of what’s wrong with you. They wanted to see if that program would dovetail with their addiction program because they wanted to incorporate some of those modalities.

Well, I went and did that. It was the first time anyone ever asked what happened to me. It was the first time anyone ever looked at me as the sum of my story, and not the parts and pieces. It was the first time anybody looked at me without looking at only the presenting problem. They helped me look at what had happened. It had a profound impact on me.

It didn’t change everything. I had to learn to do a whole lot of different things, but it really shifted the way I viewed myself. It wasn’t my mother’s fault [for being] ill. It wasn’t the doctors’ fault because they didn’t do a good job in the hospital. It helped me understand that I’m so much more than one piece of my story. It gave me permission to go back and re-love myself in a way. I’d never known how to love myself. I’d never known how to look at what an amazing human I was to have been able to survive the things that I survived—the rapes, the being beaten. It helped me see that I really was a wounded person.

If I had a small child sitting in front of me, would I say to that little kid the things that I said to myself every day? “You don’t deserve to be here. You’re too much for the world.” That was an internal message that I had. “You’re just too much, Cheryl”—because I have a big personality. I fed myself this constant negativity about who “Cheryl” was my entire life. Some of those are messages that I misconstrued from childhood. I mean, my parents said some horrible things, but I was a loved child and I was well cared for. They just did not know what to do with a kid like me, or how to support, growing up, a child who was that precocious and that invested in the rest of the world.

I started looking at myself in the mirror and seeing that little kid when I would get angry. One thing that would happen a lot is that I would get furiously angry and create some big uproar. It’s happened in relationships over and over again. I end up having this huge white out rage moment, and at the end of that, I would turn that anger in on myself: “I’m such a bad person because I don’t know how to manage my temper. I’m such a bad person because I broke whatever. I’m such a bad person that nobody ever wants to be in a relationship with me.”

What I began to be able to do was to [say to myself], “No, you’re not a bad person. You’re a hurt person.” I began to be able to think through that anger.

I heard a long time ago that depression is anger turned inward. I think that was very true. I describe depression as a dark, heavy, wet blanket that you cannot get out from under. I still had that; I would still have bursts of anger, but they began to be more and more manageable. I began to see that I actually could have control over my emotions.

One of the big shifts for me came when I found WRAP, Wellness Recovery Action Planning. I think [it is important to] recognize that anger doesn’t just come out of nowhere. When you’re somebody that has that white-hot anger like that, it feels like it just happened. You know, somebody said whatever thing, and you’re off and gone. I call it, “going zero to a thousand in a New York second.” I began to understand that that was my traumatized, dysregulated brain, and I had to learn how to calm that. I learned how to practice simple meditation techniques, and I learned how to breathe. I always call it, “Breathe through this.” I learned how to do real basic self-care, for my emotional health as well as my physical health. I still struggle with that.

I kept seeking outside people to fix me. This therapist, that therapist; this modality, that modality. What WRAP did for me was help me realize that I can use those things, but they are tools. WRAP helped me become my own therapist. Some people would say, “Oh, that’s not a good idea,” but what I mean is that I began to be able to recognize when I was not doing well before I was in the bed and unable to get up for six months. I could do something. There was always something I could do, proactively, to shift my thinking and mood.

When I look at my life, it’s nothing short of a miracle: number one, that I’m still alive; number two, that I have become the person I’ve become. I’m certainly still becoming, but I never would have imagined me being who I am today.

I’m going to read you this message that my husband sent me this morning. I love it.

I have a support team back home. It’s my husband, a friend of mine in Oregon, another one in California, and then two girlfriends in Maryland. They are sending me messages every day to remind me of the little things: to drink water; to get enough sleep at night; to eat—which I have not done today; to take breaks. They are reminding me of those little things, but also reminding me that I can do this. This conference is not an easy thing for staff members. I’ve got thirty-seven events over two and a half days, so they send me love notes and reminders. I gave them things that I need to hear. For me, when I have this much stuff going on, it’s like anything that goes wrong feels like the end of the world. One of my favorite quotes is, “There’s nothing that is the end of the world except the end of the world.” I live by that while I’m here. Well, I’m trying to live like that everyday.

Back to what my husband wrote. With my story, there’s a whole piece with me never being able to look in the mirror. I’ve always worn makeup, and I’ve always dressed trying to put my best thing forward, but when I was really, really struggling, I couldn’t look at the mirror. I could not look at my face full in the mirror. I put my makeup on one eye at a time, one cheek at a time. I couldn’t have the whole face there. My husband knows that about me. Now, I fully look in the mirror. I see the flaws, but every day I look in the mirror and go, “I love you. You’re a fabulous woman.”

What he wrote me this morning is, “I want you to look in the mirror, in your own eyes, and remember the thousands of people who believe in you. You are actually a missionary. I love you.”

I mean, I do tell myself good stuff. I don’t let myself get away with bad stuff. It’s fine for me to make mistakes.

I mean, I do tell myself good stuff. I don’t let myself get away with bad stuff. It’s fine for me to make mistakes. There was a day I was sitting in my office fussing at my computer. I had a shared, big space—like a big work pod. I was learning how to do PowerPoint. I’m not a tech person, but I know how to do PowerPoint. I was saying, “Cheryl, you stupid thing. You never—”

My co-worker hears me talking to myself and pipes up in a very quiet voice: “Please don’t talk to my friend that way.” You know what? She’s right. It’s not okay for me to talk to myself that way. I wouldn’t talk to my dog that way. I talk to my dog better than I talk to anybody.

I think that that’s the biggest change. I’m not willing to look at myself through the lens of illness anymore. I look at myself as what I have become. I don’t see myself as a trauma survivor. I am a trauma survivor, but I don’t see myself as just a survivor. I certainly never see myself as a victim anymore. I see myself as a victor.

There are lots of other things in my life. I have four kids. I have a son who will be thirty this month. I have sixteen year old triplet boys, and that’s another whole piece of the story. Their birth was very, very hard on me.

I was still seeing a psychiatrist back then. I was on medication, so I had to see somebody who really could specialize in a pregnancy and medication stuff. After the boys were born, I was struggling so hard. I remember going into his office one day and he said, “Cheryl, you’re always thinking that you’re sick, or that the way you’re managing is not a good way to manage it. Do you understand that any woman in your circumstances would struggle? [Do you not understand that] having three children at once, with a thirteen year old, while keeping a house and going to graduate school would be a little difficult?”

So early in my life I’d been identified as being a problem, or having problems, or being ill. I couldn’t see that the things that happened in my life were actually things that happened to everybody. Well, not everybody gets to have triplets, but they were life circumstances. I kept labeling my response to typical life circumstances as me being ill, and that was another big change [I made] in the way that I viewed myself. Things got very different after that. It’s like I threw the DSM that had been used on me out the door. I had to use it in clinical practice, but I threw it out the door.

When I got clean, I started telling my story. I’ve been telling my story since 1982. I get bored with it. I’ve always been very out about my lived experience, both with addiction and with suicide. People will ask me, “Isn’t that hard for you to talk about?” I’ve talked about it so much and for so long, it’s just part of the conversation. I’m not willing anymore to not accept all the parts of who I am: the good, the bad, the ugly, and the absolutely fabulous. What I do now in my work is, I talk about my story, but I talk about it in the context of what happens when trauma occurs and isn’t addressed. I talk about it in the context of what hurt me throughout the system, what was re-traumatizing, and also what was helpful.

I think about that nurse all the time. He probably saved my life by getting me out of that hospital, because the people in that hospital were not going to go home.

I dropped out of school two weeks before college graduation. It was an associate degree, but I dropped out two weeks before graduation and never got the degree. I went back to school in 1991 and got an undergraduate degree in psychology, and an undergrad in women’s studies. I was told I was this kid who had all this potential and never lived up to it. I was a smart kid, but I never made good grades, and I was terrified to go back to school. It was one of those things [I decided] I was going to do, and I was doing it for me. I wasn’t doing it for any other person. Just like the way I began to piece my life back together, it was one class at a time. I ended up with two degrees in the honors program, and never made a B. Ever. I had to hire tutors to get through statistics and make an A, but I made my A.

I went on to get my master’s and also excelled. Nobody could have believed it. When I walked across that stage and picked up my master’s degree, I was equally as proud as when I picked up the associate degree to go to the university. I was doing it for myself. I wasn’t living for anyone else; I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone. It was all about, “What can I do? What is my human potential? And how am I going to live that for the rest of my life?”

There are still challenges. Life circumstances, sometimes, are really difficult. My husband is very ill. He’s my third husband and my last husband. There won’t be any more after this, I believe. He was diagnosed two years after we got married. He has always treated me the way I wish every man would treat any woman: with respect, with dignity, and with great love. When I go home, there will be a dozen roses sitting on my dining room table. Even as sick as he is, he will make sure that those roses are there.

When you’ve been through that many relationships, had them fail in a big way, and have children, finally finding somebody who you can really life partner with is pretty hard. I remember laying on the sofa in the living room the day he got his diagnosis. I couldn’t go to bed because I was crying so hard. I didn’t want to upset him.

I’m laying down on the sofa and I’m crying and crying. I’m going, “Oh God, why? What have you done?”

I was just really angry. All of a sudden this little thought flipped through my brain. It was like, “Cheryl, you asked God for the perfect partner. You didn’t tell him how long you wanted it, other than “’til death do us part.””

Again, it changed perspective. So much about healing and recovery is about changing the lens that we look through. It’s been incredibly challenging to see someone I love that much be debilitated in the ways that he has been. He was a very strong, very vibrant person. His spirit is still strong and vibrant. In and out of the hospital, and I still had to work. I might be taking him to the emergency room to get him admitted to the hospital, and then have to go catch a plane somewhere. [I had to] get other supports in place to take care of him so I could keep working.

I absolutely love my job. It’s hard. I feel like, in the work I do, I make a difference. I feel like I’m a mission-driven woman. I don’t see an end road for me. It’s hard for me to imagine ever retiring. It’s like, “What the hell would I do? This is all I know to do!”

People will say, “Well, don’t you have other things in your life?”

It’s like, “No, not really.” This is what I’m passionate about.

I love to sail. [My second husband] had a small sailboat when we got married. When we separated, I had all these kids and all this stuff that comes with a divorce and I said, “I’ve got to find something for me that’s just for me.”

It’s like, “What do you love to do?”

I love to sail, so I made a decision that, one day, I would buy my own sailboat. It would be in my name, and nobody could take it away from me. About three years ago, I did that. I bought a forty foot sailboat. Unfortunately, it does take more than me to sail it. My husband is also an avid sailor—that’s actually part of how we met—so, we don’t get to sail, but that’s there. There’s something about being on the water. I can get out on a boat and spend three hours, and I feel like I’ve been on a three-week vacation. Sailing is such a zen experience because you can’t be anywhere else. You have to pay attention, and you get your butt hurt.

The things that I love to do in life—I’m a foodie. I love to cook. I love to entertain. We don’t do as much as we used to, but that’s something that I love. I’m a homemaker. I like my house. That’s one of the things my husband always says. My home is my favorite place on the planet, and it’s my sanctuary. It’s a place where I know I’m protected. Nobody’s ever going to yell at me there. Nobody’s ever going to demand more of me than what I can give. Being able to find sanctuary is something that is hard for many of us. [It’s hard to know it] when we find it.

I was so poor when I was divorced the last time. I actually did not have a home. I didn’t have money to go buy a lot of nice things, but I made a decision that I will have fresh flowers in my house at all times. I would go without meat—I’d eat rice and beans if I could have that $3.99 bouquet of flowers sitting on [my table]. Number one, it reminds me that I have to give the gifts to myself. Number two, it also reminds me that life is bright and colorful, because so many of years of my life [were not]. I remember, one time, coming out of what was probably a two or three year depression where I was completely incapacitated. You know in The Wizard of Oz when it goes from black and white to color? That was exactly what it felt like when the fog lifted. Those flowers are there to remind me that the world is full of color. I just have to be able to look for it.

Another thing that has been really important for me has been healing my spiritual relationship—with myself, and with the universe.

Another thing that has been really important for me has been healing my spiritual relationship—with myself, and with the universe. I’m an ordained minister, by the way. I’ve had so many lives! The way that happened is that I made a decision that I did not want to do clinical practice the way it was done traditionally. I became an ordained minister because, as an ordained minister, I can actually touch you. [I didn’t want] to be told that I can’t give a client a hug, or that I can’t use my experience to support them, or to find some healing in hope. I just kind of always found a way to get the job done. That’s been amazing. Mostly all I do with that now is perform weddings.

I’m trying to think what some of the other important things are. This has been very non-linear.

Des: I like it. You’re not hard to interview.

Cheryl: You don’t have to sit there coming up with the questions! You told me just to start telling my story.

Des: You’re easy! I like it. This is what I want. It’s organic.

Cheryl: One of the areas that is really hard for me in my life right now is my relationship with my boys. When you think about the War of the Roses, it ain’t got nothing on us. It was really nasty and ugly, and in and out of court. The kids became the battlefield. That was not acceptable for me. We were all living in the same town; we had joint custody. We spent [the money for] all three kids’ college educations fighting each other in court. I hadn’t planned to go as far away as I did, but I felt like, if I left town, maybe it would get better. There was no way I would ever get custody of the kids. Neither one of us are bad people, and neither one of us were bad parents, but the courts were not going to do that. I felt like, if there was distance between us, the fighting would stop. As a result, the kids ended up siding with their dad. That relationship is still very, very strained, very hard, and very sad. I miss them every day of my life. They’re beautiful boys. They’re smart boys. That’s a real heartache.

This is what I think: when my husband got sick, when I was still going through a lot of the back and forth with my [second] husband, if I had been me twenty years ago, I would not have been able to manage any of the things that I’ve managed over the last ten years. We can have what we feel is a broken spirit or a lack of resilience, but resilience can be learned.

I don’t think that I’m special—not like movie star kind of special. If I was going to say anything about myself, it is that I am amazingly resilient. Somebody gave me a coffee cup for Christmas this year and the outside says, “You’re the strongest person I know.” The inside says, “That’s all.” I love that cup! Every morning it tells me that, whatever it is, I can do it.

I will not die by suicide. Who knows what it will be, but it will not be suicide. Every now and then, I’ll have that little niggling thought. I think this is another thing: there’s a certain thought process that I always went through before I had an attempt. That thought process would start, “This is really hard. Life is so hard. Life is too much. I can’t take it anymore. I’m not going to take it anymore. I’m going to kill myself,” and then take the action. It’s a process.

For me, now, if any of that internal messaging starts, I can do something about that. I can pick up the phone and call somebody, and most likely they’re going to tell me, “Stop doing what you’re doing! You’re working too hard!” You know, those little messages that I get. I have people who know me well enough that they’ll go, “Wait a minute. What aren’t you doing to take care of yourself that’s making this so hard?”

Because life is hard. At fifty-seven, life is not going to get easier for Cheryl. I mean, my back hurts. There’s a Jimmy Buffett song, “My Head Hurts, My Feet Stink and I Don’t Love Jesus.” There might be a nursing home in my future. Who knows? My boys are not going to take care of me. My oldest son says he’ll take care of me. I have a girlfriend who’s like thirty years younger, and there’s another friend who’s a little bit older than I am, and we’re like The Three Amigos. [The younger friend] says, “I’m going to take care of y’all when you get old. I’m going to get you a room in my house, and I’m going to take care of the bitties.” She calls us “the bitties.” You know, your friends die, you lose a partner, you lose your parents. Lots of hard stuff comes down the pipe. You personally get diagnosed with cancer. You don’t know. It’s how you meet the day.

I watch my husband. I’m the person who has seen everything that has been done to him, physically. He was on the feeding tube for about six months to try to help him gain weight and he also couldn’t swallow. He was being treated at a medical center and all the psychiatrists came in.

They bring like ten interns and fellows and they all stand over the bed going, “Mr. Sharp, how are you going to manage being on the feeding tube?”

He goes, “I’m going to dream about food. I’m going to smell every piece of food she brings in here. I’m going to watch the cooking channel. I’m going to write out meal plans on my computer. I’m going to take pictures of food. I am going to love food. I’m just not going to eat any.”

That’s an amazing attitude. And he did! Now we’re both addicted to the food channel.

Today’s a new day and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.

I cannot tell you how physically horrible what he has been through has been. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never known anybody. I worked in hospice, for Pete’s sake! [Seeing] somebody who is so challenged by that much physical pain and that much discomfort… I can’t feel sorry for myself. He wakes up every day and he goes, “Today’s a new day and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got. I might not be able to do much. I may not be able to get out of this bed. I may not be able to get off this sofa. But I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”

We’ve had to have the conversations around death and dying. I have my own thinking around what that process would be like for me; he has his own way of thinking about it. He just says, “There’s still so much I want to do. There’s still so much I enjoy. It doesn’t matter how bad I hurt. There are books to read. There’s music to listen to. There’s food. I’ll never, ever walk away from a meal and not appreciate it. I love my dog.”

Des: Any final thoughts?

Cheryl: I’m a grumpy old lady. I can be so grumpy. I’m not nice and chipper all the time, but I am resilient. I do love my life and I don’t regret it. A lot of stuff has happened in those fifty-seven years, but I don’t regret it. I’ve learned so much. We, the attempt survivor folks, have a lot of work to do educating people.

I guess my final thought to whomever reads this is that, yes, you can live through this. You can come out on the other side of it. Yes, it’s going to be hard work, but you can do it. It’s possible. That’s what I wake up with every day. There are lots of things that are possible. A permanent solution to a temporary problem is never a good idea. I absolutely get it. I talked to someone today who, like I said, wakes up every day and has to make a conscious decision that this is not going to be the day. He’s such a beautiful man. My hope for him is that will change, and he will join our group.

Cheryl’s story is sponsored by a grant from the hope & grace fund, a project of New Venture Fund in partnership with global women’s skincare brand, philosophy, inc. Thanks also Jake Filton for providing the transcription to Cheryl’s interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.

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About Live Through This
Live Through This is a series of portraits and true stories of suicide attempt survivors. Its mission is to change public attitudes about suicide for the better; to reduce prejudice and discrimination against attempt survivors; to provide comfort to those experiencing suicidality by letting them know that they’re not alone and tomorrow is possible; to give insight to those who have trouble understanding suicidality, and catharsis to those who have lost a loved one; and to be used as a teaching tool for clinicians in training, or anyone else who might benefit from a deeper understanding of first-person experiences with suicide.
More Information
Tax-deductible donations are made possible by Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization, which sponsors Live Through This. Contributions for the charitable purposes of Live Through This must be made payable to Fractured Atlas only and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.
Please Stay
If you’re hurting, afraid, or need someone to talk to, please reach out to one of the resources below. Someone will reach back. You are so deeply valued, so incomprehensibly loved—even when you can’t feel it—and you are worth your life.
Find Help

You can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. Trans Lifeline is at 877-565-8860 (U.S.) or 877-330-6366 (Canada). The Trevor Project is at 866-488-7386. If you’d like to talk to a peer, contains links to warmlines in every state. If you’re not in the U.S., click here for a link to crisis centers around the world. If you don’t like talking on the phone, you can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.

NOTE: Many of these resources utilize restrictive interventions, like active rescues (wellness or welfare checks) involving law enforcement or emergency services. If this is a concern for you, you can ask if this is a possibility at any point in your conversation. Trans Lifeline does not implement restrictive interventions for suicidal people without express consent. A warmline is also less likely to do this, but you may want to double-check their policies.

Live Through This is dedicated to the lives of so many friends and family members lost to suicide over the years. If you would like to add the name of a loved one to this list, please email me.
Live Through This is dedicated to the lives of so many friends and family members lost to suicide over the years. If you would like to add the name of a loved one to this list, please email me.