Need Help?

Scott Petersen

is a suicide attempt survivor.
this is his story

Scott Petersen

is a suicide attempt survivor.

"I survived a suicide attempt."

Scott Petersen is a practicing social worker and Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work. He was 47 when I interviewed him in Denver, CO, on February 27, 2015.

My mom died by suicide when I was five. I didn’t actually know the cause of her death until I was seventeen, when I was in the hospital following my own suicide attempt. My family created this whole story about how she had pneumonia and that was how she died.

There was even one point when I was twelve or thirteen years old and I was hanging out with a friend of the family. He said to me, “It’s really too bad about your mom.”

I said, “What do you mean “too bad?””

He said, “Well, you know, she killed herself.”

I said, “She didn’t kill herself, she died of pneumonia”

He said, “No, my parents told me that she killed herself.”

I was driving in the car with my dad later that day and was like, “Jeff says mom killed herself.”

He said, “Oh, no. No, no. I don’t know why he would tell you that. She died of pneumonia.”

I said, “Okay.” I let it go.

They say kids pick up stuff, so maybe on some unconscious level I knew, but when I made my first attempt at seventeen, I did not have in my mind that it had anything to do with my mom. Act Up became a part of my life later, but talk about “silence equals death.” The irony is that they were trying to protect me, and it had the exact opposite effect.

It turned out that my mom had a pretty severe mental illness. They used to tell me that she was on vacation or that she was out looking for work, but it turned out that she was in and out of mental health treatment quite a bit. She was a trauma survivor herself. I don’t know all the details of that, but I know that some things happened when she was a young person. Unfortunately, I don’t know that I’ll ever know all of what happened there.

My dad’s mom died in a mental health institution, as they used to call it, and my mom’s dad had really severe depression, so I have good genes. Truth be told, I was actually doing okay up until about senior year of high school. I definitely had stumbled a little here and there, and I never really fit in and what not, but I threw myself into my schoolwork, and that became what saved me. Sometime around the seventh grade I made the decision that I was just going to do that, and I did. I started getting rewards, getting good grades, and that’s all I did. It helped. It really did. It got me through to senior year.

Then the fall of senior year, I was at a Catholic school, and we would go on these retreats. We had our senior retreat. I don’t know if you know much about the retreat experiences, but they are really intense: sleep deprivation, you’re away, it’s meant to lower your defenses. Originally, I wasn’t going to go, but I had a crush on this girl who said, “You should go! You should go!”

I said, “Okay, I’ll go.”

While we were on this retreat, we learned that one of our classmates attempted suicide. She was supposed to be on the retreat with us. I think that really kind of sent me into a little bit of tailspin. At the time, I could not have told you why, but it did. Then we got back from the retreat and I was behind on my schoolwork, which was a major no-no in my life. We had some big stuff coming up, and it occurred to me that I wasn’t going to be able to do it. Then this girl I had a major crush on made it pretty clear that it was not mutual. This started to unfold over a period of about four days.

My dad had been prescribed some sleeping medication, so I went to his medicine cabinet, emptied it out, took it to the pharmacy, and got it refilled. I had about sixty or so of these pills. I woke up on a Saturday morning and I took them. I still remember that sensation. I still can’t take medicine, and this was thirty years ago. I took it all, and it all went down; I didn’t throw up or anything.

My dad found me, and he didn’t know what was going on. He called a friend of the family who was a physician, who told him to call an ambulance. The ambulance got there and got me to the hospital. I was unconscious and have no recollection. They pumped my stomach, apparently, and I was in intensive care for a couple of days. Sunday night, I started to sort of regain consciousness. Monday or Tuesday, I was in the inpatient psychiatric program where I stayed for a month. I got out, didn’t do well, and went back in for a couple weeks.

That was my first entry into the mental health system. I was prescribed lots of different medications, the side effects of which were far worse for me than the good effects. I never really found a medication that actually made me feel better. It’s hard to prove a negative. Maybe it prevented me from feeling worse. That was high school.

I was diagnosed with dysthymia; major depressive disorder; back then, I think it was still called manic depressive disorder; borderline personality disorder.

Des: So, everything. All of the mood disorders.

Scott: Yeah, I got them all. Butwe had good insurance. My grandparents had resources, so I had pretty much whatever I needed in terms of treatment. I got the best treatment money could buy back then.

Freshman year of college I discovered alcohol. Where tofranil, norpramin, lithium, and a bunch of others didn’t work, alcohol worked. Alcohol led to other drugs, and I ended up in drug treatment in 1988. I spent my twenty-first birthday in a drug treatment program. Again, same thing: good insurance, good resources. That helped a little bit. 

I was abstinent for about six months, then I got a job at a bike shop. Cycling has always been a big part of my life. Alcohol was a big part of that scene. I introduced cocaine to that scene and gained instant credibility and popularity. Within six months of having left treatment, I was probably worse off than when I went under. That kind of set me off on that path.

In the meantime, and my memory admittedly is not super intact for a lot of this, I was in and out of treatment, both outpatient and inpatient—the so-called revolving door. Somewhere along the way, I got the idea of self-injury, or non-suicidal episodes. I started out with cutting, but then I discovered burning. That was the thing for me. That was like a drug.

In the midst of all that, I managed to graduate from undergrad. I got kicked out of the dorms for my behavior. I went before the conduct board multiple times, which was like an inquisition. It was bad. I got accused of all kinds of stuff.

Des: More than the stuff you’d done?

Scott: Oh, yeah. Then they’d put words in my mouth and tell me. It was bad.

I don’t even know how accurate or legitimate this is, but I also had kind of this pattern of lots of high risk behaviors. A lot of it involved cycling. We used to do this thing, in Chicago, downtown. We would start at one end of the city and see who could get to the other end the fastest and run the most red lights. Stuff like that. There were accidents. I mean, this was a long time ago. Twenty years ago. I guess that was more passive. I was fine if I would have died.

I did a lot of HIV/AIDS work in the late 80s and into the early 90s. That’s how I got introduced to harm reduction folks, through Edith Springer, who used to be the Executive Director of the New York Peer AIDS Education Coalition. She was the one who got me connected with harm reduction and probably saved my life, which is the good news about harm reduction. The not-so-good news about harm reduction, for me, is that I had, all of a sudden, all these playmates. My drug use got really out of control.

My grandmother—my mom’s mom—died in the fall of 1998. That was a really tough loss for me and really caught me off guard. I made my second and last really serious attempt that fall in a hotel room with alcohol and heroin. We were actually at the harm reduction conference, and a friend of mine, who I was rooming with, found me. That was a bad night, but I got through it. He got me through it.

It was also around this time that I met my therapist. I’ve had probably more than a dozen therapists, but this is the one that I ended up having for sixteen years. It’s interesting. She definitely saved my life, but she didn’t do any of the stuff that you would think, or that they’re told, to do in those circumstances. I had a bottle of [pills] at home that was sort of my parachute if I needed it. I think there were probably one hundred and twenty of them in this bottle. She knew that I had them and we would talk about it. She never flinched.

There were days when I left her office and I didn’t know if I was going to see her. We sometimes would meet two or three times a week. But there was something about the way that she met me in my experience where I was like, “She must know something that I don’t know, so I’ll just have to go with that. I’m gonna go with that for now,” and you know what? I think that’s what got me through. She believed in me. It’s not like she said that, like, “I believe in you,” she just did by trusting me.

Marsha Linehan talks about how you have to trust your clients, and my therapist was doing that. She trusted me. I have these vivid memories of walking out of her office, looking at her and thinking, “Okay, if you think I can make it, I’ll make it, but I certainly don’t think that right now.” I put her through hell.

A big question in the field is whether it’s okay to be a therapist who has lived experience. I still wrestle with that, but I think, partly because of that therapist and partly because of my [experiences], I can sit with people in a way that I don’t think I otherwise could have. I don’t know if that makes sense. I hate that this is so cliche, but I’ve been there and I know. I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I feel like I know enough.

My therapist got me through a ton of stuff for sixteen years. I kind of grew up with her. But during that time I was still using a lot, still struggling with a lot of suicidal thoughts, and I still had this [bottle of pills].

Then one day a mentor of mine said to me, “You know, Scott…” He didn’t know my whole story, but he knew enough. He’s like, “You can only take someone else as far as you, yourself, have been, and you shouldn’t really send anyone [where] you, yourself, are unwilling to go.”

It was the right thing at the right time.

People always ask, “When did you [overcome this]?” It was never one big thing. It was lots of little things, but that was definitely a big-little thing. I was trying to help people heal, but I wasn’t healing myself. I would sit with people. I was leading this double life of trying to be present with people and help them find their way, but I hadn’t found mine.

That was sort of a turning point in a lot of ways for me that I think, ultimately, crystallized my decision to get into recovery from alcohol and drug use problems, which I did in 2004. So far, so good. One thing I learned, and then have learned in an ongoing way, is that there’s a big difference between being abstinent and being in recovery. I mean, I’ve been abstinent for over ten years, but I think it’s really only the last couple of years that I’ve started to get a sense of what recovery, or what healing, really means because, without the alcohol and drugs, the suicidal thoughts really came on strong.

I never measured it, but I would have to say the suicidal thoughts probably occupied close to ninety percent of my waking life. I think I was at a point where, if I was going to, this time, it was gonna be the real thing. No one would find me. I would spend hours [researching methods]. That myopia [took over]. I literally could not see a way out. I couldn’t. That was all I knew.

I have a remarkable wife. We’ve had Sophia, [our dog], for eight years. My dad died very suddenly in a pretty bad car accident. Between losing my mom at five to suicide and then losing him in a car accident…

While this was all happening, my wife and I were in couples counseling… I hadn’t shared anything [with our couples therapist]. I was like, “That’s the last thing I’m doing.” I was afraid she was a little more on the traditional end of things and I was going to end up in the hospital.

I was seeing an individual therapist at the time, and still am—someone who was able to handle my suicidal thoughts. She’s like, “I really think you need to say something to your therapist, and to your wife.”

I was like, “No freakin’ way,” but I eventually did. It was probably the best thing I could have done.

The therapist didn’t overreact. She didn’t send me to the hospital. None of that traditional stuff. She even went so far as to say, “Look, I can’t stop you from doing that. You know that and I know that.” I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be the therapist to a therapist. It’s not an enviable job.

Anyway, she kind of did a mini intervention, and it was that that ultimately led me [back to DBT]. I had done a cycle of DBT in Chicago. Of all the things I’ve tried, it was the thing that was the most helpful, especially with the suicidal thoughts. It doesn’t help with all the shit that leads to the suicidal thoughts, but it helps get a handle on that. As a couple of my therapists have said, “You know, Scott, it’s kind of hard doing therapy with you when you’ve got a gun pointed to your head.”

The thoughts still come and go. One of the things that’s been most freeing is [understanding] that they may never go away. I’ve had a lot of practice. Those neuro pathways are well-worn. It’s funny, these silly little things that you probably don’t get out of the manual. My therapist said, “Scott, I know you’re going to think about it and the thoughts are gonna come—just don’t invite them in for dinner.” Honestly, that’s been one of the most helpful things. [The thoughts] come, I see them, I don’t freak out, and then they eventually pass. I don’t entertain them. I don’t linger with them. I just let them pass. The DBT has helped with that.

The other thing that’s been critical is that I’ve had a mindfulness practice since about 1993. I went on this retreat. I was in a pretty rough spot in my life. The guy who directed me on this retreat, he’s a Jesuit priest. The first night we met, he was like, “Look, we can do the usual retreat routine here, if you want, but I don’t think that’s what you need. I’ve got something else in mind for you, but it’s hard, so why don’t you sleep on it and we’ll talk tomorrow?”

I said, “I’ll take the hard thing.”

He taught me how to practice meditation and that’s been something that I’ve really been able to make my own. It was through him that I met my eventual Zen teacher, Pat Hawk. Pat died the same year that my dad died. Turns out though, Marsha Linehan was one of Pat’s students, so now Marsha is my Zen teacher. That has really worked out.

I don’t know who said this, but another one of those things that has really stuck with me is the idea that, if we do not transform our pain, we will transmit our pain.

I think that’s a little bit of what happened in my family. I didn’t know what was going on with my mom, I didn’t understand the circumstances of her death, but she was clearly suffering. My dad was really suffering. And there I was, seventeen and trying pretty hard to die. In some circles, you’d call that an “unconscious reenactment.” My mom died alone in a hotel room. My second attempt was alone in a hotel room. I didn’t connect those dots at the time, but it happened.

I guess what happens is it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where people with lived experience get this implicit—sometimes explicit—message that a helping profession isn’t for them, but they join anyway for lots of different reasons. Then, part of what happens is people don’t talk about their experience, which means it continues to affect them. By not talking about it, they continue to carry it, which then can have a negative impact on the work, whereas if we invite people to tell their story and talk about it in ways that are thoughtful and intentional, even a little bit, [it can help].

I would say lived experience is neither necessary nor sufficient to do our work. It’s more what we do with it. There are lots of things to do with lived experience that have nothing to do with the so-called “helping professions,” whatever that means. There are lots of things you can do over the course of the helping professions that may or may not involve direct contact with people who are needing services.

I guess I’m sort of increasingly at a place in my life where I’ve had these silos, these compartmentalizations of my life, and it’s exhausting. It is truly exhausting. I’m just running out of energy for that. I’m trying to merge those roles.

I still worry, now that this is out there. At the same time, I guess there’s the saying, “It’ll get better.” I don’t know if it will get better. How do I know that? When people used to tell me that, I was like, “What the hell do you know?” That kind of went in one ear and out the other. But somewhere along the way I started to get the idea of it can get better or it could get better. That left me just enough room to say, “Well, it might not, but it could.”

I suppose that’s part of the message I want to carry forward: I don’t know if it will, but it canget better. I think one of the things that’s been most freeing and healing for me is to hear the stories of others who have walked a similar path and to look at them and say, “Really? Even you?”

I don’t know what the future holds, but I feel like I’m at a place in my life where I’ve achieved enough healing. I’m safe enough and stable enough that I feel more comfortable sharing my story now. It’s only one part of my identity. I think for a long time, it was my identity. That said, who I am today has a lot to do with my mom’s death and everything that followed. There’s no question. Would I want to do it all over again? Probably not, I don’t know. If I could pick and choose, maybe. There’s definitely some things I wish I could un-remember, un-have, or un-experience.

I’ve been asked to tell my story before and always said no because I just didn’t feel like it was the right time or the right place. I feel that in light of where I am in my own journey and the support I have, I think I’m at that place where [I can]. I guess the other thing is, I’m good at what I do, and what I’m telling you isn’t new. I hope that makes sense. This is me.

Now that I’ve said all this, it doesn’t all of a sudden de-skill me as a teacher or as a therapist, right? I’m still me. I’d like to think, without this thing hanging over my head—like I’m an impostor, almost, a fraud—that it might free me up a little bit. I hope also that it will free other people up to be like, “You know what, yes you can.”

Des: I want you to talk a little more about harm reduction.

Scott: I always say my dad was the first harm reductionist in my life, before I even knew what harm reduction was. He hung in there with me. He really did. I think about what it might have been like for him to find his son passed out—his seventeen year old son. This was, again, before I knew about my mom. I mean, holy shit, to re-live that? Exactly what he went through with my mom, except I’m his seventeen year old son?

He hung in there with me, he really did. Not that we didn’t have our moments, and battles and fights. He never gave up on me, though; he always believed in me. I had friends who were going through a lot of similar stuff whose parents were not so understanding. I don’t know where that came from.

It’s funny. My dad never understood this. He’s like, “I don’t know how you do what you do.” 

I’m like, “Dad, seriously? You really don’t? Half of what I do I learned from you.” It’s true.

He’s like, “I don’t know where you get all that.”

At times, he had to pick me up at the ER, bail me out, but importantly he he always believed that I was going to get through it, somehow. I don’t know why he would, given the death of his mom and the death of my mom, and then me.

I was involved in a lot of substance use and I had a lot of stigma. Substance use is like the scarlet A through Z. In some ways, as I was thinking about talking with you, that’s the thing I worry about even more. I mean, it’s one thing to have severe depression, but drug use? 

Anyway, I met Edith Springer at this workshop she came to do in Chicago on harm reduction in November of 1992. I’m like, “Where has this been all my life? This is the holy grail of helping people. This is it. This is what we need to be doing.”

Edith introduced me to this guy, Dan Bigg, who runs the Chicago Recovery Alliance in Chicago. I fully embraced it in my own life, and then started to introduce it into the work I was doing with other people. Historically, a big part of harm reduction was always syringe exchange, but over the years we’ve really expanded it and enlarged it into lots of other things. I’m of the opinion, as are many other people, that it applies equally well to mental health concerns, too. I mean, anything. Designated drivers, seatbelts, helmets when you ride your bicycle—harm reduction is all around us.

As Edith used to say, “Dead people don’t recover.” A big part of what harm reduction was and is for me, is keeping people alive long enough so that, if and when they’re ready to take some next steps, they’re around to be able to do that. In some ways, again, we would do all that stuff with other people, but not with people who had struggled with substance use or people who had borderline personality disorder. Harm reduction, for me, was really a defining moment. It’s very bottom up and user driven. In some ways, harm reduction was the substance use equivalent of, “Nothing for us without us.” 

It started out in Rotterdam. Injection drug users organized and were like, “Here’s what we need. What are you gonna do for us?” It eventually made its way over to the United States. Edith was a big part of that.

Harm reduction gave me permission, in a way, and a community too. I think one of the things about our drug treatment system is it’s sort of abstinence-based. Abstinence only. I think part of that is we don’t want to see that other stuff, so we don’t. We create systems that don’t allow it, whereas harm reduction is sort of radically committed to meeting people where they’re at. I mean, how many conditions for which a person might seek treatment do we say, “Look, first you have to give up your symptoms and then we’ll treat you?” Like, “Look, you can’t have suicidal thoughts here, so you need to go take care of that,” or, “We don’t do the whole self-injury thing here, sorry. You can get treatment here, but first you have to stop using.” It’s like saying, “Well, as soon as you get your hypertension under control, why don’t you come here and we can help you with that.”

It’s ridiculous. It’s preposterous. It’s unethical. With these other conditions, we don’t even question it.

Des: Talk more about the self-injury—because we don’t often hear about it from men—and then that feeling of addiction that goes with it.

Scott: Here’s one of those worst fears of mental health providers: when I was in the hospital in high school, I met a girl who was cutting. I had never heard of that. I’m trying to remember the first moment, or the first time I tried it. I remember reading this book, it’s called A Bright Red Screammaybe. I started to experiment a little bit with cutting. Nothing very serious, early on, and honestly, I was just sort of fascinated by it.

There was this feeling of control, like I was acting on me. I was in control of the pain, rather than the pain being in control of me. Maybe that’s one way I would think of it. It was definitely a distraction from the internal pain. Then, when I started using and drinking, they started to go hand in hand.

This is a little bit harder to talk about.

Des: Don’t do it if you don’t feel comfortable.

Scott: Okay. I think I still have some shame on it.

Well, so then the burning thing came along. I’m trying to remember how I got the idea, but I think it was from someone I was dating. I won’t go into the details of all of that, but there was a rush that I would get that almost felt like the rush of using. I would do it a lot on my arms and a little bit on my legs. There was this whole ritual that would go with it, and it sort of would become all-consuming. Then, the scars became something really fascinating to me, because I could peel my skin off. That’s how they got infected. This one got pretty badly infected.

Again, my therapist knew what was going on. I was pretty committed to long sleeves, but occasionally one of the wounds would open up and would bleed through my shirts. I remember being in her office one day. She’s like “What’s going on there?” I showed her. She didn’t flinch.

I think after I had this infection here, that kind of freaked me out a little bit. The doctor freaked me out. He was like, “You probably don’t want a staph infection.” I don’t even know if that’s even possible, but he certainly planted the seed and it scared the shit out of me—I would say, for about a good year, probably. I’m trying to remember. It was probably around when my grandmother died in ’98, that’s when the wheels came off. It was probably right around that time that I learned about burning, when I was in undergrad with this woman. And then that planted the seed, and somehow, fall of ’98 into the summer probably of ’99. Summers in Chicago are pretty hot and humid, and wearing long sleeves gets old. People were starting to notice, anyway.

I still have had a lot of shame about that.

Des: How do you feel about your scars now?

Scott: They’re fading. Every now and then, someone will ask me about them. I’m still a little embarrassed of them. They’re kind of a constant reminder of that era. I still have some mixed feelings about them. On the one hand, wow, I’ve come a long way, but I don’t think they’re ever going to go away. They’re pretty bad. I still have a little bit of [a feeling of] like, “Man, what?”

Des: I think I feel more shameful about my scars than the fact that I tried to kill myself.

Scott: Yeah, I think that’s right.

Des: It’s a constant reminder. The light hits it a certain way, and you’re like, “Oh, I forgot about that for a minute.”

Scott: Yeah. I’ll forget, and someone will say, “What’s happened to your arms?”

It’s like, “Oh, fuck.” My routine is, “Oh, I’ve done a lot of cycling. Bike accidents,” and that’s usually enough.

This hasn’t happened in a while, especially the more faded they get, but every now and then someone would be like, “Bike accident? It doesn’t look like a bike accident.” And then, every now and then, someone would say, “Those look like burns.”

I would say the people who know about that [are part of] a very short list. But that’s part of who I am. I did it, and I haven’t done it in a long time.

Des: Do you ever feel like you want to?

Scott: Yeah. Sometimes, yeah. My friends like to joke that they don’t know too many people who have the capacity for pain that I have. That’s one of the ways that I channel that for the good—I was a competitive endurance athlete. It’s true, I have a lot of capacity for pain. I was able to channel that into that activity. My dad was a competitive athlete also. I think that filled that need, in a way.

Des: I have tattoos.

Scott: Yeah. I have tattoos. I got one and then I got a lot more. I do think sometimes about more tattoos. It doesn’t give me quite the same rush like the self-injury did. Not all the time, but I have some pretty vivid memories of some pretty intense physical sensations with that.

Des: Right, yeah. For me, I’ve been known to get more tattoos when I’m going through something, and they don’t hurt.

We’re running out of time. I have two questions. I want you to talk more about being a clinician and having that lived experience. Do you think that you need to disclose to be there with someone in that way?

Scott: No, absolutely not. I thought a little bit about this in advance of talking with you. It’s possible that a client can go to the Live Through This website and see this. It’s possible. I don’t think it happens as often as I think it does, but I’m aware that it could happen. It’s like if I were to disclose something to a class or to a group—once it’s out there, it’s out there. I can’t control it. But absolutely not, I don’t think it’s necessary. I would say I’ve probably used this kind of self-disclosure less than ten percent of the time.

Des: When would be an appropriate time?

Scott: If someone asks me a direct question and says, “What’s your deal? Have you been through this?”

Even then, I’m not just going to say, “Oh, yeah. Of course.” We’ll talk about it, and then it’s a matter of how much. Disclosure exists on a continuum. If I disclose, I will always check-in and say, “How’s that sitting with you? What do you make of that?” I think one of the things that gets lost in this discussion is that I think we have to be mindful that disclosure can go lots of ways.

Let’s say you and I were working together and I disclose to you that I have lived experience with suicidal thinking. Then you think, “Oh, he gets it, so I don’t need to tell him.” One day, we’re sitting there, and you have this thought, “I should probably tell Scott this thing that just happened. Oh, but I don’t have to tell him, because he’s been through it, so I’m not going to bother.”

We talk about this “assumption of sameness.” On the one hand, the therapist can make assumptions of sameness that everybody who has this diagnosis of borderline personality disorder is the same. I think it can go the other way too, where [a person might think], “Oh, well, Scott is in recovery. He knows, he gets it.” I always tell people, “Look, that’s a danger. We have to be really careful. If you find yourself having a thought, please make sure that you catch that, because we have to talk about that. Your experience and my experience, while they may be similar, they’re definitely not the same.” I don’t want the person to assume that, just because I have experience, I understand their experience. I really still want to know.

On occasion, when I’ve told them, [they’ll say], “Well, you’ve been through this, don’t you get it?”

I’m like, “Well, yes and no. More importantly, I want to get it from your point of view.” I will also follow up periodically, like, “I’m aware that I shared some things. I’m wondering how that’s sitting with you, how you’re feeling about that?”

I occasionally have disclosed, unsolicited. I might say, “Would it be okay if I shared a little bit of an experience I had that I think might be helpful?” I always ask permission before I launch into it. Again, it’s sort of need-to-know. I might say something like, “I’m not going to claim that I’ve been through what you’ve been through. I have walked with a lot of other people who have been through things similar to what you have been through. I’ve even had glimpses of things similar to that myself and I believe it can get better,” so that there is some credibility or authority.

The other thing that I have found with clients or with students is that I don’t have to disclose explicitly. They pick up on a vibe that’s in the room. That’s sometimes enough, I guess, because it informs who I am and how I sit with people.

Des: Is suicide still an option for you?

Scott: Yes, and it always will be. I don’t know what answer you usually get. I paused for a second. But I tell my clients that, too. Of course it will be, forever and ever, until the day I die.

Des: I think it’s interesting because the trope that’s kind of out there, if you are open about this kind of thing is, “I’m recovered. I’m great!” That’s not real.

Scott: And then it sneaks up on them. No, I think one of the things that has been the most helpful to me is the extent to which a few people in my life understand that, too. They get that that’s not going to go away. Part of that means that I can talk to them about it when it comes up.

Des: I started out wanting Live Through This to be really positive. Then I realized you can be honest and also be hopeful. They are not mutually exclusive.

Scott: Right, it’s a dialectic. Again, that DBT stuff. I mean, it’s true, I completely signed on to the DBT program, but that’s so much of what we talk about.

Both those things can be true. The fact that I’ve been able to get to that place and that there’s a handful of people in my life who’ve been able to get to that place with me means I can live in that place, and that I’m okay with it.

We talk about dialectical abstinence. I’m one hundred percent committed to my recovery and there’s a chance that I could relapse, so I have to plan for that. Even though I’m one hundred percent committed to not [relapsing], it could happen. I’m one hundred percent committed to my life, and life happens. I’ve got a lot of life ahead of me, I hope.

That’s the thing. My mom was thirty-three when she died. Thirty-three was a big birthday for me. Now I’m forty-seven. In some ways I felt like my mom’s fate was going to be my fate, and I was just buying time. I got her eyes and maybe I got her cause of death, too.

I think it’s been in the last couple years that I finally began to realize, maybe not. Maybe not.

I’ll tell you, there were days when I never thought I would say that, let alone believe it. Maybe I’d say it to get out of some therapist’s office. But honestly, when I said that to you just now, it came out pretty naturally, so that’s nice to hear that.

I just saw a good friend of mine, who I hadn’t seen in a long time. She said, “Scott, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen you smile that way,” so we’ll see, you know?


Thanks to Katie Boyd, Chris Croll, Sarah Fleming, and Matt Parr for providing the transcription to Scott’s interview, and to Sara Wilcox for editing.

Want to support Live Through This?

Live Through This is made possible in part by donations from incredible humans like you. If the project moves you and you have even a single dollar to spare, please consider donating. Every dollar donated goes straight back into the project. These funds allow for gear, web real estate and hosting, travel associated with the project, professional fees, conference attendance, and more.

For more ways to support Live Through This, be sure to check out the store, join in on the #STAY campaign by sharing a picture of you in your Live Through This gear, and subscribe to our mailing list!

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.