The Pivoting Point
There comes a moment in any life, or even within a life experience where everything changes. Often it can be a single moment, or series of moments where the entire universe seems to shift irrevocably from one way of being to another one. I call these moments pivoting points and if you look back carefully you can identify them within your life story. Once you get your eye in, you can often spot them before they happen too.
One of my major pivoting points came when I was nineteen years old. It wasn’t when I grabbed the pills, nor was it when I first heard the siren. It was when a stranger’s voice broke through the partial
silence and darkness and changed things totally for me.
She said, “What are you in for, kid?”
I’d seen her brought in earlier, her face bruised and bloodied and her
cotton night dress torn and I’d turned over in my bed and hid my
face. You can’t gaze easily on the sufferings of others when your own is self-inflicted, after all.
I wasn’t sure what to say. To put it simply seemed… well, blunt. To
try and put it delicately seemed insulting. So I explained in as few
words as I could and hoped she would shut up and go to sleep herself. I’d already lain awake, wide eyed, for hours, head pounding and with tears trickling down so regularly my pillow was damp. I wasn’t expecting sleep.
But she didn’t. This voice, a rough Scouse accent made rougher by
smoking, became strangely kinder.
“Come over here and tell me about it,” she said.
“I’m not sure I am allowed to,” I said.
“Never mind them, just come over.”
I slipped out of bed, bare feet cold on the tiled floor and came into
the shadowy lee of her curtained bed. They’d left the curtains partly
drawn, to shield the new woman from the elderly and somewhat senile lady in the next bed. I couldn’t see her well in the dim light and at my age, anyone over thirty was hard to place age-wise. Over thirty for sure, she was dressed in her night things, just as she’d been found. There was blood on the front of the nightie. I’d heard them offer her a hospital gown but she’d refused. There was something dignified about the refusal; a clinging of pride to the rags she’d come into hospital in, clutched almost as holy relics.
“So, what happened?”
Where to start? The thing about suicide attempts is it’s very hard to make someone understand the depth of the pain and explaining why seldom actually makes it clear quite how much you were hurting. The
circumstances often seem trivial to others. I guess it wasn’t the
break-up of the relationship that was the final straw; I’d known when
I ended it that it was the best move I could make. Some relationships are doomed before they start and that one really was. I’d been doing so well up to the point he got on the same bus as me, and that was when it felt as though a great aching chasm had opened up inside me. But the thing no-one was likely to understand was that the shape of that chasm wasn’t his shape but my own. I had a real shock to realise that all the pain and anguish created by seeing him again was not due to missing him but actually due to missing myself.
Shamanic workers talk about something called Soul Loss. This is where the soul fragments due to trauma and long-term distress. The fragmented soul-part vanishes to a place between the worlds where it feels itself to be safe and stays there until it is retrieved. In the
moments on that bus I realised that a pretty hefty chunk of my soul
was no longer where it should be and the shock of this triggered a
massive emotional meltdown. I couldn’t bear to be myself any more. I hated myself for having allowed this damage to occur and more than anything I simply wanted the pain inside to stop.
So I went home to my flat, counted out tablets and when I realised I
didn’t have enough, I went to the pharmacy on the corner and bought more. I realised what I was doing halfway and picked up the phone and called someone. The friend I rang asked me some questions, then he rang and sent an ambulance direct to my flat, called me back and stayed talking to me till the ambulance arrived.
Reaching the hospital, I was offered a choice. I could take some emetics and throw up what I had taken, or have my stomach pumped. I took the emetic option. By some kind chance, another friend who was a nurse was coming off duty as I came in and she stayed with me during the process, held my hair back and helped get me comfortable later.
But it was later in the night when the misery really hit. In the evening, I’d also discovered my period had started, so obviously the whole she-bang was worsened by hormone imbalance, but the headache and the cramps went unrelieved as they couldn’t give me any pain relief. I just lay crying steadily hour after hour and in the small hours, the arrival of the woman opposite made me feel even worse. The nurses were asking her things and I couldn’t help but hear it all. I’d done this to myself but she’d been beaten up and thrown out on the street by her own husband. Guilt compounded my misery.
Sitting on her bed though, she talked to me with such wisdom and
understanding and she drew my story out gently and I realised that
she and I were sisters in some strange ways. We’d both been victims
of steady emotional and physical violence over a fair length of time
and had believed we could “change” the guy by loving them. No
more. She had two young children to go back to. She knew she’d never change her man but the prison doors of her life were as harsh as real steel.
“You’ve got a chance to live,” she said, the next morning. “You’ve got
away. I can’t. I have my babies to go back for; I can’t leave. I’ve
tried. Your way and others.”
She showed me her wrists, ropey with thick scar tissue.
“Promise me something, darlin’,” she asked when I came over to say goodbye.
She took my hands in hers and looked me in the eye.
“Live,” she said. “Live for yourself and live for me.”
I don’t think I ever asked her name. I suspect she may well be dead by now; that’s twenty five years ago. But whenever I reach the point
where the gap inside me that should be filled with a soul fragment
that had fled for safety when life has become unendurable becomes
painful again, I think of her and bless her unknown name and give
thanks that out of her unimaginable pain she had wisdom and
compassion for a young woman whose own life had become agony beyond bearing
(this article originally appeared at http://sisterhoodofstrength.wordpress.com )