Trigger: this post talks about suicide

First of all, please know my son is most definitely alive as I write this.

Second, please know I’m really scared to write it.

I’m really scared that people will be offended, or disagree, or tell me that I’m wrong. A bad mother, even.

But what I have to tell you is my truth, my lived experience, so here goes. 

This post is about boundaries

Boundaries have been some of my greatest learnings in my 40s – but to get to that, first I have to talk about suicide.

I WISH we lived in a world where suicide wasn’t such a familiar word. Where it didn’t come up in conversation every day. Where it wasn’t such a very real option for people struggling, simply because it’s so common and so in our collective consciousness.

But it is a familiar word, and NOT talking about it isn’t the solution.

We need to talk about it. 

We need to normalise the fact that people consider ending their own lives and that it’s quite natural to feel that way, and so it IS OK to talk about it and get help. 

And that there’s no shame in any of that. Zero. Do you hear me?

NO SHAME.

Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence and judgment. - Brene Brown

When my son was 17 and had his first baby on the way it was the first time he talked to me about wishing he was dead. 

We made a commitment to each other and marked it with matching semi-colon tattoos.

Our commitment was this: He’d always ask for help, and I’d always be there for him.

OK, so now I can get to the boundaries part.

Watching the struggle

When we watch one of our children struggling – and not just the everyday teenage ups and downs but REALLY STRUGGLING – prolonged pain and suffering over a period of years, it’s the most natural thing in the world to want to rescue them.

To protect them.

To keep them safe. 

For me, and I know for so many other parents, that meant enabling him. In an addiction, and in unhealthy, unresourceful patterns of thinking and behaviour.

In my mind, he was always one step away from death (by suicide, or because of making desperate choices that would put him in harm’s way):

  • If I don’t give him this money, he’ll die
  • If I don’t find him a place to live, he’ll die
  • If I don’t swoop in and rescue him from this bad situation, he’ll die
  • If I’m not available to him 24/7, he’ll die
  • If I don’t answer his phone call, he’ll die

When I realised that was a) unsustainable and b) probably mostly untrue, I rocked on up to my psychologist and probably scared the shit out of him by announcing:

I need to be ok with my son dying.

To his credit, he quickly hid the shock behind his eyes.

So we worked it through. And unsurprisingly, he didn’t help me get ok with the idea of my son dying, because I’m not a psychopath.

What he did help me do was recognise that there were a number of (if not many) steps between the pressing thing I thought I needed to do for my son, and his eventual death.

Building distance

For example, if I didn’t give him money “for food” right now, he might be hungry (or he might just try another way to get a hit other than by lying to me about being hungry). He might get pretty low and desperate. People around him might help. He might sell something for money. He might ask someone else. He might start to consider taking his own life. He’d likely reach out for help again then. And then eventually, if he headed in that direction, I’d have the opportunity to step in, bring in professionals, or call for help.

What seemed like a simple if-then to me was actually an if-then-maybe-then-maybe-then-maybe-then-maybe-THEN, and THAT I could live with.

We just built some distance from the horrific outcome I was attaching to my immediate action or non-action.

Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously - Prentis Hemphill

The other thing we did was talk about was what if

What if he did die? What if he did successfully take his own life? What if he did make desperate choices and get himself killed somehow?

I played it through in my mind. 

The heart-shattering, sickening possibility of my son no longer being alive. What it would be like to get the call. How I’d react. Who I’d tell. Who I’d need to look after. The order of things.

In my mind, I planned the funeral.

Creating boundaries

I guess you need to know I have a frame of reference here. 

I have very real experiences I can draw on, of receiving the phone call to tell me my husband was missing, presumed drowned. Of watching someone I love have the police arrive on their doorstep with every parent’s worst nightmare. Of IDing and dressing bodies of loved ones taken too soon and farewelling them.

My imaginings of my son’s death weren’t based on imaginings.

And ultimately what it had to come down to was this: boundaries.

A precision balancing act between his needs, my needs, possibility, reality, what’s best for him, what’s best for me, what I can control and what I can’t. What’s mine to own and what’s not. What I can take responsibility for and what I can’t.

The boundaries are different for everyone, so I’m not going to get into the black and white of where mine are. But what I can tell you is that my boundaries are both clear and up for consideration in any given circumstance.

What I can tell you is that when I started establishing and maintaining boundaries I stopped enabling my son and he started on a journey of recovery and healing.

What I can tell you is that he has, and no doubt will again, relapsed in his addiction, and attempted suicide. 

What I can tell you is that without boundaries, neither his life nor mine would be actually “living.” They’d be existing, surviving, and doing so torturously. 

Listen-are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?
Mary Oliver

What I can tell you is that a fissure in my heart opens every time I can’t get hold of him, and every time I have to say no, and I start planning his funeral again. 

And that the fissure tentatively starts to heal when he has a win, or a good day, or another day he’s just alive.

Hearts are designed that way. It’s ok for them to break because they’re incredibly skilled at healing. Their scars make them stronger. It’s their job to do that for us: break, then heal.

An invitation

So, m’love, I’d invite you to think about one place in your life, where you could/should/might be able to have a boundary. 

If you look at the status quo, who is it serving? Who is it harming? What does all the grey in between look like? 

Play out the possibilities. Become intimately familiar with the drivers.

Claim your power in the space through knowledge, awareness, and informed decisions.

Brené Brown’s research tells us that the people who live the most compassionately and wholeheartedly are also the most boundaried. 

Boundaries allow us to give. To grow. To be courageous and generous. 

A boundary sounds like a limitation. But it actually makes us free.

I love you my son x

____________________________________________________________________

Breaking the silence ❤️

Looking for some help or support for yourself or a loved one?  

Maybe you’d like to help in a tangible way by volunteering or donating?  

Here are some great links and apps to help you build more blanket forts!

  • Kidsline – open 24/7 – children up to age 18 (0800kidsline)

WATCH: Jessica’s Story – a five part NZ series about suicide and mental health in NZ

Every time I have to set a boundary, it stresses me out.  But I do it for the same reason I've been building blanket forts since I was a little kid.  To create a safe place for myself.
-AnxietyBlob