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What is a 'good' reason to live?

Updated: Dec 14, 2022

Hello friends. I hope you are well and taking good care of yourself. These weeks in the holiday season can feel frantic and hurried. And then the weeks afterwards can feel slow, monotonous and dark.

Thus, I thought it might be interesting to discuss a question that has come up during sessions often when I speak with a person who is feeling suicidal. The question is different at times in its wording, but the meaning is the same: "What is a 'good' reason to live?" And the answer is any reason to live is a good one. Sometimes, I think that people who are chronically suicidal think that they're just fooling themselves, or 'delaying the inevitable,' by remembering their reasons to live. I once heard someone tell me that the only thing keeping them here was their dog, and I replied, "And right now, that's enough."

See, that's the secret in creating a life worth living.

It's taking stock of the tiny incremental steps toward life and away from a self-imposed death. It's recognizing that any reason for living is a 'good' reason, and you are not 'putting off the inevitable' if you put off suicide today because of your dog, your spouse, your belief in a higher power, your need to see how the current season of your favorite TV show ends, etc.

It's not punishing yourself if you can't see yourself making it to a certain age or stage in life, but instead saying, "I choose to make it to tomorrow."

It's continuing to be curious about what being suicidal keeps you from doing, and how straddling the line between life and death may be keeping you stuck.

It's about building a life worth living, which often means getting really deep into what is keeping you focused on death and its siren call of escapism. Remove the things you want to escape from, and add more of the things that make you want to live, even if for a tiny amount of time. More time alive means more time to reduce your suicidal thoughts and ultimately save your life.

It's being proud of yourself when you are able to manage your suicidal thoughts or have whole days or weeks without them. That is huge. Thinking about suicide was a way you used to cope, and now you are replacing it with other options.

It's riding the waves of suicidal thoughts without acting on them. In the therapy business, we call it 'urge surfing,' but essentially it's just seeing the urge or feeling and not doing anything else with it. You can urge surf with almost anything, by the way. If you feel the urge to drink tonight, or overeat, you can see it, not act on it, and wait for it to pass. Every urge or feeling will pass in time. Sometimes, we need extra help with urge surfing, because we are struggling to separate ourselves from our feelings. That's okay too. Learning not to act on all of our feelings or urges takes time. We must do the opposite of whatever impulse tells us to do in a dark moment. For example, if you want to hurt yourself, you might instead do something completely opposite of that such as cook yourself a nice meal, take a walk or get a massage. If you want to destroy things, you might try creating something instead.

It's reaching out for help when you are in immediate danger of going over the edge. The National Crisis Lifeline number is 988. You can call/text it anytime, day or night.

If you love someone in the depths of despair, take heart. As Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, says in her memoir 'Building a Life Worth Living,' “If you are with someone who is in hell, keep loving them, because in the end it will be transformative. They are like someone walking in a mist. They don’t see the mist, and you may not see it, either. They don’t see that they are getting wet. But if they have a pail for water, you put it out in the mist. Each moment of love adds to the mist, adds to the water in the pail. By itself, each moment of love may not be enough. But ultimately the pail fills and the person who has been in hell will be able to drink that water of love and be transformed. I know. I have been there. I have drunk from that pail.”

Know that I am rooting for you, whether you are the one suffering or the one who holds the sufferer. Keep going. Keep hoping. Keep holding onto that part of you that wants to live, no matter how small. That part deserves a chance.


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