For years, I swore I would never kill myself as my so-called Christian father predicted I would when I was a kid, but stubbornness was no match for everything I’d endured by age 27, when I bought three boxes of sleeping pills Christmas morning. Although Psychology Today irresponsibly reported that “[p]sychiatrists believe” that over 90 percent of suicides are due to “a mental disorder” rather than a rational decision, I wasn’t delusional, depressed, or drunk when I stopped at Drug Mart on my way home from an ex-boyfriend’s house. I was done.
I was also a statistic.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study
Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente teamed up to study the long-term effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) such as neglect, domestic violence, and abuse in 1995, researchers have found that childhood trauma survivors are more likely than other people to attempt suicide. I suffered all three, beginning at age 4 when my mom’s OB-GYN clamped down on my brother’s head with forceps, causing brain damage, diabetes, and epilepsy. Once he was discharged from the hospital’s neonatal ICU, she laced me into roller skates, set me on the sidewalk, and instructed me to go make friends so she could focus on him for the next 28 years. She didn’t seem to notice or care that I stopped spending time downstairs and started eating all my meals, including holiday dinners, in my room at age 9 after my father knocked her out. By that point, he’d been holding her off the floor by her throat while calling her a pig, slut, whore, and cocksucker loudly enough for all of our new neighbors to hear for more than a year. With no hope of her leaving him, I decided to monitor the situation with my ears rather than the corner of my eye from that night forward.
As for abuse, my father:
- swore at me
- called me stupid on a regular basis
- slammed my 9-year-old shoulders against the refrigerator when I stepped between him and my mom to get him to leave her alone
- threatened to shave my head and send me to military school in fifth grade if I didn’t write a letter to a judge saying my mom was a bad mother
- ordered my brother and me to get in the Thunderbird so he could drive us one highway exit away from the house, pretending to kidnap us while my mom cried in the driveway
- spanked me with his wide, leather belt when I walked home from high school instead of taking the bus, and
- volleyed my 17-year-old face between his hands, hitting me left-right-left-right-left-right, as my mom cried and begged him to stop.
At age 42, these memories added up to five “yes” responses when I took the ACE test, which predicts the extent childhood trauma will affect a survivor’s future. Answering yes to four or more questions means you’re bound to try to kill yourself because “your chances for a happy life [are] low, and your chances for a lousy life [are] high,” said Dr. Edward Hallowell, who wrote about his own ACEs for Psychology Today.
That’s because childhood trauma survivors tend to:
- become depressed;
- call off from work, creating financial problems;
- drink, use drugs, and/or smoke;
- become obese;
- develop diabetes;
- contract an STD;
- get cancer; and
- suffer from heart problems
before they attempt suicide.
This makes sense.
- In 2012, Brown University researchers discovered that childhood trauma can change a person’s genes, increasing his or her risk of developing depression and anxiety.
- When you’re depressed, it’s difficult to get out of bed let alone go to a job you don’t enjoy.
- Millions of people drink, use prescription or recreational drugs, and/or smoke to make themselves feel better. Alcohol is a depressant, both drinking and smoking can cause cancer, and drugs can cause an overdose that leaves family and friends wondering if it was suicide or an accident.
- People also turn to food for comfort. This can lead to lethargy, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer, and sugar makes some people suicidal.
- People often use sex as a form of escapism or to fill a void, leaving themselves vulnerable to STDs, especially if they get too drunk or high to care about using a condom. The STD HPV can cause cancer.
- Depression usually coincides with anxiety, which is often mistaken for a heart attack, and both strain the heart.
- Lastly, according to Psychology Today, people are more likely to commit suicide if they have both depression and anxiety.
“By rights, I should have become an alcoholic, suffered from major depression, been unable to earn a living and raise a family, and I probably should have died young, either by suicide or the ravages of alcoholism, depression, or drug abuse,” said Hallowell, who scored an 8 on the ACE test.
Instead, he became a psychiatrist who’s written 20 books, stayed married for 30 years, and raised three children “who are thriving.” He credited his success to love.
“[L]ove in its many different faces and places, love by chance, love on purpose, love on the fly, brief love, lasting love, love that was too embarrassed to name itself, broken love that got repaired – every kind of love you can imagine,” he said.
Funny, that’s what nearly killed me. That and the fact adverse childhood experiences don’t magically screech to a halt when you turn 18. Nearing 30, I knew mine weren’t going to end until somebody died. After being told I had HPV and needed surgery to remove high-grade cervical dysplasia that might be cancer, I was happy to go first.