I’m Natalie. Sometimes I don’t know who I am, and staying alive is the bravest thing I’ve ever done.
When I saw no hope of finding relief from the agony inside and committed to killing myself, the true, caring words of my family and friends registered in my brain. But they couldn’t reach my heart. The actual content has to be in the right context or it may prove worthless. You can hear something a thousand times, when suddenly it’s the right time and the truth reaches the heart.
It’s Not Safe
That’s why I write. Every day I connect one-on-one with suffering young women who want truth but need to know the words are more than theory. They must tell their stories but often don’t feel safe to speak. Once they’ve heard part of my past, the floodgates open. We talk, we vent, and—if no one is looking—there might be tears. Finding a safe place releases the inner pain like nothing else could. To be heard will heal.
Many phenomenal people have been safe places for me. As I continue to lean on them, I want to invest in other young women whenever I can. Every opportunity to give another woman hope of being heard is a privilege.
For about five years in my twenties—what I call the Lost Years—I crashed through so many disasters it sounds ridiculous when I list them all. If the Lost Years were put in a novel, as an editor I would beg the author to cut out some of the disasters to make the book remotely realistic. In a lengthy conversation I wouldn’t make light of the traumas, but it’s sometimes helpful to crack a twisted joke when someone asks the natural questions and expects a four-second response: Why do I have PTSD? How did I lose my memory?
Fifteen years of depression, twelve psych wards, numerous rapes, three scars, two divorces, and one kidnapping. And a partridge in a pear tree.
I shrug and act like that’s par for most twenty-eight-year-olds. Fact is, the cumulative weight of those and other traumas nearly shattered my mind and body.
When Someone’s Been There Too
On the darkest day of my Lost Years, a guy I barely knew sat me down and told his story. Only a few days ago he’d been dying in the ICU after attempting suicide by drug overdose. Now he looked me in the eye, and you could feel the joy and life radiating from him. He wanted to be alive. Getting another chance showed him how much he nearly threw away.
Being my self-appointed “stay alive” evangelist, he told me that—despite my insistence on despair—he knew I wanted to live and still had hope. I went to elaborate lengths to convince him otherwise. But he knew me too well because he knew himself, and all who survive the dark place of choosing death can find their way around that part in another hurting soul.
Two or three hours of conversation passed, and suddenly something clicked. In minutes the despair transitioned into cautious, nervous determination. And suddenly it became true, and I did believe him, and I did want to live, and it was such a hard trip back up but he said the right thing at the right time, and—
I’m not making this stuff up. All the ironic, funny details are in my book. Bottom line:
If you and I just met, I don’t have the right to tell you anything. But if you have wounds and pain and memories and horror inside and feel there is no safe place to be heard and to heal, I hope something on this site will be one step out of your dark places.
Earning the Right to be a Safe Place
If you and I ever get to meet up, ask anything you like; I’m an open book. I’ll listen to your story or, if you prefer, I’ll tell you some of mine. The only reason I would presume to challenge anyone to be brave, push into pain, or pursue beauty is that I’ve been to the bottom of the pit. I’ve lived through years in a black hole and came out (or more accurately, was dragged out by family and the world’s most awesome therapist). In large part because of an enthusiastic, suicide-attempt survivor, I committed to push through my pain. But that couldn’t have carried me long without help. I needed a safe place to spill it all. The memories, the pain, the emotions: they had to come out.
If you need someone safe, don’t give up looking. My therapist has changed my life, but it took several years and many tries before I found one who fit me and who I instinctively could trust with everything. Those years cost me lots of pain and suffering. I’ve heard all the trite sayings and good advice on how to feel better, and my cynicism grew with every twelve-step principle and Bible verse. No doubt you’ve already dragged yourself though more years of pain than you thought you could survive. But please don’t give up. Perhaps a resource linked here can help, or if you don’t see what you are looking for, feel free to contact me. If I don’t have an answer, I might know someone who does.
For five years I’ve worked in numerous therapy environments (CBT, DBT, exposure therapy, art therapy, general psychotherapy, etc.), including two months at the Meier Clinic. In addition to the mental weight lifting, I’m training in the R.A.D. (Rape Aggression Defense) system and wish every woman could take at least the basic training. After my first simulation, I cried for the first time in months, and it felt like poison leaving my body. The connection between feeling physically empowered to escape harm and an emotional healing from past harm is powerful.
At the end of the day I’m mostly accused of being a hyper, simultaneously exhausted, unfortunately-sometimes-impatient single mom who loves dancing, books, and watermelon. But that’s just the surface stuff. Here are the three reasons I stay alive.
During the Lost Years I’d never believe you if you said this to me, but I’ll say it to you now and hope someday you find it true:
It’s a beautiful life. It demands bravery, but it gives beauty.
Let’s help each other remember that. Feel free to contact me if you are in the Chicago area and want to meet up or discuss any of the topics in Pursue the Beauty. As much as I love words on the page, words spoken out loud between two hearts are infinitely better.