Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts on the Holocaust...Similarities in Surviving (post #2)

Above and Below, By Samuel Bak 2003

Death above or Death below...I ask you what is the difference?

Today I would like to address a subject about with which many survivors struggle.  The psychological term is Suicidal Ideation.  Yes, obsession with death, not just any kind of death, but a self-inflicted death.  It is a very touchy subject for many, especially therapists. However, I never could understand why it was such a big deal to my therapists and is still.  Perhaps, I view death differently than most.  I do not feel afraid of death.  When someone in my family dies, it only touches me for a few minutes and then it is over.  It is not that I do not have feelings, I do.  I feel very deeply about many things.  But, death is different.  As a survivor of extreme childhood abuse, death is a release.  Death is my escape from the pain that never stops; the pain that permeates my soul; the pain that is always right below the surface.  Death is a longing; a desire within reach; a release. So unlike the feelings the past imparts upon my psyche; the past from which I cannot get away.  I would rather someone die than to abandon me.  I know this must sound so uncaring and evil.  But because of what my past did to me, abandonment is worse than death.

In his book, Night, Elie Wiesel describes his thoughts on death during the ‘march’ at Auschwitz.  I use his words because to me, this accurately describes how I feel; this is how suicidal ideation affects my mind.  “Death wrapped itself around me till I was stifled.  It stuck to me.  I felt that I could touch it.  The idea of dying, of no longer being, began to fascinate me.  Not to exist any longer.  Not to feel the horrible pains….NOT TO FEEL ANYTHING, neither weariness, nor cold, nor anything.” p.89 [emphasis mine]   In the Preface for the twenty fifth anniversary edition of Night, Robert McAfee Brown writes of the trials Elie Wiesel encountered when trying to publish this book.  Publishers did not want it:  “Such depressing subject matter.”  When it was finally published, “few people wanted to read about the Holocaust.  Such depressing subject matter.  But we cannot avoid depressing subject matter, particularly if it is true…”  Do not you come across this attitude about sexual childhood abuse?  Is it not a taboo subject in many circles?  For those of us living in this “shame”, does not the denial only cause us more pain?  Mr. Brown continues with, “we would much prefer to disbelieve, treating it as the product of a diseased mind, perhaps.  And there are those today who—feeding on that wish…are trying to persuade the world that the story is not true, urging us to treat it as the product of diseased minds, indeed.  They are committing the greatest indignity human beings can inflict on one another:  telling PEOPLE WHO HAVE SUFFERED EXCRUCIATING PAIN AND LOSS THAT THEIR PAIN AND LOSS WERE ILLUSIONS.”  [emphasis mine]  This book changed the way the Holocaust was viewed.  Because this brave soul, Elie Wiesel told his story, he made believers out of non-believers.  It is the same for those of us with D.I.D.  There are so many non-believers; so many people who do not like the subject matter; so many people who want to deny our existence.  But, if enough of us tell our stories, we too can change the way most of the world views this very horrifying topic.  To quote Mr. Brown, “Better that one heart be broken a thousand times in the retelling…if it means that a thousand other hearts need not be broken at all.”  Would it not be wonderful if we could change the way people view the rape of a child, the breaking of a child’s will, the destruction of their soul.  We could be the champions of the abused child. 

Again quoting Mr. Brown, “At the end of Night, the immediate devastation has ended:  the war is over, the camps are liberated, that author is alive.  But the ongoing devastation has only begun, THE DEVASTATION THAT WILL NEVER END:  THE DEVASTATION IMPOSED BY MEMORY THAT MAKES THE LINE BETWEEN LIFE AND DEATH A THIN LINE INDEED. [emphasis mine]  The descriptive term imaging the author at the book’s end is that of a corpse.” 

And for me, here we have come full circle.  Memories so painful, so sordid that I feel my only escape is death, to become a 'corpse'.


  1. You hit so many hotspots in this post, it's hard to know how to comment. I can relate to the suicidal ideation as being a release, and I can see how it is the same for anyone who is living with things beyond their understanding or threshhold of pain.

    I especially like the comparison you make when you talk about how no one wants to hear about it - much like no one wanted to hear about the holocaust. It is part of the shame we carry. It isn't our shame, we're told, again and again, but because no one wants to hear it, it still feels shameful.

    My therapist recently asked me if I believed she wanted to hear what I've been trying to tell her, most recently. I said yes... but at the same time, I felt as if there was something wrong with anyone who wanted to hear it. In this way, I invalidate the only people who might listen and understand and therefore help me lift the pain from myself. So ingrained is it that I this is a subject no one should want to know of, finding someone who does want to listen, in order to help me, makes me look at that person as if they are shameful.

    A sick kind of catch 22 which I'm trying to overcome at the moment.

    Great post.

  2. Shen, I totally agree with you on the 'catch 22'. It is very hard to overcome the shame that is so deeply ingrained. After many, MANY years in therapy, I still have trouble believing that anyone, other than another survivor, would want to have ANYTHING to do with me much less listen to my pain and try to help me. I always feel 'less' than others. It is very sad to feel this way. It keeps one isolated, or at least that is what it does to me. Thank you for reading my post! Take care.