Triggers & Coping Skills

Title: Triggers & Coping Skills
Format: Open Speaker Talk
Date: 01.17.2022
©2022 Bob Cristello

My name is Bob Cristello. Four years ago, my son Anthony killed himself at the age of 35 on August 16, 2017.

If you are new here today, let me tell you that I am sorry for your loss. No words I can say will assuage the pain you feel at this moment, so I will not insult you with further platitudes. I will say to you that I welcome you to our humble gathering and that you are in the best company you could possibly find at this moment.

My words will go out to many, your words do not have to reach anyone but us in here. I write about parents who have lost a child to suicide, because I have no choice in the matter. You have a myriad of choices and possibilities that lie before you in this journey that you are on. That we are all on. I have chosen to share mine with the public for my own reasons.

I want to assure you that public disclosure is not a choice you will ever have to make in order to heal from this trauma. In fact, I ask you to consider anything you post in the public carefully before you subject yourselves to what my family is experiencing now that we have opened our mouths. I am a soldier, so I am okay with being a target. I am not even a really nice guy if truth be told. Just ask anyone on my social media timeline. Seriously, please do not paint a target on your back that you do not need.

Triggers & Coping Skills are two sides to the same coin for those of us attempting to heal from the shock of our child’s suicide. We have learned, in our common experiences, that moving to a place where we can grieve is impossible without accepting the fact that we are actually in shock.

In order to share this journey with you, I will be sharing something that triggered me and how I coped with it. I honestly do not want to tell you this any more than other people want to read this. I am moving through this in slow-motion, but to keep this to myself seems the wrong choice as well. If you leave this post now without reading further, please know that I see you and I love you. I pray that you find something in someone else’s writings today that touches you and engenders you to return.

The holidays were a difficult time, as they were for anyone experiencing grief, anger, loneliness or loss. Many people reached out to say things like ‘I love you’. Many of those same people seemed chagrined when I said ‘I love you’ in return outside of holiday boundaries. We reached out to help others and were slapped by life in return. Actually, had I still been in the same place I was 7 months ago I probably wouldn’t even have noticed. I would not be writing at all and my marriage probably would have been over by now.

Strangely enough, none of that was a trigger. I mean, yes some of those things caused me difficulty. One of my coping skills is to have a list of my tight five. These are five people I can call at any time day or night, that also can call me. So I was using that coping skill and I was living my life on life’s terms. That is something else that we, in our common experiences, have come to believe is critical to our ability to return to life after our child’s death.

The trigger was the amputation trigger that I talk about a great deal. My friend Lydia who lost her leg truly helped me to understand the emotional trauma of losing a child. I do feel the phantom pains, like in the toes that my friend Lydia no longer has but still feels. When she looks down she wants to go into shock all over again. That is what happens to me when I feel the phantom pains of my child Anthony. I do not want to look, and yet, eventually I must. The only thing I have is a small urn with a fraction of his ashes. It was next to the painted photograph of my Grandfather.

The beautiful, soft, fluffy snow falling so softly outside the window was a stark contrast to the freezing floor of the storage room I stood in. When I touched his urn, it was so cold that I started to weep. I nestled it to my chest as if it were my child, and I sobbed uncontrollably; incapable of drawing my next breath.

We all know that feeling. We live with it, every single day and we cannot move past it. That is my trigger, it is the only trigger in a world of triggers that can put me back in the grave where I feel I belong.

We find ourselves in that place of silence and slow motion and we make a decision but take no action. We must breathe. We will breathe or we will pass out and our brain will make us breathe. Knowing this is acceptance and trust in our will to live. Sometimes, knowledge is the only weapon you will have when naked and terrified in the face of the overwhelming. This is my most basic coping skill.

I am a Toy Soldier. I have never been a combat veteran and yet I have scars upon my body and my soul that you will never understand. So I do the best impression of a real soldier that I can and I dig in here. This is also a coping skill, though not one I am always proud to have anyone see me put to use.

I assess my condition. My wife needs me, more than that I have an eight year old daughter that needs me. I clutch my son to my chest, yes he is my son now and he is not dead. I feel him calling to me to make something right, the same way he placed a punctuation mark on my life when he took his own. I will not let him down again, I will not let any of them down again. That is another coping skill, the ability to love others and do the right thing.

I breathe, because I feel compassion flooding into me. I had a choice to let the shame of my existence fill me, but I did not allow this. The shame of being raped at 13, the shame of drug addiction and the pain I caused my family and loved ones. No, compassion filled my lungs and my life. Compassion for my wife and my daughter who must walk this walk with me. Compassion for my family who wants me to live. Compassion for those who truly love me and want me to find peace.

I must accept that I deserve it, that is also a coping skill. It is the one I struggle with the most, yet I must learn to do. I must do it if I want to share it with another parent as a strength and possibly, give that parent hope that there is a way out of this insanity.

It is important to find multiple coping skills to deal with a single trigger. It is important to find your triggers so that you can both avoid them and learn to address them. More importantly, it is important to cope with them in order to keep moving in the direction of life. I believe we can all safely say that this is what our child would want and expect from us now.

I see you and I love you. Please reach out to someone today that means something to you and tell them how you feel. Do not let the fear of the truth dissuade you from seeking the truth.

My name is Bob, thank you for letting me share.