Acceptance & Tolerance

Title: Acceptance & Tolerance
Format: Open Speaker Talk
Date: 01.23.2022
©2022 Bob Cristello

My name is Bob. My son killed himself on August 16, 2017.

If you are new to the virtual realm of peer support groups, let me say that I am truly sorry that you are here and even reading my thoughts. We have learned, in our common experience, to say ‘I see you and I love you’. My friend Laura taught me this and it has come to symbolize a common acknowledgement of our shared pain and acceptance of our shared journey. I encourage you to read what makes sense to you and possibly place a hug or a heart on something you relate to. We have found, in our common experience, that reaching out, and being open to be reached, is a critical skill to practice when deciding to return to the land of the living.

My topic today is about Acceptance & Tolerance.

I am not a nice guy, anyone who loves me will tell you that honestly. My only skill seems to be that people find me interesting enough to watch, cogent enough to listen to and brutally honest without hesitation. It is a skill that you develop once you begin to be brutally honest with yourself.

On November 11, 2021, I made a conscious decision to ask for help. I already had a Doctor, a LICSW and a Psychiatrist who were attempting to put me back together. I had climbed into the grave with my son two years after his death and I stopped getting out of bed. My wife was at her breaking point and my 8-year-old daughter was a stranger to me. I no longer recognized myself. I could not even walk the one mile across town to see any of my medical people without fear of losing control of my own bowels. I existed under the shame of being sexually abused at the age of 13, the shame of people I destroyed simply because they loved me, the shame of cocaine addiction even though I had not touched cocaine since 1995 and, of course, the shame of being the cause of my son’s suicide.

There was no other person or power on this earth that could help me, and I had been through a lot of trauma. I could share with you the year I spent in a locked ward for combat veteran’s at the VA Hospital in my home town. I could also share with you that I am not a combat veteran, yet I am a casualty of war. No, even that was something I could ride out and be patient for the end. Everything passes, I had learned that lesson long ago. I was already familiar with acceptance, it becomes part of the institutionalized person that walks out of their doors. My son’s death, my own surrender to the shock of it, was something that nothing on earth could help with. I turned to what I understood to be God.

In our common experiences, we have found that a spiritual component is critical to any chance of returning as a living member of society. Some of our members do not feel the need for this, yet they do find hope if they are brutally honest with themselves. I rarely talk about God because I do not want the conversation to be diluted with differences in the way we worship. The important part of my personal story is that this is what I did, and I did it on November 11, 2021.

I wrote for several months, as others in this group can attest to. I started sharing it on my public timeline and with my family. I then continued to expand as I moved farther and farther away from the shock of my son’s suicide and into the realm of grief. Grief was actually like a calm pool of warm water compared to the raging oceans of shock that I had been riding on. Each day, I asked for help quietly and each night I said thank you. I didn’t start quoting books or attending a church or converting anyone. I did become open to the discussion about God, which I suppose is only fair since I was asking people to be open about the discussion about suicide.

I did return to my field of work and immediately started jumping up the corporate rungs to find something that suited me. I shared about those struggles openly and I did not hide my fallibilities. I had learned to accept who I was and accept my role in the death of my son. Gone were the questions of ‘Why?’. They were replaced with the certainty of my responsibility in the death of my son. Many people find that they had no responsibility in the death of their child, yet the end result is the same. The ability to move beyond asking ‘Why?’ and being in a constant state of shock, to the calmer pools of grief that people would like to believe we have been in this entire time.

Acceptance is the key in all of this. We accept the reality of our child’s death. We accept our responsibility in the death of our child and we accept those things that were out of our control. We learn to accept and forgive our child, ourselves and God. If you are like me, you throw off the tyranny of oppression that shame has played in your life. You move beyond the slavery of warped self-image, self-value and self-determination that shame has placed upon you and you stand in the light of truth. These are the blessings of grief that I talk about a great deal.

Tolerance, has nothing to do with acceptance. In other programs of recovery, they talk about acceptance and tolerance as if they were the same skill. While we recognize the therapeutic value of one person helping another, we are not recovering from anything here. We are not sick people getting better, we are parents who have lost a child to suicide. Tolerance has a different meaning to us. It is a way that we measure how much of ourselves we are willing to sacrifice, in order to accept something.

If you have to move into my home in order to show me you love me, I don’t have to tolerate that in order to accept the death of my child or the responsibility I hold in that death. So, I don’t actually have to tolerate anything in order to be an accepting and loving human being. I know drug addicts that are actively using right now, and I love them. I accept them. I do not tolerate their choices or behavior by giving them money. I would not tolerate that choice for myself now, I will not tolerate it in another human being.

Nothing says you have to tolerate anything, though you do have to learn acceptance in order to move forward. You have two jobs before you, one is to accept the death of your child. The other, is to accept your role in the death of your child. There are only two ways that plays out, either one is going to require an act of acceptance that may be beyond your ability to commit to. What do you do then? You accept your own limitations and refuse to tolerate anyone forcing you to move beyond that point. You come here, each day and you find something you can hold on to. You hold on for one more second, one more minute, one more hour and one more day. In time, you will learn to share your experiences with others and know how far you have grown.

Never let the fear of the truth dissuade you from seeking the truth. Please reach out to someone today that means something to you and tell them how you feel. Accept whatever comes in return, but never tolerate anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, ashamed or guilty. If that something is your responsibility to clean up, then do it. If you can’t do it, ask quietly for help out loud and try again. Once you start cleaning up a small area, you will want to clean more and more. The truth will seem like a breath of fresh air, but that first deep gulp will burn your lungs as you struggle to return to life.

I see you and I love you.

My name is Bob, thanks for letting me share.

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Brutal Honesty

In Jaws, Peter Benchley wrote the opening line “The great fish moved silently through the night water”. For me, the night water is the calmer pool of grief that I now swim in. I swim in it every moment of every day and I will never be able to leave. I can, instantly, be tossed into the deep and dangerous ocean of shock when I realize that my child is dead all over again. If you have lost someone to suicide, you know the waters I speak of. If you have lost someone for any reason, you still swim in the night water of grief that we all can identify with.

We Have No Choice

People see the life rush out of us. Some have the luxury of speaking to us over the phone as they place us into a state of shock. I feel empathy for the first responders who come to our doors, into our lives, attempting to dissuade us from seeing the pictures, the autopsies, the drug reports or listen to the stories heard from the friends and family they investigate.

Scrambled Eggs

Please know that there is hope, but if you do not carry that message it may not be heard. I am a soldier and I know no one is coming. That makes me responsible. I could not do it alone, I went a long way with the help of others but there were days that nothing on this earth could save me from shock and grief. I had to turn to something greater than myself, some people call that ‘God’. Some people simply call it service to the community because sharing our experiences, strengths and hope with each other is how this works. Others among us feel that no spiritual component is necessary though I do believe that road must be filled with a higher degree of difficulty.

Who Am I, now?

My friend called me last night and I won’t use his name but he is the reason I am writing this today because I want the world to understand something. He wept, literally like a child sobbing and I felt such sorrow for him. He was crying “Bobby, I had no idea, what did they do to you”?

Triggers & Coping Skills

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.

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